Archive for the ‘market research tools’ Category

By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President

Thanks to a generous wife, I am now wearing a Pebble on one wrist and a Fitbit Force on the other.  Even though she wasn’t generous enough to give me Google Glass, clearly it was a wearable holiday at our house.  I felt a bit behind these items by giving her a new iPad – how last year… or even, how two years ago.

178835104Wearable technology was everywhere at this year’s CES.  So, I suppose I am now on the cutting edge.  But, what are we to make of this explosion of wearable devices?  Is this a case of technology in search of problem?  Or, is technology aligning itself with some fundamental human need?  It may be too early to tell.  Wearables are in their infancy.  I have a different device on each wrist, but they cannot talk with each other.  And, they perform different functions.  I should have just one wearable that does it all.  But, what is that “all.”  Right now my Pebble simply mirrors my smartphone.  Yes, it is fun to control the phone’s music with a watch or get a text message by glancing down at my wrist.  Yet, it is “just” fun; it definitely is not crucial.  It is a good rule of thumb that a technology that simply replicates the content of an earlier technology has not yet found its voice.

While its many executions may be clunky now, wearable computing speaks to some elemental human desires.

  • Since the first computer, we have been subject to the power of “the other.”  The computer structures our language and our thinking.  It is not without reason that we spoke of being chained to our computers.  As computers became smaller and their languages and interfaces more flexible, we gained a measure of control. Wearable computing put that technology totally at our service, at least ideally.  Rather than bending our thoughts and perceptions to the structure imposed by a computer, wearable computing enhances and strengthens our view of the world.
  • Social networking does more than keep us in touch with our friends.  Social networking is so successful because it appeals to our ego.  It permits us to continually be in touch with our thoughts and actions and to be assured they fit harmoniously within those of our circle.  Wearable computing makes that immediate and seamless.  So many of these wearable devices let us track and monitor our actions; they provide us with feedback.  In effect, we objectify ourselves and then integrate that objectification through the wearable device.

Robocop may be satire, but there is a sense in which we all desire to have our perceptions and understanding of the world around us augmented and heightened.  We want to control our world with technology, not be controlled by technology outside us.

But what does this mean for research?  We may be moving away from a research model in which respondents’ give responses to surveys, in which the response is independent of the respondents.

  • If consumers want to track and monitor themselves and they have the technology in the near future to do that seamlessly, insight professionals should be able to tap into that stream of self-reflection.  But in this world, the consumer and the response are one; we will be less able to ask direct questions.  Rather, we will need to align what consumers are “tracking” about themselves with the questions we might want to ask.
  • And, that tracking will yield smaller and smaller pieces of data.  We are currently struggling to adapt our insight gathering to the limitations imposed by the size of a smartphone screen.  Imagine how we will have to modify our perspectives if the Pebble is how we connect with consumers.

We are looking at a world in which our connections to consumers are even more immediate than we could ever imagine.

Regional Differences Do Matter

December 12th, 2013

By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President

“Make sure that we get a good regional representation.”  That has often been the charge from the marketing manager to the insights director.  There has been a belief that different cuisines, climates, and experiences would have an impact on attitudes and tastes that could affect how consumers react to new products.   So, we would be certain to conduct focus groups in markets in three different regions or that quotas were set to assure the sample represented the East, South, Midwest, and West equally.  This was simply good research practice.

Then there was the evening I sat in a focus group room in Atlanta and discovered, as I went around the table that every one of the participants was originally from New Jersey.  I had just conducted focus groups in New Jersey the night before.  Why had I made that flight?

Perspectives change.  To be sure, a brand’s sales figures can vary from market to market, but I cannot remember the last time I concluded the differences in brand perceptions from one market to another were ground in fundamental differences in the behavior or attitudes of consumers in those markets.  “Place” as defined by traditional markets seems less relevant now.  Virtual communities define differences now, or intra-regional differences such as those between an urban core and the suburbs.  We are much more interested in ethnic or generational differences when we strive to be representative.

And, from an operational perspective, with more and more qualitative research being conducted virtually, it has become possible to assure that an online community has participants from all over the country.  There is no need for travel to those four different markets to be “representative.”

But, a recent article by Richard Florida in The Atlantic Cities points to a large-scale study by a team social psychologists,  “Divided We Stand: Three Psychological Regions of the United States and Their Political, Economic, Social and Health Correlates.”  The team analyzed data from a number of surveys that stretched over a twelve year period, representing 1.5 million people from the 48 continental United States.  They mapped and clustered the occurrence of five personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

This is Florida’s summary of their conclusions.

The study identifies three main regional types:  friendly and conventional, relaxed and creative, and temperamental and uninhibited. The maps below, from the study, show how these line up across America’s states.

photo1The shaded areas on the maps above, from the study, show where the three profiles predominate.

  • The Friendly and Conventional Region is the blue area that runs from Michigan through the Midwest and much of the Sunbelt and traditional South. This region is defined by low levels of openness (the trait most closely associated with innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship), low levels of narcissism (the counterpoint to which is a high level of emotional stability) and moderate to high levels of extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. This composite of traits shapes a regional personality that is sociable, considerate, dutiful, and traditional.

As the authors note, “the psychological profile and all the social indicators betray a region that is marked by conservative social values.” This ethos maps onto a region whose residents are primarily white and politically conservative, less likely to move, and more likely to remain close to family and friends. They also have relatively lower levels of education, wealth, innovation, and social tolerance. This region has high levels of social capital and engagement in religious and traditional civic organizations. As the authors conclude, “taken together, the characteristics of this psychological region suggest a place where traditional values, family, and the status quo are important.”

  • The Relaxed and Creative Region is the green area along the West Coast and Rocky Mountains through Idaho, Arizona, and New Mexico. There is also a weaker concentration, identified by the much lighter green shading in parts of the Sunbelt (especially North Carolina) and some of New England (including Massachusetts). This regional profile is high in openness and oriented toward creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. It is also low in extroversion (less-outgoing, more introverted) and agreeableness and especially low in neuroticism (in other words, it has higher levels of emotional stability).

Demographically, the population includes relatively high levels of college grads, more affluent people and higher levels of ethnic diversity. “Social capital is comparatively low here, but tolerance for cultural diversity and alternative lifestyles is high,” the article notes. Befitting its historical origins as the destination for pioneers, it is an “area where significant numbers of people are choosing to settle, as indicated by the positive association with residential mobility…. It is also a place where residents are politically liberal, as well as psychologically and physically healthy.”

  • The Temperamental and Uninhibited Region is the deep orange area that covers the Northeast, New England and Middle Atlantic states. There are also lighter concentrations in the contiguous areas of Ohio and Indiana, as well as Texas. This region’s psychological profile is defined by very high levels neuroticism (hence the temperamental moniker), moderately high levels of openness, low levels of extroversion (or high levels of introversion) and very low levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness. This constellation of personality traits depict a type of person that is “reserved, aloof, impulsive, irritable, and inquisitive,” while also being “passionate, competitive, and liberal.” This region is highly educated and affluent, with high levels of ethnic and cultural diversity and a liberal political orientation.

If nothing else, this analysis serves to confirm certain stereotypes we all hold of those from different parts of the country.  But, the authors of the study make other connections, seeing their data as providing a psychological underpinning to the politically conservative character of the South and Midwest and the entrepreneurial and creative character of the West.  In their view, both of these conclusions have policy implications.

But, from the perspective marketing research, particularly that conducted in support of new product and communications development, this research gives support to a renewed concern for very specific geographic balance.  One cannot doubt that individuals with the three character traits described above are very likely to have different reactions to new products and communications.  Thus, assuring that the three regions are properly represented in any piece of research seems prudent.  Perhaps, the basic three-market focus group project should feature three markets that appear to be ground zero for the three clusters — New York, Omaha, and Phoenix?

By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President

176810621There is much debate over the superiority of on-line versus face-to-face qualitative research. On-line qualitative is not just the latest thing. Discussion boards and communities enable the researcher to engage the consumer in so many ways — pictures, journals, video, collages — with all this material available to the participants and the research team in one place. And, consumers can be anywhere — their home, in a store — doing anything, when they describe their experiences and reactions. But, for many, there is nothing to compare with the ability to look a consumer directly in the eye and challenge her responses or have her amplify them in the moment. In a group, everyone can quickly build on responses and create new insights. Both approaches have clear strengths.

But, why choose between the two? We have found that explorations combining both methods are highly productive. The results, in fact, are more than the sum of the parts.

Imagine a brand team that needs to revitalize a product and wants to get back to basics with a thorough exploration of the category. This is the type of task for which qualitative research has been seen as ideal. One might conduct a number of focus groups or ethnographic interviews with the relevant consumers. There would a good deal of observation and projective exercises to explore usage, attitudes, the brand landscape, unmet needs, and the like. Or, you might host an on-line community with the same consumers and cover much of the same territory with similar exercises, optimized for the on-line environment.

But, here is what happens when you combine the two approaches.

First, you conduct that on-line community with relevant consumers. In the process, they may do any number of exercises:

  • Take a video of themselves shopping the category.
  • Take pictures of their pantry.
  • Create a video journal of the times they have used products in the category during a two-week period.
  • Create a collage that represents the values they associate with the category.
  • Sort all of the brands in the category into families and associate a celebrity with each family.

Second, we select the “best” participants from the on-line community — the most creative, the most verbal, the ones who related best to the other participants — and invite them to participate in a face-to-face focus group. Here, we can probe in an atmosphere of genuine give-and-take what the category, brands, and products mean to these consumers.

Aren’t we just repeating ourselves? No. This two-step approach offers a number of benefits.

  • You will notice that a number of the activities done in the on-line community — journals, collages, and the like— are typical “homework” assignments we give focus group participants before a session. The on-line community becomes a study hall. The structure of the community assures us that all participants have completed their activities. How many times have you had individuals appear for a focus group with a “collage” they have obviously slapped together five minutes before leaving the house. And, we are able to nudge participants if they don’t understand aspects of the activity or if they are going in a particularly interesting direction.
  • Being able to see these exercises before the group interview enables the researcher to formulate hypotheses to explore in the interview that are based on genuine insight drawn from the on-line community. Often times, the hypotheses that drive the typical focus group discussion are based on more general suppositions about a category or consumer behavior.
  •  It is possible to select from all of the exercises created in the on-line community just those examples that serve as the most effective stimulus in the focus group. You can select just two collages that perfectly exemplify conflicting visions of the category and present them to the group. How would they describe the differences? Do they even recognize them? You can present a video of one of the actual participants in the room as she shops the category in the grocery aisle. Was this everyone’s experience? You can draw everyone’s attention to specific details of the experience that are authentic.
  • Finally, the dynamic within the group is much more productive. We already “know” the participants; we have established rapport with them during our on-line exchanges. And, they have gotten to know the others in the group. It is a bit like “old home week” when everyone enters the room for the first time.

Combining on-line and face-to-face qualitative in one project maximizes the strengths of both approaches and more than doubles the insight.

By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President

We often encourage consumers to think “metaphorically.”  In a focus group or interview, metaphors can be powerful.  Those who use them open up.  They move in new and unexpected directions.  Ultimately, the metaphors put us in touch with the unconscious motivations and beliefs of the consumers who create them.

157601193But, the process doesn’t always work.  You ask consumers to discuss a particular product, and they say it is “like a golden retriever.”  We have all heard the “golden retriever.”  The brand makes them feel good, and a golden retriever makes them feel good.  This is stale, predictable.  We are tempted to say that we have just gotten into a rut of convention.  Ask people to name a dog, and most give the golden retriever.

From the perspective of interviewing technique, the problem is deeper and more basic.  We have confused metaphor with simile.  Not to be over pedantic, but let me define.  Both are figures of speech; both are analogies.  But, a simile uses like or as in the analogy.  In a metaphor, the comparison is implicit.

The difference between an implicit and an explicit analogy is key in dealing with a respondent. When individuals make a conscious, literal comparison, there is no room for serendipity.  You can see the wheels turning.

“Let’s see.  Brand A makes me feel good.  OK.  What else makes me feel good?  Golden retrievers make me feel good.  So, Brand A is like a golden retriever.”

She has added nothing, and you have learned nothing.  She might as well have told you directly that Brand A made her feel good.  When consumers switch to “simile mode” they make a simple literal translation.  There is no expansion; nothing is in touch with their motivations.

So, how can we encourage more genuine metaphorical thinking?

  • Use creative, projective exercises.  Have your consumers draw pictures or cartoons.  Create a category family.  Write a brand obituary.  Describe how a brand smells (even if the product has no smell).  Do anything that confuses the terms of the explicit analogy the consumer might want to create between her emotions and that brand or product in which you are interested.  You can do this by always shifting among senses.  If you are interested in the taste of a product, talk about its color.  If you want to understand the impact of a product’s color, discuss its aroma.
  • Focus on the metaphor’s vehicle.  Traditional rhetorical theory distinguishes between the “tenor” and the “vehicle” of a metaphor.  The tenor is the object or concept in which you are interested.  The vehicle is what is compared to it.  For example, in the opening of Dante’s Divine Comedy, a life in error is the tenor described by analogy to a dark forest, the vehicle. If you have the consumer focus solely on the vehicle–the golden retriever in our initial example of a simile–and discuss only the vehicle–what it means, how it looks, how it feels–you will break the conscious connection the consumers might want to make between the tenor and the vehicle.  In discussing just the vehicle, she will reveal her subconscious associations with the tenor.
  • Tell stories and discuss the images.  If you have consumers tell stories about a brand, you will also break down the obvious, explicit connections.  For example, I used to ask car owners about the most memorable event they remembered in their cars.  And, I would ask them to tell the stories of that event. One woman described driving to the hotel after her first daughter’s wedding.  A young man described bringing his new car to show his father.  In their descriptions of these events were images that ultimately reflected their sense of the significance of the makes of cars they drove.
  • Never frame your question like a simile.  This is the basic rule.  Never ask what a brand or product is “like.”

If you follow these principles, your metaphoric discussions with consumers will be much more expansive and productive.  I will save the value of allegory for a later post.

By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President

Every so often, one runs into a marvelous confluence of avocation and vocation.  I love cars.  So, I was reading the blog at Car and Driver and discovered a long discussion of the stagnation of the Honda brand.  Cars AND marketing.  I couldn’t resist.  Toward the end of the piece, Dave Marble described an example of how Honda got in the position of creating underwhelming products.

Basic RGB“The [Honda planning] department concocts customer abstracts so interchangeable business drones can comprehend the intent of a new vehicle. In the case of the first-generation RDX, this abstract was “Jason,” a young, upwardly mobile, urban-residing male that needed a turbocharged engine, “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive,” and room to transport all his lifestyle accouterments. Yeah, okay. As it turned out, there weren’t many “Jasons” buying the RDX. Planning got that part wrong—really wrong.”

I was sympathetic.  It reminded me so much of the experience shared by many qualitative researchers of being asked to assemble a focus group composed of members of a specific customer segment (usually the product of a very sophisticated segmentation analysis) only to discover that the particular combination of demographics, psychographics, and behavior apparently does not exist in the real world.

But, I also know that user archetypes can be incredibly valuable.  I have helped develop some.  They focus the minds of marketers and new product developers.  You may not be able to have an actual customer with you 24/7, but you can have the user archetype of your product taped above your desk.

So, here are four guidelines for creating user archetypes that work.

  • Make sure that “real users” drive the process.  Accurate user archetypes are based on close observation of real users — their needs, their wants, their behavior.  This may seem self-evident, but I suspect that the “Jason” had his genesis not in the lives of real car buyers but out of the need or desire on the part of Honda to assure that the RDX was true to their vision of the Acura nameplate and that the RDX was clearly distinguished from the similar Honda CR-V.  To convince themselves that a member of their vehicle portfolio was distinct, they created a “vision” of its buyer that was also distinct, and self-fulfilling.  And, evidently, inaccurate.
  • Recognize the difference between real and aspirational users.  For marketers, their products have two kinds of users — the real flesh and blood user and the person the real user aspires to be by using the product.  Understanding both users is crucial to marketers, but confusing them can cause problems.  For example, the media behaviors of real and aspirational users can be different.  Building a media plan on the tastes of the aspirational user may not reach the real target.  Again, Honda may have erred in this direction.  Jason seems much more like someone to whom an RDX user might aspire.
  • Recognize the difference between a user personality and a brand personality. The marketers or new product developers often have two touchstones to guide their efforts — the brand personality and the user personality.  I have known brand managers with two different types of consumer-created collages in their offices.  One collected images of users and what the stood for; the other revealed images of the brand’s personality.  There can be overlap between the two, but there is rarely identity.  A car, such as a compact SUV like the RDX, might well have the personality of a magician which enables the user to have the personality of a superhero.
  • Be “real” yourself.  Do not overly idealize your user.  He may have flaws, but these flaws may be essential to how he or she relates to your product.

Ultimately, take your user archetype out for a test drive.  Once you have created the archetype, see if you can actually find real representatives.  Talk to them; listen to them.  Does the archetype resonate with them?  Remember, the archetype is a construct to guide your actions, so they are unlikely to play it back literally and verbatim.  But, if the archetype is well constructed, it should reflect their needs, desires, hopes, and fears.

By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President

Mark Harrington has an interesting note under the title, “Is Surveying Obsolete?”  I have a knee-jerk reaction to these articles about the inherent biases of survey research and the folly of asking consumers what they want.  Of course consumers can’t always articulate what they want.  Their answers can be perfectly sincere, as well as misleading, incomplete, and self-serving.  It is the job of analysis, not the consumer, to illuminate their wants and needs.

151934043Harrington continues that in an era of big data, what marketers need to do is observe their customers to assess their true desires.  I will leave the question of whether consumer behavior is any more true or accurate than their pronouncements for another day.  It is true that we now have an unprecedented opportunity to “observe” a large number of consumers in a variety of “locations,” engaged in multiple relationships with products and friends.  And, what many marketers have always wanted to do is immerse themselves in this reality.

But, marketers have also been concerned about the cost of research, and this has resulted in the Rise of D-I-Y research and the tools that make it possible.  Yesterday, someone passed on to me a nugget of information he had gleaned from a few questions he had asked using Survey Monkey.  And, there are much more sophisticated tools available.  But, the question is, “if surveying is obsolete, why isn’t D-I-Y research obsolete?”  They have at their core the same “problem”; they both rely on consumers to report their wants and needs.

True D-I-Y research, the D-I-Y of the future, will be a set of tools and services that lets the marketer truly get up to his or her elbows in the lives of consumers.

  • It will aggregate data from multiple sources.
  • And, it will be able to aggregate and make connections within this data stream over time.
  • It will provide tools that allow the marketer to enter the stream and test hypotheses.
  • It will provide tools to analyze the stream of consumer behavior and identify trends and themes.
  • It will correlate behaviors and make predictions based on these correlations.  Ultimately, this kind of research will look more like Moneyball than social science research.

Old-fashioned D-I-Y research is comparatively simple and straightforward.  This new D-I-Y is not.  Old-fashioned D-I-Y seemed to write the traditional MR industry out of the script.  This new vision of D-I-Y, which I prefer to call I-Y (Immerse Yourself), will have plenty of room for the Industry.

  • Data streams will need to be aggregated and curated.
  • The appropriate tools will need to be assembled into a usable arsenal that can distinguish the signal from the noise.
  • The ultimate needs of the marketer need to be synthesized into the functioning of those tools.  They will need to be tuned and tweaked.
  •  Since the immersion is on-going, there will need to be a kind of institution memory that makes sense of the insights and correlations over time.

In the future, the industry will be less involved in the realm of the craftsman, finely honing designs, data, and results and more in the area of event management.  The researcher will be an impresario, a director, managing and coordinating all the pieces the marketer will need to be fully immersed in the consumer experience.

By Walt Dickie, Executive Vice President

160311494Telligent is one of C+R’s primary community platform partners. We’ve been using their Telligent Community software as the basis for what we call mrTelligent, our proprietary community platform, that’s been optimized for marketing research, especially research with a more qualitative orientation. mrTelligent underlies our own in-house communities as well as some of the client communities that we manage, and we’re very pleased with its capabilities, its well thought-out design, and how easy it is to extend and customize.

When Telligent asked us to be one of the use cases in a new eBook they were preparing about Social Marketing in an Online Community, we were happy to agree. Now that it’s been released, we could hardly be more pleased by the result. Telligent has a long history of providing thoughtful advice about planning, building, managing, and using communities to address business issues, and they’ve again done themselves proud.

C+R is the sole marketing research provider that Telligent includes in its case studies, and our Vice President for Online Immersion, Erin Barber, did a great job with an overview of some MR-specific applications of online communities. Marketing researchers will also be interested in the story on managing the continuing innovation process at HealthStream, which spotlights the InnovationCast product that’s also built on the Telligent platform.

Customer and consumer communities are enjoying a new surge of interest among marketing researchers, it seems. Clients are discovering that partnering with a research supplier who can build and manage proprietary communities as well as provide a full range of custom quantitative and qualitative research services really boosts the effectiveness of their entire research program. In an era when companies are demanding faster, better, more efficient ways to gain fresh, deep insights, using multiple suppliers for custom research and community management is just a hindrance.

From C+R’s vantage point, we’re finding that our ongoing involvement in a client’s community enables us to be smarter about their business issues and provide deeper insights when we tackle their custom research. And, of course, the knowledge we gain from conducting custom work helps us draw added value from the activities we conduct within the client’s community.

By Jorge Martinez, Director, LatinoEyes

When C+R first began conducting Hispanic research, one of the difficulties was finding participants.  The methods we were using within the general population were not effective.  We would turn to dedicated recruiters who were wired in to the local Hispanic communities to find focus group participants.  At times, they would shepherd the participants to the facility as a group in a van.  It was complicated and dicey.

147726449We have been slowly been moving away from such unusual tactics.  And, it is with a good deal of excitement that we read the latest report from the Pew Research’s Hispanic Center indicating that the Hispanic population in the US is closing the “digital divide.”  Hispanics’ use of the internet (78%) ids equal to that of the African American community and now approaches the level (87%) of the white population.  Their use of the internet (86%) is almost equal to that of non-Hispanic whites (90%) and edges above African-Americans (84%).

What is most interesting about Hispanics as they cross the digital divide is that they are in the vanguard of the transition to mobile.  A higher proportion of them (76%) access the internet with a cellphone or other handheld device than whites (60%), and even slightly more than African-Americans (73%).  And for a variety of reasons, they are more likely to live in cellphone only households (47%) than either African Americans (38%) or non-Hispanic whites (30%).

So, it is clear that efforts to understand the tastes, preferences, and attitudes of today’s Hispanics can take place in the digital space and, increasingly, in the mobile leading edge of that world.  But, doing so will still require keeping in mind some of the basic principles we have observed exploring the Hispanics community with more conventional means.

  • Hispanic participants still need to be given language options when they participate in a survey or an online community. It is important to remember that fluency in either language does not define Hispanic identity, and that research with Hispanics does not mean that research must be done exclusively in Spanish.  Self-perceptions of language ability do not always match actual competency.  Some desire to use Spanish even beyond the limits of their actual competency.  It may even make sense in a qualitative environment to allow participants to move back and forth between English and Spanish guided by moderators who are equally fluid.
  • We still need to be attentive and accommodate contextual and cultural differences within the Latino community.  Even though Spanish may be the common language the range of linguistic and cultural variation is considerable and can present even more of a problem in a communications medium that feels as casual as “mobile.”
  • Our experience conducting qualitative research suggests how important relationships and the social dynamic are within the Hispanic community.  When interacting with Latinos in a digital environment, we need to provide space for this interpersonal dynamic if we are going to generate meaningful insights.

Online methods may not be appropriate for all research into the Hispanic community.  More traditional, face-to-face approaches are still required for reaching older, unacculturated Hispanics.  Yet, we are now in an era when digital approaches can be as successful with Hispanic respondents and with any other group.

By Bob Relihan

Last year I discussed why it may be wise to employ qualitative methods after a quantitative investigation.  This approach, of course, reverses the traditional order of such things.  Many of us were taught to use in-depth interviews or focus groups to generate hypotheses for quantitative testing.  But, as product development cycles get shortened it is tempting to short-circuit the initial qualitative phase of a research program and move straight to quantification.  Marketers, after all, know their category and their consumers.  Right?

Here are 3 reasons why early qualitative research will make the design and analysis of quantitative projects smoother and more precise.

  • 56359460Consumers really do define words in unexpected ways.  I recently completed a series of individual interviews of customers who purchased a particular product.  This product was available as either a “custom” item or “off-the-shelf.”  I recruited customers of each product type for my interviews.  To my surprise, many of those I thought would be “custom” buyers turned out to purchase non-custom products.  What happened?  It turned out that there were so many varieties of off-the-shelf products, customers often printed the names of the items they purchased.  The product was just what they needed.  It was “custom.”  If I had used my screener to fill quotas of “custom” and “off-the-shelf” users for a large scale survey of product attitudes and usage, my results would have been incomprehensible or, worse yet, clear but wrong.
  • Consumers really do view categories differently.  I was exploring product usage in a category that the brand managers divided into four groups —premium brands, value brands, bargain brands, and low-price brands.  Each of these categories represented a different price point and value proposition.  Consumers just didn’t see the category that way.  Any product in the category was either a “name brand” or a “generic” —each of which had very different price expectations.  If we looked at the results of a brand image survey based upon the four slices of the category marketers saw, we would probably have confused results that would be more clear viewed through the two-segment lens consumers used.
  • Consumers really classify products in unusual ways. From the perspective of brand managers, a category is often defined by attributes of production and distribution that may be irrelevant to consumers.  Designing a quantitative study based on these assumptions can be misleading.  For example, “salty snacks” is a category that makes sense to marketers because it corresponds to how products are distributed and displayed in stores.  It makes some sense to consumers, but it is not perfect.  When I have explored salty snack qualitatively with consumers, I always make sure that we consider candy, cookies, frozen single-serve pizzas, apples — anything that can is consumed at a non-meal occasion. The brand manager may say these aren’t in my category.  But what happens in the interview?  We often discover that some salty snacks —pretzels, for example — have as much in common with chocolates as they do with other salty snacks.  And, these associations reveal a range of relevant attributes we would not have seen if we had limited our exploration to just “salty snacks.”

So, if you want to have maximum confidence in you quantitative instrument and in the results it produces, a qualitative first step is invaluable.  You really do need to “measure twice and cut once.”  Moreover, it is much more efficient if your qualitative consultant actually works with your quantitative consultant, discussing the issues in depth rather than simply passing on a report of qualitative findings.

By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President

The holiday season has become a benchmark for the forward progress of online and mobile shopping activity.  Pew has reported that 58% of cellphone owners used their phones in a store to get information to guide their shopping.

  • 46% of cellphone owners used their phones to call a friend or family member for advice.
  • 28% of cellphone owners used their phones to look up product reviews.
  • 27% of cellphone owners used their phones to look up the price of a product.

Of course, younger smartphone owners were much more likely to engage in these behaviors.

These are remarkable numbers, but what has more an interesting implication for those interested in the future of mobile research and online communities are the demographics that did not make the headlines.  To be sure, men and women check reviews and prices with their phones at roughly similar rates.  But, to seek advice….  Hardly!

UntitledIs this another example of men not asking for directions?  Partially, I suppose.  but it is a bit more complex than that.  If you listen to phone conversations in stores (I confess to being a compulsive eavesdropper), you will hear two very different exchanges.  Painting with a very broad brush, women seen to call from the grocery store and ask family members what they want.  “Do you want Rocky Road or Chocolate Mint Chip?”  “What would you like for lunch?”  Men, on the other hand, tend to ask about the “List.”  “I can’t find Dole; is it OK to get Del Monte?” “You said steak, but what kind?”

In other words, women seem to check with home because they want to get it right; they want to make sure everyone is happy.  Men seem to check because they don’t want to get it wrong.  Or, they don’t worry and don’t call.

So, from the perspective of research, this is mixed news.  Mobile data collection seems to be the way to go.  People are “transmitting data” already.  The same can’t be said for taking surveys; they exist almost exclusively in the context of research.  But, if we want to integrate that mobile activity into an online community, many women may be there already.  Men, on the other hand, may not be.