April 9th, 2013
By Walt Dickie, Executive Vice President
Telligent 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.
January 25th, 2012
By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President
The use of MROCs is burgeoning. They enable the researcher and the marketer to immerse themselves deeply in the lives of their consumers. The experience is incredibly rich. We can hear consumers in their own voice; we can peek into their homes. They can show us the things and images that are meaningful to them and their families. And, they still are able to talk among themselves in ways that make the most sense to them. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
How do you make the most of these riches? MROCs are qualitative research. Right? Yet, unlike a focus group or an individual interview, they don’t come at us as a simple, single stream of information. Rather, they give us different types of information, both synchronous and asynchronous, and they give us tons of it.
As we have mastered the operational aspects of this approach, we have also developed principles for maximizing the learning it delivers. Here are a few rules to follow if you want to get the most out of your MROC:
- Get your team organized and focused. More so than with traditional qualitative research, it is important to assure that all team members understand the goals of the project and the specific details of how those goals will be achieved. This is essential because most MROCs are built with a range of discussions, stimuli, and projective exercises. There are lots of little pieces to keep straight.
- Give everyone on the team a research buddy or two. Rather than ask every member of your team to pay attention to everything happening in the MROC, assign each member of the team one are two of the participants. Have the team members follow everything that just their “buddies” say and do. This makes the task of following the community much more manageable for each team member. Moreover, by immersing themselves in the experiences of just one or two participants, team members will feel the consumer experience much more deeply. In your meetings, they will become advocates for their research buddies.
- Use the technology platform to communicate questions and comments among the team members and with the community leaders. It may be tempting to e-mail, text, or simply grab someone in the hall to talk about the community, but using the technology platform will allow everyone on the team to see every comment and serve as a repository for those comments when the project is completed.
- Hold a “study hall.” It is important that the team not let the rush of information get ahead of it. Therefore, we have found it essential to bring the team together almost daily to share the current state of its learning. Since everyone has a research buddy, the regularity of these meetings is less onerous than it sounds. We all want to give voice to our new friend.
- Give the team a framework. While the study hall is great for collective sharing, we also find it useful for the group leader to send almost daily, but brief, summaries of the three or four key insights of the day. Not only is the information valuable, but these insights focus the observations of the team members for the next day.
Following these simple rules will assure that your team gets the most from its MROC experience.
January 6th, 2012
By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President
It is sobering to read in the space of a few weeks that Kodak is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy and that Sears will be shuttering over a hundred stores. These are brands with which baby boomers grew up. They stood for values many held dear — “preserving memories” in the case of Kodak and “value for the entire family” in the case of Sears.
The names, of course, are not completely dead. In fact, I still have more contact with them than I do with some other brands. My daughter-in-law continually sends me “Kodak Galleries” of my grandchildren. And, I have a niece who works in a Sears. Although, I suppose it is telling that I didn’t mention purchasing Kodak products or shopping at a Sears.
The easy answer, and the one you have all heard, is that both of these brands could not adapt to changing competition. Like the proverbial supertanker, they were difficult to change quickly and sharply. The transition from film-based to digital photography may have been inevitable, but Kodak played a role in the development of the digital camera.
So how do marketers keep their brands healthy? How do they assure they do not find themselves on the wrong side of changes in the marketplace?
- A brand is the glue that binds a consumer to a product. It is the basis of loyalty and identity. And, it tells the consumer what a product is not, who does not belong to its family, as much as it defines what the product is. That “what it’s not” extends beyond its immediate competition. McDonald’s kept its brand healthy by recognizing it is was more than simply “not Burger King.” It was “not a sit-down restaurant.” And, that meant it competed with Starbuck’s for snack occasions. What is Burger King “not”?
- The wrong answer to the question of what a brand is “not” is “trying to be all things to all people.” It may work for a while, but, as Sears has learned, a weak focus can make you vulnerable. When Sears truly dominated a large swath of mass retailing, all was well. But, over time, more focused competitors — some big, some small, some physical, some catalogues — chipped away at the margins. In the end, there are a number of players doing a better job of being pieces of “not Sears.”
So, the successful marketer must keep a careful eye on what is outside of the brand’s preserve, far outside. One way is to keep monitoring social media. The tendency is to pay attention to what is being said about “my brand.” But, the real goal has to be paying attention to what my brand’s users are saying about all of their consumption. What products, services, activities are poaching on the emotional ties that used to be exclusively the domain of my brand? More to the point, what is replacing those emotional ties?
Another more focused approach to this monitoring is with on-line communities of your brand loyalists. This effort still can have a very broad outlook, but it also allows for probing into specific behavior and attitudes. I suspect it was not simply the birth of digital photography that changed the world for Kodak. It was also the different vision of friendship and relationships that Gen-Xers display, a vision that set great store in broad but immediate sharing of experiences. On-line communities are great places for exploring these changing social constructs.
September 22nd, 2011
By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President
If you have conducted focus groups, or even observed them, you have probably noticed that the energy level can vary over the course of a day. I have always taken this as the normal course of events. But, it turns out there is a rather interesting explanation for this ebb and flow — decision fatigue. A recent article by John Tierney in the New York Times, “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?,” describes the research surrounding this phenomenon in great detail.
I had always thought people simply get tired during the course of the day, but Tierney demonstrates that the mere act of making decisions wears us down, making us less able make additional choices. He points to a study in which individuals who simply review material were better able to make choices about it at the end than those who were forced to repeat incremental choices.
He also notes that those who receive food make better decisions. And, it is not the psychological reward of the food that works. Tasteless, but sugared grub will have more effect than a sugar-free sundae.
What is the impact of decision fatigued? One makes poor decisions, of course. But, what is a poor decision? The fatigued person defaults to the familiar, the usual, the expected. In other words, he or she avoids making the hard choices — just those choices we would like research participants to make.
So, what is the lesson here for researchers? Well, I am going to take the cans of Pepsi and cookies on the table much more seriously than I have in the past. I might even ban water and diet beverages. On a more fundamental level, it has caused me to re-think the number and nature of exercises I ask people to perform in a focus group. Let them create a collage at home rather than force them to select pictures for a collage during the interview. Might there be implications for questionnaire design?
Concerns about decision fatigue also make on-line qualitative and MROCs look all the more promising. Participants can respond to our tasks at the times they are freshest and best able to evaluate whatever it is we wish them to judge.
There is another troubling issue Tierney raises. “Decision fatigue is a major — and hitherto ignored — factor in trapping people in poverty. Because their financial situation forces them to make so many trade-offs, they have less willpower to devote to school, work and other activities that might get them into the middle class…. A trip to the supermarket induces more decision fatigue in the poor than in the rich —because each purchase requires more mental trade-offs.” At first this seems like an important, but a political concern. Yet, it has implications for those who wish to understand the behavior of consumers.
Dan Peck’ Atlantic article, “Can the Middle Class be Saved?” described what he calls the “hollowing out” of the American middle class. His economic arguments are familiar. Over the past several decades, a larger proportion of the nation’s wealth has accrued to a smaller proportion of individuals at the top. But, in the process, the middle class has fractured. Now, the non-professional middle class are more likely to resemble in behavior and attitudes the “high school drop-out poor” than the “college educated members” of the middle class.
The sub-text — many more of those whom we survey or wish to have in our MROCs and focus groups are likely to be in a semi-permanent state of decision fatigue. Our methods and approaches will need to be much more sensitive to this fact.
September 7th, 2011
By Shaili Bhatt, Senior Analyst
It never fails to fascinate me how much people will share about themselves online—especially for longer market research studies where typical time constraints are a non-issue and participation is at one’s convenience. People can be endlessly interested to complete interactive discussions and creative challenges, even if the rewards are not immediately tangible! As qualitative or hybrid qual-quant researchers, we can foster and utilize human curiosity to the fullest in market research online communities (MROCs).
The combination of a longer MROC timeframe and our innate curiosity allows the moderator and the accompanying backroom to set off on a meaningful journey with consumers. Many of the questions in MROC studies are pre-structured by the researcher, clients (and sometimes an agency or two), yet we make it a habit to leave plenty of room to play, revise, and add new topics.
With MROCs, process-driven adventures excel when they are led with experienced online moderation, including large spoonfuls of strategy, analysis and fun. (Calling Mary Poppins…)
Blossoming the conversation in a visually appealing, fun and organic fashion, with posts ranging from the serious to even silly, is more of a creative endeavor than a task.
Every day, our backroom insights are shaped by the individuals in the community as much as the group at large. Over time, consumers share and develop the most interesting points of reference, and as researchers, we identify each clue and investigate it. At any given time, the data is as granular or “big picture” as we need it to be.
What if you could lead a newly formed community on an adventure to explore products they use every day or on special occasions? What if
you could explore their lives to conceptualize products that don’t currently exist? What if you could craft questions to be so engaging and educational that the community members have fun on this journey (and forget that they are communicating with technology or are in a market research study to get paid)? What if they could journal their experiences in real-time every day of the study and follow how other members may be experiencing similar issues, motivations, desires, or loss, communicating these thoughts and feelings with each other?
Imagine the ideas they could share, the products and product substitutes they could seek, and the roller coaster of emotions that we can feel with them, neatly captured online or on mobile devices—in text, pictures, collages and video—day by day. We get to know who they are, individually and as a group, and by the end of it, we are celebrating new insights and Aha! moments along with birthdays, anniversaries, storm survival, holiday survival, new friendships and team accomplishments.
This is the reality at the heart of today’s MROC studies—resulting in more meaningful journeys, with more individuals coming together to form fully committed, vibrant communities that are brimming with insights and co-creation, with depth beyond anything most capture from a traditional focus group. At times it can feel like stepping into the land of OZ and emerging with the key to the city.
Are MROCs part of your toolbox? If you’re working with MROCs, please share your story here, and if you’re not MROC-ing and/or if you’re not particularly enthused about this methodology, please share your side of the story too.
June 24th, 2011
By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President
Last week, I saw David Sirota discuss his book, Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explains the World We Live in Now – Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything. His thesis is that, beginning in the ‘80s, American society has become increasingly focused on the individual. He, of course, used words such as “narcissism” to describe this. One piece of evidence he offered was that the number of people who were members of a civic organization had almost halved over a 15 year period beginning in the early ‘90s.
Well, we have heard this all before; it’s the “Bowling Alone” argument.
But, as I listened this time, my first reaction, probably influenced by all of the online research C+R has been conducting of late, was to think, “Hey, wait a minute. What about all of those online communities and social networks? Aren’t communities both growing and proliferating? Isn’t there lots of interaction among the members of these communities? Hasn’t our ‘social capital’ merely moved online? Isn’t the tendency of people to select their own affinity groups a replacement for traditional communities?”
The answer is yes and no. It is important for marketers to keep in mind the differences between online communities and physical communities when they plan their strategies and conduct their research.
- Online communities are not physical; they do not have locations. This observation may be in the category of “Duh.” But, what does the difference mean? We conduct surveys that use a “nationally representative sample.” That sample reflects general population distribution. Perhaps, it is more important to reflect the density of different self-selected communities. A traditional qualitative project might be conducted in different markets to achieve a “national representation.” Might it be better to be in a single market, but reflect different communities — evangelical Christians, environmentalist, and the like — in separate focus groups? And, most obviously, if online communities are the way people are organizing themselves, shouldn’t we really be talking to consumers online?
- Online communities are more homogeneous. Members of online communities consciously select themselves. They seek members with whom they share beliefs and interests. And, if that is the case, do my samples of members of these online communities need to be as large as a sample of a physical community?
- Online communities are more fragile, less stable. Recent news suggests that Facebook traffic is declining. There are a number of ways to interpret this data, but the trend highlights the fact that people enter and leave online communities with much greater frequency than they enter and leave physical communities. I might have confidence in the results I obtained from a well-designed survey of my town for three years. But, if I were to rely on a survey of an online community, I might want to revisit my results in half that time.
Online communities are the new reality. They are indeed a rich, focused source of information. But, a changed world requires changed methods and perspectives, and C+R is prepared to guide you through this new territory.
May 5th, 2011
By Walt Dickie, Executive Vice President
The long strange trip from the facility to MROCs
I’ve been enjoying Robert Markley’s, Dying Planet, a terrific history of the narrative links uniting the Mars of science fiction writers and the Mars of scientists. And suddenly – as I was reading something that Michael Malin, the director of the Mars Orbital Camera (MOC) team for the Mars Global Surveyor mission, wrote about his difficulties, as a trained a geologist, in doing “geology” on Mars through the medium of images photographed from orbit – I found myself squarely back in the world of marketing research thinking about focus group moderators and clients dealing with online qualitative platforms.
Geologists think with their senses. They learn a landscape by experiencing it. Malin writes, “For field geologists, the study of an environment depends on hiking around, breaking open rocks, and seeing and touching the ground.” I know this is right; I’ve read a fair amount of writing by geologists over the years. They live to experience what Malin calls the “size, shape, texture, color, pattern, relief” of the rocks. I’ve read more than one geologist talking about licking rock dust left behind after a blow of a hammer. But the reality of what they were talking about just never really hit me before.
Thinking about Malin straining to “do geology” through the fantastic abstraction of a blurry photograph where each pixel represented 1.4 meters of what might have been real, rough rock, hefted and caressed, made me suddenly feel the plight of clients and focus group moderators making the journey from the facility to the world of online qualitative.
Moderators experience the “size, shape, texture, color, pattern, (and) relief” of their data just like geologists, and clients have always shared that experience from behind the mirror. They remember what was said – what was meant – and make connections by remembering the face and manner of the respondent who sat in the third chair to left in the facility in Pittsburgh. Without that experience, and that memory, what she said is all just dry words on a page. Or, text on a computer screen – a “response” to a “probe” in an online discussion. It has “content,” but no taste.
This seems to be one of the biggest challenges for online qualitative right now: to provide that feeling of experiencing the reality of people through the medium of text, pictures, and videos taken out of the physical, touchable context of face-to-face interaction and reduced to an abstract display of “qualitative data.”
But there’s a happy ending to the story of Malin, his MOC team, and geologists as a group. And I think there will be a similar happy ending for marketing research.
Two things have happened for the geologists. First, geology-by-remote-sensing has matured into its own specialty. As the subject matter changed from rocks to pictures of rocks, new analytic methods developed, and both newer and older generations of geologists became comfortable and skilled with them. Malin’s team proved, with their remote pictures of Martian rocks, that there had been active geological processes at work altering the Martian surface in the recent past, something that astronomers had been arguing about for a century. And planetary geology is a hot field at the moment.
The other thing that happened was that re-capturing the field geologist’s perspective on the surface of a remote planet became increasingly possible. The MOC team was working with blurry pixilated images, but they were much, much sharper than the images from earlier missions. And the newer stuff is better still. Although no human geologist has ever experienced the heft of a Martian rock, the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, gave millions a geologist’s eye view the planet’s surface. It’s telling that the NASA press release for the earlier Pathfinder mission described the Sojourner rover as a “twelve-inch tall geologist.”
I think that similar advances will happen in marketing research. A methodology for “remote sensing” of qualitative information will mature and both clients and analysts will become increasingly familiar with it and increasingly appreciative of the vistas it opens. And we’ll also get better at capturing the feeling of immediacy in the ways we capture information online and the way we present it.
Just as Mars was simply too good for guys like Malin to pass up simply because it lacked the experiential immediacy of field geology, online qualitative is just too exciting, and the data is just too fascinating to pass up because we’re momentarily feeling the loss of the lady in the third chair to left in the facility in Pittsburgh.