EmergeSmarter Blog

Three Things That Only Focus Groups Can Do

Posted on Mon, May 9, 2011

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

Focus GroupsIf you do focus groups long enough, you will end up having to defend them.  In fact, you will end up having to defend them many times.  And, so I was sitting this week listening to someone who was tired of focus groups.  He wanted something new, different, something that put him in touch with real people.

Much of what passes for focus group criticism is simply wrong-headed; it is based on poorly conducted and poorly interpreted research.  But, it is also fair to respond to the notion that focus groups are tired and old, that fresh insight require fresh methods.

Just like a good bath, everyone needs something new once in a while, but let me point out the three things that only focus groups can do.

  • Embrace the debate.  Don’t worry about the one guy who dominated the group.  The world is awash in conflicting messages.  If your idea can’t stand the assault in a group, how well will it do in the real world?  Last night I observed seven people who praised the taste and quality of one product be brought back down to earth by that one woman who said all she cared about was price. Perhaps, that’s the right proportion — one price message out weighs seven quality claims.  My client and I certainly will be thinking about it.

    And, remember that an effective moderator can stimulate this kind of back and forth.  No other method yields this kind of debate.
  • Embrace the artificiality.  When you are in someone’s home watching them prepare dinner, only you can see what they are doing.  You are stuck with their reality.  It can be marvelously illuminating.  But, within reason you cannot swap out the entree on the fly.  You can’t see what isn’t there.  You can’t understand the meal ritual without seeing the meal ritual.

    But, in a focus group I can use a bit of misdirection.  I can turn what I really care about into a dependent variable.  I can present packaging variations and have consumers taste the different product (all the same, of course).  They discuss the “different” taste experiences.  Voila, they have distinguished among packaging variations without knowing that was my purpose.
  • Embrace the chaos.  My last group in a series is almost never like my first.  Part of this is simple mechanics.  I learn the questions that work and the questions that fall flat.  I pick up on consumer language and integrate it into my probes.  But the real source of the change from beginning to end is that the team is constantly thinking and retooling our hypotheses and stimulus.  Concepts are revised.  New ones are created.  To be sure, this is more productive.  We are not simply collecting data, amassing observations.  We are growing and changing.

If you accept these three unique qualities of a focus group, you will be well rewarded and realize the well-conducted focus group study will always have a place in your research toolbox.

Tags: focus groups, Market Research, qualitative research

Moderators and Clients on Mars

Posted on Thu, May 5, 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.MROCs

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.

Tags: MROCs, qualitative research, Online qualitative research

Debunking Myths

Posted on Wed, May 4, 2011

By Amy Henry, Vice President of Youth Insights

At the Kid, Youth and Parent Power Conference in Florida last week, marketers, researchers and child advocates gathered to discuss trends and tYouth Market Researcho share success stories. But they also came to engage in one of researchers’ and marketers’ favorite pastimes: myth bashing. On the doorstep of Disney, a place where fairytales usually prevail, speakers challenged the notion that teens rebel (according to MTV, Millenials prefer to game the system, not change it), that tweens and teens respond to mobile advertising, and that today’s parents just don’t understand (it turns out, they do).

We’ve engaged in a bit of this ourselves…On our YouthBeat website, you can find a link to our white paper on the “Six Youth Untruths,” and at the recent ARF conference, we shared a few fables about advertising to kids, tweens and teens.

Why do we take a swipe at hearsay and a cut at conventional wisdom so much? And what makes it so necessary to negate the notions that so many marketers have made into mantras?

  • First, we know that myths don’t just survive, but often thrive, in marketing culture. Sometimes old insights die hard, and it’s tough to give up a gem of an idea even if it’s time has passed. Remember when talking about “pester power” sounded like a masterful mom insight? Or that people over 55 don’t experiment with new brands? Even though youth and family culture has moved on, marketers are sometimes reluctant to change their tune. Too many presentations have been written, briefs have been crafted or businesses have been built on these ideas – and the thought of re-investing in new intelligence brings with it anxiety and a price tag.
  • Second, myths make our jobs easy. And isn’t that a good thing? Many of the myths that prevail come from watching the people around us, or taking our own experience too seriously. When it comes to truly understanding consumers’ needs and desires, this mindset can be a recipe for disaster. Smart researchers know that behind a simple truth sometimes lies a more messy explanation. And while we could argue that simple is good, complexity often gets us to a better understanding of the consumers we serve.
  • And finally, new myths seem to arise on a daily basis. Today, when bloggers’ words can sound biblical, and consultants make their mark through making bold statements about the future, researchers must add a tempered perspective. Do all kids have iPhones? Not by a longshot. Are iPads in every home? Not yet. But these can be unpopular messages to send to marketers who hope to get ahead of the next trend. As researchers, we’re obligated to present the world as it is, even when the rhetoric seems to tell a story of a culture that has not yet come to pass.

So what’s a marketer or researcher to do? Scrutinize the sure-things – don’t accept that timeless ideas last forever. Embrace complexity – and if an insight feels a little too true, question and challenge it before applying it to your work. And finally, look to validate your hunches – especially the newest ones -  before using them to generalize the lives of your consumers or your audience.

Tags: youth and family research, teenage market research, youth market research

What I Hate about Market Research Haters…

Posted on Thu, Apr 21, 2011

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

…is that they get it so wrong.  I just read another indictment of marketing research as that great stifle of creativity and innovation.  Trotted out were those ever popular examples of the focus group dominator and the poorly selected sample that both lead marketers to make bad decisions.  I have heard these stories so many times that I am convinced they are urban legends.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if a third example in the piece had been about Chicago’s most famous ghost, Resurrection Mary, directing a media plan.

Market ResearchWould anyone really adopt a package design because one person in one focus group really liked it?  Are business plans ever driven by a customer survey with a poorly designed sample?  Well…  But, this isn’t about research; it’s about bad research.  It isn’t about decision making; it’s about poor decision making.

Complaints about marketing research always seem to emanate from the perfect storm of poorly designed research and uninquisitive managers.  So, the next time you read someone telling you to be skeptical of research, look at the examples:

  • Is there a hypothesis in the house?  Not to sound hopelessly fussy, but criticism of research with examples that never seem to have hypotheses can’t be about serious research.  Without hypotheses, any conclusion is possible, and no discipline is applied to decision making.
  • Research never “says “what to do.  Criticism of marketing research always contains some phrase like “the research said.”  Research may be actionable, but it never demands action.  Research provides thoughtful managers evidence from which they can draw conclusions on which action can be based.
  • Analysis speaks, not consumers.  These critiques of research are often couched in the terms of the consumer voice.  “But, in the research consumers said…”  If you wish to listen to consumers, go to a neighborhood barbeque and act upon what you hear at your peril.  Good research provides the discipline and structures to help us recognize what consumers mean beneath the chaos of what they “say.”  Don’t confuse listening to consumers with understanding them.

So, remember these guidelines the next time you hear someone criticize marketing research.  In all likelihood, he is complaining about “bad” research, or some fantasy of bad research a million miles from reality.

Tags: focus groups, Market Research, qualitative research

New Ground for Shopper Insights

Posted on Wed, Apr 13, 2011

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President Grocery Gadget

Two weeks ago I added the Grocery Gadgets app to my iPhone.  Being compulsive, I also added it to my iPad.  It lets me build a shopping list from a database of my favorite items.  As I walk through the store, I check the items off as I pull them from the shelves.  Being doubly compulsive, I created a group that lets my wife and I add items to the list from our computers or mobile devices.

While I am really enamored with this new system, Heather is less convinced. Isn’t this just a high tech version of what used to be on the back of an envelope?  Maybe.  But, wait.  I can link the list to a particular store.  As I walk through the store, the app remembers the order in which I selected the items on the list.  The next time I go to that store, bang, the items come up as I walk up to them! 

The app has become my store.  No more dawdling over end-caps.  No more serendipitous discoveries as I notice an attractive display of something I’ve never seen before.  Instead, I discover new products because the app offers me a coupon for a new product. 

This is only the beginning.  An app like myShopanion lets me check what my friends have to say about something I’d like to try…while I am still in the store.  I can easily imagine a future version of GroceryGadget that suggest products to me the way Amazon does or even cycles items to the top of my searches like Google.

What’s really interesting about all of this is that apps like these perform the amazing feat of taking the physical store out of the shopper interaction. The customer becomes their customer, and the store becomes just the middleman. For brands, this could be huge: a direct channel to customers without the hassle of dealing with a gazillion different in-store configurations.

Tags: Shopper Insights, Market Research

The Real Benefits of a SAS 70 Security Audit

Posted on Sun, Apr 10, 2011

By Walt Dickie, Executive Vice President

C+R Research received the final SAS 70 Type II logocopy of our first SAS 70 audit about three weeks ago. It was the end of a year-long effort to review and re-think our privacy and security policies and procedures, and everyone involved was elated when we passed with flying colors.

But I’ve been thinking, now that the hard work and occasional frenzy that got us to this point is over, what the real value of all that effort really was. And I’m pleased to discover that we got more benefits than we expected.

For those of you who don’t know, SAS 70 is an audit standard developed for service organizations by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. A SAS 70 audit is an in-depth examination of a firm’s information technology and processes, and companies obtain them to demonstrate that they have adequate controls and safeguards when they host or process data belonging to their customers.

Like most market research providers, C+R regularly receives confidential information from many of our clients. For clients in the financial services and healthcare industries, the confidentiality of customer information involves specific legal obligations, but clients in all industries are becoming more conscious of the importance of safeguarding customer data.

Many of us here at C+R cut our teeth handling information from young kids – we've been complying with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) since 2000, when we started our KidzEyes.com panel. So we were pretty confident that we knew what we were doing when it came to security and privacy issues.

And we were right, for the most part. When we dug in to the SAS 70 process, we discovered that we had the fundamentals solidly covered. What we didn’t have was systematic procedures for reviewing and improving our processes. And we hadn’t given enough thought to training, passing on knowledge and experience. And, most of all, we hadn’t focused enough on being able to backtrack along our own processes so we could prove that we had done what we intended to – or, should the dreaded day arrive, find the point when something went astray.

So, although I’m pleased that we can now share the results of a successful audit with our clients, I’m most pleased that we’ve given ourselves a better chance to stay on course in the future. That has turned out to be the real, and unexpected benefit of the SAS 70. It was well worth the time and money. And for all the work involved, I’d recommend it to others.

Tags: SAS70, C+R News

Reaching a Milestone

Posted on Wed, Apr 6, 2011

By Robbin Jaklin, President.describe the image

Last year, C+R Research celebrated its 50th year of business.  With 50 years of history it seemed only appropriate to reflect on that history.  But as we have spent the past year reflecting, it is clear that we don’t look much like we did 50 years ago…or even 15 years ago.  So we did what any good marketing-oriented company would do.  We hired an independent brand consultancy to help us discover what our brand means to clients after all these years.

As with all endeavors of this type, a team consisting of internal C+R specialists and the brand consultancy was formed.  The net was cast wide—interviews were carried out internally as well as externally with some of our clients, numerous meetings patiently reviewing responses and crafting solutions were attended, and an honest assessment of what we were saying about ourselves as well as a keen look at our business practices took place. Admittedly, it was a lot of work and seemed a bit daunting at first. We’ve worked with clients to help capture their brand and target usage stories for 50 years! We’ve helped them evaluate concepts and subsequently develop strategic recommendations for them as well! What, we wondered, were we going to learn about our own brand story? Where were our strengths—or our potential weaknesses? We asked ourselves certain questions continuously throughout the process. What was relevant to us?  What worked?  What didn’t and why? And, lastly, what if…?

Eventually, what seemed at first daunting expanded and began to reveal a very lucid story…and a familiar one. What we were learning about ourselves confirmed what we knew all along. Some things surprised us—in a good way!—and others did not. Our exploration showed that while research has changed a great deal over the years technologically and categorically, the principles that drive our approach to deliver what clients need from us have not. We learned that clients admire our ‘whatever it takes’ attitude and our commitment to help strengthen and expand their knowledge passionately, creatively, thoughtfully. 

We learned that our very consultative and senior level ‘hands on’ approach to projects underpinned the rewarding relationships we’ve built with our clients over the years beyond the technology or methodologies involved.  Additionally, we learned that, internally, we’re a passionate bunch, a creative lot, excited about what we do and deliver department-to-department exactly the same type of commitment and solutions-based customer service that we give to our clients. And, true to our history we aren’t a company concerned with being like all the other guys.  What we care about is doing what’s necessary…and doing what’s right.  

What we learned in essence about ourselves is our ability to ‘get to the heart of it.’  So, as spring is upon us, C+R will enjoy a new look… a look and message that reflect who C+R is today, built on a history of what C+R has been for the past 50 years, and what C+R is positioned to be in the coming years.

Tags: Market Research, C+R News

EmergeSmarter — A Marketing Insight Resource

Posted on Fri, Apr 1, 2011

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

Reading Robbin’s description of our re-branding efforts has, I have to say, re-energized me once more.  Déjà vu all over again, in the words of Yogi Berra.  I have been part of at least half of C+R‘s history.  It’s exciting to take all of that experience and learning, gather it up, and take it into the future.

And, that’s what we are doing here in our blog — EmergeSmarter. C+R is a group of exciting, smart people, all with different voices and perspectives.  We welcome you to share with us the many things we find new and useful about research, the industry, and people.

  • A new technique
  • A new perspective
  • A new method
  • A fresh insight

Why are we doing this? Well I know why I am doing this.  I have conducted many different projects and enjoyed the prospect of getting shoulder to shoulder with consumers – discovering how they live, exploring what they want and feel, and producing some unique insights. But, so much of life and work doesn't fit neatly into this or that project.  These are the things I and the rest of us at C+R want to share…and perhaps, even engage in a bit of dialogue.

It is our hope that, from these encounters, we will all emerge smarter.

EmergeSmarter — A Marketing Insight Resource

Tags: Misc, C+R News