EmergeSmarter Blog

Wizardry of MROCs: A Meaningful Journey

Posted on Wed, Sep 7, 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…)Wizardry Online Research

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 studiesMROC Online Research Wizard of Oz—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.

Tags: focus groups, MROCs, Online qualitative research

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

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