Analysis

Let’s Rise Beyond the Term “Moderator”

What is the fate of the independent “moderator?” I have been involved in some interesting discussions here at the QRCA Annual Conference in Las Vegas related to the health of the industry.

The prevailing view among many whom I respect is that the old days of the “focus group moderator” are quickly waning. These qualitative professionals must become qualitative research consultants (QRCs) to survive. Researchers who made quite a nice income by managing the focus group research process will find their services in diminishing demand and the pay for those services being cut drastically.

There are several trends driving this reality:

  • Technology is making the qualitative process simple and accessible to research buyers. Therefore, the premium placed on “process researchers” is quickly diminishing.
  • Technology and internet access is making some research obsolete. Some routine research projects are being abandoned to the rising MR communities, social media mining or other methods of gathering qualitative data.
  • Research budgets have tightened, forcing corporate researchers to look at new, faster and cheaper methods for even historically tried-and-true research.

 

The qualitative researcher must be a consultant, not a processor of focus groups. They will be hired for the value they bring to the client, not their knowledge of the focus group process. Such value will be measured in terms of:

  • Knowledge of and application of the correct qualitative methodology (online, in-person, mobile, etc) to the marketing problem.
  • Understanding of the marketing problem and how research applies to that.
  • Understanding of the research buyer’s strategy, category and business problem.
  • Insights gained from the qualitative research that adds to the buyer’s knowledge base and helps make a more informed decision.
  • Informed, applicable, actionable recommendations arising from the research.

Qualitative researchers who can deliver on this value do themselves a disservice by using the term “moderator” to describe their services. It’s time to have the Qualitative Research Consultant (QRC) front and center.

What We Learned at ESOMAR Congress

The following is a guest post from Steve Henke, 20|20 president, who was in Amsterdam earlier this week for the ESOMAR Congress. Here are his thoughts from the last two days of the conference:

Days 2 and 3 at the ESOMAR stayed busy… though everyone seemed to get a later start on these days. Clearly, many of the delegates were taking advantage of the evening social activities and just Amsterdam itself (which, by the way, is an incredible city!).

What we heard in the booth stayed consistent with the the first two days… “We’re interested in online qual and know that it’s time to get involved.” In fact, when I got back to my office this morning, there were already several messages from attendees at the Congress – anxious to get started with us!

Interestingly, the content of the Congress didn’t really reflect this sentiment. There were only a couple sessions covering either online qualitative research or mobile qualitative research. I thought that was odd. The hot topic was gamification – using game-playing to engage participants at a higher level. Seems to me a little like putting the cart before the horse.

But all in all, it was a good and valuable 4 days. Next year’s Congress will be held in Atlanta. We’ll see you there.

The Incredible Shrinking Middle Class and Its Effect on Research

Goodbye middle class.

The vast middle class that has dominated our economy since WWII is shrinking rapidly. The research titans who once grazed on research focused squarely on the large number of “average” consumers will have to re-think their strategy and hone their segmenting skills.  A Wall Street Journal article this week detailed how P&G is introducing more product extensions aimed at the upper and lower ends of the economic ladder. The days of huge volumes of household products commanding a higher prices based on quality claims are slipping away. More and more consumers are buying on price; that requires a strategy re-think for the largest CPG firm and the largest research buyer in the world.

As P&G goes, so goes the research industry. What are the implications of P&G gaining more of its revenues from price-competitive products?  First, researchers will need to understand the lower-end market as well as they have come to understand the middle class market in the past 40 years. Second, and maybe more ominously, margins must be lower in price-competitive categories. With lower margins but constant pressure from shareholders, will P&G spend as much on research? If P&G research spending declines, what are the implications for the industry?

So, a significant shift in income distribution could have dramatic implications. It’s a lot to ponder. But for now, you will have to excuse me.  I’m off to Dollar General to do a little shopping.

Live From Day One of the MRMW Conference

Isaac Rogers, our director of innovation, is in Kennesaw, Ga., this week for the 2011 Market Research in the Mobile World (MRMW) Conference. Here are his thoughts on day one:

The format so far has been really stimulating; each presenter gets 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. I’m impressed not only by the quality of the presentations, but also the breadth of viewpoints; tech vendors, researchers, end-clients all have a place at the podium.

It seems that everyone in the audience has some experience with mobile research, so most of the conversations are leaning away from “Is it possible?” and more towards “How do we ensure we’re best utilizing mobile research methods?” But nobody has a great answer yet. It seems the consensus is that we simply haven’t arrived at the point where we can see where mobile research is going to end up. But I think everyone in the room agrees we should all commit to figuring this out—quickly—or the market research industry will be left as dumbfounded as we were when the Internet first emerged.

As a company with an existing mobile qualitative research platform already in the marketplace (QualAnywhere), I couldn’t agree more. All of us (both quant and qual) are figuring out where to go next, and we feel we’ve only taken the first timid steps on this new path.

There were actually several heated exchanges over one issue: Are we, as an industry, moving fast enough to survive? Some in the room (most maybe?) felt we just aren’t pushing new methods fast enough, and that we didn’t learn the lessons from the first wave of online methods and are doomed to repeat them.

On this side of the argument, many researchers voiced an opinion that we didn’t put enough energy into adoption (especially in online qualitative), and that it put us behind our potential for the better part of a decade. I think several times it was mentioned that online qualitative “just caught up.” and here we are, easily 5-7 years behind the needs of our client base. The fear is that if we don’t react quickly enough to mobile methods, and we don’t put enough effort into discovering and understanding this new medium then we’ll again be struggling to keep up with the demands of tomorrow.

The group on the other side of the argument believe we should push forward on mobile, but cautiously. These folks seem to think that, in our rush to adopt new methods, we actually make early missteps that slow the overall adoption of new methods. Instead, we should thorough in when and how we adopt new research methods.

I can see both sides of the argument, but I have to agree with the “more innovation, faster” side of the discussion. I don’t think we need to be sloppy in our adoption of mobile, but we do need to develop a culture that allows new methods to be tested, evaluated and understood much faster than we have in the past. This means there will be some messiness, some mis-steps, but we need to see this as part of the process and learn from it. Otherwise, let’s just hide in our offices and let the world pass us by.

All in all, congrats to Leonard Murphy and crew for a great kickoff to this conference.

Join the Debate on the Future of Mobile Research

Thursday’s Webinar on Mobile Research: Great Hope or False Dawn that was conceived by Leonard Murphy over at GreenBook Blog was a lively debate for the “soul of the future of research.”

The following participants were moderated by Roxana Strohmenger of Forrester Research:

Michael Alioto, Vice President, Marketing Sciences, Gongos Research
Reg Baker, COO, Market Strategies International
Leonard Murphy, Editor-in-Chief, GreenBook Blog
Ray Poynter, author of the Handbook of Online & Social Media Research

The Webinar grew out of the release of a survey by Alioto’s firm, Gongos Research, “Smartphone Surveys Prove Their Validity in Marketing Research.”

The key positions, according to Jeff Henning’s recap, were, either: “1. Smart phones are strategic enhancements to online,” or “2. Smart phones are a different methodology that could well be the next evolutionary platform of research and quantitative analysis.”

Murphy was expressing the view that research firms need to approach mobile differently, as it’s “radically different from how we think of research today.”

Poynter and Baker didn’t embrace the revolution that Murphy sees taking place. They were more in the camp that mobile was more of a “niche” part of qualititative research to date, and perhaps, will be for some time to come.

20|20’s own Jim Bryson notes that the bright predictions for mobile qualitative, for all it’s promises, has been disappointing up to this point. This perspective comes from 20|20’s experience of working on a number of innovative mobile qualitative projects in the past year.

Baker notes that it’s early yet to see the value of mobile qualitative, and much more research is required to see its value to marketers. Bryson tends to agree, noting that there is much still to be developed.

“We continue to look for ways to help researchers perform better research and gain deeper insights, wherever that means that mobile takes us,” says Bryson.

Where do you stand in the debate? We’d love to hear from you.

Positioning for the qualitative research industry of the future

Every conference, many blog posts and most conversations in the qualitative research industry center around the big question: what’s happening next?

Rapidly changing consumer behavior, technology advances and a horizon that is unclear to most marketers creates fear and opportunity. But the leaders in the qualitative research industry, and the future leaders of whatever this industry looks like, are focusing on accepting change and uncertainty, and creating their own future.

It’s about positioning. Listen to some leading voices and what they have to say:

In answer to the question that emerged from his appearance at the MRIA conference in British Columbia last week, “What is Next Gen Market research?,” Tom H.C. Anderson says the following at Next Gen Market Research:

” Importantly, the goal for all of us needs to be to resist further commoditization and cost cutting. Instead let’s increase the value of insights. I believe part of this will have to do with positioning. If you are on the qualitative side the goal will be greater creativity, more ‘marketing’ in both cases. We need to become more than traditional researchers while retaining the methodological principles which have served us well for many years.”

Says Ray Poynter, about the future of market research, in an interesting article from his blog, The Future Place:

“Although I think our business model is probably endangered, I think the future looks great for talented individuals. I think the opportunities for people who can understand a client’s needs, create a method of finding the answers, synthesise several streams of information, and produce feedback that allows the client to make a better decision has never looked rosier.

Jim Bryson adds his own thoughts, taken from some recent remarks:

“Marketing research is changing fundamentally. Survey’s will continue to be around for quite a while but they will be more limited than now because so much more data will be available from other sources. We saw a glimpse of this trend when companies started data mining of shopper data. That is expanding geometrically with huge new databases and the coming capabilities to gain true insights from social media. There are literally dozens of trends that all point to a more diminished role for the traditional survey.

With change comes opportunity. We can now engage consumers in a more complete way than 50 years ago. Compare current ethnography capabilities (visits, mobile qualitative, online journaling, webcam interviews, etc.) with the door-to-door methods of 50 years ago and you see that the industry has come light years and that there are more opportunities now in the industry than ever before. We will advance more in the next 10 years than in the last 50 and the opportunities will be accelerated as well…for those who are willing to change.”

Jim notes what he heard from a Senior EVP from Coca-Cola at the past Advertising Research Foundation conference, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”

MRA Conference Quotes: Bill Neal and Marshall Toplansky face off

The MRA Conference started Tuesday with a bang!  Industry veterans, icons really, Bill Neal and Marshall Toplansky, faced off on a debate about the future of the industry, specifically social media.  The debate was fun, opinionated and wide-ranging.  Some great quotes emerged.  Here are some of them that may make you stop and ponder.

“The (technology) train has left the station.  If the research industry does not get involved, it will relegate itself to the dustbin of history.” Marshall

What bothers me about our industry is that the answer to “It isn’t perfect” is I won’t bother with it.  In technology, the answer to “It isn’t perfect” is “I’ll work to fix it.” Marshall

On Corporate Trends:

“Corporate researchers are investing in ongoing, real-time information systems.  They started with financial systems and they are moving to marketing systems.  They are moving from a focus on strategic research and into performance indices.” Marshall

“Our role is to be the arbiter of the voice of the customer in the C-suite.  Unfortunately we do not have a voice in the C-suite today.” Bill

“Corporate researchers are not able to make judgments to understand what is good research and what is not.  They want the top numbers to pass up to those paying for it.” Bill

“Big M marketing is waning; Little m marketing is increasing.” Bill   (Big M = branding and long term positioning.  Little m = tactical marketing to result in short-term sales.)

“The fundamental flow of information to the decision makers is inadequate.” Marshall

On Social Media as a Research Tool:

“I don’t care how big the data set is, if its not representative then its not valid.  There are gobs of people that are not represented in social media…I’m not sure its ever going to get to the point where it is representative.” Bill

“It’s the “why” part of it that a lot of this new technology is not addressing.” Bill

“Despite what I have seen at this conference, social media research has not reached the point where you will bet the company on it.” Bill

“Gobs of data does not relieve us from conducting statistically reliable and trustworthy analyses…(and) relieve us from making reliable projections that can be defended in the court of reality” Bill

I remember when people stood up and said “Scanner data is going to end all research.” Bill

“I remember when people said that scanner data was no good because we didn’t know anything about the people that the data represents.  It wasn’t long until loyalty cards were invented to solve that problem.  We will solve these problems with social media.” Marshall

“I am concerned that this drive to use social media as quantitative information is going to lead too many people to drive off the cliff.  I guess that’s my major problem with it.”  Bill

“I want to address this idea of “representativeness.”  Do you realize that this whole idea of “representativeness” is a load of crap?…We are stuck in an old paradigm that even Proctor & Gamble is moving away from.” Marshall

“We have a herd instinct going on with social media and we have a lot more work to do to make it predictable.” Bill

“I don’t think you appreciate the scale difference between social media and traditional research.  To give you a sense of scale, just in consumer electronics we analyze and collect 120 million comments a month.  We are looking at this as the law of large numbers.  A lot of the comments we would normally delete in a typical research project get bled out in the millions of comments from social media.” Marshall

“So woman comes on and complains about diapers and more moms agree and add on.  Eventually the discussion cascades and the entire social media discussion is about a topic that may or may not be important to the majority of moms.  This is one of the problems I have with social media.” Bill

“Its (social media) not the end all, its just another tool.  Don’t oversell it.  Don’t overuse it.” Bill

IIR Tech Conference Report: Communities Down, Engagement Up?

Isaac Rogers, our Director of New Product Development, is attending the two-day IIR Technology Conference in Chicago. So far, he’s checked in with four observations:

1. No real talk about communities. This either means one of three things: 1) Everyone who wants one has one; 2) Everyone is bored of talking about them; or 3) They aren’t the hot-button item they once were. After my discussions with the other attendees, I’m leaning towards #3. Funny, a couple of years ago that’s all anyone wanted to talk about. Now, there seem to be three new buzzwords: mobile, social media and engagement (for real!).

2. Mobile qualitative research is everywhere in this conference, but there is still some debate about where it fits in the research toolkit. Is it a niche tool? Is it a primary go-to? Is it a compelling add-on? It seems there is a lot of value getting derived from the mobile experience/customer sat work going on, but people are talking about it as just another data collection method.

3. Social Media is a big topic at this event. However, there still seems to be this kind of “So what?” question hanging in the air. I think the presenters did an excellent job talking about how they use social media for additional insight into trends, and how the concept of “looking for your specific brand” is really not a great approach, but most of the questions from the audience seemed to leave me wondering if we’ve really got this social media monitoring figured out yet.

4. Engagement. This has been the subtle undercurrent of this conference, from my vantage point. Lots of these techniques and tools discussed allow us to create a more engaging participant experience, and how that can benefit the overall research. There is almost this “respect” for participants that is refreshing and signals continued growth for qualitative research.

True GRIT: What the Industry Trends Survey Says for Online Qualitative Research

Last week, the Greenbook Research Industry Trends survey results were released. It covers a lot of ground. I put together a summary for our internal staff related to qualitative with a focus on online qualitative research. Here is a summary of those findings:

  • Qualitative research is growing, with a net gain of 10 percent saying they will conduct MORE qualitative research this year than last.
  • Budget constraints are easily the No. 1 reason that companies change data collection methods. These companies are looking to new methods and new technologies to meet these budget constraints.
  • Online qualitative research has huge growth potential, with barely one-fourth of firms currently using any single form of online qualitative. Types of online qualitative used by research buyers include: online communities (28 percent); bulletin board focus group (27 percent); chat focus group (25 percent); social media monitoring (25 percent); and mobile qualitative research (15 percent).
  • Researchers have high expectations for mobile phone research.  We did a little extra analysis on the results as reported by GRIT. GRIT reported on current and future predicted use of several methods. We simply calculated the difference to get a sense of anticipated growth. The following table displays those numbers with growth rates over 20 percent highlighted in yellow. Note that three of five methods with highlighted growth rates are mobile.




Is Research ROI the Next Big Thing?

A few years ago, some research buyers raised concerns about respondent quality in the then-new world of online qualitative research. Bob Lederer of Research Business Report (RBR) took up the cause.  RBR and several others organized an industry conference on data quality, which led to data quality standards and incredible industry awareness of the problem and potential solutions.

Bob is at it again. At ARF and PMRG this month, Bob was advocating Research ROI. Bob tells me that he feels he “caught lightning in a bottle.” He is not only talking about it, he is planning another conference. Research buyers have already asked to be on the program to talk about how they are evaluating their market research initiatives, and Bob believes interest will be extremely high.

He may be right. References to research ROI are popping up other places, too. The March issue of MRA’s Alert! magazine has a short article titled, “How is ROI Calculated for Marketing Research?”

Is research ROI lightning in a bottle? I don’t know. I do believe that, in a world of ever-tightening research budgets, a heightened interest in ROI makes a lot of sense.

What do you think? Do research and ROI go together? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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