market research

MR is at a Social Responsibility Crossroads

We have come to a crossroads. Which way shall we go?

At the Market Research Society Conference in March, Research-Live.com reported that Unilever CEO Paul Polman urged the industry to get involved in larger societal issues. He stated that we are in a “leadership moment for the market research profession” and that “by prioritising social issues, business success will follow.” Mr. Polman challenged the audience to realize that “business as usual is not the answer.”

Historically, “business as usual” dictated that a corporation should generate increasing earnings for its shareholders. With some exceptions, the view was that the shareholders’ used the earnings in whatever manner they preferred, including gifts to charity or affecting the societal issues of the day. The business focused on earning profits; shareholders were responsible for distributing/spending profits.

For several years now, we have heard about the Millennial workforce’s desire for an activist workplace where volunteering and social activism were valued.  Now, we hear the CEO of the world’s third largest CPG company stating that social issues ‘lead to’ (rather than ‘are a result of’) business success.  Mr. Polman suggests that corporations have a social responsibility first and a shareholder responsibility second.  Mr. Polman appears to have a two-fold purpose:  (1) to activate companies to be more socially responsible, and, (2) to use social responsibility as a strategy leading to greater business success.  Both are significant diversions from the traditional role of companies.

So, which road shall we take?  Should companies (and researchers) continue to focus almost exclusively on providing increasing returns to shareholders or should they take the road less traveled and put first priority on being socially responsible?  Each company (and researcher) must decide for itself.  The two options are distinctly different.  Which way will you choose?

Paul Polman’s raising of this issue coincides with another industry initiative to bring a sense of community and social activism to the MR industry. In January, a group of researchers formed the Marketing Research Education Foundation (MREF).  It is an independent foundation with a mission to, “To unifyinspire and activate the marketing research community to focus its collective resources to educate children worldwide.”  Founding Board members are:  Steve Schlesinger, Carla Lindeman, Ed Sugar, Steve Quirk, Don Marek, Howard Gershowitz and myself.

MREF debuted at the Quirks Event in Brooklyn in February where it presented a check for $5000 to Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to the training and education of disadvantaged youth.  This was a small but significant start.  Plans are to repeat this at other conferences and to bring researchers together in hands-on volunteer opportunities to further the education of children worldwide.  You will hear more about this initiative in the coming weeks.

Whether you are Unilever or a home-based researcher, the prioritization of social responsibility is a decision you will have to make.  You are at a crossroads.  Which road will you take?

 

Unilever Driving Qual Change through Accreditation

Two events in the UK this week highlighted the gulf that separates most researchers from the clients they seek to serve.

Research-Live.com reported that Unilever is implementing a “new accreditation programme” for qualitative research suppliers.  The program will distinguish between “Research Leads” and “Moderators.”  To qualify, research providers will have to undergo about 3 hours of testing and observation and pass the test.  There are a lot of questions that the article does not answer about program specifics.

Obviously, the the accreditation program is being implemented because Unilever is not pleased with the quality of research they currently receive.  So what exactly are they displeased with?  Ulrike Hillmer, a consumer market insight manager for Unilever Deutschland, said the company seeks “to significantly raise the quality of qualitative research in the business in order to help deliver superior consumer insight”.

Likewise, Research-live.com quotes Unilever, “This researcher needs to be conscientious; a strategic thinker; to have empathy with the Unilever context; able to provide fresh ideas and thoughts and have the ability to link up brand/category issues with consumer understanding; and be challenging and pro-active.”

Contrast Unilever’s attempt at accreditation with the new report out this week from “The ICG,” a group of independent researchers who say they are “research professionals with an average 25 years’ experience.”  The report titled “Commissioning qualitative research and getting the best from it” provides a step-by-step overview of how to conduct the research process.  It is a 36 page presentation of detail about the process with tips, suggestions and rules to live by.

The ICG document likely meets a very well-defined and understood need.  Contributors worked very hard to assemble best practices and provide a guide for the qualitative researcher.  It would be very helpful for many researchers and their clients.

My point is that Unilever is not having trouble finding people who know the process; they are having difficulty finding people who can deliver superior consumer insight, think strategically, have empathy with the Unilever context and have fresh ideas and thoughts.  As good as the ICG document is for process, it does nothing to assist researchers to meet the needs of Unilever.

The contrast of these two initiatives is simply an example of the gulf that exists between research suppliers and research buyers.  I was President of the Qualitative Research Consultants’ Association for 3 years.  We found that our conferences were most successful when we taught techniques, not the discipline of insights.

Researchers like processes.  Otherwise, they might be artists or even strategy consultants.  Meeting Unilever’s requirements will be difficult for many researchers simply because it goes against their nature.

For years qualitative consultants were rewarded for executing processes.  When qualitative research was synonymous with focus groups, many researchers made a very good income because they could execute the focus group process.

Now, the world is changing.  Methodologies are expanding and fragmenting.  Business is getting faster and faster so companies like Unilever need researchers to help them think, not just process.  The research provider industry must evolve to meet these needs.  There is a place for process-oriented researchers.  But, the time is fast approaching when companies like Unilever will value, and pay, strategic researchers much higher.  Our industry should cultivate a new breed of researcher with different gifts and skills.  If we want research to be more valued in the C-Suite, we have to provide the insights and thinking that drive the business.

I, for one, hope that Unilever is delivering more than an accreditation program.  I hope they are devising a new qualitative research business model that values, and pays, strategic thinkers who can drive business over researchers who process research.  Without such a new business model, process research will strangle research as a valued profession.

Good luck Unilever!

Focus groups review the classics

For those of you who watched the Oscars Sunday night, I hope you saw the skit spoofing a focus group for “The Wizard of Oz.”

Without giving the good jokes away, the crowd is underwhelmed and confused by this classic movie. The advice for how to improve the movie is hilariously off-key. The one part of the movie that is lauded, again and again, by one focus group participant: the flying monkeys.

It is a clever skit and makes one think of how entertaining it would be to see focus group feedback on classic movies from the past. Think “Casablanca.” A focus group would say there is no way he’s letting her fly away. Or “Old Yeller.” Is it necessary for the dog to die?

It also makes one wonder how movies like “Ishtar” or “Showgirls” get made. Certainly there wasn’t a focus group involved, was there?

Mobile surveys, mobile qual look to explode in 2012: GRIT report

A sneak peek at the 2012 Greenbook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) report reveals an anticipation in the rise of mobile surveys this year.

That’s one of the highlights of a fascinating examination of what research firms anticipate and what clients see as the techniques that will drive market research budgets this year. The GRIT report, which will be published in the next few weeks, supports the idea that online communities and social media analytics will become a prominent and “mainstream” research technique, and research firms and clients both concur with that forecast.

Mobile surveys look to be at a tipping point. While actual use of mobile surveys in 2011 were around 20 percent (17 percent as reported by clients, and 24 percent as reported by research firms), expectations are much higher for usage in 2012. Fifty-three percent of clients expect to use mobile survey techniques, and 64 percent of research firms expect to do so.

Mobile survey usage may actually be underreported, according to the GRIT report, with budget that is actually going toward mobile being attributed to Computer Assisted Web Interviewing (CAWI) and Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI).

Mobile qualitative looks to undergo a big jump, as part of the shift toward mobile. With actual use somewhere around 13 percent in 2011, that number looks to accelerate upward in 2012. According to the report, 31 percent of clients, and 46 percent of research firms, expect to use mobile qualitative in 2012. 20|20 is at the forefront of this rise in mobile qualitative with the recent introduction of its second mobile qualitative application, QualBoard Mobile. QualBoard Mobile includes both a fully featured bulletin board access capability and an innovative new journaling application.

Focus Group Fingers All Over Super Bowl Commercials

Super Bowl commercials generate more conversation in Monday morning meetings today than almost anything else. With social media, the conversation following a Super Bowl ad is immediate. Last year, you may remember Groupon’s commercial about the troubles in Tibet resulted in a backlash on Twitter, and a formal apology. It will be studied in business schools as a marketing misstep.

One of the lessons from that failed 2011 commercial was the alleged lack of testing that preceded its airing. Marketers weren’t going to make that mistake with 2012 Super Bowl commercials. According to a Wall Street Journal article, focus group feedback resulted in the adjustment of creative for one Hyundai commercial, removing sexist comments from the older man in the commercial and replacing them with comments about how to be successful in business.

A Chevy Sonic commercial from yesterday’s Super Bowl was met with skepticism from focus groups, who didn’t believe the stunts to be real. Chevy’s spot ended up with a text treatment at the beginning of the ad noting “100% Real Stunts. Don’t Attempt. Please.”

Of course, focus groups don’t always predict success, or what may get a marketer in trouble. Some commercials were released ahead of time, or the trailers were so extensive. Marketers weren’t willing to risk something blowing up in their face. Marvel released trailers of its Super Bowl commercial to gather input from social media viewers.

Many groups are doing in-game focus group testing, like USAToday/Facebook’s AdMeter. Groups, and events like this were held around the country.

What were the results of your Monday Morning Focus Group’s judgment on this year’s crop of commercials?

Learning from Social’s Influence on Mobile: Applications for Qualitative Research

As we discussed in a QualBlog post earlier this month, mobile qualitative research methods are becoming a necessary component of market research. With mobile’s ability to reach a diverse, global sample of participants in their real-time context, market researchers are avidly seeking ways to best use its capabilities to their advantage.

A recent TechJournal article, Social and Mobile Interplay a Major Consumer Trend, cites a Pivot Conference study that may provide a new way to approach mobile qualitative research efforts. According to the research, smartphone users are spending a large amount of their mobile-focused time on social media apps. Specifically, 30% of the apps accessed on an Android are social, while iPhone users devote a whopping 44% of their mobile access to social apps. Of all the apps available, Facebook Mobile dominates consumers’ time, with 83% using it. And the most commonly shared information among all social app consumers is music and video, with location check-ins as a close second.

What does this mean for market researchers? Consumers have now made it clear that they want their mobile space to revolve around engaging their social network, learning from others’ content and interacting directly with brands through a social exchange. And what’s more, they have proven that they will devote time to apps that meet this criteria.

Transferring these needs to qualitative market research could be the key to more successful mobile research. By creating an app that engages a participant’s social network, encourages the sharing of related content and gives incentives directly from the brands that the participant discusses and evaluates, market researchers may be able to position mobile users in their preferred mobile environment. The resulting app could provide a more interactive message board to keep participants actively engaged in the research studies in a way that would provide more valuable data and insights.

What else could we learn from to enhance mobile qualitative research’s capabilities?

Mobile’s Trajectory is Undeniable

Although traditional qualitative research methods remain highly useful and well received, constant technological innovations and trends are creating a new ground to adapt traditional methodologies and technology uses. In this new space, mobile trends are consistently reaching the forefront and are causing a pretty big stir within the industry.

In a recent Research Access article that transcribed a Market Research Trends 2012 webinar, panelists Leonard Murphy of the Greenbook Blog and Romi Mahajan of Metavana agreed that mobile will be a necessary market research component in the future. “Within the next two to three years, a device similar to– probably somewhat bigger than a iPhone, smaller than an iPad, will be the primary means of communication for our entire species, globally, period… So the impact of global cannot be underestimated, in particular in the emerging markets, because they will leapfrog the PC experience in almost it’s entirety. The growth of broadband and PC penetration in Africa, Latin America, and Asia Pacific is effectively already stopped. So there’s whole generations that will grow up that will look at a PC like we would look at a typewriter and just think it’s just an antiquated piece of technology. So their experience with communicating with each other and the world around them will be via this mobile device,” Murphy said.

Murphy believes that mobile’s true benefit lies in its ability to reach a large sample of research participants all around the world and at any time of the day or week. He anticipates that the future of participant sampling lies in a mobile app that allows users to opt into a virtual research panel and give their permission to send and receive certain amount of information. “That opens the door for an amazing opportunity to be able to engage with consumers 24/7/365, in most any situation that you can imagine, and to gain real feedback at the point of experience, whether that be at an event or while shopping or making purchases in a retail environment, whatever the case may be,” Murphy said. “We have the opportunity to engage them, if we make it a fun and rewarding and meaningful experience for them.”

Although the sampling capabilities are impressive, Mahajan, on the other hand, focuses on mobile’s ability to capture a participant within his or her context. He believes mobile’s best feature is its attachment to the consumer during the entire consumer experience. “For instance, if I leave a movie and I get on a mobile app to say if I like it or not, I’m right in the midst of that experience,” he said. “I’m in situ, as it were. And so when I think about mobile, I think about the fact that people are interacting on their mobile devices in a time and space in which their context is more profound, which is actually itself the benefit here.”

At 20/20, we agree wholeheartedly. If the goal of qualitative research is to gain access to the human emotional profile and how it affects our choices and behaviors, then this trend is an undeniable step in the right direction. And with our mobile research platform QualAnywhere, researchers can embrace consumers within their individual contexts to gain insights from real-time data.

How have you effectively used mobile in your qualitative research methods?

2012 Tech Predictions Impact Research

Happy New Year!

With the turning of the calendar and the sense of renewed optimism always brings a new wave of predictions.  As someone who enjoys thinking about the future, I find them interesting, and sometimes quite amusing.

So far, my favorite tech predictions are from VentureBeat.  This is my favorite so far because 1) I agree, and 2) the article is short enough to hold my attention.  The article is titled Five Tech Industry Predictions for 2012.  Though it doesn’t relate directly to the market research industry, there are many research implications.  Here are their 5 predictions:

  1. Social Media will lose its sizzle. Will we finally have rational discussion about our ability to conduct research via social media monitoring?
  2. The bubble will pop for the current crop of tech IPOs. Will this prediction hold true in research where M&A is more common than IPO?  We have seen a lot of M&A activity.  Will it slow and/or will values fall?  Frankly, I don’t think so.
  3. An explosion of the tablet market driven by sub-$100 tablets. WOW.  Think of the implications for online qualitative research if respondents can participate ANYwhere.
  4. Voice recognition goes mainstream. I’ve been thinking about this since I bought my iPhone 4S and got to know Siri.  She is a clever thing that I did not have to train.  If respondents can participate online without typing…..hmmmmmm…using their sub-$100 tablet maybe?
  5. “Cloudburst” shakes the tech industry.  Data security is the monster in the closet.  Can the market research industry take advantage of the “cloud” and secure its data properly?

Do you see additional trends?  How will they affect market research?

Welcome to 2012!

What Decisions Have You Made as a Result of Research?

Jim recently attended a conference where a speaker was touting his support of social media use in the qualitative research industry. The research buyer stated that he and others were backing off of social media.  We blogged about that on QualBlog and received some Twitter attention that was, how should we say…..less than supportive.  So we asked the question, “Can you name one decision that has been made primarily using social media?”  It was so quiet, you could have heard crickets.

Like I wrote in a blog post last August, one of the biggest challenges in our industry deals with how to best demonstrate return-on-investment to clients. We all know it doesn’t matter how much high-quality research you perform if you can’t prove the worth, but this pressure often ends up producing a large amount of (sometimes unnecessary) charts, graphs and presentations that jumble the true substance of our findings.

To find ROI that really shows value to the client, Brett Hagins Read More…

Mobile Ad Spending Will Drive Qualitative Research

The forecast for advertising spending aimed at reaching users on mobile devices is expected to grow dramatically over the next five years. And with it, is likely to come the need for more qualitative research related to mobile usage.

According to an article in DigiDayDaily, research conducted by Gartner Research pegs worldwide spending on mobile advertising at $3.3 billion in 2011, double the $1.6 billion spent last year. In North America alone, spending is forecasted at $701.7 million in 2011, up from $304 million last year.

Gartner’s projections for the rise in mobile advertising expenditures are to a whopping $20.6 billion worldwide in 2015, and up to $5.8 billion in North American mobile advertising spends.

The growth in spending, according to Gartner, is not because of the rise of tablet devices like the iPad, as much as it is growth in online usage of search and mapping.

What would a marketplace that is 15 times larger than it is today mean for your company?

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