Sep 032013

Below is a list of the five posts, on, that in 2013 have been read by the largest number of unique readers, as measured by Google Analytics.

  1. Why do companies use market research? This was posted December 30, 2012, and has had 633 unique viewers in 2013.
  2. The ITU is 100% wrong on mobile phone penetration, IMHO. Posted 29 June, 2013, viewed by 380 unique people.
  3. Is it a bad thing that 80% of new products fail? Posted 7 March, 2013, 353 unique viewers.
  4. Notes for a non-researcher conducting qualitative research. This was only posted on 26 August, 2013, so it is probably still on its way up. It has 350 unique viewers.
  5. A Short History of Mobile Marketing Research. Posted 1 March, 2013, with 278 unique views.

I ran the analysis to see if I could spot any patterns in what made a successful NewMR post. However, so far, no clear pattern is emerging. Any thoughts or suggestions?

May 312013

The other day I saw a comment that clients have a duty to keep themselves up-to-date with all the latest changes in market research, to make sure that their organisation is getting the benefits that are available. However, as soon as I read the comment, I was troubled.

After some thinking about the proposition that clients need to be up-to-date I was able to isolate my concern. It is unreasonable to create a duty or expectation that is not possible. It moves the blame from somewhere else to an unfair location. And, I believe that it is not possible for most clients to be up-to-date, or fully informed, about all that is new in market research – not even all the major trends and changes.

Nobody is fully informed
The first point is that it is not just clients who are not fully informed; providers and researchers are not fully informed either. No researcher I have ever met or heard of is fully up to speed on:

  • Social media monitoring, mining, and research
  • Neuroscience
  • Discourse analysis
  • Gamification
  • Computer Aided Qualitative Data Analysis
  • Big Data
  • Adaptive discrete choice modelling
  • Smartphone, participative ethnography
  • Predictive markets
  • Behavioural economics
  • Virtual focus groups
To name just a few!

The Vendor
Nobody really expects a vendor to understand all of these fields. It is, usually, sufficient for a vendor to fully understand their proposed technique, and its direct alternatives. For example, we look to researchers utilising predictive markets to say, here is how it works, these are the problems it tackles, here is its academic/practical/philosophical underpinning, and here is how it compares with other, major, alternative solutions to the problems it is suitable for.

The Buyer
For most research buyers, market research is only a part of their job, often a fairly small part. As well as market research, research buyers may need to be on top of advertising, marketing, production, NPD, logistics etc. If vendors can’t be fully briefed on what is new and available in market research, how can buyers be expected to up-to-date? Wolves nearest the sleigh’s, fashion, and favourites

I suspect that the right strategy for buyers, and a strategy that many of the buyers adopt, is based on three elements:

  1. Tackle the wolf nearest the sleigh first
  2. Check out what is fashionable
  3. Do a few things just because you like them or you are interested in them

The wolf nearest the sleigh
Most research buyers have some problems that are more pressing than others. Examples are research programmes that are not delivering insight, research programmes which are too expensive or too slow, or new research needs that are not being met. Getting information on new solutions to the most pressing problem is a sensible and common way of prioritising time and effort.

Vendors need to realise if they have a research solution that is 25% better (e.g. 25% cheaper, or faster, or broader) a buyer might not be interested if it addresses a problem that is adequately being tackled. Buyers have to prioritise, and a better solution to a solved problem is rarely a priority.

Keeping an eye on fashion
This might initially sound a little lazy or shallow – but there are two good reasons for adopting this as part of the research buyer’s strategy.

  1. Failing to know about something your boss has heard about can make you look foolish and ill-informed. At the moment Big Data is in the mainstream press, it is in the business press, there are radio and TV programmes about it. A wise research buyer will want to know enough about it to be able to say “We are not doing it now because …”, or “We are particularly interested in … – and we have a trial underway”.
  2. Things are often fashionable for a reason. Moving surveys from telephone to online was a fashion, but it was also the right solution for many organisations. Being late to implement a good and well known solution is more likely to be damaging to a career than being late to adopt a little known innovation.

Following your interests
Most of the really interesting client side researchers and research users spend a small amount of their time (and sometimes budget) looking at things they find interesting. These people are indispensable to the research industry and progress, these were the first people to try semiotics, MROCs, implicit association testing, etc.

Talking to these research users, the key benefit seems to be the creation of a better and wider context. The new system they try often does not deliver ROI, it is often not repeated (at least not by them), but the experience, and in particular the identification of what it answered and what it did not, help frame future projects and thinking.

Ask for the possible
So, I feel that it is lazy and unreasonable to say ‘clients should keep abreast of all the new developments’. Clients need to do that which is possible and that which generates the best net return for their business.

Vendors of new ideas need to do more to make their case, probably by tending to work with other similar vendors (as opposed to bad mouthing them). The number one task for a vendor of a new technology should be to grow the sector, unless they are happy with being a niche player I a niche market. Vendors need to realise that even if their system is better, it may not be the buyer’s top need or priority.

Comparisons and Guidelines
One way to help clients be more informed is to provide good comparisons and guidelines. The ARF studies into panels and into neuroscience were great for the industry and for clients. ESOMAR’s 28 Questions for Panel Owners are a great aid to clients. The study that Freshminds published in 2011 comparing several social media monitor tools was another good initiative.

The ARF study into panels was largely driven by research buyer concerns about quality – perhaps the answer is for buyers to fund comparative studies. Providers could fund it, but why would buyers believe a vendor funded report?

So, what are your thoughts? Do you think it is reasonable to expect buyers to be aware of every major new tool, technique, and approach? What strategies do you use, or would you suggest?

May 022013

There is a widespread view that people in poverty pay more for their products and services than richer people. This price difference was described by C.K Prahalad and Allen Hammond as the poverty premium, in an article in the Havard Business Review (HBR) in 2002 – which Prahalad expanded on in his book ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’. However, an article by Ethan Kay and Woody Lewenstein in the April 2013 edition of the HBR cast doubt on the theory, and showed results of an experiment that illustrated that the poverty premium is not always present. The implications for this theory being wrong can have major implications for marketers and by implication market researchers.

The idea behind the poverty premium is that more affluent shoppers can buy more efficiently, for example by driving to discount stores or by buying in larger pack sizes. At one level we can see this is true, the price paid for a can of Coca-Cola in a convenience store in a poor neighbourhood is likely to cost more than the proportionate costs of one can of Coca-Cola purchased as part of a multi-pack from the local equivalent of a WalMart.

Kay and Lewenstein report on an experiment that conducted a study in two parts of Mumbai, India. The first region was one of the world’s largest slums, and the second was the up-market area of Warden Road. Kay and Lewenstein arranged for representatives to buy 40 products from 17 stores in the rich area and 17 in the poor area. They matched the products in terms of effective use, but not in terms of brand or format. The rice purchased in Warden Road might have been in a branded package, and the rice in the slum might have been unbranded and sold loose. The result was that the products, which included electricity, a comb, rice, a haircut, cooking oil, a dress and bananas, cost more in the richer area – i.e. the poorer consumers were not paying a poverty premium, indeed they were paying less than 20% of the figure paid by those in the better off area.

Kay and Lewenstein put forward a Western misunderstanding of the poverty premium as the reason why many new product launches in the developing markets. As an example Kay and Lewenstein describe how Dupont owned Solae launched a soy protein product in the slums of Mumbai – aiming to capitalise on Prahalad’s ‘fortune at the bottom of the pyramid’. The Solar product was launched on the market at 30 cents a packet and failed. Lentils, a staple part of the local diet (i.e. in the slums of Mumbai) can be purchased for less than half the price of the new product.

Kay and Lewenstein illustrate their point with several other cases, all illustrating how Western brands can badly misjudge the bottom of the pyramid. Kay and Lewenstein also explore some of the reasons for the low prices charged in the slum (beyond selling items loose and unbranded). The reasons include the assertion that many of the vendors in the slum are working in the informal economy, not paying taxes or license fees, nor paying the minimum wage, nor incurring the conventional costs of doing business.

The paper from Kay and Lewenstein does not definitively rebut the notion of the poverty premium, but it certainly casts doubt on the way it is sometimes interpreted. The doubt it casts is based on argument, a controlled experiment, and providing credible reason for why so many products and services aimed the bottom of the pyramid fail. The lesson for marketers and market researchers is that in assessing a new product they should not pay too much credence to theory, nor should they assume that the cost bases for competitors is as high as official figures might suggest it is.

The article by Kay and Lewenstein can be accessed here – be sure to read the comments, which include support for the Prahalad view, and an assertion that the authors had misquoted Prahalad’s explanation of the poverty premium. However, the interpretation that Kay and Lewenstein use is certainly a common one, for example it is the bases of Save the Children’s claim in 2007 that poor families pay on average £1000 a year more for essential goods and services in the UK.

Mar 222013

This week’s MRS Conference in London was one of the best events I have been to in the last year, generating lots of material to think about. There was a great mix of thinkers from the industry, ideas from outside market research, discussion, and good networking. The conference was true to its theme of the ‘Shock of the New’. The only weakness that I think is worth mentioning, because it is a reoccurring problem, is that there was too little international content. If the UK is going to command a position as an innovator, it needs more input from outside the UK, IMHO.

Key elements, for me, included:

The limitations of Big Data
The panel discussion, including great contributions from Lucien Bowater from BSkyB and Mark Risley from Google, emphasised the current limitations of big data in terms of the sorts of problems that market research is asked to answer. Big data approaches work best when there is a clearly defined, narrow question, and sufficient resources to find an answer. In many cases, market research is being called on to answer a more general, less well defined problem. Lucien, more than once, made the plea for research to tell him where to dig, i.e. provide a broad answer to a broad problem, and then he can apply more detailed techniques.

The panel also drew a marked distinction between real-time data collection (good) and real-time analysis (often not good).

What market research can learn from crowdsourcing
The photo, from the MRS website [], shows a panel discussion of four practitioners of crowdsourcing, being moderated by me. Although market research has long used some aspects of crowdsourcing, it was fascinating and useful to hear how:

  • • The People Who Share are creating a sharing economy, disintermediating traditional channels, and freeing up value by promoting sharing.
  • Transcribe Bentham are mobilising volunteers to contribute to an academic and literary project by helping transcribe the millions of words hand- written by Jeremy Bentham into a digital format, which has obvious implications for how market research might seek to tackle coding and tagging the mass of unstructured information they are gathering.
  • represented the world of crowd funding. One interesting point made by MD Phil Geraghty was that putting an idea into crowdfunding, and lettering the best ideas rise to the top, is a direct alternative (sometimes) for market research.
  • IdeaBounty showed how brands can access the creativity of the masses, and disintermediate agencies, by creating a platform where people can aim to win bounties by offering solutions to brands. Of particular relevance to market research was all the work IdeaBounty have done on IP, very relevant to areas like insight communities.

What market research can learn from art
The closing speaker on the first day was UK artist David Shrigley []. For me the main message was ‘be braver’, if we have an idea we should present it, without seeking to build lots of safety nets or excuses, just present it. Shrigley shared a large number of his drawings and some of his videos with us. The one for Scottish knitwear brand Pringle was especially eye catching and memorable; you can see it here.

What market research can learn from science?
The BBC broadcaster and professor of physics Jim Al Khalili gave a great closing presentation to the conference. Amongst the themes he covered were the dangers of paradoxes, showing that we can trap ourselves with faulty logic. He also highlighted the degree to which scientists have to deal with uncertainty, and the limits to what can be known. By contrast to his modern view of science, most market researchers either seem to reject science or have a primitive 1920s approach to science based on proving ideas, as opposed to basing their approach on ‘falsifiability’. Check out Al Khalili’s views on whether we have free will.

Scenario Planning is still less common than it ought to be!
My colleague Niamh Tallon and I ran a workshop on futuring, trendspotting, and cool hunting. Many of the slides I used were taken from a workshop I ran in 2002, however, the news seemed as fresh to market researchers now as it was then. I will come back to this on a future occasion.

Unintended benefits
I found some of the sessions useful, but not in the way that the people presenting intended. For example, the sight, sound and emotion session contained several reminders that a little learning can be a dangerous thing. For example, more than one speaker in the session (IMHO) over-interpreted findings from other disciplines. Indeed this session created a bit of a buzz in Twitter as people highlighted errors, and created the desire to have a NewMR session focused on exploding MR myths. You can read more about the Explode-A-Myth session here.

Nov 102012

Yes, it is a truism that we want better, cheaper, faster research, and that we have always wanted better, faster, research. However, right now research is becoming redundant to many decision makers because it is not fast enough. This theme was covered in a recent article on Research-Live.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the annual conference of the AMI (Australian Marketing Institute) and speaker after speaker highlighted the pace of change and the need to respond quickly. Mark Lollback from McDonald’s showed how his company went from tasting a product at a regular review session to launching it, with TV advertising, in fourteen days. Joanna McCarthy of Kimberley Clark showed how they used scenario planning and ‘war gaming’ to be able to respond to social media stories in real-time (in sensitive areas like product malfunctions in toilet paper and nappies).

I was at the AMI Conference as a keynote speaker and to launch my latest (free) book The Quick and the Dead which looks specifically at the need for speed, and suggests a new framework for how organisations can adopt a Built for Speed approach, you can download a copy of it via my Built for Speed post.

I will be presenting my views on the need for speed at the Festival on NewMR on December 5, so, if you haven’t already registered, visit our Festival page and sign-up.