Posts tagged “market research”

ChittahChattah Quickies

Patton Oswalt’s Letters to Both Sides: His keynote address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2012 [The Comic’s Comic] – We’re regularly exposed to wicked-problem discussions about complete upheaval in many industries: manufacturing, newspapers, music, books. Patton Oswalt addresses the upheaval in comedy, how he struggles with it, and how he thinks performers and producers can address it. Inspiring stuff.

You guys need to stop thinking like gatekeepers. You need to do it for the sake of your own survival…Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone…Comedians are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that if we’re not successful, it’s not because we haven’t gotten our foot in the door, or nobody’s given us a hand up. We can do that ourselves now. Every single day we can do more and more without you and depend on you less and less…I want you, all of the gatekeepers, to become fans. I want you to become true enthusiasts like me. I want you to become thrill-seekers. I want you to be as excited as I was when I first saw Maria Bamford’s stand-up, or attended The Paul F. Tompkins show, or listened to Sklarbro Country.

For More Pianos, Last Note Is Thud in the Dump [NYT] – Another example of the old slowly, gradually, and then finally being replaced by the new.

The value of used pianos, especially uprights, has plummeted in recent years. So instead of selling them to a neighbor, donating them to a church or just passing them along to a relative, owners are far more likely to discard them, technicians, movers and dealers say. Piano movers are making regular runs to the dump, becoming adept at dismantling instruments, selling parts to artists, even burning them for firewood…It is strange to think of them as disposable as tissues. Yet economic and cultural forces have made many used pianos, with the exception of Steinways and a few other high-end brands, prone to being jettisoned. With thousands of moving parts, pianos are expensive to repair, requiring long hours of labor by skilled technicians whose numbers are diminishing. Excellent digital pianos and portable keyboards can cost as little as several hundred dollars. Low-end imported pianos have improved remarkably in quality and can be had for under $3,000. “Instead of spending hundreds or thousands to repair an old piano, you can buy a new one made in China that’s just as good, or you can buy a digital one that doesn’t need tuning and has all kinds of bells and whistles,” said Larry Fine, the editor and publisher of Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer, the industry bible.

Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare as Corporate Focus Groups [NYT] – A misleading headline; social media allows high quantities of shallow consumer input. In focus groups, the numbers are much smaller but there is the chance for a discussion.

Frito-Lay is developing a new potato chip flavor, which, in the old days, would have involved a series of focus groups, research and trend analysis. Now, it uses Facebook. Visitors to the new Lay’s Facebook app are asked to suggest new flavors and click an “I’d Eat That” button to register their preferences. So far, the results show that a beer-battered onion-ring flavor is popular in California and Ohio, while a churros flavor is a hit in New York. “It’s a new way of getting consumer research,” said Ann Mukherjee, chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay North America. “We’re going to get a ton of new ideas.” When Wal-Mart wanted to know whether to stock lollipop-shaped cake makers in its stores, it studied Twitter chatter. Estée Lauder’s MAC Cosmetics brand asked social media users to vote on which discontinued shades to bring back. The stuffed-animal brand Squishable solicited Facebook feedback before settling on the final version of a new toy. And Samuel Adams asked users to vote on yeast, hops, color and other qualities to create a crowdsourced beer, an American red ale called B’Austin Ale that got rave reviews. “It tells us exactly what customers are interested in,” said Elizabeth Francis, chief marketing officer of the Gilt Groupe. Gilt asks customers to vote on which products to include in a sale, and sets up Facebook chats between engineers and customers to help refine products. “It’s amazing that we can get that kind of real feedback, as opposed to speculating,” Ms. Francis said.

Women Outdoors [Metropolis] – A review of an interesting new book Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets.

Mumbai’s public spaces belong to all of its 13 million inhabitants, but at any time of day or night the ratio of men to women is glaringly disproportionate. Men have no qualms about hanging around on street corners or at tea stalls, but women make a point of looking busy, striding with purpose, or talking on their cell phones. Thousands of women travel by trains or buses, but it’s not easy for them to find a toilet, a park bench, or any public place in which to linger. “If Mumbai is the best city for women in India,” says the sociologist Shilpa Phadke, “then the bar is set very low indeed.” Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets, coauthored by Phadke, the architect Shilpa Ranade, and the journalist Sameera Khan, takes a close look at the public spaces of a city where women are said to live more independently than anywhere else in India. But over three years of “extensive, not intensive” research through ethnographies, mapping, interviews, and workshops, the authors found that the city doesn’t quite live up to its egalitarian reputation. And while the book is specific to Mumbai, the ideas in it apply to any metropolis – are public spaces anywhere truly gender neutral?

Can Geoengineering Solve Global Warming? [The New Yorker] – A discussion of innovation in the context of a wicked problem provides some delicious quotes.

“What is fascinating for me is the way the innovation process has changed,” Eisenberger said. “In the past, somebody would make a discovery in a laboratory and say, ‘What can I do with this?’ And now we ask, ‘What do we want to design?,’ because we believe there is powerful enough knowledge to do it. That is what my partner and I did”…”There is a strong history of the system refusing to accept something new,” Eisenberger said. “People say I am nuts. But it would be surprising if people didn’t call me crazy. Look at the history of innovation! If people don’t call you nuts, then you are doing something wrong.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

The Mystery Worshipper [Ship of Fools] – Part market research technique, part Yelp, here’s a niche example of online reviews. The headlines are gently self-effacing, with a post-modern take on reviewer umbrage, say “Cleaning lady plays iPod at Santiago el Mayor, Zaragoza.”

Since ancient times (ok, 1998), Ship of Fools has been sending Mystery Worshippers to churches worldwide. Travelling incognito, they ask those questions which go to the heart of church life: How long was the sermon? How hard the pew? How cold was the coffee? How warm the welcome?

The only clue they have been there at all is the Mystery Worshipper calling card, dropped discreetly into the collection plate.

Son of Survey Madness

We’ve posted any number of survey design critiques over the years, and here’s the latest, a close read of a question and the cues associated with different responses.

In response to the prompt How closely do you agree or disagree with this statement: “We saw business strengthening in the Spring, but it seems to be stagnant or falling off again. We thought we had seen the bottom, but now we are not sure.” we’re asked to move a slider between Agree Completely and Disagree Completely.
smiley
frowny

As we move the slider, the expression on the little green character changes, supposedly to provide an additional cue to ensure that our response is accurate.

But when we agree (a positive emotion), the guy is frowning. Because we are agreeing with a negative in which case we making a negative observation? So we feel negative? But the green dude isn’t mapping our feeling about the situation, he’s mapped to our response – our degree of agreement. We can feel positive about agreeing, even if the thing we agreeing about is negative (haven’t you ever exclaimed enthusiastically at someone that expresses a similar frustration to you? That’s being positive about a negative). The mapping here is wrong.

It’s further complicated by the indirectness of the prompt – that situation you are agreeing or disagreeing with – describing a situation going from positive to uncertain. How much do you agree or disagree with: something was positive but now it’s negative? In fact, besides being indirect and somewhat abstract, it’s also a compound question. You might agree that things were positive, or you might now. You might agree that things have gone downhill, or you might not. The question is asking you to agree ONLY to the cause where i) things were positive and ii) things have gone downhill. If you don’t agree with both of those, then what do you do? And since you can indicate the strength of agreement/disagreement, how will people interpret the question? I would suggest not very reliably!

Ironically, this is a survey aimed at providers of market research services, who should absolutely know better.

This Is Your Brain On Hype

I’m so fed up with market research gimmicks that claim to produce an objective provable truth about what’s in someone’s mind. It really runs counter to notions of empathy, listening, and understanding that I feel so passionately about.

It was with some pleasure, therefore, to see the typically exuberant Wired run a story explaining that while lie detecting may be on the horizon,

My journey through the land of functional neuroimaging has helped me to understand how spectacularly meaningless these images are likely to be.

Most neuromarketers are using these scans as a way of sprinkling glitter over their products, so that customers will be persuaded that the pictures are giving them a deeper understanding of their mind. In fact, imaging technologies are still in their infancy. And while overenthusiastic practitioners may try to leapfrog over the science, real progress, which will take decades, will be made by patient and methodical researchers, not by entrepreneurs looking to make a buck.

Design and Research had a baby and they called it . . .

personal-greenhouse_no-tag.jpg
Sketches for “Personal Greenhouse” ¬©2007 Dan Soltzberg

Debbie Millman and Mike Bainbridge have posted their article, Design Meets Research, over at Gain: AIGA Journal of Design & Business. The piece provides a quick overview of various tools in the research toolbox, calls out their particular strengths and drawbacks, and makes the point that picking the right tool for the job and using it well are paramount.

Here are a couple of quotes from the article and some of my thoughts in response:

There are a wide variety of research techniques that can have merit for designers. . . There is not, repeat not, one correct way to test design.

I see research very much as a generative tool as well as an evaluative one, and have started to question whether the concept of a border between research and design is really accurate or productive. At the front end of the design process, research is a way of surfacing opportunities and generating ideas. At later stages, it’s a way of refining and validating these ideas as they become concepts and prototypes. In this way, research is a design tool in the same way that drawing is a design tool, except that at the center of the mechanism is the customer/user.

When used correctly, research shouldn’t stifle creativity but rather offer designers stronger inspiration and focus.

By taking a facilitative, collaborative approach to working with companies and design teams, research and research findings can be integrated into the design process in ways that enhance rather than stifle creativity. Keeping the customer/user and their needs prominent throughout the design process needn’t be limiting–having clear goals and constraints ultimately makes a design problem more interesting and leads to better, more elegant solutions.

And better, more elegant solutions are, after all, the end game here.

Research screening

I was bemused to see that Feast of Love opened last weekend. Our last time at the movies was when The Simpsons Movie opened, and I participated in some intercept-market research at the theater.

Part of the lobby had been given over to these groovy looking kiosks, with a couple of guys in attendance, asking people who passed by if they would like to give their opinion about an upcoming movie. My age and gender qualified me to participate (woo hoo) and I went with one dude over to a kiosk. I was shown a couple of clips and responded to various questions, but the weirdness of it was that the test was designed have some screens operated by me, and some screens visible only to the interviewer. But they didn’t do it that way. So for various pieces where I was to click within multiple choices, the interviewer, who knew the testing software rather well, just whipped through the keypresses, bam->redraw, bam->redraw, quickly asking me the minimum to move to the next one. Okay, so he took care of it for me. But then this screen we were both looking at would display testing instructions such as ASK PARTICIPANT FOR OPINION OF BENEFIT OF DATE MOVIES. PROBE ON RELATIONSHIP, TIMING, COST. And of course, he wouldn’t even come close, he’d get the one line answer from me, and then he’d type in the quickest condensation of my answer: stay home.

After a minute or so, it became more about the two of us cooperating to use the software to get through test. I realized that my opinion didn’t matter; it’s hard to feel represented in a forced-choice discussion, and it’s unlikely one would continue to provide color when all that gets captured is minimal facts. Further, by exposing the instructions to me, his shortcuts became clear, and I ended up slightly co-opted into the testing process, giving up any sense of really delivering the full truth to this interviewer.

When we see “market research” number published to support some business decision, let’s keep in mind how poorly that data may have been collected (from the concept of how to collect that data, to the implementation of a data collection environment, to the staffing and execution of the data gathering). How reliable could any of this possibly be?

Where the money seems to be

courses.jpg
I received an ad from these folks in the mail this week. I am stunned and amazed at their rates for market research training.

We don’t cover the identical topics but you can see what training we offer (PDF) here. Details, and thus costs, are customized to what your team really needs. And costs can be much more reasonable, too!

Strange promotion

sunflower seeds.jpg
I received a jar of sunflower seeds in the mail today, as part of some promotion for a market research company’s new website. Or so I think. It’s very confusing. The jar is filled with what seem to be “beer baked” sunflower seeds, with their own brand name, and the label alternates cheesy references to this brand and the different brands and URLs for the company. It’s a mess, it seems to have no relevance. Yeah, I looked at the website of the company (and I’m very deliberately not mentioning any specifics here because why give ’em the juice if they don’t really deserve it) but would I want to do business with them over a poorly executed gimmick?

I don’t know if this counts as a Purple Cow or not (supposedly a good marketing thing to do) but I find it strange and inappropriate, more than anything.

Crack This!

Fast Company looks at marketing/research/culture proto-guru Clotaire Rapaille and observes “the conversation reinforces what I’d come to suspect: Rapaille is 25% substance and 75% shtick.”

It’s a good piece especially because it challenges the validity/myth/efficacy of a powerful and popular media figure er um I mean consultant. For those of us who aren’t clients, all we see is that 75%, and frankly, that shtick has made my skin crawl for a long time. I really like that simple analysis because it reminds me that one can be an intolerable asshole and still have something valid to say. In fact, for some people, your message carries more weight if you are intolerable when you deliver it. That’s not to my taste, but I guess it works for him.

Rapaille subscribes to the triune brain theory, which describes three distinct brains: the cortex, limbic, and reptilian. Beneath the cortex, the seat of logic and reason, is the limbic, which houses emotions. Camouflaged underneath those is Rapaille’s baby–the reptilian–the layer wired by our biological primal needs like sex, reproduction, and survival.

And gee, only yesterday the Simpsons (in an old-timey episode) had a character describing his reaction as going from “sanguine to bilious.” Humours, triune brain, whatever!

Little lies by focus groupies are costly

Nice article about people that lie in order to qualify for market research studies

Researchers call these truth-stretchers focus groupies, a sneaky cadre that adopt multiple identities in order to secure paid seats on the dozens of focus groups that meet every week in the Bay Area.

Firms pay $50 to $100 cash for an hour or two of work that usually involves a moderated discussion about a new product or service with up to a dozen people gathered in a room equipped with a two-way mirror.

The allure of easy money leads hundreds of people every year to treat focus groups as a source of nearly work-free income. Get-rich-quick schemers even advertise focus groups as a source of cash.

And if it means telling a few lies along the way about your favorite brand of frozen pizza or the number of times you have already participated in a focus group, well, it’s no crime to fib to a marketing company.

Researchers go to great lengths to weed out groupies, including the use of exhaustive database cross-checks to ferret out the ‘cheaters’ and ‘repeaters,’ along with detailed screening interviews. Competing firms even share groupies’ names in the reverse form of a ‘do not call’ list.

‘It’s bad for the whole industry so we cooperate with each other,’ said Nichols Research Group Vice President Jane Rosen, whose Bay Area firm purges several hundred groupies a year from its database.

How far will people go?

They sign up with aliases, usually derivatives of their real names with different initials and middle names, Rosen said.

They may use a post office box address under one application and then a home address for the second response.

‘We had a woman sign up for two focus groups on the same day and after she finished the first session, she went out to her car and changed into a new set of clothes and put on a wig,’ Rosen said. ‘Fortunately, one of our people thought something looked wrong about her.’

Q&A Research in Walnut Creek recently foiled a woman who claimed to own a particular brand of luxury car, but the name on the automobile registration she provided did not match her own.

‘We had another man who used his first name for one group, then his middle name for a second group the next day and then a third one the following week,’ said Eric Tavizon, Q&A’s focus group project manager. ‘One of the clients caught him because he mistakenly signed up for events by the same sponsor and they recognized him.’

Of course I’ve encountered this on a much smaller scale; so much of what I do is predicated on a basic foundation of trust (and trust goes in two directions, of course) and it’s lurid and disturbing to consider how that trust can be violated (when do we read the piece about the rapist who posed as an ethnographer to gain access? yikes).

I’ve started a discussion thread on Discovery about this; we’ll see if anything develops.

What People Want In Their Homes and Communities

The NYT writes a front-page story about the growth in housing developments in the US in areas that were formerly “the middle of nowhere.” Beyond being generally interesting as a trend, I was intrigued by the (perhaps not novel but at least unique to me) teaser of how they are figuring out what to put into these homes.

One area in which KB Home takes pride is its market research. It asks things like where people want their kitchens and how much more of a commute they can stomach. And it surveys its own buyers to get a comprehensive idea of who they are and why they bought.

In its most recent survey of Tampa home buyers, KB asked people what they valued the most in their home and community. They wanted more space and a greater sense of security. Safety always ranks second, even in communities where there is virtually no crime.

Asked what they wanted in a home, 88 percent said a home security system, 93 percent said they preferred neighborhoods with “more streetlights” and 96 percent insisted on deadbolt locks or security doors.

So KB Home offers them all. “It’s up to us to figure out what people really want and to translate that into architecture,” said Erik Kough, KB’s vice president for architecture. And the company designs its communities with winding streets with sidewalks and cul-de-sacs to keep traffic slow, to give a sense of containment and to give an appearance distinctly unlike the urban grid that the young, middle-class families instinctively associate with crime. “I definitely feel safe here. I feel protected,” said Lisa Crawford, who moved to New River about a year ago with her husband, Steve, and their two children.

“And I can tell you that the people in Tampa are a whole lot different than the people here,” Ms. Crawford said. “In Tampa, there’s a faster pace. I like it here, that it’s more of a community, more of a small-town feel.”

End of Free Pretzels

Pretzels are out on US Airways. Besides the bad press this constant nickel-and-diming is creating, there’s the usual corporate press release, where they remind us that they conducted customer research in support of their action

Amy Kudwa, a US Airways spokeswoman, said the airline decided to end the pretzel giveaway after meeting with the carrier’s focus groups.

Amazing this one didn’t include the standard “our consumers tell us that…” line. I’m amazed at how often this appears in press release-driven news stories.

Series

About Steve