Category Archives: Market research

Survey fatigue

I’ve just completed a survey handed to me at Euston station the other day. It’s one of those standard, multiple choice jobbies. Don’t ask me why I did it, I generally dislike these things intensely.

It’s a 4 page effort and I was bored after page 1. The first question on page 2 is one of those that leads to subsequent routes through the survey. If you answer that, yes, you’ve had an adverse experience in the last few months, you have 2 whole pages of further questions to answer. If you answer no, you skip to the last page.

Needless to say, this creates a powerful incentive to answer one way, rather than another… the more speedily to qualify for entry in the prize draw and get back to real life.

I wonder if the marketing folks spent any time at all thinking about the message these laboured, tedious forms give their customers? Do they perhaps kid themselve that we somehow interpret them as evidence of care?

The tyranny of the explicit in marketing

I’m continuing to have thoughts in response to reading Herd, probably because Mark Earls’ position so often reverberates with mine. There’s nothing like having one’s prejudices supported.

Like me, Mark enjoys taking potshots at market research. In particular, the effort to read the minds of individuals in search of the magic insight that will become a lever to engage with the market. I’ve done my share of focus groups where the client sits behind the one-way mirror getting in a twist when the moderator “isn’t getting emotional insights” from the group. It’s as if we can generate genuine insights hygienically, via an intermediary and without the sordid business of emotionally connecting with people. I wonder if we can really get much insight into our fellow man without taking the risk of opening ourselves to him, rather than prodding him like a lab rat. And as Mark says in a comment on his blog, when was the last time you sat in a research meeting and the debrief went essentially: “not really sure what’s happening or why. It’s much more complicated than we thought and indeed than our methodologies can really handle….”?

Related to this, you may be familiar with following notion of how we learn stuff, which I lifted from this article: Smooth your Learning Journey with the Learning Matrix I’m sure this a very useful model, the idea being that we start bottom right and work our way anti-clockwise to bottom left.

But it seems to me a lot of our learning skips the conscious stages altogether, and just skips from box 1 to 4. Vast amounts of what we learn as children and adults is just unconscious copying of what others are doing around us (hence the Herd title of Mark’s book). I contend that most market research values only the stuff that routes via boxes 2 and 3, with a preference for what can be turned into long and clever papers for MRS conferences. The effort to drill down to insights may actually get in the way of really connecting with the audience formerly known as consumers. Of course, as smart beings we can easily conjure up all manner of rationalisations for our behaviour to entertain market reserachers with, but it may not approximate to what’s really going on.

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The “I love data” guy

Oh, another nice moment from the IMC conference was running into Bill Tancer. Bill was on a panel I moderated and introduced himself as someone who loved data. And he clearly does.

Which is great. There are plenty of folks who say metrics are important, and many of them sound like bad parents, moralising not enthusing. With Bill, it’s the other way round. He’s the sort of metrics guy you would actually enjoy having on your team. His company keeps a fun blog too. I liked this post by his colleague Heather Hopkins about the world cup search queries revealing the prevailing obessions of England football fans.

Peter Crouch’s rise in UK internet searches is almost entirely due to the England striker’s robotic goal celebration, as seen after his goal against Hungary on 30th May. The top search terms for Peter Crouch are dominated by searches relating to his dance moves, with ‘peter crouch dance’, ‘peter crouch robot’, ‘crouch robot’ and ‘peter crouch robot dance among the top search terms for the striker.

Beckham’s next hairstyle has also piqued interest online. Amid growing speculation into the look that David Beckham will sport in the 2006 World Cup, searches for David Beckham focused on the player’s hair style, with ‘david beckham hairstyles’ and ‘david beckham hair’ among the most popular search terms for the England captain.

As well as being amusing, it does show that there’s a lot of market research insight available for next-to-nothing by simply following internet behaviour.

MRS conference

James and I put in an appearance at the Market Research Society Conference in London yesterday. We gave a short talk about Blogging and listened in on an earlier session on Word of Mouth, chaired by Mark Earls of Ogilvy.

There were some interesting ideas and insights from panel and audience and I was struck how much of the discussion was about “losing control”. I found this interesting and frustrating. It’s so easy to get into rather abstract notions of losing control that lose any contact with specifics. So simple suggestions for engaging customers get lost amid a more rambling discussion about semi-articulated anxieties.

At the end, Mark acknowledged that what really mattered was not what the panellists has been saying, but what people had to say about the session afterwards. Very true. But it begged an emormous question: what the hell were we doing discussing word-of-mouth in the tired old format of five “experts” talking a lot, and an audience of hundreds not talking at all? Except to chip in the odd question.

I would say the same thing about the later session when I was on the panel. I find I don’t enjoy being the “expert” panellist much more than being the attentive schoolboy in the audience. However, I did enjoy the conversations I had afterwards, especially where I got some intelligent pushback on some of the ideas I’d been articulating. (For instance, contrasting the cost of focus groups with getting customer feedback free from blogs.)

I had a nice chat with blogger Paul Hutchings, including me having a go at the conference format. I said I found my chat with him much more satisfying than being a panellist.

Bonus links: Paul Marsden’s Consumer Empowerment and Richard Huntington’s Adliterate.

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Two sorts of consultation

By accident, two British Government efforts at consultation have come my way today.

The first is contained in the Guardian News Blog, where this article, How should we fund an African NHS? appears. At the foot of the article is this intriguing paragraph:

Guardian Unlimited readers can post their thoughts below or direct to Hilary Benn at the DFID website. GU has agreed to be DFID’s media partner to garner public comments ahead of the development white paper in the summer.

Quite an interesting role for a newspaper blog to play. Maybe Hilary Benn needs to start his own blog… but at least this effort provides some open-ended ways for folks to comment.

An altogether more lamentable example fell into my hands this morning. It’s a leaflet titled, “Help us decide the future of National Lottery support for the Arts and Film, Sport and Heritage “. This so-called consultation is, in fact, one of the most loaded pieces of market research I’ve ever seen. There are seven closed-ended questions about lottery funding and this one is entirely typical.

Lottery money has provided a fantastic legacy of sporting facilities from playground to podium including many swimming pools, playing fields, sports halls and athletics tracks. We believe it has also been key to improving signifcantly the performance of British athletes at the Olympic Games, helping our athletes compete to the best of their ability and win medals for Britain. Do you agree?

After such an introduction, I was only suprised that they still managed to provide a checkbox for “disagree”.

(There’s a final open-ended section for further comments which looks fairly ridiculous following several pages of this breathless propaganda.)

David Wilcox and Lee Bryant recently posted a thoughtful essay on the problems of getting genuing public participation, the key thought being this (their words, my emphasis)

At the heart of these issues is the question of power and where it lies. Regardless of the quality of techniques employed or facilitation provided, if a participation exercise consists of a powerful body (e.g. a government department) inviting limited submissions on pre-determined questions from the disempowered, then the power imbalance built into the consultation will cast doubt on the results. Power is derived most obviously from being able to choose and frame the questions and the type of language used; but it is also important to consider who is asking the questions, when and how they are asked, and of course who can answer.

This laughable effort from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is a shocking example of how not to do it.

Bypassing the middleman in market research

I’m reading John Seddon’s book on quality management, I want you to cheat!. It challenges conventional ideas of managing quality through service guarantees and measurements.

He contrasts two approaches to using customer feedback. One bank employed a firm of consultants to do “mystery shopping” in its branches, leading to staff discontent at notions of spying by “experts”.

A Canadian bank took a different approach: they invited a large number of their customers to take part in a program. They would write a letter to their local branch manager after each visit, reporting their experience. They discovered that different branches had different types of customer, so they were able to respond flexibly to the feedback.

I am sure the second approach was cheaper as well as more useful.

Millie the 80-year-old videoblogger

Good post by Jackie Huba about an 80-year-old videoblogger.

Market researchers pay handsomely for this kind of research, yet it’s unclear how many companies scan the web for free Millie research. We know Coca-Cola Company doesn’t.

Here’s an idea: Send customers webcams to record video diaries about them and your product. Encourage honest, open and transparent feedback to post on their blogs. Not only do you receive free market research, you enhance the ever-important Google juice.

Conversing with customers

Jennifer Rice has just added an interesting post on Talking with Customers. Essentially saying ethnography (ie watching what people do) is great AND talking to folks is also pretty good – even if it’s true that sometimes people make predictions about their own behaviour that aren’t true.

An important Yes, And by Jennifer.

And my further Yes, And is this: I think conversations are more than an instrument for learning about customers. They are more than a research “tool” to be equated alongside other methods and assessed by reference to their supposed validity. A lot more happens in conversations than the mere exchange of data. Conversations are part of a process of relationship building in which people influence each other, often unconsciously. Sometimes the words exhanged are not the the most important thing going on in a conversation. If we focus only what is explicit in conversation, we may miss something crucial. Conversations are a vital way for people to align with each other, to feel like they know each other – even if the actual information traded is in some way “invalid”.

Conversations have the power to build community. Fellowship even. Studying people remotely is not the same thing, even if it also has a role to play to informing us.

Trained hoplessness

Rick Rappe at The Customer Service Survey points to this article by John Goodman and Cindy Grimm in ICCM weekly: Beware of Trained Hopelessness. Essentially, they speculate that fewer and fewer customers now bother to complain… so the old saw about their being 10 problem-sufferers for every explicit complaint is optimistic.

One of TARP’s behavioral psychologists called this phenomenon “trained hopelessness”. While not a technical term, it makes the stark point that the customer has been trained by the system to accept problems as a general business practice: Without prospect of change, customer don’t bother complaining.

One advantage for organisations tracking blogs is that they can pick up feedback from customers who aren’t necessarily bothering to make a direct complaint. James Cherkoff and I have been setting up some reports for brands recently and they’re proving a good way of getting more sense of what is and isn’t working for customers – without the costs and delays of conventional market research.

Adaptive conversations

I don’t often write about market research these days. There’s only so much mileage in berating a moribund industry.

But I thought Greg Clemenson’s post on adaptive conversations was interesting. Ok, not exactly storming the MR bastille and releasing the thousands of underpaid street interviewers and bored respondents… but hey, at least reintroducting a little humanity to the tired process of getting customer feedback in a way that doesn’t shove us into the researcher’s preset boxes…