By Stephanie Alaimo
Relating to our consumers – who we can sometimes forget to regard as People – emerged as an important theme in Monday’s presentations. Taken together, the following presentations argue that generating greater empathy, which requires more authentic interactions with our research subjects, should be one of our most important goals as market researchers. Importantly, we must not forget the amount of work we are asking our respondents to complete, we must use methodologies that situate people within their daily lives so that we do not neglect context, and we must understand the impact of consumer goods on people’s lives. Several of Monday’s presenters began to swap the word “consumer” for the word “person” or “people.” This is a very effective change in MR language which should certainly be strong enough to remind us all to contextualize and humanize our research about…. People!
Empathy, the ability to deeply relate to and share the experience of others, seemed to be the greatest expression of this change. Thomas Troch of InSites Consulting USA, in his talk “Enter the Experience Economy: Increasing memory and empathy to drive change” noted that empathy is the real driver of change resulting from market research. In his presentation, he frequently reminded us to consider consumers as people – because they are. In the experience economy, where people (not just consumers!) are motivated by new experiences, we must be willing and able to capture and relate to the fullness and richness of human experience, even as we interact with consumer goods and services. Thomas used 3D footage of himself brushing his teeth to show that we can gain an increased ability to relate through immersive methodologies.
Equally importantly, we must shift our thinking about what it is that we provide to our clients. Our empathy should not be reserved for the people we study. Of course, we want to provide the most accessible knowledge possible to our clients. We do, after all, seek to provide a service. Why is a service more valuable? When we provide raw data, we make our research into a simple, untransformed commodity. By providing a more accessible report, we transform it into a good, which has greater value. Finally, when we provide workshops and presentations for our clients, we provide a truly valuable service. The interactive service of a workshop or presentation more closely mirrors the types of interactive and complete research that we should strive for, in order to increase our own empathy for the people we study. Finally, when we provide a workshop, we can most effectively transmit the empathy that we have learned to our clients. This will be the greatest driver of impact. It is also the most empathetic way to meet our clients needs for understanding.
Some of the most surprising findings presented in Monday’s workshops were those presented by Nikki Lavoie, of MindSpark International. Lavoie also discussed empathy in her talk “Connecting With Consumers: A New Way of Plugging In: Why empathy is the emotional trailblazer in the world of social media and screens.” She emphasized the need to understand what drives a person to participate in market research. Of course, our most habitual, quickest answer would be “an incentive.” Lavoie questions this assumption. Drawing on research she conducted evaluating the effects of incentives on participation and the quality of responses, as well as on behavioral research, she notes that financial incentives greatly change the nature of any interaction we might have. She found that non-incentivized, volunteers that participate in research participated in research just as completely as incentivized participants. And, most shockingly, they dropped out less. These respondents were motivated by – guess what – empathy. Volunteers are typically motivated by the desire to do something nice for someone, or to do something nice for a community, or the desire to improve the world. Perhaps we can connect to people more easily, as a profession, if we remember all the directions in which empathy can flow, and in turn, seek to encourage empathy in all of our interactions.
Empathy was also invoked by Luke Sehmer of Research Now UK, and Melanie Courtright of Research Now US. In their talk “Clipboards, Calls and Focus Groupies: The public perception of market research and the implications for the future” they alerted us to the fact that many people do not trust market research, or market researchers. What a finding! To nuance this point, they found that in research where a participant directly engages with a researcher on the telephone, there is more trust. Research where the person does not have direct contact, such as a Google survey, scores much lower for trust. But, this is not surprising, when we think about empathy. Empathy is relating to and sharing experiences and emotions. It is a very human thing. A Google survey lacks most of the tools required to generate empathy. And empathy can generate trust. So, empathy may be the solution to trust for our industry. We must solve for trust if we are going to expect people to discuss their lives with us. Otherwise, we risk very low quality results.
How do empathy and understanding relate? Well, if we cannot empathize with people, we simply cannot understand them. They may answer our questions, participate in our exercises, or even give us their opinions. But, if we cannot contextualize their lived experiences, if we cannot situation our questions within the systems of their lives, the insights that we can draw from their answers are likely to remain extremely superficial. Even worse, we may simply miss very important conclusions by our failure to relate. And for our clients, when change and innovation are driven by empathy, they are more likely to be solutions which will relate directly to people’s needs, desires, and lives.
Stephanie Alaimo is one of the official RWC bloggers for Congress 2016.
By Rebecca Heaney
The key takeaways from Day #1 of Congress are conveniently aligned with the highlights of yesterday’s sessions, which impressed on me the importance of remembering that respondents are people – a thought that is completely obvious and at the same time easily and quickly forgotten in our zeal to collect data and deliver insights. In fact, it is commonplace to go through the stages of an entire research project without once ever acknowledging the people that participated in it – focusing instead on sample sizes and representativeness, KPIs and indexes, trends and outliers in the data, insights and implications for business. It’s easy to forget that, as Luke Sehmer pointedly reminded us in one of today’s sessions, the entire market research industry is completely reliant on real people participating in, or at the very least giving us permission to, conduct research. It’s a humbling realization to admit that the participants we so often complain about for not paying enough attention to surveys or not giving us complex enough answers are, in fact, the people we are indebted to.
Without them, market research would not exist, so how can we conduct research keeping participants in mind?
Shorter Surveys, Less Repetition, and Mobile Optimization
As already touched on in yesterday’s blog, mindfully designing shorter surveys and reducing repetition is one approach. In the session titled “Taste the Feeling of a New Brand Tracking Ecosystem”, Clare-Marie Hulsey (of the Coca-Cola Company) presented a case study showing how drastic changes (including asking some questions some of the time, instead of all KPIs all of the time) were made to their large, multi-market brand tracker to make the tracker more respondent friendly with many positive outcomes. Martin Dimov (GemSeek) and Steve Wigmore (Lightspeed) were also challenged with reducing survey length in a large scale project. In their talk “A Quantum Leap for the Research Industry”, Dimov and Wigmore described how they were able to cut LOI significantly by asking respondents to complete subsets of questions (rather than the whole list, resulting in a lot of missing data at the respondent level) and using “Ascription” – a solution that uses data science to predict what the answers for would be and merging those predictions with actual data.
Making Surveys More Interesting and Engaging
While a shorter survey is better than a longer one, we all know that short survey does not equal a good survey. Another approach to designing research with the respondent experience in mind is to make the surveys themselves more engaging. Gamification has been mentioned multiple times today as one way of engaging participants while the use of photos, voice, and videos were discussed in Jason Morris (Millward Brown), Sherri Stevens (Millward Brown), and Stefan Kuegler’s (Lightspeed) presentation, “Respondent Engagement: Investing in Stickiness”. With the variety of technological solutions and platforms available today that make collecting and analyzing digital content relatively easy (many of which are being presented at the Exhibition), these options are becoming increasingly more viable for regular use.
Motivations for Participating in Research
Luke Sehmer and Melanie Courtright (Research Now) and Nikki Lavoie (MindSpark Research International) took a step back from thinking about engaging research design to think about why people are motivated to participate in market research in the first place. In the session, “Clipboards, Calls and Focus Groupies: The public perception of market research and the implications for the future”, Sehmer and Courtright claim that people participate in market research for three reasons: to give back, to get something back, and to give yourself a pat on the back. Drawing on social psychology research, Lavoie explained in her presentation, “Connecting with Consumers: A New Way of Plugging In”, how offering financial incentives (inducing a “to get something back” motivation) can undermine intrinsic motivation for participation and has negative implications for engagement.
The Relationship Between Market Researchers and Research Participants
The theme of one of today’s sessions was “Wow! We’re raising the game: When status quo is not an option”. I think this phrase perfectly describes where we are at when it comes to participant engagement and experience. While there are many compelling reasons to care about the respondent experience and participant engagement (e.g., lengthy, repetitive surveys cost more, take longer to field, and elicit less accurate, and less rich, data), we shouldn’t care only about how these issues affect our bottom line. We need to think about the implications of poor respondent experience on the market research industry as a whole – how each study is one touchpoint that influences how people see the industry and respond to us. The consequences of neglecting the needs of our participants are too important to ignore. We need to start thinking of participants as partners instead of subjects, seeing them as people with context and concerns and lives outside of research, making their needs just (if not more) important as those of our clients, because we, as an industry, can’t survive without them.
Rebecca Heaney, Northstar Research, is one of the official RWC bloggers for ESOMAR Congress 2016.
By Stephanie Alaimo
Researchers – and research buyers – want their research to be impactful. NGO’s and donors want to create programs that are impactful. How can we unite the market research industry, NGO’s, and donors? How can we use Market Research methods to best fit the needs of NGO’s committed to creating positive social change in the world?
These questions were addressed in the Impact of Social Research Workshop, on the opening Sunday of the ESOMAR annual Congress. So many of us enter research because of a profound curiosity about people, and a need to leverage that curiosity professionally. And many of us would like to know how to use that curiosity to create social change. In this workshop, we heard concrete examples of how our skills can go to work for the world.
The workshop opened with an introduction by Phyllis Mcfarlane, the treasurer of the ESOMAR Foundation. The ESOMAR Foundation began in late 2013, staffed by a team of four volunteer ESOMAR members, hailing from the UK, India, and Argentina. After the initial growing pains of establishing an international foundation, the group focused its attention on its goals. These include the Education Programme, which focuses on the education and training of young professionals in the market research industry in countries where access to such training is traditionally limited, the Better Results Programme, which helps NGO’s around the world to obtain better results, and finally, and finally the Researcher in Need Programme, which aims to assist researchers who have suffered from political unrest or environmental catastrophe.
Mcfarlane spoke to us of the fantastic successes the Foundation has achieved in its first few years. The foundation launched its first education project, in 2013, in Myanmar. The Myanmar project was a great success, brought about through partnership with the Myanmar Marketing Services Association and the MMSA. The programme provided one week of training in market research techniques for 40 students and young professionals. It was such a success, that the programme will be repeated. The Foundation is also expanding this programme to Kenya, with cooperation from the Kenyan Social and Market Research Association and MSRA.
The Foundation has also assisted the survivors of the Rwandan genocide to develop business skills and market research skills. These skills will prove invaluable to those that will eventually use them to start their own businesses. The Foundation also provides scholarships to promising young scholars and aspiring market researchers, in countries such as South Africa And Kenya.
We heard next from Sally Panayiotou, the Director of Kantar Public Research UK. Ideally, social research can inform social policy so they can create the most positive impact. Panayiotou emphasized that social research requires us to engage frequently with at risk and difficult to engage research subjects. This requires us, as researchers, to be particularly careful when selecting our methodologies. How will we discuss sexual health with women in Africa? How will we talk to AIDS victims? How can we discuss child abuse? How can we be truly empathetic, make respondents feel comfortable enough to talk to us, and reassure them that their answers are confidential? How can we create research that does not alienate our respondents? These are all important questions when working with these groups. Sally noted that we can frame our questions in non-threatening ways, be empathetic, and help respondents to feel comfortable by giving them “examples” of what others might think or feel about an issue.
But most importantly to NGO’s and donors, how do we know if programmes are working? Social change must be measured, and that, of course, requires research. Ongoing partnerships between research vendors, NGO’s, and donors can help provide important insights along the way to social change. So, there are various points at which those committed to social change can benefit from ongoing research.
Panayiotou pointed out that through all of this, it is most important to remember that social research gives the underrepresented a voice. Social research must come back to people, and create meaningful progress in their lives. In order to be providing research that enables this, we must be methodologically rigorous, and we must design research that is appropriate for the intervention.
Next, we heard about a fabulous project with great potential to provide insights to NGO’s and policy makers. Imagine if survey by survey, IDI by IDI, we could all contribute to a global body of research, a constantly growing social dataset, accessible to anyone who might need the information…. Imagine that the data collected could be targeted towards issues, generating data that could answer some of our most pressing global questions? This would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? Well, this is the aim of Paragon Partnership. Paragon, presented Namika Mediratta of Unilever, partners companies such as Uniliver and Coca-Cola with research vendors such as Kantar and Nielsen, NGO’s, and organizations such as ESOMAR. The partnership aims to provide the research required to tackle the UN’s 17 point plan of Global Goals (http://www.globalgoals.org/).
Next, imagine that Paragon’s data could be collected as easily as receiving a text message. It could be, with GeoPoll. SMS research is unique for its global reach, and the place that mobile phones play in our lives. Phones are now among the most personal of devices, especially in Africa. More affordable and more accessible than computers, mobile phones are a great avenue for research. In Africa, where respondents can be inaccessible due to low levels of internet penetration, rural conditions, and far distances, SMS research offers many solutions to these problems. Cathy VonderHaar, of GeoPoll, USA, spoke about the phenomenal success GeoPoll has found through SMS based research around the continent. They have had remarkable success, owing partially to the fact that they have secured strategic partnerships with many of Africa’s mobile phone service provides, allowing them them to have databases that include least 50% of mobile phone users in all of the 26 countries in which they currently operate. This allows them amazing results even when incidence is low.
Research conducted through SMS has the benefit of being administered on a device with which the respondent is very comfortable. They can respond from their homes, and they will also respond succinctly, due to the format. But, since the device is so familiar, GeoPoll has gotten extremely personal, compelling responses, on everything from domestic violence and rape in the DRC, to the perceptions and fears surrounding the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. And just as importantly, since mobile technology is convenient and fast, GeoPoll is able to monitor quickly evolving situations.
These four fascinating projects have the unique commonality of leveraging market research tools in the service of the public good. As Maaya Sundaram of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pointed out during the panel discussion, their success relies on their ability to adapt their service and their language to the needs of the social and public sectors. Speaking to donors and NGO’s is a different language, and a different set of priorities than many of us on the consumer side are used to. Learning these languages, and recognizing the unique needs of this very important sector is essential if we, as a professional community, are to participate in the social changes that so many of us would want to see in the world around us.
Stephanie Alaimo is one of the official RWC bloggers for Congress 2016.