By Finn Raben
Over the weekend the New York Times and Observer newspapers reported that data mining and analysis company Cambridge Analytica, a company that had been employed with considerable success by Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential campaign, had illegally harvested 50 million Facebook profiles in order to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box. The Observer reports that data was collected via a digital app on the Facebook platform where hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use. However, the app also collected the information of the test-takers’ Facebook friends.
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 Victoria Zagorsky
The journey to market research transformation became the key theme of ESOMAR MENAP Forum 2016. While ESOMAR MENAP 2015 presentations showcased powerful transformational concepts, this year the focus shifted to the applications of innovative practices in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan region. It was a highly practical forum with many interesting examples of innovative research practices being successfully applied in the region. At the same time, it was both an inspirational and insightful event providing a greater understanding of where the market research industry is heading and how to get closer to consumer understanding.
With a net increase of 9.1% in market research spending in 2015, MENAP is now the fastest growing region globally. Within MENAP, GCC countries have witnessed a staggering growth of 75% as compared to 2010. Research market in MENAP is changing as companies begin to embrace digital data collection methods instead of traditional approaches.
Role of Research in VUCA World
The world today can be best described with the acronym VUCA, which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.
While the hotel and taxi industries are being disrupted by new entrants such as Airbnb and Uber, technology innovations impact many other areas including how consumers interact with day-to-day products.
Amazon, for instance, allows customers to use its Internet-connected devices to order items with the press of a button. In future, drones will be used to fly packages directly to the doorstep of a shopper in less than 2 hours.
Chef Wendy application talks to Knorr customers providing new recipe ideas and making suggestions based on the ingredients that customers already have. This allows to create a unique profile for each customer, providing valuable insights into individual preferences and dietary requirements as well as the types of ingredients that customers typically have.
What does it mean for market research professionals?
In VUCA world that experiences the ever-accelerating change, we are well placed to play an increasingly more important role helping business leaders understand the future and providing guidance on how to harness the opportunities.
Sanjiv Kakkar of Unilever outlined key strategies for becoming masters rather than victims of VUCA. These include moving from insight to foresight, taking intelligent risks, becoming more agile, harnessing technology to drive business growth and building purposeful brands. Sanjiv believes that we need faster and cheaper research techniques that are able to build scenarios based on the limited data.
Research Applications in VUCA markets: Egypt and Iraq
Interesting case studies were presented to showcase the use of the state-of-the-art research methods in Egypt and Iraq, two high potential markets of the region.
In Egypt, Unilever and AWE Research conducted a comprehensive research study to uncover how consumers cope with the financial implications of the economic crisis. A number of methodologies were employed including ethnography, focus group interviews and a quantitative survey using a nationally representative sample.
The study identified two distinct groups among Egyptian consumers – The Republic of the Gatekeepers and the Youth Empire.
- Gatekeepers live in the world of shattered dreams and abandoned aspirations. They struggle to survive and juggle between priorities to address family needs. Their spending behavior is largely governed by security and survival.
- In Youth Empire, on the other hand, the focus is on “Me, Myselfie and I”, while the spending behavior is driven by pleasure, enjoyment and status.
It is critical for marketers to understand the needs of each group and to tailor communication strategies accordingly.
“The lipstick effect” is another very interesting insight that the study uncovered. In view of the economic challenges, gatekeepers in Egypt gave up on all big dreams. They no longer consider upgrading their lifestyles or buying more expensive houses and cars. Some of them even gave up on summer holidays. But even though they cannot afford expensive luxury goods, they increasingly need affordable simple pleasures, which translates into new opportunities for FMCG companies in Egypt.
In Iraq, the challenge that Pharma Business Partners and Iraq Market Research Initiative faced, was to understand the healthcare market and to estimate an opportunity for private medical insurance companies.
With the population of 36 million people, and a growing consumption rate, Iraq offers a great potential to international businesses.
For the market sizing exercise, a number of data collection methods including intercept interviews and online survey were employed.
Intercept interviews: Due to cultural / religious norms, it may not be possible to conduct a face-to-face survey with female respondents. As a result, with intercept interviews, female consumers ended up being underrepresented.
Online research: According to the official data, the Internet penetration in Iraq is currently less than 10%. This explains the tendency of companies to avoid using online data collection methods in Iraq. However, the actual Internet penetration appears to be substantially higher, and online research methods can be used effectively.
In addition to exploring new research methods in Iraq, Walid ElAsmar of Iraq Market Research Initiative, recommends companies not to consider Iraq as a single market, but rather as a collection of multiple markets. Marketers tends to see Kurdistan as a different market while treating the remaining regions as homogeneous. However, regions vary in terms of retail landscape, supply chains, consumer habits and other characteristics, and require different approaches.
Innovative Data Collection Methods – WhatsApp Messaging Service
Companies in the Middle East increasingly embrace digital methods, and leveraging WhatsApp messenger for data collection became one of the forum’s highlights. There were two research agencies – Feedback Market Research and AMRB – that presented their case studies showcasing how they successfully used WhatsApp for data collection.
WhatsApp, the popular messaging service, is now the leading social media platform in a number of markets across Middle East, including Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE. According to TNS research, WhatsApp is the preferred social media channel for 41% of social media users in the region.
When AMRB was presented with a challenge to help their client achieve greater revenue in the snacking category in Saudi Arabia, they decided to leverage WhatsApp as a data collection approach. The goal was to enable consumers to become photographic chroniclers sharing real-time insights into their eating habits and preferences.
Some of the characteristics that made WhatsApp a preferred platform for this qualitative market research exercise are:
- Familiarity and ease of use.
Saudi Arabia ranks 14th in terms of WhatsApp users globally. WhatsApp is top preferred social network among 42% Saudi consumers, and 97% use it on a daily basis.
- Ability to generate rich insights.
WhatsApp allows consumers to share text, emoticons, photographs, audio and video. In this research study, consumers provided detailed information in relation to the eating occasions including time and date, who they were with and photographs.
- Unbiased results.
Due to the cultural norms in the Middle East, it can be difficult for a consumer to voice a different or unpopular opinion in a focus group setting, whereas with WhatsApp approach one-on-one interactions with consumers can take place.
- Accurate data.
It can be difficult for consumers to accurately recall details of the eating occasions during the past week, but with WhatsApp approach, they are in position to share the real-time information.
Studies using WhatsApp as a data collection approach delivered rich insights that could not be possible to obtain using traditional methods. Market research professionals should continue to explore the potential of this data collection approach and to embrace other innovative digital methods.
Future of Market Research
How can market research industry continue to create value?
It is critical to move away from the role of data providers. Data is becoming a commodity, and as Paris Arnold of Spark Consulting highlighted, clients have access to larger volumes of data, however they face challenges in managing / integrating data and ultimately generating insights from it. Despite facing competition from technology providers, insight professionals have expertise and skills needed to take the lead in this area.
While we should master our ability to translate data into insights, we should remember that in today’s VUCA world clients become increasingly more interested in foresight, and helping them predict what the future will look like in 3-5 years will enable us to deliver greater value and to stay relevant.
Companies also increasingly require partners that can provide guidance on how to achieve growth, as Jaikumar Menon of McDonalds Corporation pointed out.
In VUCA world, market research professionals are well placed to play a more crucial role by becoming business partners for achieving growth and delivering foresight to drive new market and business opportunities.
Victoria Zagorsky is General Manager at Insight Enterprises and Editor at Insights MEA and Insight World.