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.
By Rebecca Heaney
Congress Day 0: The Future of Market Research
Although not technically the first day of Congress, Sunday offered the opportunity for ESOMAR Congress delegates to attend workshops on a variety of topics that served as an excellent introduction to Congress, starting the week off strong with intriguing, thought-provoking, and challenging topics that face the market research industry today. At first glance, the two sessions I attended titled “The Impact of Social Research”, hosted by Gunilla Broadbent (President of the ESOMAR Foundation) and Phyllis Macfarlane (from Gfk and ESOMAR Foundation Treasurer), and “The Future of Mobile Survey Research”, presented by Roddy Knowles and Luke Sehmer from Research Now, seemed to have little in common. However, the messages of both sessions were largely concerned with the future of market research and both concluded with a compelling reminder to always keep human beings – people, not respondents, data, dollars, or numbers – in mind in the research we do.
The Need to Improve
“The Impact of Social Research” session is premised on the understanding that, as market research professionals and human beings, we have a moral obligation to use our skills and expertise to give back to those who are less fortunate, particularly in developing markets. There is widespread agreement that the market research industry has a lot to offer in the “making the world a better place” space and while there are many in in the industry who are making a difference in a number of different ways, there is clearly much more that we can do.
On a completely different topic, a compelling argument for moving toward fully mobile optimized online surveys was made by Ruddy Knowles and Luke Sehmer, with statistics showing that 40% of respondents in the US are completing surveys on mobile devices (a finding that is mirrored in other countries beyond the US) and research showing that those who prefer to complete surveys on mobile devices rather than personal computers are different in terms of attitudes as well as demographics. However, while it is common knowledge in market research circles that an increasing number of individuals want to complete surveys on their mobile devices, the amount of truly mobile-friendly surveys (in terms of thoughtful questionnaire design, not just technological capabilities) really hasn’t increased much in the past few years.
In both cases, there is widespread agreement – there is no one on the other side of the issue. We all know we should do more to give back and make a positive difference in the world and, on a slightly less solemn note, make it easier for people to do surveys on their smartphones. So why don’t we?
The Need for Change
In the discussion of social research, the tension between what we, as market researchers want to do and what we, as service providers, are hired to do is noted as a common barrier to doing more. Particularly for NGO’s, donors tend to be results-focused, pushing for “hard numbers” rather than “softer outcomes”, and often drive the agenda for how dollars are spent. With so much pressure to get the greatest return on investment, market research plays a more limited role, often restricted to program evaluation, and many feel that it is brought in too late in the game to make a real difference. Many want to market research brought in earlier, in the design or pre-design stages, to help understand they “whys” and be part of the innovation cycle. However, market research costs money, and many donors aren’t interested in spending more on research. If we want to be able to do more to help in the public sector, educating and persuading donors and stakeholders about the value of research is a critical first step. In this case, it is not only the behaviour of the people we are studying that we are hoping to change, it is the thinking and behaviour of those we work with that we also seek to alter.
In the case of mobile survey research, the greatest barrier to change is ourselves. Technology has advanced fast enough to keep up with the demand for mobile access, but the way we think about survey design has not. We, as researchers, have become entrenched in traditional questionnaire design and are failing to adapt to the new ways that people want to interact with us. Knowles and Sehmer argue that we need revamp our thinking, start from the beginning, and consider what it’s like to complete surveys as a respondent – as a person. How would we answer the survey? How would we want to be asked the questions? How would we want to answer them? How can we speak to people like people? Knowles and Sehmer argue for using “humanized writing”, with the goal of making surveys more conversational in nature.
The Need to be “Human-Focused”
For me, the two sessions combined can be boiled down to the idea that market research, at its heart, is all about people. It’s about human beings. Whether our goal is to increase patient compliance or increase response rates, it’s about the human experience and giving people a voice. Sally Panayiotou (TNS BMRB) captured this sentiment when she said “the most important step is bringing it back to the people” but I think Knowles said it best in his closing statement, “the future of market research depends on a ‘human-first’ (and ‘mobile-first’) approach – we have to design research (and mobile) with people in mind.” While it may be challenging, it’s important not to lose sight of what research is for.
Rebecca Heaney, Northstar Research, is one of the official RWC bloggers for ESOMAR Congress 2016.
By Melanie Courtright
The future of the Market Research industry is a frequently discussed topic. And so it should be; we’re a passionate bunch, it’s our livelihood, and there have been a number of pressures on the insights industry in recent years that have thrown up doubts about our future and sustainability. The industry has never been so much in the spotlight. Market research and, specifically, polling have come under increased scrutiny recently in the UK following the 2015 general election, and more recently the 2016 EU referendum and the 2016 US presidential election. Market research is also now frequently cited in PR and marketing campaigns – whether it’s the headline grabbing of the Sun Newspaper whose interpretation of poll data was called into question when it claimed that one fifth of British Muslims had “sympathy for jihadis,” or the use of statistics to support advertising claims.
I won’t go further into these issues as any regular (or irregular) attendee to Congress will understand the threats facing the industry. I see this as one of the reasons why ESOMAR Congress is so special. There is no other opportunity for the global research industry to come together and not only discover the ground-breaking and impactful techniques being used around the world, but also discuss the future of the industry and provide a platform in which to change, hopefully for the better.
At Research Now we wanted to make sure we were part of this discussion, so we were delighted to partner with ESOMAR and embark on the biggest survey to date exploring the public perception of the market research industry. Our aim was to provide some key market intelligence and benchmarking that ESOMAR, and the industry as a whole, can use when marketing the research industry to the public, in particular to ensure the public are aware of the positive impact research has across business and society.
We collected more than 6,000 surveys across four different online and offline research modes, in three major research markets; UK, USA, and Germany. I don’t want to give too many spoilers away of the results. Suffice to say, those in attendance at ESOMAR Congress can hear the key findings on day 1, September 19, in room 1 at 4:40pm. Those not attending will have the opportunity to download the report in the coming weeks or watch ESOMAR TV live on Channel 1 to keep up with the proceedings in New Orleans.
What I can say is the results show there are positives and negatives. Inevitably there are modal differences; online survey panellists have a broad understanding. However, CATI respondents provide some of the most telling data within the report. (There is some fascinating data behind the motivations of respondents, and equally there is some worrying data that looks at how people treat the surveys they are taking.)
That’s all I can reveal at this point. However, it does appear that we are losing the personal connection with our research contributors. This has the potential to be a serious issue for the industry, but we are taking the first step in addressing that. This paper provides a vital insight into the public, those that take our surveys, and those that don’t. It’s the first step in communicating the value of research. And although it’s ESOMAR’s mandate to promote and elevate research on a global platform, it is our responsibility and the responsibility of every researcher to also address these issues.
So, I hope you will join us next week to discover how people really feel about the industry and what we can do to ensure a bright future for the sector.
Register for ESOMAR TV here and tune in to Channel 1 on Monday, September 19 at 4:40PM CST
Melanie Courtright is EVP, Global Products and Client Services at Research Now.