A look at the emotions, or lack of, the market research industry is generating on social media.
By Stephanie Alaimo
To follow Monday’s theme of empathy, Tuesday brought a talk from Annelies Verhaeghe, InSites Consulting (Romania), David van Dongen, SkyTeam International Airline Alliance (Netherlands), Farrell Styers, InSites Consulting (Belgium) and Pieter De Vuyst, InSites Consulting (Belgium). The talk, titled “Research as a Customer Service: How SkyTeam is creating truly consumer-centric research” noted how it is customers, not products or brands that must be at the center of any company. Their aim in their new program was to create a program that truly placed customers at the center of their research – this would reflect not only their business goals, but would also refocus their approach to research.
One of the most interesting findings presented was that in simply asking customers how their experience had been, they felt more valued. Maybe they felt that SkyTeam was empathizing with them? Maybe they even felt empathy for SkyTeam? However they experienced it, customers feet that the brand was talking directly with them, caring about what they had experienced, and cared about any issues they might have had. This effect was even more pronounced, since every customer was asked to respond to research that indicated that their journey had been considered, and taken into account. Since customers could tell that their itinerary had been noted and considered, the research must have felt even more personal – the exact details of their experience were important. This was another finding – people feel most valued not just when they are being asked to participate in research, but when it is clear that their needs and patterns have been noted. Finally, when they are being directly addressed and engaged by a company or brand, they feel that they are actually having a conversation, that their opinion is important, and that they are truly valued.
The research also demonstrated that pictures and stories made the research more usable, more relatable, and more inspiring. Not only was it that having direct communication with consumers made consumers feel more valued, but the brands could also appreciate, and empathize, with customers much more easily when that communication was not only direct, but also visual and contextualized. In essence this research program was a true collaboration between the consumers, the researchers, and the SkyTeam brand. This three way conversation allowed for all parties to feel inspired, and of course, inspiration leads to innovation.
Also in consumer-centric research was a paper presented by Alison Poole and Stacie Haber, both of Mercer (Australia). Opening their talk with the reminder that small insights can make a huge difference, told the story of how Australians were habitually leaving multiple employment-linked retirement accounts open, and as a result paying multiple fees, and missing out on compound interest. They were also frequently losing track of the accounts, since every new job caused a new account to be generated. This amounted to 3 millions of lost account, and 17 billion dollars, all simply because Australians had lost track of their accounts. At first, it seemed obvious that Australians would want to merge all of their accounts into a single account with Mercer. The financial benefits were so very obvious. But, for some reason, they were not consolidating their accounts.
They needed a few small insights in order to figure out why this might be. Not surprisingly, their research revealed that the process of consolidating accounts was tedious and difficult. It required people to have all of their account data, which they obviously did not have. Research also revealed that Australians would be most likely to consolidate accounts in the first 90 days of opening an initial account with Mercer. These two “small” insights led Mercer to give Australians an option : Mercer could hunt down all of their accounts, and consolidate them, if only they had permission. They also began sending reminder emails two weeks after the initial account was opened. With these two changes Australians rushed to combine their accounts with Mercer. The program was a huge success, because the real stumbling block had been removed, and a timely and convenient reminder was sent.
With these two great results, it is no wonder that market research is growing. However, it is also true that budgets for market research are decreasing. Ray Poynter presented “10 Things You Need to Know About Global Research: Key learnings from the ESOMAR 2016 Global Prices and Global Market Research Studies”. But what exactly does it mean for the industry, if research is increasing, while budgets are falling? Poynter found that newer technologies are driving research, lowering costs, and providing more adaptable ways to conduct research. The result then, is not that profit margins for research are shrinking, but rather that research is becoming less expensive to conduct, and that more and more companies globally are seeing the value in conducting market research. What a relief!
Stephanie Alaimo is one of the official RWC bloggers for Congress 2016.
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.