By Jaime Veiga Mateos & Joshua Saxon
Studies show that the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day. And as marketers are presented with more and more channels to reach their customers, that number is growing rapidly.
The day research stopped feeling like research
By Bianca Vucescu
In both quantitative and qualitative studies, quality is a hot topic. Fraud prevention is a first step in increasing the quality of research, yet how can we know beforehand if a real participant will offer us the insights we are looking for? We keep talking about data health and data cleaning. And while it’s still a mandatory practice, what if we didn’t have to dedicate any time and energy on this? What if participants would continuously provide high-quality data in research studies? What if we could attract and engage consumers for the long term?
I hear a lot about so-called ’professional participants‘, those who aim to qualify for as many surveys as possible, are driven by extrinsic motivation and give the ’correct‘ answers rather than to provide honest feedback. This affects our industry but also our clients, who take decisions based on this ‘dishonest’ feedback. But then again, aren’t we the ones who reap this behavior based on what we sowed? Aren’t we the ones who offer points, vouchers or other monetary rewards and as such encourage the ‘professional participant’? I am not saying that (monetary) incentives cannot be a part of ‘sustainable’ research, but we should strongly consider what else is valuable to people. It’s not always about money; who can put a price on experience, knowledge, entertainment, involvement or impact?
Our world is becoming increasingly fast and snappy and when conducting research, brands need to align with this reality. We cannot longer conduct endless surveys and expect people to pay attention, when we all know that the attention span is decreasing, especially amongst the younger generation. Looking at the social media landscape, we see that visual apps (like Instagram, Snapchat) have the most rapid usage growth. Isn’t that a clear indication that surveys have to follow the same path? We have to realize that what is considered as boring in ’real life’ will also be perceived as boring in research studies. Let’s not forget about how we can use technology to improve research results, get better insights and shorten the length of surveys. Neuro-marketing tools for research like facial coding, passive meters, implicit measurements, virtual reality, gamification tools can be integrated in research to achieve better and richer insights without overwhelming participants with explicit questions.
What if brands had a dedicated network, built and managed differently than today’s panels, which they could access for research as often as needed?
That’s exactly what a ’Sustainable Consumer Connection’ is: a network of relevant people who are intrinsically motivated to interact and express opinions about specific topics or brands.
The way we sample influences the human experience, so one goal while moving forward is to do so based on the people’s interests. If I feel strongly about a topic or product, I will be more likely to participate, pay more attention during the research and give my honest opinion. This will result in quality insights for the researcher. Research studies should be a positive brand touch point experience for participants. There is nothing worse than asking someone for a drink and while they are waiting to send them a message saying ’Thank you for your interest, but I would rather have a drink with someone else; so no more screen-outs and quota-fulls. Technically, one could argue that studying intrinsically motivated people does not generate random samples. That’s correct, but at least their responses are valid internally and reflect reality. In all honesty, most of the research we conduct is not as representative as we think.
Looking at the young generation, our future participants, they want to be involved more than ever, make an impact and be treated like the intelligent humans that they are. They don’t want to participate in surveys which contain questions that sometimes seem pointless to them. We encourage them to participate in research in order to shape the future of brands and products but they rarely actually know what the impact is of their contribution. Youngsters are curious and we need to feed that curiosity. So why not share with them how their input effectively impacted the future? Isn’t that an incentive which will motivate them to participate in future research?
To sum up, market research should no longer feel like market research! It should be an experience that everyone would like to take part in because it is fun and interactive, they learn something new and can help with the creation of new products.
Future research has to be in line with the traits we see in the future generation: use top-of-the-line technology and be short, snappy, visual, entertaining, relevant to the consumer. This will lead to a win-win situation, where a research activity is not only engaging but also results in fresher and more powerful insights for us researchers.
Rather than trying to keep up with the present, market research should be ahead of times. We need to accept that the old way of gathering sample is not sustainable, so let’s put the consumer at the heart of our business, empowering them and giving them the level of importance that they deserve.
Bianca Vucescu is Senior Media Buyer at InSites Consulting and one of the participants in ESOMAR’s Corporate Youth Programme.
This is the second of new RWC blog series on employability of young people. With these pieces and as a young researcher, I will try to pass on my insights and experience aiming to give a guideline to all young professionals who are seeking information on how to start their career in the field of market research.
Market research is a field offering unlimited potential for organisations or companies that wish to deliver value for its members or clients. Research reveals the state of an organisation, its industry and competitors positioning, what the members or customers expect from it, what the general public is looking for. However, it seems society is not aware of the true value and contributions market research brings. The same problem applies to the general youth, with the next generation of professionals not being exposed enough to the industry thus failing to understand its importance.
While some young people are aware of the existence of the industry, they are not aware of the actual possible applications, the industry sub-areas, innovation opportunities and value of research. I believe the source of this awareness problem lies within the education system and the penetration of market research representatives in the academic world. Young professionals are not made aware properly by their academic institutions about the industry. Market research is rarely taught as a core module in universities and usually only in some marketing degrees. I personally studied a management degree in a prestigious university but I was never taught any core market research module. I was never exposed to the field by the time I had my first trainee position in the marketing industry.
Due to its wide range of relevancy, I do think that market research should be taught in various modules, ranging from psychology to business and information systems, where students from different disciplines can find a pathway in this multidisciplinary industry that provides opportunities for various career directions. Furthermore, the number of Master’s programmes available in the field globally is only 37, from which 6 are online programs and only 3 are in Europe (Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium)1. Thus, it is pretty straightforward that greater effort to incorporate and boost market research exposure to universities needs to be put. Ideally, this should be made not only from the side of industry organisations but also from the side of research companies aiming to attract the best talents from different disciplines at an early stage.
In my opinion, industry organisations and research companies should make an effort and go talk to university students as frequently as they can. As a young professional now but also as a student I was often attending corporate talks and events held within the university to inform myself. I was curious to find out about new areas, new activities and professions, getting to know people from the industry. I was often approaching speakers after the presentation, asking for more information about a topic that grasped my attention or for professional advice. I highly valued these conversations because I knew that they represented direct insights from the industry. I still remember talking to a writer and industry expert in a university event, about the potential of the topic he addressed while presenting and ended up having a wonderful conversation about new social behaviours and the role of companies in the new landscape. I highly valued this conversation that inspired me to drive my career towards an understanding of behavioural actions.
It is essential to approach more students and raise awareness of the industry within the academic institutions through career events, internship programmes and scholarships at an early stage of the students’ academic career. Moreover, it is important to find the appropriate touch-points of content exposure and communicate the industry’s insights and innovation through library and other study materials. I intuitively believe that research companies can play an important role in promoting the industry by, for example, giving classes with their practices in the academic programs. Whenever I was taught a university module by a professional, I learnt about the actual applications, going beyond theoretical models that reflected real work practices that I was able to use in my professional career.
From a young professional’s point of view, being taught about real-work practices by business professionals is an invaluable experience. This approach of bringing businesses to school should be adopted not only in marketing degrees but generally in all related disciplines, such as psychology, statistics, information systems, neuroscience, economics, media and journalism.
Another way to boost awareness of the industry would be to launch a certification programme affiliating with some academic institutions. Thus, graduates can finish their studies with some extra skills in the resume (market research skills) that would be appealing for every potential employer in the wider research related community. Despite raising awareness and providing industry training to young potential MR professionals, such programs would facilitate the hiring process for both sides: students are certified with knowledge even if they have studied something completely different, e.g. information systems, and companies are ensured they are taking on board the right talents that are already properly exposed to industry standards.
As it stands today, I am convinced that the market research industry is not correctly communicated to the next generation of young researchers. Young people are not exposed enough to the industry through their academic institutions. It is absolutely critical for industry organisations and research companies to identify all the effective touch-points to approach new talents in various fields ensuring they can capture the future research innovators and business leaders.
- Degree Programs in Marketing Research and Market Research. Quirk’s marketing research media. (http://www.quirks.com/directory/Marketing_Research_Degrees.aspx)
Helene Protopapas is IE Business School graduate student in Market Research & Consumer Behaviour. Connect with her via @elenaprot
By Edward Appleton
It seems that more and more agencies are seeing the opportunity in positioning themselves as expert in both qual and quant fields.
Check out the websites of say Morpace, Brainjuicer, TNS (an arbitrary selection) – all three strong in quant, two of which with a clear heritage in quant in my view. But all three would nonetheless likely claim qual as a competence area, with teams of qual specialists.
All-rounders in a world of specialisation – an “interesting” development.
Maybe this boundary-blurring is a reflection of evolving MR customer wishes – “one-stop solutions”, allowing a seamless movement between qual and quant and back, perhaps strengthened by the positive experience of online communities or proprietary panels that can be either scaled up or down at will.
Whatever the reasons, and whatever your opinion on whether this qual-quant “market view” is dated, a question worth asking is:
“Where should you start on the Insights Quest in a world where the qual-quant boundaries are blurring?”
I’ll come right off the fence and say “qual” should be the starting point in any MR project”, despite the fact that only roughly 15% of the world’s MR expenditure goes to qualitative research. Here’s why.
- Hypotheses Should be Qualitatively Infused
Many (any?) MR projects begin with hypotheses. Often, these are rooted in “facts” – market/competitive/channel shares, movements – all quant stuff. But does qual play an equally important part? Qual research often gets downgraded – qual evidence is mistrusted, dismissed as not “a fact”.
Isn’t it time to re-think the widely held if not overtly articulated concept that qual is somehow flaky? Qual can be an immensely powerful source of hypothesis enrichment.
It also delves deep into the area of market dynamics – what’s going on, what’s driving change?
These are cogent and business-critical questions. Ever more so given the pace of change that scalability and digital technology are introducing into so many markets. Just think of AirBNB – the world’s largest provider of rooms for rent in a very short space of time
2 . Numbers “Numb the Brain”.
It’s one of the findings of behavioural economics that has stuck in my brain – that the aggregation of responses creates a distance between the brand owner and end-users, consumers, participants.
This paralyses us, effectively – we aren’t moved to act, which isn’t great for insights.
The percentage sign – that great herald of numbers – is a powerful re-assurer for quantitatively oriented decision makers – but the underlying assumptions have to be robust and actually rooted in insights and emotions that move and lead to action.
Only qual can do that. Wow – what a claim! I hope this will at least encourage people to respond with comments 😉
3. Understanding Means Getting Up Close.
The drivers of MR business change – speed, impact, cost – are often at odds with the dynamics of powerful insights generation: in-depth understanding of individuals. Their personal history – their parents’ vitae, their relationships with their siblings, their food preferences, their teenage years….
Often a project plan doesn’t have the luxury to go into that level of ethnographic detail. Topline pressures. Timelines that contract, recruitment issues, quota fulfillment…
The rewards for getting up close are manifold and documented – for instance, mobile self-ethnography is there as a scalable (!) and affordable MR tool.
We also need to remind ourselves of how the “real world” of authors, journalists, musicians already operates with narratives, people understanding, the illumination of psychological complexity. It’s immensely sophisticated.
A couple of examples: BBC Music Magazine-when it interviews top artists such as soprano Carolyn Sampson in the June 2015 issue or the British novelist Hilary Mantel on her 2012 prize winning novel Bring up the Bodies. If our reports were like that, who knows, we might even be able to justify more research, and even higher prices.
Way to go for all of us in MR, I would say.
- Predictive Analytics and Psychology Don’t Always Mix
Old-style quant research is under attack – from all sides, whether it be social media analytics, predictive analytics, big data, Internet of Things, wearables… Behavioural-based data is beginning to out-muscle attitudinal data stuff.
To strengthen the attack on insensitive quant methods, behavioural economics underlining of the complexities of our decision-making processes have gone mainstream – airport bookstore reading material. The “what” seems to be winning the MR battle – context enrichment and System 1 considerations for many a source of perplexing complexity.
But here’s the thing: how predictably irrational are we, when, and why?
Is our behaviour only predictable to a degree – what about the unexpected, the un-influenceable, the role of meaningful or less meaningful others…. things that are difficult to anticipate and factor into an algorithm?
Which means…more qual. Non?
Back to my original question: where to “start” in an MR world characterised by the interplay between qual and quant?
Well, data that informs quantitatively is always going to be of huge value – incorrigible facts such as market size, overall growth rates, open rates, click-through rates…whatever KPIs are relevant. But they don’t explain the underlying dynamics – even competitive intelligence doesn’t help you answer why a Competitor B is doing this, for example.
It’s about people.
And there’s “nowt as weird as folk”, as the English expression goes. Capturing that “weirdness” in a percentage sign is a highly tricky business – whereas the pen-portrait, with many shades of grey, repeatedly captured over time is an extremely valuable exercise.
Now – how do we get that into the next RFP? 😉
Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.
Edward Appleton is Global Marketing Director, Happy Thinking People.
If you asked a cross-section of market researchers how they justify or evaluate a given MR project, I’d guess it would be through the impact it had on a business decision. OK, say I hope that’s the outcome…..
This is likely progress versus say 5 years ago, when the response might have more straight-backed-task-oriented: was asked to do something, performed it well, client happy. So.
If impact is increasingly the name of the insights game, I wonder if we give the act (or process) of impact-creation enough thought – creating impact is often very difficult, and can be fraught with challenges.
Here’s my take on steps that Market Researchers can take to get more impact from their efforts.
- Work Backwards
Actionability is the key to MR impact; investing time in understanding what that means in more detail from the client-side perspective is worth at least a follow up phone call once you have your Insights Request Form signed off on. If there are multiple KPIs defined, prioritize. Suggest asking for input from all likely stakeholders on the research – at whatever phase is best. Try to find out who ultimately in Management will take a decision – has their POV been baked in at the design stage?
All the above requires energy – and the belief that the added input is worth it. This leads to the second point about understanding your customer needs.
- Roadmap your way to Partnership
Whether Clientside or Agency, there’s nothing more rewarding for Researchers than being treated as business partners (OK, I am biased…) – it’s something that has to be earned, often through performance, through relationship management, resulting in reputation, the key to trust.
This process happens whether we like it or not – but to an extent it can be shaped. Write a list of who you regard as key potential partners, map out a plan on how to heighten your involvement with their needs. Be your own marketing manager. Apologies for being brief here – I’m moving on in the interests of keeping this short.
- Offer targeted over-servicing
Not all customers are equal – a tricky if familiar sort of proposition, to be treated with highest discretion before you plot your own segmentation of A, B, C customers. Once you have a sense of who is responsive to what type of marketing, then up the ante on them – take care to set objectives, set a timeline, a budget, and then evaluate your ROI. Better than just relying on meta-insights on How Brands Grow….;)
Before you dismiss this one as totally obvious – believe me, it’s not as common as you might like to think.
- Provoke periodically and empirically.
Nobody likes insights that are insipid, simply reinforce current beliefs – however reassuring that may seem to the more risk-averse marketing managers.
Throwing the cat amongst the pigeons with provocative hypotheses is a technique to get your voice heard differently – looking for a pro-active role. It’s a delicate issue – framing is key to avoid upsetting apple carts… – so use phrases like “the insights from the study x in 2011 told us that” or “we know from Research amongst……(target group XYZ) that brand perceptions are…..” It’s all about building on existing knowledge, not about appearing like an opinionated know-all.
This may sound trite – but innovation is the lifeblood of every well differentiated service offering or brand. Seasoning your approach with new approaches doesn’t need to rock the boat – but it does show that you are keeping abreast of new developments, and are helping to keep the team on top of new thinking about a category.
- Embrace at least recency and frequency in your communication approach
The Direct Marketing professionals amongst you – hands up? – will be familiar with the traditional acronym of RFM: Recency, Frequency, Monetary value. Worth revisiting this for your sales and marcoms effort.
- Network like crazy.
Popularity is the goal here – and the pre-requisite is awareness. Be mentally available. Give yourself every chance of being thought of – play the availability heuristic to its full potential. Quality perceptions are likely to coincide with awareness levels (unknown? probably with good reason….) – at least that’s my hypothesis.
Well, there’s plenty more to be said on how to maximise insights impact – and the unspoken elephant in this blog piece is quality of thinking. Resonance and memorability comes from the quality of your thinking – so be as precise and acute as your time allows, and shape your desire to doing this for your most responsive customer base.
And if you’re lacking that particular piece of spark or imagination on a project – then go process, and think about some of the stuff above.. Impact can be planned for.
Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.
Edward Appleton is Senior Clientside Market Research Manager.