November 2012 Archives

Market research predictions for 2013

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Greenbook webinar: 2013 market research predictions

Greenbook recently hosted a webinar regarding upcoming industry trends in 2012.

Highlights include:

-Marketers are trending toward "do-it-yourself" research (like Survey Monkey)
-Analytics are becoming marketers' primary focus and are becoming highly integrated
-Qualitative and quantitative research are becoming less distinct and they will continue to merge with qualitative items being included in quantitative methods (like surveys) and vice-versa
-Mobile surveys will continue to gain popularity among consumer-oriented surveys and as so, will lead to shortened survey lengths and more streamlined research objectives across all mediums/projects
-On the other hand, it will become increasingly important to consider the results of other survey sources as mobile and social media research can lead to biased results towards specific demographics and behavioral audiences

'Tis the season for...surveys?

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Starting a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I've noticed a huge increase in the amount of email surveys I am receiving from companies that I have previously shopped with online. Most of the surveys ask me to rate the company's website, and if applicable, their in-store customer service. As the biggest time of year for retailers, this really isn't too surprising; companies want to both remind consumers that they exist and, more importantly, want to revamp their customer experience if necessary to ensure that customers spend their money with them this holiday season.
A few of the companies have offered incentives for taking the survey, like "exclusive" money-saving deals, while others have promised the opportunity to be entered into a prize drawing. I've found it particularly interesting that at the end of a lot of these surveys, the companies will take the opportunity to thank me and ask me to provide friends' or family members' email addresses, which would increase my chance to win the drawing. It seems that this holiday season, companies are using email surveys to not only get customer feedback/input, but as an opportunity to increase their own customer base by incentivizing existing customers to recommend others for a potential increased payoff.

mQuest: mobile survey app

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With mobile usage ever increasing, it was only a matter of time before mobile survey apps became a new trend. Here, we look at the pros and cons of mQuest, one of the leading mobile survey apps.

-The survey can be corrected in realtime, even when it is ongoing, to control for any errors or confusing items that may be discovered.
-Surveys can be supplemented with embedded visuals, audio, and videos.
-Surveys can be translated into multiple languages, allowing for diverse samples of people to participate.
-Built-in "plausibility checks" to control for wrong inputs.
-Fast (information is saved as survey is taken) and FREE.
-Survey questions can be made in many different formats.
-Works for both Android and Apple devices.

-Limited amount of questions that one can ask on a mobile device.
-Questions on a mobile device cannot be too complex since people are on-the-go.
-Not everyone owns or has access to a mobile device.

Overall, mQuest seems to have more advantages than disadvantages, however, researchers must make sure that mobile surveys actually make sense for the data they are trying to collect. Just because mobile technology is a growing medium doesn't mean it is the right medium for all research studies.

mQuest's website

The New York Times recently published an article regarding the results of a 30 year observational study that found mammograms really don't work as well as the public believes. While the results found that mammogram screening did lead to increases in the detection of early stage breast cancers, "the number of cancers diagnosed at the advanced stage was essentially unchanged." If mammograms really are effective at finding deadly cancers sooner, then cases of advanced cancer should have been reduced, however, that was not the case.

The Times article details why observational studies are usually hard to trust for reliable results; it mentioned issues with observational data we have discussed in class, such as confounding variables and the lack of randomization. The interesting part is that although the Times mentions these common observational issues, the article advocates for the study's results since experimental and longitudinal studies have found similar results, yet these have been ignored for the past decade.

The Times article states, "It is normally troubling to see an observational study posing questions asked and answered by higher science. But in this case the research may help society to emerge from a fog that has clouded not just the approach to data on screening mammography, but also the approach to health care in the United States. In a system drowning in costs, and at enormous expense, we have systematically ignored virtually identical data challenging the effectiveness of...cancer screening...and more."

Overall, the article makes a good point that when the results of experimental methods and trials are ignored, observational methods may be able to help break socially accepted "fact." Although experimental methods do control for issues such as confounds and randomization, in turn providing more reliable and generalizable results, observational research may prove to be a good supplement by providing a less scientifically-laden, and more understandable, methodology and approach.

Sleep Innovations, a mattress and speciality sleep product company, recently faced a challenge when it came time for the company to obtain consumer feedback in order to best facilitate new product brainstorming.

As a sleep product company, it was hard to engage with specific users since there's no directory of people based on their mattress brand, nor is there a list of consumers who have brought new mattresses in X time period. However, in order to grow the company and make new products, this is exactly what Sleep Innovations needed to do; they needed to reach a hard-to-reach segment to uncover new user insights through consumer's attitudes and usage towards sleeping products.

Knowing that this segment would be hard to reach, Sleep Innovations created online surveys to pre-identify the brand's purchasers and purchase intenders. This extra work out front in pre-identifying their sample ended up saving time and money in the execution of the company's actual "Sleep Talkers" panel community.

The panel community has been successful in gaining consumer insights as the pre-selected consumers find the information relevant and are encouraged to take photos of their "sleep experience," post on community discussion boards, and are invited to partake in more traditional research methods, like concept testing and new product screening.

Sleep Innovations even developed an additional online survey template that was able to track responses over time. In one instance, this additional survey led to an important insight that one of their mattress brands was not selling well in a certain region because the brand's perceived image was too high for its low price; Sleep Innovations raised the brand's prices and watched sales increase.

Overall, Sleep Innovations was able to successfully reach their "hard-to-reach" population by implementing a step-by-step approach that used custom screening to pre-identify the users for whom this information would be the most relevant and interesting, prioritize the actual research activities over the company's own product development goals, establish clear research objectives for the panel to get the most directed feedback, and use visuals to gather feedback.

Check out the whole case study here.

Excavating insights in practice

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I came across an article on Greenbook that detailed how Progessive Grocer conducted research to help explain new changes in grocery shopping habits and patterns. While the actual research was nothing too fancy, in fact most of the key insights came from simple demographic and survey information, Progressive Grocer did a good job excavating these key insights to help explain how future shifts in grocery shopping are likely to evolve.
For instance, the article cites the fact that by 2020, Millennials will make up 25% of the population, while for the first time Baby Boomers will fall to less than 20% of the population. On its own, this information would not be too helpful to Progessive Grocer's mission, however, they used this fact to further excavate related implications. Based off this simple finding, the researchers designed a survey which asked questions what the shift to a "Millennial" population may mean. Their survey found that grocery shopping habits will change as Millennials are less brand-loyal, more willing to buy store brands, more price-aware, and more willing to pay higher prices for organic foods in comparison to Baby Boomers.
Progressive Grocers expanded upon a simple demographic finding (that Millennials will make up a quarter of the population in the next decade) through the use of a direct and clear survey to excavate key pieces of information regarding grocery shopping habits. Progessive Grocers did a good job of pulling one key piece of demographic information and then expanding upon it for meaningful insights that grocery stores are likely to consider and apply when purchasing and pricing products for retail.

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The other day I received an email requesting that I partake in a survey of health behaviors for college women. Normally, I would be pretty hesitant to take this type of survey since I know any survey regarding health is likely to contain sensitive items. However, since taking this class I have a new appreciation for the work that goes into making a survey effective and am a little more open to helping people obtain the information they need.

With this survey particularly, it was smart of the survey designers to write in the body of the email, and in capitalized letters, that all information is confidential. Usually I read about confidentiality in the informed consent section prior to taking a survey, but in this instance, if the confidentiality tidbit hadn't been entered in the email's body, I probably wouldn't have even clicked the survey to read the informed consent.

The content in the survey was also created well, specifically its use of many filter questions to filter out those respondents for whom an item would not be applicable.

Also, this survey's use of incentivizing (what college student wouldn't want a $25 Target gift card?) was especially well done. If you require that your respondents provide sensitive and personal information, a little incentive can go a long way.

While looking over the post-election news coverage, I found two contradictory articles regarding the outcome of the Presidential election-from the same news source.

The night before the election, CBS news posted an article declaring that based off of polling results, the election was sure to be close, "a presidential race teetering on a knife's edge." Citing polls by CNN/Opinion Research, USA Today/Gallup, and the final survey from WMUR/University of New Hampshire, CBS news all but promised an election with extremely close results.

However, CBS News' outcome article the very next morning told a different story. The article began, "In the end, it wasn't close. Barack Obama won re-election handily over Mitt Romney with 303 electoral votes, well more than the 270 electoral votes needed."

These conflicting articles, from the same news source, each released with 24 hours of the other, is is a good example of how it is necessary to exercise caution when examining poll and survey research. Even when we think we have been thorough in our samples and have cross-checked with other news sources' findings, it is important to remember that polls and surveys are only a general estimate of public opinion and very well may not reflect the true outcome(s).

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The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) in Gainesville, FL recently launched an innovative and free online research center intended to further the science of social media.

The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) is "An independent nonprofit foundation dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations™. We focus on research that matters to the practice, providing timely insights and applied intelligence that professionals can put to immediate use."

The IPR tries to achieve these goals by focusing on:
1. Social media research that provides insight into how to best guide and evaluate public relations (PR) communications
2. Research on how to understand the best PR practices (what to do and how to do it)
3. PR research as "the social science underpinnings of our work"

Since social media has begun to play an ever-increasingly important role in day-to-day life, companies are more concerned with figuring out what drives customer behavior, and how to apply what the social sciences have discovered about behavior in order to further PR efforts.

For a free research center, IPR offers a lot of valuable information. The site hosts articles tracking social media use in PR for the past decade and detailing how big organizations use social media to stay connected to their customers. There's even an article dedicated to an analysis of how Fortune 100 companies use Facebook in PR efforts.

With this sort of information emerging online for free, it will be interesting to track how new technology will shape the delivery of content to customers based off of those same customers' preferences and behaviors. It's easy to imagine just how specific and targeted PR efforts will become. Are the last days of expensive, formal and experimental research lingering? With the recent advancements of online tracking and other social media/online-based research methods, one simple Google search can lead to resources providing a basis for understanding important usage patterns for customers and competitor companies alike.

For more information, visit the Institue for Public Relations.

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