Decipher Uses New Digital Survey Methods

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Decipher, an international research services provider, puts a large focus on integrating new digital technology with traditional research techniques. While researching, I discovered its most recent online survey programming including a section of "simulation surveys". These highly interactive online surveys allow the respondent to experience a more accurate representation of real offline environments, while giving each client the valued information that they need.


Below are two examples of these integrated surveys in which the respondent is able to freely interact with the technology while also supplying key information about their purchasing behavior, preferences, and opinions. I think that this upgraded technology has the potential of doing great things for online survey response and accuracy. For one, I tried several of the simulations myself and was entertained the entire time! Typically, surveys are so bland that I struggle to complete them, or never begin them at all. If more research technogies were developed in a way that can be fun for the respondant, there would certainly be less non-response error.

Also, by incorperating interactive simulations of the purchasing experience, the respondent is likely to put themselves in the shoes of someone buying that product, and respond in an accurate fashion. This increase in external validity is sure to attract prospective clients. After all, they would be getting MORE accurate responses for the low execution price of online surveying. (AND its fun!)


With this "highlighting" simulator, the respondent is able to highlight the areas of the advertisment that they like, and mark in red what areas are not attractive to them.


This grocery store simulation allows the viewer to experience a virtual shopping trip.

What If Big Data Doesn't Work?

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Big Data.jpg

A recent article written by Dr. Steve Needel caught my attention while exploring for his take on "Big Data." Here, he states that research companies may not have our beliefs and future behavior "pinned" quite as well as they may think.

Dr. Needel presents the question: What if big data doesn't work? In his article, he dissects three key assumptions.

1. Big Data assumes that within a specific cohort, or group demographic, all behavior will be predictable, homogenous, and consistent. Needel states that this key assumption may be the reason that 80 perent of new product introductions fail. The answer? According to Needel, this is why we do experiments.

2. Big Data assumes that it can determine causal factors involved in decision making. Needel argues, "Big Data only works if it has all the relevant information, and it may never have that if consumer activists and privacy opt-in initiatives prevail." In short, he is saying that Big Data may not be as accurate as it claims to be as comsumers continue to keep things as private as possible.

3. Big Data assumes that the researcher is able to ask all of the proper questions while creating a valid survey, questionnare, etc. "Big Data is only as smart as the researcher who is querying the database or creating the model," said Needel. Clients cannot assume Big Data to be completely accurate, just as reasearchers cannot catch every miskate, pattern, or red flag.

This article was quite valuable to me because it presented a few questions that every researcher should ask themselves before making assumptions or drawing large conclusions.
For the full article go to:

Google's Take on Consumer Surveys

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On a quest for more interesting research data, I fell upon Google's consumer survey website that I didn't know existed! Much like SurveyMonkey or other self-made questionniare websites, Google has created its own way for individuals, businesses, and organizations to create consumer surveys to be complete on the internet. However, in typical Google fashion, this website has used Google's great competitive advantage(a world-wide search database) to develop a system that provides timely and accurate data to each client while increasing revenue for survey publishers. Overall, I think that Google has created something to take note of. Here is why:

1. While distributing various surveys to consumers online, Google provides only one question at a time. In doing so, consumer response rate increases to an average of 15-20 percent. This increase in response rate and decrease in non-response error give each client more bang for their buck.

2. Google's new technology provides clients with greatly aggregated and analyzed data in ways that SurveyMonkey does not. This information comes at a small price, but I think that extent of information that you get in return is worth it! Check out

3. Google increases its accuracy by taking a new approach to survey sampling. Unlike other online survey platforms which send questionnaires to predetermines "panals," (aka your friends and family) Google uses a close approximation of random samples among the US Internet population and provides results that are as accurate as probability based panels.

Mixpanel Web Analytics

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While researching for another class, I came across this website and thought it would be great to add to my research journal! Mixpanel is a company that specializes in analyzing website traffic and user demographics for various companies. I think that their website is great because it lays out the features of their work in a very simple and understandable way. This type of resource is somthing that I can see working for new businesses that would like to know more about their custumers and website traffic.


The Power of Touch

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An article that I was able to uncover from the New York Times detailed several research studies that have been conducted around the power of touch. From a simple hand shake to a well deserved pat on the back, it seems that physical contact between friends, family and coworkers has quite the effect.

I thought that the author of this article did a great job of including a variety of studies to make his case more valid, and the several types of research discussed were interesting to evaluate. One particular set of experiments conducted by a psychologist at DePauw University found that volunteers were able to communicate a list of eight distinct emotions by touching a blindfolded stranger with nearly 70 percent accuracy.

Although this study does not directly relate to research conducted in strategic communications, I do believe that there is somthing to be said for the power of touch in all communication. In this digital age, the moments that companies are able to spend actually interacting with consumers is becoming less and less. Whether conducting in-depth focus groups, or reaching out to consumers through community activity and involvment, this data shows that it may pay off to connect outside of impersonal digital platforms.

Perhaps this information could help companies develop new tactics for developing a positive brand association.

Focus Group...or Play Group?

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According to several marketing strategists working for brands such as Coca Cola, Coors and Time Werner Cable, the age of traditional focus groups is nearing its end and making way for a completely revolutionized way of thinking. These large companies have recognized where current focus groups fall short, and have partnered with research experts to seek out better ways of collecting valid, qualitative consumer insight.

The "NEW TAKE" on focus groups can be found in various forms:

1. The Sensory Safari

What it does: This focus group takes the form of a collage-building exercise in which participants create collages based on their feelings about a brand, a product or an advertising concept. While visitng tables that display items that connect to various senses (smell, site, taste, etc.) consumers create collages while they associate with a particlur brand.
Why it works: I think that this method has the potential to be very effective because it allows consumers to talk about emotions that may not even be aware of. This organic way of allowing individuals to express themselves may give more external validity to the information that is shared. Also, each person creates their own collage which eliminates the possibility of one participant overpowering the whole group.

2. Home Journaling

What it does: This method involves interviewing consumers in their homes and leaving them with journals called "Little Truth Books" for a week or two. The information provided in this personal journal allows consumers to think more deeply about a particular brand and repsond to various questions on their own time.
Why it works: This journaling method is a great way to seek qualitive data on consumer thoughts and behaviors because it allows them to share information that they may not be comfortable communicating in traditional focus groups or one-to-one interviews. Allowing participants to respond on their own time and share their true feelings makes a much more effective study.

3. Virtual Facebook Chatting

What it does: This online platform for sharing is conducted on specialized Facebook pages where consumers are invited to come and share in a group forum.
Why it works: Although this method takes away any in-person benefits to a focus group, I think that it may work effectively for companies because it is both quick and cost friendly while also reaching people where they already spend a TON of time. Qualitative research is usually very costly and time consuming; this method helps alleviate those issues.

Ethics in the Fine Print

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As a student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, it isn't unusual to find my inbox scattered with invitations asking me to participate in surveys and questionnaires. Whether they come from professional research groups needing my particular demographics' insight, or graduate students aiming to complete a thesis, the world of journalism is FILLED with research.

Just yesterday I received an invitation to participate in a survey covering "diverse learning environments" and how they have affected me in my 15 years of public education. Prior to taking this course, I likely would have breezed through this survey without thinking twice about the ethical implications of doing so. However, after our discussion on ethics and research, I approached this survey a bit differently. Before I was able to answer any questions, I was presented with an "information sheet" that detailed anything that I may need to know about my participation. Although some of the information seemed a bit silly, I enjoyed the chance to analyze the document as a research expert. ;)

In my opinion, the section titled, "Potential Benefits to Subjects" was a little strange. It stated, "You may have the opportunity to reflect on your prior academic experiences and your expectations from college as you complete the survey, which may enhance self-understanding." Sorry for being blunt, but I took this survey for the chance to receive a $50.00 gift certificate. Whether "bribing" students to answer these questions for a potential prize is ethical, I'm not sure. I do think, however, that this section was unnecessary.

The next two sections which detailing potential risks and confidentiality seemed a bit more legitimate and useful. The document stated that if participants were uncomfortable answering any of the questions that they could certainly leave them blank, and that all responses would be strictly confidential. Even though the subject matter of this survey did not make me at all uncomfortable, it was nice to know that any information I provided would be confidential. I think confidentiality is something that many participants glaze over, but that we should perhaps pay closer attention to. Not all surveys protect participants in this way, and I will certainly pay more attention next time!

The link to this survey and ethics document:

"Over the Shoulder" Consumer Insight

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Egg Strategy, a global marketing agency based out of Chicago and Boulder, has created a smartphone application that takes consumer research to an entirely new level. This new research strategy titled, "Over the Shoulder," allows big name clients such as Klorox and Coors to peak inside their consumers' day-to-day activity and gain a better understanding of how their brand is used in real life. Participants document their time spend using a particular product by snapping photos, shooting videos, and typing up tweets. Is it possible to have qualitative data with better external validity than this? I don't think so.

ALTHOUGH...... Just like any other form of research, there is always a downside.
-Are consumers behaving differently because they know that researchers are seeing their activity?

Check out their page:

To Research or Not?

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I recently came across a blog submission written by an employee of Egg Strategy, and its short and sweet message really resonated with me. One topic that has come up in our class discussions time and time again is whether or not research is really "worth it." From time and money to bias and misconception, research in strategic communications certainly has its pros and cons.

In this blog submission, the author presents several ideas as to whether research is worth investing in, many of which we have covered in class.


- "I've seen research provide insights to doctors to improve the way they work with cancer patients." -- We cannot deny that research has potential to succeed. However, it is important to create research "with legs" that help us reach tangible outcomes.

-"I've seen lightning bolt insights about brands that come from observing people in bars or on cruise ships." -- This not only shows how research can be fun, it proves that ethnography and its qualitative data can actually change the way that a brand thinks and acts.


- "I've seen research used to dumb down breakthrough ideas and make them more mainstream." -- Like our class has discussed, research runs the risk of actually stunting growth and activity. We must be careful in constructing the way that we choose to research, and ensure that it will allow us to expand, not shrink.

-"I've seen researchers saying that they were able to measure the effectiveness of an ad by having a few people look at a storyboard." -- Research is wasted when it is constructed only to reinforce what we already think or believe. It is when are able to eliminate our own biases that we are able to see data for what it really is.


-"To research or not isn't the question. There's always a time, a place and a way to make research great - the good researchers know that and the best clients too."

Journey Mapping

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Journey Map.jpg

Clearworks, a developing market research firm based out of San Francisco, is one of many consumer research companies that are using "journey mapping" to better understand the experience of their target market. In the photo above, you can see how journey mapping details the emotional state of cell phone users during each step of the consumer process. Through various types of qualitative research methods, (In-depth interviews, consumer forums, video diaries, etc.) Clearworks is able to detect where a company is falling short in consumer satisfaction, and strategize how to improve those experiences. Finding better ways to approach those less-than-ideal moments may then lead to the strengthening of public opinion and consumer loyalty.

This technique looks like a win- win situation!!

Check it out:

Social Media= Friend...Not Foe

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As the most recent and fastest growing form of strategic communications, there is no doubt that social media is relevent and here to stay. The real question is, how can the vast ocean of quickly developing information on social platforms give researchers real answers about consumer beliefs and behavior? Currently, researchers are swimming fast to keep from drowning in the content and confustion that they find in Facebook and Twitter. However, a recent article written by Kathy Doyle of Doyle Research Group gives a reason to believe in the value of social data. We may not have all of the answers yet, but this article demonstrates that we are certainly on the right track.

Kathy outlines five ways to invest in the value of social media: (I will discuss three)

1. Discover issues for further exploration:
One great thing about social media is that it presents you with a massive amount of timely and cost effective information. Without investing a large amount of money or man power, social commentary allows a client to see what their consumers are saying in real time. This near perfect form of external validity lays out the consumers' needs, and companies can then react in a way that will be relevent and meaningful those exact consumers. One problem... what about the consumers that choose not to share on social platforms?

2. Identify and define target audiences:
I think that clients can think of social media as an interactive focus group designed just for them without the stress of spending time and money. Of course, there will always be the question as to whether the information shared is valid and reliable. But that idea aside, social platforms are a great way to define target audiences from content that they create themselves. "Audiences begin to show themselves not because you're looking for them, but because you're listening to what they have to say well before you know who they are," said Kathy.

3. Supplement traditional research BEFORE taking on a major initiative
For many market researchers, diving into a costly and time consuming is risky business, especially if there is limited research conducted before hand. Social media can be an incredibly helpful solution to this problem because it is an easy way to audit consumer opinions and behavior before taking the plunge. For now, researchers can see social mediums as a great way to get their feet wet and "check out the water's temperature."

Check it out:

Susan G. Komen Continues to Struggle

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Harris Interactive, a custom market research firm, conducts an annual trend study that examines the brand equity and health of more than 1,500 brands. From January 31 to February 20, this study was conducted online and was able to gather over 37,500 consumer responses on key measures of brand health including public knowledge, attitude, and interaction.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation is among many non-profit brands that Harris Interactive has studied, and there is no doubt that its brand equity has plummeted significantly in the wake of last year's public relations disaster. According to the 2012 EquiTrend study, Susan G. Komen's current brand equity score of 55.1 represents a 21% drop in brand equity over the prior year. The study also notes that this drop is nearly the largest in the study's history surpassed only by Fannie Mae in 2009.

Although these results look grim for the future success of Susan G. Komen, it seems that Harris Interactive is doing an great job of bringing relevant and up-to-date information to its public. After all, research is conducted to seek out and confirm these drastic changes in public opinion. Although tedious and time consuming, trend studies conducted over several years are able to provide a vast amount of pre and post test data to each client. Susan G. Komen certainly did not forsee last year's events happening, and for that reason, it is great that we have ongoing studies such as EquiTrend to catch the so to speak, "calm before the storm."

Looking into the future, Susan G. Komen may benefit from using EquiTrend's information to discover ways that they may boost public opinion and company moral.

Lesson Learned? -- Don't underestimate the power of an ongoing TREND STUDY. You never know what they may catch.

Why Fast Research Doesn't Work

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Just today I came across a blog entry on Marketing Week's website that made a few notable points about "why fast research doesn't work." Amidst the authors rational, I couldn't help but notice the emphasis she was putting on social media and the lack of valid information it is actually giving us. She states, "It is clear more education is needed in using social media to full effect, but using it for quick and dirty results is not the way forward," and I must say that I agree.

Social media platforms are hardly the place for reliable, scientific data to be found. Consumers are flooding the pages each day, yes, but are these consumers having the sort of conversations that MOVE a brand to better reaching its consumers? For me personally, I would not use a social media platform to praise a specific brand or scrutinize them for producing a less-than-terrific product. Is the feedback that companies recieve via Facebook and Twitter simply the long and tired complaints of bored and disatisfied customers that have nothing better to do? What about those of us that are too busy going to school, working, and actually using these products instead of talking about them?

I think that social media has a long way to go before market researchers are prepared to analyze it for what its worth. By no means am I saying that social data has no place, I am simply saying that the results are far from black and white.

Check out the blog:

The Cheap Way to Play

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Most market research is conducted for clients that have time and money to pay, right? But what about those start-ups and non-profits that are searching for a bit more "bang" for a few less "bucks?" The answer is in a recent article written by entrepreneur Isabella Tribond, as she lays out the truth about playing it cheap. Below I have listed a few tips that I find useful and that perhaps more organizations should take note of before they dish out the cash.

1. Don't underestimate secondary data-

Secondary data, or data previously collected by an outside institution, can be incredibly helpful if you're looking for reliable information that won't break the bank. Resources such as libraries, the local Department of Commerce, and business libraries of nearby universities are overflowing with information just waiting to be used. Before you spend money in an attempt to find new answers, make sure that they are not already there. You may be surprised.

2. read some more-

Trade periodicals and letters to the editor are resources that are both relevant and in real-time. Subscribing to periodicals within your given industry is an easy way to stay up-to-date on consumer attitude and behavior without expending access money or time.

3. Google is your friend-

Newsrooms can be a great source of information from both competitors and consumers. Be sure to check them out before assuming that you must develope a costly focus group. The internet is CHOCK FULL of good stuff. However, you must dig.

Facebook Survey

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As I signed onto my Facebook this afternoon, I was presented with a likert scale survey question about how well I was able to relate to an advertisement for As a consumer myself, I really like it when I have the opportunity to give feeback about the relevancy of ads that I am given. On sites such as Hulu, I frequently watch advertisements that have no connection to anything within my life. I love it when I can let the market researchers know that the ad is not targeted towards the right person. Hopefully, Hulu and Facebook will get to know me well enough that I like the ads/ commercials that I see!