Thursday, 26 November 2015

Tea and Sympathy

Real research

Wed, 9 May 2012

Just before boarding the 8.40am train for Crewe this morning I noticed a stand of besuited business people chatting to passing travellers.

It turns out that this is a regular monthly event whereby the senior managers from London Midland train company hang out in either Birmingham or Euston stations and chat to customers who happen to be passing by.

I spoke to the marketing director who said it was a great way of getting feedback, even if they had to put up with moans about the trains being late. Apparently, it serves as a rallying point for all senior London Midland folk before they start their monthly management meetings.

All very commendable, of course, but the downside for me is that there is no research company involved. On the other hand, it is great to see managers getting inspired by customer feedback.

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Research in the year 2020

Tue, 7 Feb 2012

A good client of ours recently held a session looking at the future of research and what they should be thinking about for the year 2020. I managed to sneak on to a distinguished panel to discuss this, which included some senior management consultants, ad people, marketers and researchers, who all provided very different perspectives.

The focus was clearly on what client research departments would be doing in eight years’ time and much of the response was about preparing to manage ‘big data’. The consensus was that internal insight people would spend a lot of of time trawling through (or getting others to trawl through) large databases to try and discover insights. I’m sure this mining for insight is very valuable but it struck me, a humble qualitative researcher, as far too complicated.

To me the future is more about how we can understand people and how brands relate to that (note, not the other way round). I think much of the recent advances in qualitative research, particularly more time-based approaches such as communities and the influence of behavioural economics, are helping us do this better. Also, mobile approaches are giving us a much better way of understanding consumers in context, something we as an industry have tried to ignore before.

Of course I know prediction is bound to fail but has anyone got any better ideas?

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Gamification or funification?

Thu, 13 Oct 2011

The topic of gamification of research seems to be very much on everyone’s lips right now. I must admit that when I first heard it I thought it had something to do with game theory, and so thought it sounded very clever indeed. In fact there has been a lot of work using game theory to determine likely human behaviour, but that does seem to be a little way off from market research right now (unless anyone else is doing anything on it?).

Instead I have been enlightened by seeing the excellent paper by Jon Puleston and Deborah Sleep on gamification at last month’s Esomar Congress (summarised here). This, along with other stuff in the news and at conferences makes it clear that it is about making the survey more like a game.

Actually, that isn’t quite what people seem to be doing, hence the title of this post. It appears that we are mostly talking about ways of making standard questions more interesting or fun to complete. Think smiley faces on customer sat ratings or fun slides on ratings scales. These largely do not use any gaming mechanisms and so are not nearly as potentially scary or different as they may at first appear.

Instead it seems to be something we should all be adopting as quickly as possible. Simple, basic ways of making our poor respondents’ survey experience just that little bit more interesting.

No silver bullet

Wed, 29 Jun 2011

I recently had a great conversation with the MD of an FMCG company about their vain pursuit of a marketing silver bullet (or big idea) for a brand – and his acceptance that perhaps the pursuit itself was the wrong way of thinking about how to improve the brands’ position.

The discussion came up in the context of brand advocacy and how to get people recommending your brand. We are big proponents of the ‘thousand fires’ concept of trying to get as many opportunities as possible for your brand to be mentioned positively instead of relying on the one great idea that will do everything.

The idea of a ‘silver bullet’ comes out of a media world where only TV advertising could carry a brand and ads required a focus on one key thought to create genuine impact. The idea was therefore only applicable in a constrained world. We now live in an unconstrained world and so can free ourselves of this thinking.

So here’s to a multi-faceted and multi-layered world where lots of good ideas are much better than looking for, and failing to find, the big one.

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Partnership over competition, the future?

Wed, 18 May 2011

Just back from a full day’s workshop in the US where 3 research agencies managed to work together to help a client create potential new products or services to address the SME market.

The day included great sessions from each of us where we expressed different ideas, approaches and results but managed to make them all work together coherently to help our client think differently about their target audience and create new and innovative solutions.

I must reach out and say thanks to our partners at Brainjuicer with their Digividuals, and  B2B International who provided quant insight to compliment our qual work.

The best thing about the day was the enthusiasm we all displayed for working together for the benefit of a client who we all could have thought selfishly about, but instead embraced the idea of collaboration for their benefit.

Is this the future of research with agencies working together, seamlessly adding their own skills and insights in order to advance a clients thinking? Three heads being much better than one? I certainly hope so as it was fun, enlightening and our mutual client seemingly delighted by the outcome. Let’s hear it for research agency partnerships, the future of great research!

Misbehavioural economics

Tue, 19 Apr 2011

Everywhere you go right now someone appears to be talking about behavioural economics and its potential impact on marketing and research. It has been in Research recently, at the Research 2011 conference and there is an upcoming session at Esomar. Politicians too are extolling its virtues in understanding what makes people do the things that they do.

We at Spring have even hosted our own event recently to explore what behavioural economics means for how we do research. I know it has a lot of implications for marketing; how to price, promote and distribute products have all been subjects of behavioural economics experiments.

Broadly, I think behavioural economics shows the lack of human understanding behind ideas such as conjoint, but mostly I think it probably tells us things we already knew. We need to think about bias, we must let respondents tell us things in their own way and in their own words; don’t pre-impose structures on people; don’t always lead with the same attribute – or “don’t anchor” in the parlance of behavioural economics – and don’t assume people are great witnesses to their own actions.

In the words of someone tweeting at Research 2011: isn’t that just really good research?

Co-creation buzz

Thu, 10 Mar 2011

Yesterday’s New Product Development conference (organised by Research Conferences — Ed.) was a good event with a nice mix of agency and client side researchers and NPD specialists. I ended up on a panel with Esther Garland from Face and Marilena D’Amone from Reckitt Benckiser discussing the merits or otherwise of co-creation.

One of the issues discussed was whether co-creation is a buzzword or something more tangible. The truth is, it’s a bit of both.

If fully embraced by a company it should end up as a philosophy that pervades the organisation and means that customers are bought in (both literally and metaphorically) to the organisation and its decision making processes. For instance, we recently did a proposal for a company to set up consumer connect sessions with board of directors – that really is bringing the customer inside the business.

Of course, there is the danger that co-creation gets treated simply as another tickbox on the research methodology page, and all we do is ask people for their ideas a little more openly than we normally would in a typical focus group.

The feeling from conference delegates, however, was that the former was winning out.

The end of mainstream qual?

Tue, 8 Feb 2011

Every January I always try and catch up with clients on their plans for the year ahead. This time it has been particularly interesting as three clients have already discussed doing less ‘typical’ qual as they are planning to use their communities to cover this type of work (fortunately our sister agency Tuned In can handle these!).

This started me thinking about what the world of qualitative would look like in 3-5 years time. If we assume the qual market is currently 70% groups and that this is the default method for most projects then we can project a very different looking industry in a few years.

I suspect a lot of the quick and dirty qual, checking on ads or disaster checking NPD will be thrown into ongoing communities. Instead of 4 groups costing £12k done over 6 weeks you get similar feedback in 1 week costing £5k. So what do the rest of us quallies do who are not into running communities?

I think the biggest hit will be taken by the big quant agencies whose qual offerings tend to be fairly generic afterthoughts. There could then be a push for budgets to be spend in more interesting deep dive projects (which would please most of us!) with communities covering the need for ongoing dialogue and a way to get quick qual / quant feedback thus minimising spend on more tactical studies.

Anyway, maybe it is wishful thinking, people have been writing the obituary of the focus group for as long as I can remember. But maybe this time it’s different!

What a cheery lot we are!

Mon, 20 Dec 2010

This years Research Awards saw the industry in a thoroughly upbeat mood compared to the last few I have been to. With apparently more guests than ever before there was an almost giggly optimism among most people, particularly as the evening wore on!! I suspect few social research agencies were attending but those focussed on the private sector seemed glad to still be around and looking forward to an even brighter 2011.

Sure there were some moans about some slowing at the end of 2010 but overall things have been much better this year than most of us dared hope. New agencies, new approaches and renewed budgets give the industry an exciting feel as we become even more central to understanding this brave new world than we have been in the past.

So, despite the weather, there seems to be a spring in the step of the industry and lets hope 2011 lives up to our best expectations. Congrats to all the winners of course and thanks to Andy Dexter for saying farewell to Ginny Valentine. In the meantime a toast to 2010, much better than expected!! Merry Xmas.....

What a to-do about DIY

Thu, 2 Sep 2010

Back from holidays and off to the Esomar Congress next week and so have been looking around at what seems to be the hot topic this year. Lots of stuff around new approaches based on conversations not questions (although some of us have been banging on about this for a while), but the other intriguing thing that keeps coming up is clients doing DIY research.

This seems to make a lot of sense to me now that we have global panels and straightforward questionnaire design software. For basic concept or copy testing why not make them cheap and simple? What about brand tracking – what extra value do most agencies add beyond a chart showing key metrics going up or down?

The interesting thing to me is what the DIY trend does to our industry. Will it mean that client side research departments get bigger and agencies smaller? Could it mean an explosion of smaller agencies dedicated to helping clients interpret and analyse the data they have collected? Will it increase the number of branded approaches to things like concept testing with a focus on norms, or will it destroy these approaches in favour of universally-agreed basic testing criteria?

Whatever happens it should be interesting and I suspect will mean major changes over the next five years. As long as no-one comes up with DIY qual (oh no, online buzz analytics)!

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6% of people will say anything!

Mon, 12 Jul 2010

Just listening to a creative director friend of mine talking about ethics amoung consumers and mentioning that 9% of them claim they will pay more than 50% extra for ‘ethical’ products.

I am sure some of them would but this number seems very high. It reminded me of the recent poll in Russia which suggested that 8% of Russians thought the country’s football team would win the World Cup, despite them not qualifying for the tournament!

Having seen this small 5-8% of people saying some very strange things across many surveys over the years I think we should just accept that all surveys seem to have 5-8% of people who are effectively laughing at the survey. It reminds me of the great Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

So what should we do about these folks. In some ways they make the results a bit more interesting but clearly not more correct. So presumably we should have some sort of industry standard to always over recruit and then delete these folks, no idea how to do this but I am sure someone has?!


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A nasty year in the US

Thu, 17 Jun 2010

The Honomichl figures are out and it seems the industry in the US declined by 3.5% last year. Given inflation of almost 2% I suppose it is an effective decline of closer to 5% – this in an industry that is supposed to be recession-proof!

Perhaps more interesting than the overall figure is the different changes by company. The agencies I think of as more ad hoc – Synovate, GfK, Kantar – had the worst of it with 10%+ declines. The larger syndicated companies – IMS Health, Nielsen et al – seemed to fair better and some even grew. So clearly the syndicated area stood up much better than the ad hoc (and probably tracking) parts of the industry.

Other notable performances include Communispace growing 18% and Dunnhumby growing 33%. So it is possible to thrive in this type of environement but it is the newer and more innovative companies that are doing it. So what does the relative strength of combined data sources (syndicated), pure data analytics (Dunnhumby) and interesting new consumer engagement techniques (Communispace) say about the direction of our industry?

If you put syndicated data at one end of a spectrum of closeness to consumers and ethnography at the other (one all about the consumer and one bearing little relation to any individual) it seems that it is the methods in the middle (ad hoc quant and tracking) that are getting squeezed…..

So how is the upturn for you?

Thu, 20 May 2010

Looking around at the press recently seems to suggest things are picking up. WPP are on the acquisition war path, Synovate say that "organic growth is within sight" and Cello has had a "strong performance" in Q1. So are we back to growth then?

Chatting to folks in the industry in a purely unscientifc, qualitative sort of way, suggests that the smaller / mid sized companies have had a better time of it than the majors and that recovery is happening but in a very tentative manner.

Here we have had a good first quarter but are not so sure about Q2. On the good side clients seem to have budgets to spend again and are looking at new ways to spend it having reevaluated everything during the Great Recession. On the bad side budgets still aren't where they were and everything seems to take longer and require far more signatures!

So how are things looking out there, any ideas on client and agency trends?

Poll Shock: 100% of Grandsons Talented

Tue, 20 Apr 2010

The research industry is in its most high profile mode and you can’t read a newspaper without the likes of ICM or YouGov being talked about in the press. With all this talk about polls it reminded me of my favourite poll so far from the great Onion site:

Poll: 100% Of Grandsons Talented

Happy polling season…..


TNS and MESH win big!

Tue, 30 Mar 2010

The RLF (Research Liberation Front) event this year was designed to liberate art from research. They set up a gallery of objects taken from the research world to see if they could be counted as art and the overall feelings seemed to be a resounding yes….

Many research companies contributed things such as respondent drawings from groups, videos of research being done online, early stage concepts developed for research and diaries from respondents lives. These were arranged in a gallery space at the Young Vic Theatre and judged both by popular vote and by a professional art critic.

The winner of the popular vote was a piece from TNS showing respondent generated feedback about the Cadbury’s Flake brand and some of these quotes bordered on the saucy! The piece itself was very nicely laid out and had clearly impressed both the client and the assembled crowd.

The art critic chose a piece from MESH which was a book made from recycled questionnaires. Beautifully bound it apparently subverted our understanding of research!!

As ever a fun night out from the RLF and a welcome juxtaposition to the main conference event…..

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RLF is back - Raiders of the Lost Art

Thu, 4 Mar 2010

So the RLF are back and this year they are asking for contributions from everyone from the world of research…. Please join in and visit them on their website:

This year they are turning the spotlight onto the creativity of research…. As they say:

“We are providing a showcase for all the creativity and treasure that the world of research has produced. This is the work that gathers dust under desks or that you trip over when it’s leaning up next to the wall or something you felt was so good it deserves its share of the limelight. We’re talking work lovingly prepared by participants; collages, videos, mood boards, diaries etc., something put together by an agency, be it a hero chart, a slide from a presentation, or something produced by a client! Ultimately, we are looking for anything, nothing is too small, too big or too weird – we are raiding the industry for lost treasure as the RLF asks, is this ART?

In this vein, the RLF are setting up a gallery close to the location of the party at the end of the first day of the conference. We plan a viewing event that will be easy for any conference delegate (or anybody else for that matter) to attend.

So here’s the brief. We are approaching the leading research agencies and clients in the country to ask them to submit a piece which they feel deserves to be considered as an artwork. We are approaching art professionals to review the works in the exhibition. And yes, there will be prizes awarded!”

Do go to the website for more details (click on the events bit) and hopefully see you there for a glass of something and a look at what our industry can turn up in the name of art!!



Farewell Peter Cooper

Tue, 23 Feb 2010

Just saw the sad news about Peter Cooper’s death. I didn’t know him well but knew his reputation, had read a paper or two and seen him speak which was a pleasure. He once made a point of coming up to me after one of my first conference speeches to say ‘well done’, a simple gesture but one that was genuinely appreciated and made me feel very much better having started out a nervous wreck!

I suppose all I can say is that he was definitely a great researcher, seemed like a very good guy and someone we should all be very pleased to have had the benefit of in our profession. Thanks Peter, you left our industry better off than you found it.

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Friendship groups are fun!

Fri, 12 Feb 2010

Just finished running some friendship groups with housewives for a major yoghurt brand. We recruited a main respondent hitting specific criteria and then helped them recruit some of her friends with similar profiles. The groups were then held in the main respondents home.

We have done this type of thing before but this was the first time in a few years that I have moderated them and I was reminded of why they are such a good approach.

Firstly they are great fun. The group of friends needs no warm up or introduction, they just launch into general banter about themselves and their lives. They laugh at, challenge, criticise and hassle each other and the moderator the whole way through.

Secondly they keep each other real. It is very difficult to pose, exaggerate or be economical with the truth in front of friends. They pick you up on stuff! If you say you go to the theatre every weekend they will laugh and say you are more likely to be seen at home watching TV! All the pretences you can go through with ‘normal’ groups just fade away.

And finally they get to the point much quicker and better. There is no pussy footing around the issue, they tell you exactly what they feel and why, often without any prompting at all.

So I am now advocating friendship groups whenever I can, and as I am now amongst friends does anyone agree?!

Who is the Steve Jobs of research?

Mon, 1 Feb 2010

Just back from running some groups in the US where Apple came up a lot (guess the category!) and while I was there Steve Jobs launched the new Apple iPad. It struck me that Steve Jobs himself launched the product, not an internal inventor or a marketing guy but the CEO himself. Of course we have come to expect this from him and other technology CEO’s, they are often very innovative individuals with a passion for their products.

But where is the equivalent in research? Most big research company CEO’s strike me as good (or bad) business people, more deal makes than innovators. I must admit I don’t know many personally so that is just my impression. 

If I am right then this may help explain the lack of innovation our industry suffers from, direction tends to come from the top and if they are focussed on deals and accounts then of course that will be what the rest of the people worry about.

Any ideas? For starters I would have said Adrian Chedore at Synovate but he has now retired, John Kearon at Brainjuicer qualifies as an innovative CEO but they are still relatively small. I would love to be proved wrong!


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A good client briefing

Sat, 23 Jan 2010

Just back from a business briefing at T-Mobile. It was for about 10 or so research agencies and was all about their plans for the year and how we could hopefully help out. I have been to these types of things before but not enough, they are a great way of understanding clients key objectives and also getting to know them and their issues better.

Besides, this being the small industry it is we also got the chance to catch up and gossip with some friendly competitors. It helps us see the bigger picture and fosters what clients are always after, integrated thinking across agencies for the good of the business.

On the train back it did make me wonder why we don’t do this more. Of course these things take time and resource, are not urgent priorities and can easily be put off. The payoff isn’t immediate and probably not obvious. But it does make a difference. Certainly from our side we know the wider business issues better and so can make more realistic suggestions and recommendations but more than that we will be generally more engaged.

But before getting critical of other clients not doing the same thing it did make me think what the equivalent would be for us as an agency to do. Presumably we should invite all our suppliers over, discuss with them and staff the vision for the next 12 months, listen to what they think before pushing ahead. Oh dear, better start arranging some more meetings then!!

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