Trends in travel…and research

I attended the Governor’s Colorado Tourism Conference in Beaver Creek. It was a fun three days and we ran into several people we’ve worked with and met several more that we hope to.  The conference started off with Daniel Levine from the Avant-Guide speaking about “The Five Social Trends that will propel Colorado Tourism into the Next Decade.”

It got me thinking – these trends aren’t necessarily specific to the travel industry – so how do these trends relate to market research?  Below I list each trend discussed and a few top-of-mind ways it could impact our industry.

1. Experiential

It’s more than just about physical goods, but the experience those goods can provide.  In travel this is adventure travel, getting a close encounter of your destination, and essentially “doing” instead of just “seeing.”  Beyond travel we see this in everyday life with our choices for where we eat, how we spend our freetime, and even what we do for a living.

As researchers, we’ve seen the impact of this trend.  Not only is what we are measuring changing, but how we measure it as well.  Survey questions and focus group topics must take this into account of course, but this also ties in with a larger trend in research – ethnographic research.  What better way to learn about a target audience’s experiences than to observe them and/or interview them while they are engaging in the particular activity that we are interested in as researchers?

2. Personalization

We see personalization everywhere today.  From those jewels that you put on Crocs, engraving your iPod, and the skins you put on your laptop, mass customization has allowed for greater personalization.

With reserch too, we see greater personalization on two different levels.  First, with our clients.  At Corona, for example, I don’t think I’ve ever done the same project twice (unless it was a follow up for the same client); every project is custom to the exact goals for that client.  Second, with our research subjects.  People don’t want to respond to bland, generic surveys (or any other mode of data collection).  People want to tell you about their specific experience.  By designing better surveys with relevant, specific questions, skip patterns and piping (i.e. taking answers in one question to create another question), and by correctly sampling the right population, we can make the research experience significanly more relevant, and in the process, ensure that findings are the most revealing and actionable for our clients.

3. Transparency

We all have seen this one with travel.  This is the customers’ reviews of hotels, airlines, and so on.  This is also services like Farecast that provide information on airfare trends and whether you are getting a good deal or not.

Initially, this one stumped me.  How can this apply to the professional services sector, and especially market research?  This is the knee-jerk reaction many industries or companies have – “this trend can’t or doesn’t apply to me”.  Of course, that’s wrong.  They’re trends for a reason.  And obviously it does impact market research.  While the information may not be as readily available or organized (yet) like it is on travel sites, the information is out there.  The important thing here is how we participate.  Several months ago I set upGoogle Alerts to alert me anytime “Corona Research” is mentioned in news, blogs, or other sites on the web, so we can be aware of conversations about us.  But that’s still passive, and while we may not set up a “rate this product” quite yet on our site, we are looking at ways we facilitate feedback from our past clients to our future clients beyond just listing our references.

4. Mobile

Mobile technology is allowing travelers to react quicker and change their plans on a dime.  All sorts of new apps are being created, from truly paperless checkin to buying tickets and making reservations over your phone.

To see our recent thoughts on mobile research in a previous post, click here.

5. Marketing sustainability

Finally, marketing sustainability.  You don’t even have to look hard anymore to see companies promoting how “green” they are (though I would argue more often than not its more hype than substance, but maybe I’ll discuss that in another post).  The argument here is that you not only have to be green, but you have to communicate it to your customers too.

Similar to mobile, we’ve talked about green efforts in a previous post and newsletter.  But whereas the travel market has proven that people will pay more to stay at green resorts, would research customers do the same?  Sure, its nice that we’re “greener” but is that a reason a company would hire us?  Would they be willing to pay to offset the carbon footprint of their project (paying would be the easy part, calculating the footprint of a research project would the fun part)?  Love to hear what you think about this.

Image:  Beaver Creek from the chairlift.

Professional survey respondents

We get a lot of inquiries about how to join our panel or participate in our focus groups, and consequently we spend a lot of time explaining that we don’t maintain this kind of recruiting list for participants.  (We custom recruit for almost all our groups.  We’ll explain why below.)  Some questions come from people who have just participated in research for the first time and are shocked that it wasn’t a scam, and enjoyed being paid to share their thoughts. Others are old hands at research participation and consider it a form of employment.  Hopefully this post will help both potential participants and those who commission and conduct market research understand why recruiting from a list of interested parties is undesirable.

In a quick search, I easily found several sites helping people get on a list (here and here).  I personally like the photos of happy people in the video and the association of market research with telemarketers in the last link…arghh!  For another 2.1 million links for paid surveys, click here.

Now, I’m not against the entrepreneurial spirit of earning a buck, but professional respondents are not good for our industry and therefore not good for our clients.  Especially when they start to misrepresent themselves in order to participate.  WHY?  Completing the survey (or other research mode) and earning the incentive becomes their only objective.  The problem is only compounded when respondents outright lie to qualify for the survey.  And as respondents take more and more surveys, they become more skilled in learning how to ensure they’ll make it past the screener questions and qualify.  Additionally, there is potential concern that respondents who become too skilled at taking surveys – even when not cheating – may not give quality responses due to lack of focus.  Or they may just become “tuned” to marketing in their everyday lives, and in a sense be too sophisticated to represent the “average person” targeted by the marketing campaign.

This goes back to the core tenet of survey research – sampling.  If your sample is not representative of your target population, then accurate conclusions cannot be drawn.  The only group that cheaters represent are cheaters themselves (and even then they wouldn’t fill out the survey correctly!).  Even when not cheating, similar problems arise from using “professional participants” who are not representative because they’ve become “experts” at awareness of marketing.

And this isn’t just some methodology-obsessed research firm speaking either.  Big companies are having concerns too.  A recent BusinessWeek article on the quality of online polling noted that P&G is enforcing stricter guidelines when conducting Web polling.  The article cites one instance in which two different surveys came to two completely different results regarding the attractiveness of a product.

So what can we do?  Stay tuned for an upcoming post on ways to limit professional respondents, cheaters, or respondents who are just plain lazy.

The importance of “other” both here and in Madagascar

This is the third in a series of posts on our recent trip to Africa.  To see our first two posts, click here and here. We checked into a hotel in Antananarivo, and I was delighted to see that the Malagasy people embrace market research.  Inside our room was a customer service survey asking about various attributes of the hotel.

However, upon reviewing the survey, it struck me that the survey was dealing with the wrong issues.  It was a classic hotel survey:  was the room neat and clean?  Was my check-in fast?  How was the food at the restaurant?  The survey was asking about the basic infrastructure of the hotel.

Those questions are fine, and they have value.  However, as an international traveler in a developing country, I am primarily looking for features that weren’t covered in the survey.  Sure, I want a neat room and fast check-in.  But what I really need is a feeling of safety and security in my room, and a good safe.  I need an ability to use a credit card, and to exchange money.  I need the ability to get small Malagasy currency for the innumerable tips I have to bestow, when the airport only gives me the equivalent of hundred-dollar bills.  I really, really want hot water in the shower, and a shower head height that halfway works for a giant American, and it’d be nice if there was a guide to nearby tourist places where I could walk, and information about places where I could find Internet access.

Fortunately, the end of the survey contained the question, “What other issues would you like to share?”  This allowed me to let them know about my small currency needs and my worry about the people outside the hotel who were trying to take my suitcase without telling me that they were hotel employees.  Those are the things that will help them become more desirable to foreign tourists, and by including that last question, I was able to tell them so.

Even on a well designed survey, adding the “other” question provides the researcher a chance to catch any nuances that may otherwise have been missed.  It is often in these free response questions that, through the respondents’ own words, real insights can be gained.


Who Uses the Internet? (Part 2: Demographics)

Part one of our examination of who uses the Internet looked at the question geographically.  In part two, we’ll look at Internet usage nationwide (data again via the NTIA) broken down by several important demographic variables.

In all of the graphs that follow, in-home Internet usage (green portion of the bars) and outside of the home internet usage (gold portion of the bars) are summed to derive the total Internet usage rate.  The bars correspond to the percentage of households with each type of internet usage, and the demographic categories are for the adult reference person for that household, called the householder.


There is a strong linear trend between education (here, the highest level of schooling completed by the householder) and Internet use, with only about a quarter of homes where the householder completed only an elementary education using the Internet, increasing up to 90 percent for householders who are college graduates. College graduates love their Internet (and also are more likely to have the financial resources to pay for it), so they are the ones who are more likely to be reached by an Internet survey.


Households with Asian-American and Caucasian householders have the highest rates of Internet usage at 82 percent and 75 percent, respectively.  American Indians have the largest rate of outside the home Internet use: 18 percent.

But beyond the fact that there is no chance of contacting via email, web-ad, twitter, or social networking a fifth of households with Asian-American householders and a quarter of households with Caucasian householders, is the sobering reality that Internet marketing and research won’t ever reach 4 out of ten households with American Indian or African-American householders, nor nearly half of all households with Hispanic householders.

Family Income

Similar to education level, Internet usage rises with family income (with the curious exception of the 2 percent of all households who earn less than $5,000 annually).  Additionally, as income rises, the percentage of households that only use the Internet outside of their home falls.  Only 58 percent of all households earning less than $50,000 a year use the Internet at all.

What have we learned?  That the digital divide still exists and that the Internet, like any other medium, has plenty who will miss the message.  Internet surveys and marketing will disproportionately miss those with lower incomes, those who are racial and ethnic minorities (with the exception of Asian-Americans), and those who have less education.

Customer service and the little things

This is the second in a series of posts on our recent trip to Africa.  To see our initial post, click here.  One thing that’s nice about traveling is being out with the public.  As researchers, we’re natural peoplewatchers, and this helps us with research designs when we’re back at our desks.

Our first interesting observation took place before we even left the United States.  We were sitting at the airport waiting to board, and were sitting near the counter at the gate.  A small line was forming as people sought seat changes or upgrades or whatever else brings you to the gate counter, and the single gate clerk was slowly losing ground.  The line went from two to three to half a dozen, and every few minutes it seemed to get a little longer.

No one had an issue with the gate clerk, because she was obviously working hard and working efficiently.  However, a turn of events took place that turned opinions sour quickly.

A group of three other gate agents came to the counter.  At first, we assumed that they were coming to help, but apparently they were off duty.  They merely stood to the side of the counter and joked around and laughed, having a grand old time.

As the line continued to grow, more and more people arrived to see one person working and three people goofing off.  The goofer-offers were still in uniform, so the people in line apparently presumed that they were simply ignoring the customers, and we watched as the mood in the line quickly went from patient and positive to irritated and very negative.

The thing that I found most fascinating about the situation is that a customer service study would have shown poor service at that gate, when in actuality the lone agent was working very hard.  A manager doing a customer service study would have wrongly assumed that she was underperforming, when in reality she was the victim of some misperceptions.  It reminded us as researchers that sometimes there may be factors beneath the level of the data that can corrupt one’s conclusions, and it also confirmed that a person can learn a lot about customer service experiences via observational research.

We also learned that off-duty employees in uniform shouldn’t be goofing around near a line of customers.


Who Uses the Internet? (Part 1: State by State)

Who can’t answer your Internet survey? Who is unable to view your spiffy new website? Who won’t be reached by your email newsletter? In survey research, we call the answer to these questions coverage error or the proportion of individuals in your population of interest who are unable to be sampled/reached. Although it’s a statistical concept, coverage error is also vital to getting your message out to those you want to hear it.

Coverage errors can be very different for populations depending on the mode of the survey. The rule of thumb around the Corona offices is that (with the exception of the homeless) all households have a door you can knock on, fewer have a home telephone you can reach through a random digit dial sample, fewer have an address you can reach using a commercial mailing list, and even fewer use the Internet and have email addresses. This hierarchy is why Corona recommends only conducting online surveys with targeted populations who are likely to be wired, as the coverage error inherent in online surveys of the general population means you’re going to get very biased results.

Now, thanks to the Federal government, we have firm data on who is missing from the wired population, so we have an idea of just how bad the coverage error is. NTIA, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, just released some very interesting data on household Internet use as a part of their report on the state of broadband in the USA.

So who uses the Internet? In this post we’ll look at this question geographically—which states have higher and lower rates of Internet usage. And in part two we’ll look at this question demographically, to see how income, race and ethnicity, education, and household type are related to Internet usage.

What parts of the country have higher and lower Internet usage?

The banks of the Mississippi are a relatively poor place to do a general population online survey. Six [Mississippi (60 percent of household usage), Arkansas (62 percent), Louisiana (63 percent), Tennessee (66 percent), Kentucky (67 percent), & Missouri (67 percent)] of the ten states with the lowest rates of household Internet use are bordered by the river.  The other four states with the lowest levels of household Internet use are West Virginia (58 percent), Alabama (61 percent), Oklahoma (64 percent),  and South Carolina (67 percent).

The west is the place to find high rates of Internet usage, as five of the states [Alaska (84 percent), Utah (82 percent), Washington (82 percent), Colorado (79 percent), and Wyoming (76 percent)] with the highest rates of Internet usage are western. The other five states are New Hampshire (81 percent), Minnesota (79 percent), Vermont (79 percent), Kansas (77 percent), and Maryland (76 percent). Even in Alaska, which has the highest rate of household Internet usage, about one out of every six households does not use the Internet.

Those who use the Internet at home are more likely to respond to surveys, since the Internet is more readily available to them.  Again, we see lower rates of in-home Internet availability in the southern United States and along the Mississippi, with rates hovering between 40 and 60 percent.  This means that in these areas, nealry half of all households do not have Internet access in their homes! The highest rates (between 70 and 80 percent) are again in the west and northeast.

Broadband connections allow for more easy use of such services as streaming video, VOIP, and other bandwidth-intensive pursuits (including embedding video clips in surveys).

In twenty-four states currently less than half of all households have in-home broadband access, with six having a rate of less than 40 percent.  Those six states, all in the southern United States, are West Virginia (33 percent), Mississipi (33 percent), Alabama (37 percent), Arkansas (38 percent), Oklahoma (39 percent), and South Carolina (39 percent).

In only three states is the rate of in-home broadband usage higher than 60 percent: New Hampshire (65 percent), Alaska (63 percent), and Massachusetts (61 percent).

This brief analysis shows that if a survey of the general population is your goal, the Internet is not the best place to do that–your coverage error will be high in areas of the southern United States and you will not even be able to reach 18 percent of the households in the most connected states.  In our next post, we will examine just how bad the coverage error is nationwide by different demographic variables.

Corona Helps Determine The Economic Impact of Colorado’s Nonprofit Sector

Although it came out a little before we started blogging, we have been remiss in not letting you know about an important Colorado Nonprofit Association report that Corona Research played a big part in creating.

Return on Investment: The Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Sector in Colorado details both the breadth and (huge) economic impact of the Nonprofit Sector in Colorado.

To determine the economic impact of the sector, Corona Research completed a mail survey of over 600 nonprofits in Colorado and performed some detailed quantitative modeling to calculate direct and indirect economic impacts.

We found that the nonprofit sector contributes over a $2 Billion net inflow to the Colorado economy each year when you combine direct (over $900,000) and indirect (over $1.2 million) impacts.  The average nonprofit adds nearly $300,000 to the Colorado economy.

Nearly half of the money flowing into Colorado from the nonprofit sector comes from Federal funding, which represents a return to the state of its citizen’s Federal tax dollars.

All of this indicates that the nonprofit sector is an excellent return on investment, and we are extremely gratified to have been able to complete this project with the Colorado Nonprofit Association.

The report (which also includes a demographic profile of the nonprofit sector completed by Lester Salomon and colleagues) is chock full of other interesting information about the importance of nonprofits in Colorado (and for those of you who would like to see the nuts and bolts of our modeling process, it’s detailed in the report’s appendix).

Corona provides data for Eco Pass issue

For those of you in our area – and especially if you commute using RTD’s Eco Pass – you may have heard about RTD’s proposed plan to eliminate the pass for small businesses. (As background for those of you not acquainted with Denver Transit, RTD is the local transit authority and the Eco Pass is a pass employers can purchase for their employees.) 

This issue has been causing quite the buzz lately and Corona thought it would do its own analysis to see if it really made sense and what the impacts really are (hey, its what we do).  To check our analysis out as well as other information on the topic visit the ecopassforum.  Educate yourself on the issue and then make your voice heard.

(Disclaimer:  Corona has fewer than 50 employees and provides the Eco Pass to them as a benefit)