Category: Trends and News

It’s not about what people “want”- it’s about what they need

I occasionally run across articles, blogs, or other people at events who seem quite opposed to market research – and that’s putting it lightly sometimes.

The most recent of these examples is this opinion piece arguing that common sense trumps market research. One of his main arguments is that people don’t know what they want in the future, so you can’t ask if they want some new, completely foreign product because they’ll have no context to put it in and therefore say no. I agree that you usually can’t ask people what they think about products for which they have no context. I’m sure when people first heard of the idea of machines flying, or a bulb glowing with light, or talking to people over very long distances – all points made by the article’s author – they would have responded with great skepticism. Ask me what I want in my next car and I wouldn’t say, “a car with a removable, flexible skin.

But what all of these inventors and many more did were to identify needs; communicating over long distances, safer and cleaner lighting, and the possibility of quicker transportation. And this is what market research is great at – identifying needs. Sometimes this may be simply asking people what they like/dislike about products, but often times it’s about identifying broader needs and seeing how you can develop your products or services to fulfill those needs. Frozen dinners were developed because of two larger societal trends: television and time-saving appliances.

Successful companies today continue to invest in products based on consumer insights. You have to look no further than your home to see many of these … the Swiffer (the need: a duster that picks up dust instead of spreading it around), Febreze (the need: eliminate odors not cover them up), whitening toothpaste (the need: whiter teeth and a better smile).

The many uses of research

We’ve completed research on topics for which most people would never imagine that market research could be used (romance writers, pregnant smokers, and mountain lions, to name a few). In fact, I’m sure many people only consider market research to be used for consumer goods.

But, even I was surprised when I ran across this article on market research being used to design parenting classes. It is a classic market research example showing the disparity between the product offering (i.e. the classes) and the consumer needs (i.e. what parents wanted). In reality, market research can help better understand the needs and wants of the target audience for virtually any product or service, whether that product or service is being sold, or provided at no-cost, say by a government agency, or nonprofit organization. Is there any subject or industry market research can’t help?

Market research on gaming leaked

I first saw this post the other day and since then I have been seeing information on this story pop up everywhere.  In short, Intellisponse, a marketing research firm, appears to have leaked some information about their clients’ potential products.

While its always fun to read about other research, I hate to do so at the expense of another company – in this case, Intellisponse. At least on the outside, it appears their clients (Microsoft, Activision) are not acting upset, confirming that they are looking into many concepts, but that none are guaranteed. We’ll see how this plays out down the road. My take is that the amount of PR they’re getting for upcoming games will probably outweigh the potential leaks to competitors (though this doesn’t justify an unapproved leak by the company if that was the case).

In the mean time, gamers everywhere (and a few market researchers) will enjoy the gossip (and research).

The U.S. Census: Great-great-grandparent to this Blog

We use a lot of data from the Census Bureau in our work at Corona, from building demographic profiles to weighting surveys, so I love seeing how the census has had an effect on society outside of its nominal purpose.

On the bus this morning to work I started reading Jonathan Zittrain‘s new book The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It. It looks like a really interesting argument for open, customizable systems (i.e., the current internet) over secure-but-sterile closed systems (i.e. AOL, the iPhone). But what caught my eye was this passage early in the first chapter:

Herman Hollerith was a twenty-year-old engineer when he helped to compile the results of the 1880 U.S. Census. He was sure he could invent a way to tabulate the data automatically, and over the next several years he spent his spare time devising a punch card system for surveyors to use. The U.S. Government commissioned him to tally the 1890 Census with his new system……It took only two and a half years to tally the 1890 census, compared to the seven years required for the 1880 census. Hollerith’s eponymous Tabulating Machine Company soon expanded to other governments’ censuses, and then to payroll, inventory, and billing for large firms like railroads and insurance companies.

Today, we know Hollerith’s firm as IBM.

IBM, of course, led the computing revolution by contributing to the development of mainframes (and, just as importantly, the sale of mainframes), which led to personal computers, which led to the widespread adoption of that academic curiosity “the internet,” which led to the development of blogging.

(Of course, blogging owes just as much of a debt to Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, but that’s another story).

So, after a long chain of connections, the decisions of the Founding Fathers have lead directly to you reading these words today!

Polling at the POP

I have been offered short surveys during checkout (i.e. POP: Point of Purchase) several times in the last few months at several retail stores. One such example is at Wal-Mart (okay, they could have been doing this for a while, but I don’t shop there frequently). The screen just asked one question: “Was the cashier friendly today?” I heard from someone else that they asked if the bathrooms were clean (must be a low incidence rate: how many people actually use the restroom in Wal-Mart?).

I think that it is a good idea to solicit feedback as close to the moment of the interaction that they’re trying to measure, but is it too close? The cashier must know that they’re being (formally) evaluated on the spot. I think the value of this particular survey may be to encourage the cashier to act nice since they know they’re being evaluated rather than truly measuring overall satisfaction or performance. As a former retail manager, trying to encourage employees to be “on” at all times with with customers can be a challenge.

Does anyone know how this data is used? Does it directly impact the employee (do they see their results)?

I’ve been SUGGED!

As we’ve discussed previously, it has become a popular sales technique to get a foot in the door by posing as a no-strings-attached research study, and then transitioning to the hard sell. (This is called SUGGING, or Selling Under the Guise of Research.) I’ve recently moved to a new neighborhood, and I’m finding that it’s a hot spot for door-to-door marketing tactics of all kinds. I get fliers left in the screen door by the ton, weekly visits from Jehovah’s Witnesses, and now the traveling salesmen. Salesmen in researcher’s clothing, as it were. Read on.

Earlier this week I answered my door to find a well-dressed man holding a box of baking soda. He asked if I was the lady of the house (who says that kind of stuff anymore? clearly, this should have been a clue …) and proceeded to hand me the baking soda and tell me he gets paid for getting my opinion about a product. As I was wondering, “How does one evaluate baking soda?”, he sprinted away calling over his shoulder that he’d be right back with the product, and I was left on my stoop, somewhat dumbfounded, holding a box of baking soda and watching a grown man run down my sidewalk in slacks and a button-down. He was back in a flash with a box and a friend, and before I knew what was going on, he had a vacuum cleaner assembled in the middle of my two-week-old living room carpet. Then guy number one was out the door (off to the next house) and the new guy was sticking filters in a window box on the vacuum and showing me what was coming out of my new carpet (mostly dog hair), then my couch (horrifying!), and then my mattress (ew!). I was kinda digging the couch cleaning because I’ve got a thrift store number that dates to at least the 60’s and he was doing a really thorough job. And because I’m obviously the most naïve person imaginable, (and in my defense it was my first encounter with the door-to-door salesmen) I was thinking, “This is great! When do I get the questionnaire to fill out?!”

But as you may suspect – and to my great disappointment – there was no questionnaire. There was only a price worksheet with available payment plans for this industrial quality vacuum, which retails for just shy of $2,000 (!), and, of course, includes the carpet shampoo kit, etc. And not only that, but purchasing the vacuum will help the salesman (in researcher’s clothing) to win a contest for which the prize is a trip to Phoenix (!) to hobnob with company executives. Now, I understand that Phoenix in the summer is a top vacation destination, so I can imagine the desire this man has to win the competition. However, under no circumstances (and I say this despite my obsession with cleaning and my newfound awareness of the filth in my home) am I going to purchase a $2,000 vacuum cleaner! So I politely, but firmly, declined and sent the nice men on their way.

What I’ve learned is this: If a strange man solicits your opinion with a box of baking soda (which, by the way, was ground into my carpet and then sucked back out for purposes of demonstration) do not get your hopes up for a survey! These door-to-door “researchers” are already confident that you will like their product; all they want to know is whether you can be convinced to buy it!

They get one right

In a recent post, Auto Dealers and their Research, I chastised businesses that try to sway customer surveys in order to look good, without trying to learn anything from the research.

Well, to be fair, I want to offer some praise for something they recently got right. I recently made several trips to my auto dealer to fix a minor problem under warranty. Four trips into the process it still hadn’t been fixed and on each trip, their “repairs” were causing more damage. I got a survey, filled it out online with my experience and provided my contact information. Less than two days later, I received a phone call from the service manager apologizing and offering to personally take care of it himself.

It is great to see a company actually have the systems in place to route surveys both correctly and quickly. The only problem? At the end of the final visit, they said that I would be getting another survey and asked if I would please give them passing scores. Oh well, it’s a start.

Who is Gen Y?

Thanks to Pure’s blog for posting this article. It’s an excellent summary of who Gen Y is, how they connect, work, use technology, and the marketing implications of all of the above. Definitely worth a read.

As we mentioned in a previous post, digital natives have been a topic of study for us before at Corona, and the demand for research into this segment is only going to increase.

Sugging and Frugging

A comment on yesterday’s post brought up how telemarketers have impacted the credibility of market research. Being able to conduct valid research is our life blood and if we were ever unable to get people to participate in our research, we would be unable to provide accurate results to our clients – at least in a cost efficient manner. That is why Sugging and Frugging are so frustrating.

In case you are unfamiliar with the acronyms, Sugging and Frugging stand for Selling Under the Guise of research and Fund Raising Under the Guise of research, respectively. This occurs when a company or organization tries to use research (e.g. surveys) as a cover for a sales pitch. Needless to say, it is manipulative, disrespectful of the intended audience, and if not strictly fraudulent it is highly unethical.

So what can we do about it? Of course just discussing it and informing marketers of its destructiveness is one way; ironically, the same marketers performing this deception are the same that would benefit most from solid research. To learn more, be on the lookout for the soon to be published Encyclopedia of Survey Research — Corona CEO Kevin Raines and Senior Analyst Geoff Urland wrote the entries on Sugging and Frugging! For those who don’t want to wait for the book to come out, the Marketing Research Association (MRA) has a resource for helping fight these practices. Maybe it’s not ironclad, but it’s a good start.