Archive for the ‘Research Methods’ Category
Why marketing minds have turned their heads to mind-reading
By Hannah Kuchler
Last month, I surrendered my subconscious to analysis. A red swimming cap was stretched over my head, long grey wires stuck to my skull and my innermost thoughts fed into a computer as I nervously watched an advertisement for Volkswagen.
In turn, the computer told a team of researchers which scenes I paid attention to, what I responded to emotionally and what I would go away remembering.
It was a far cry from the marketing industry’s traditional method of finding out what consumers think about their brands: asking them.
The problem is, when gathered in traditional focus groups, respondents can be swayed by those sitting next to them or by the presence of researchers. Alternatively, they may be unable to articulate their responses accurately. As a result, a rising number of marketers now prefer to analyse the response of peoples’ brainwaves to brands and advertisements by using the latest developments in neuroscience.
In recent months, these techniques have not just been applied to the marketing of finished products, but also to product development. “It’s about uncovering new undiscovered needs,” says Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology , who has been studying the development of neuromarketing since its inception seven years ago. “A lot of manufacturers are struggling as it’s easy to come up with ideas consumers don’t feel they need.”
He cites the example of dishwasher tablets. Consumers are attracted to tablets embedded with a blue ball because, subconsciously, they believe they clean better. However, when asked in the context of traditional marketing methods, they claim no preference about colour.
“The main reason why [traditional market research often] fails is that we look at things from a conscious point of view,” says Mr Lindstrom. “We ask: ‘Do you like the brand?’ We ask the consumer to be incredibly rational and we know today from neuroscience that 85 per cent of the decisions we make are made by the unconscious part of brain.”
Neuromarketers believe their work will be especially useful for products consumers find hard to describe – particularly when they need to know consumers’ reactions to smell, taste and touch.
According to Neurofocus, the global market leader in neurological testing, consumer goods companies are even creating their own in-house testing units that mock up supermarkets. They can use them to change everything from shelf positioning to point-of-sale advertisements with the flick of a switch and monitor the shopper’s brain during the few seconds it takes to select a product.
Professor Gemma Calvert, co-founder of UK-based Neurosense, believes the future for neuroscience lies beyond products: “I see the spread of these tools into things like the financial sector - to understand how trust is built and broken down for the banks – how do you make us feel safe and secure?”
Anantha Pradeep, Neurofocus’s chief executive, believes the possibilities for neuroscience are almost limitless: “The challenge for us is to be focused because we could use it in any area of life which needs emotion and persuasion.”
But some advertisers fear this adherence to science could stamp out “light bulb” ideas and destroy creativity in the industry.
Neurofocus argues that mind-reading actually helps sell original thinking to companies that would otherwise stick with tried-and-tested methods.
“The principles [of neuroscience] are like the keys of a grand piano – you can do a lot with them,” says Mr Pradeep. “And we’re adding keys all the time.”
Perhaps a larger concern is that consumers will find it increasingly difficult to resist the pressure to buy.
“We believe we’re incredibly clever, but in reality we’re less and less immune,” says Mr Lindstrom. “There’s an urgent need to create ethical guidelines. It’s like a hammer: it can be used to put a beautiful painting on the wall or to hit someone on the head.”
Ethnography research is a technique that is being used more and more in business to business markets and in the last month B2B International has carried out numerous ethnographic projects looking at getting into the mind of the trade (both plumbers and builders).
Ethnographic research must surely be among the most misunderstood, misrepresented and misused of the currently used qualitative research techniques, and this is true whether it is within a B2B or a B2C context. This article below by Neil McPhee and taken from this month’s BIG Times spreads some light on the technique.
What is Ethnography?
Ethnography is a research process that is rooted in the anthropological and sociological traditions of understanding that places a researcher within the context of the research setting they are studying. Through the process of first hand observation and participation in people’s lives, a process known as cultural immersion, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of individuals and their cultural belief systems. Ethnography represents more than mere observation, it involves direct participation into the lives and the culture of people. Its strength is its attempt to get at the underlying meanings of actions and beliefs within the context of a cultural group/ setting. In order to leverage ethnography to generate new insights, commercial research organisations have uniquely adapted ethnography to fit the needs of commercial business practice.
My friend and co-tutor, on the ESOMAR Ethnography and Observation workshop, Hy Mariampolski PhD, from the USA, calls it Marketing Ethnography. I tend to call it Research or Commercial Ethnography, but in any event, it has a number of characteristics which make it a very different animal from an interview. Commercial ethnography is a movement away from the study of ‘native cultures’ and a movement towards the study of consumer cultures, this including a B2B context here. The principles are the same: a quest to understand people within the context of their natural environment.
Due to both consumer and business pressures we spend much shorter periods of time than would be ideal with people but our aim is still to participate directly in people’s lives in order to gain access to social situations that help us to better understand their world. We then take this understanding into the realm of business to better design products and services that will in turn better meet the needs of our constituents.
How do we recognize “ethnography?”
There are a number of attributes that constitute its practice.
1. Ethnography: describes the behaviours, values, beliefs, and practices of the participants in a given cultural setting. This is important, as the notion of Culture/Values etc, are prerequisites for “real” ethnography. We need to identify, and then understand,
Matt Powell this week draws some interesting conclusions between his parallel lives as both a market researcher and an actor.
As some of you may or may not know, as well as my career as a market researcher I am also a keen actor, and have been ‘treading the boards’ for some years now. Over the years that I have been immersed in the industry of research and marketing, I have noticed that much of what we deal with as researchers in our day-to-day job is particularly relevant to the job of an actor – from research techniques that come in useful when researching a role, to certain useful business and marketing models. For this Thursday Night Insight I have decided to look at a couple of the similarities between the job of an actor and the job of a researcher.
Due to our business-to-business focus at B2B International, many of the research projects that we conduct incorporate a number of research methodologies that complement each other in order to answer the overall research objective(s). Indeed, many of our questionnaires and discussion guides are much longer than the typical consumer research project. Many projects can include a phase of desk research, followed by in-depth interviews, followed by an e-survey or a quantitative telephone survey. The data from these individual phases are then analysed and a report developed that is presented to our client upon completion of the project. That, of course, is a very brief summation of the job, but I mention it in order to highlight the point that for most research projects, we have a huge amount of varying types of data that need to be analysed and distilled into the few slides where our recommendations are made.
As researchers, when presenting the findings from a project, we may sometimes feel the need to display the results for every question, as much of the desk research as possible, and as many quotes as we are able – sometimes we feel we need to show that we have indeed gathered the data that we said we would. Of course, we always try to steer clear of this – the presentation, in the end, is our means of communicating to the client our answer to the research objective, and therefore the more concise it is the better.
Whilst working as an actor, I have noticed how similar the processes of a research project and bringing a role from script to stage can be. By the time an actor takes to the stage, or steps in front of the cameras to perform a role, he or she will have done huge amounts of work in order to bring the role to life. Hours, days and weeks will have been spent on absorbing the text, researching particular areas of interest, and rehearsing before the actor even steps onto the stage. As well as learning the lines for a part, an actor will also conduct large amounts of research on elements such as: historical period in which the play/film is set, specialist trades of a character, accents, cultural trends, technologies used, and many more. This research enables the actor to deliver a role that is grounded in truth, and ultimately believable to the audience.
This process struck a chord with me recently as I realised the similarities between how an actor delivers a role onstage following an extensive phase of research and preparation, and how the findings from a research project are delivered to answer a specific objective. In both instances, the final outcome (whether the research presentation, or the actor’s performance that an audience sees) is only the tip of the iceberg. As an audience in a theatre we do not wish to see an actor’s heavily annotated script, their rehearsal process, or the large amounts of research that have been done – we want to watch the performance. Indeed, with market research, the final presentation that we see is simply the tip of a much, much larger iceberg – we know there is a huge amount of data that has been gathered, but we do not wish to see a chart for every question, or a quote slide for every open-ended question; we wish to see the information that is relevant to answering the research objective. As researchers there may be questions that influence our decision and choices for recommendations, but in many cases (as with an actor’s research portfolio) we do not need to see these – the bigger picture is what counts. However, I hasten to add, without the information that is not seen – the main body of the iceberg, if you will – we are unable to fully make our recommendations or draw our conclusions. Likewise, an actor would not be able to deliver a believable, truthful performance without his or her unseen work.
Indeed, the comparison between the job of a market researcher and an actor is also true when we think of the differences in how a research objective may be answered by one researcher compared with another. Of course, all competent researchers will be able to design a project that answers the research objective – though there may be many different ways of achieving this, different methods, and different means of presenting the data. In the same way, we know that if we see Ian McKellan performing Hamlet, the words spoken will be the same as the Hamlet that we would see Kenneth Brannagh perform. However, we also know that the performances will be very different.
There are many more similarities between the jobs of a market researcher and an actor that could be touched upon – however, these two seem to resonate quite clearly to me as good examples. After all, in both jobs we seek to fully understand a particular problem, issue or situation, before analysing what we know and then delivering a well informed interpretation of it. Just rest assured that the tip of the iceberg is usually, and I say ‘usually’, the most interesting part.
In her Thursday Night Insight this week, Emma Flood warns us what market researchers can learn from the ongoing handling of the swine flu epidemic.
Have you heard of swine flu? No doubt, like the rest of us, you have been poring over the alarmist messages in the newspapers about how deadly the virus is and how we’re all going to contract it.
The alarm caused by the reportage of this strain of flu no doubt caused a rise in hypochondriasis and a serious peak in sick days. So how did the government and the media help the general public on this, and try to avoid the panic which exacerbated these circumstances? Did they carefully communicate a number of select messages to those most in danger? And did they ensure that their messages were consistent? No. We were faced with a series of conflicting advice and information – some of us were told to stay indoors, others to avoid public transport. Some commuters took to extreme measures of wearing face masks, whilst others (like myself!) stocked up on antibacterial hand foam to ward off any potential infection.
Suffice to say, thankfully neither I nor any of my family have been struck down with this illness. This caused me to think, however, about our choices when presented with new information and data – what does it mean? What do we do with it? Who is it relevant to? How do we interpret it?
In this instance, journalists were provided with a series of often conflicting and misleading “facts and figures” from the government and associated bodies, and of course this was reported in an alarmist fashion – to generate interest and sell more column inches. What I find interesting is the selective reporting of facts. We were provided with a daily update on the number of deaths which had tragically occurred, and this was often reported in true scaremongering fashion with the headlines “swine flu death toll rises again” and “fears of pandemic”. Very little emphasis was placed on the prior underlying health concerns of these victims, and we were all herded into the same risk group, thus further heightening our concern and attempts to avoid contracting the virus. Had the media helped in communicating that those most at risk were those with existing health concerns, we might have avoided such a swine flu frenzy.
As researchers, it is our duty to effectively interrogate and deconstruct data, in order to communicate the real findings back to our client. We have to be skilled in drawing out the real facts, and confident that the picture we are portraying is a true reflection and communicates the right messages. We know that our recommendations can lead to strategic change for an organisation, and behind that is often a significant budget.
To put your business in the hands of experienced research professionals, get in touch with B2B International’s Research Team, or read on to find out more click here.
Paul Hague this week takes us on a trip down memory lane to discover the origins, history and development of the market research profession as we now know it.
A prostitute, a doctor and a market researcher were sitting around late one evening, and they got to discussing which was the oldest profession. The doctor pointed out that according to biblical tradition, God created Eve from Adam’s rib. This obviously required surgery, so therefore that was the oldest profession in the world. The prostitute said that this may be so but that was engineered by God, not doctors. Eve’s temptation of Adam was a clear indication that her profession was the first. The two turned to the researcher who was listening intently and taking notes. "Which profession do you think is the oldest?" they asked. "Well," said the researcher, "we can’t be sure without a survey and that will take six weeks. However, what you should know is that market research is the second oldest profession." "How is that?" asked the other two in unison. "No doubt at all about it," said the researcher, "because when Adam and Eve had done their deed, the first words that were uttered were, "How was it for you?"".
This story got me thinking about the history of market research. Casual questioning, as from Eve, is not the systematic process that we know as market research. It is said that the first recorded straw polls (incidentally, the term comes from farmers throwing a handful of straw into the air to check out where the wind was coming from) were in the early 1820s when newspapers in the United States carried out simple street surveys to see how the political winds were blowing. By the early 1900s a fledgling market research industry had started in the U.S. focusing on advertising testing in one form or another. The industry arrived on the U.K. shores in the 1920s and 30s, and I was reminded of this the other day when I picked up what must be one of the first books published on market research in this country (Market Research by Paul Redmayne & Hugh Weeks, Butterworth & Co – 1931).
Flipping the yellowing, musty pages, I was quickly taken back to my formative days in the market research department of Dunlop, where we had an ingenious device for analysing responses from questionnaires. The closed answers were represented on single cards, perforated with holes around the edge, each representing an answer to a question. If a respondent gave a particular answer, the perforated hole would be punched open right to the edge. When all the cards were punched, they could be lined up in the box and a needle would be run through the holes so that we could lift out only those cards which were not punched right to the edge. This enabled us to do a quick count of the number of cards left in the box, which represented respondents giving an answer to a question.
Charting in those days was laboriously carried out with my Rotring pen and graph paper. Redmayne and Weeks had some sage advice for the novice market researcher on this subject: "There are many advantages in using a standard sheet of charting paper, so that charts can be kept together in a ring binder. It is useful to make a practice, dating each chart and of indicating to whom it has been shown and for what purpose it was first prepared, together with the original source of the various statistics plotted." Check out this illustration of how they suggested charts should look. You wouldn’t easily turn out 100 of these by hand the night before a presentation!
So what has changed in the market research industry over the last 100 years? Answer: almost everything.
The questions we ask are broadly the same but the technology that allows us to ask these questions – the phone and online – has resulted in faster, cheaper and more thorough surveys than ever before. Qualitative research is, as it always has been, dependent on the skills of the moderator, although focus group venues provide an improved environment for viewing and testing products and concepts. In quantitative research, the tools and techniques such as conjoint, SIMALTO, Van Westendorp and the like enable us to get a better fix on prices and product features. I was amused to read Redmayne and Weeks say: "As market research acquires a more established position in industry, its purpose will be better understood and appreciated by ordinary men and women, so that in time we may hope to reach the position of the United States, where the man in the street will respond to questions about his tastes and his buying habits since he can understand the reasons why he is being questioned. The time, however, is still very far off when consumers will have cause to be annoyed by the frequency with which they are approached. It will need a great number of investigations before many of the inhabitants of this country are called upon twice unless the general technique of investigations become so stereotyped that certain representative towns are continually being chosen." There must hardly be a person in the UK who has not been subjected to some sort of invitation to take part in a survey in the last year.
Returning to the story of the doctor, the prostitute and the market researcher, it occurs to me that market researchers may or may not be the second oldest profession in the world, but for certain, we will be the last profession hanging in there. When the world finally comes to an end, and we are queuing at the entrance to the Pearly Gates, there will be someone with a clip board and a questionnaire. "Just one more question Sir/Madam before you enter. Can you tell me how likely you are to recommend life on earth on a scale from 1 to 10 where…?" It’s that question again – "How was it for you?"