Nobody pays me to write any of the copy on my blog, and should I ever have the good fortune that they do, I will declare it. My main employment is as the owner and principal of The Future Place consultancy. The Future Place provides two key services 1) training and services to industry and academic bodies and 2) consultancy services to companies. The details of the companies I work with are a private matter, but if I blog about any company who has paid The Future Place more than expenses recently (approx. two years) I will mention that they are a client. I hold equity in Virtual Surveys and provide consulting services to them from time to time.
I am paid to run courses for a number of trade bodies and over the last few years clients have included ESOMAR, AMSRS, MRS, and MRIA.
Seth Godin was the creator of term Permission Marketing and writes one of the most useful blogs on the topic of marketing in the wired world. His latest post is a piece of prose which should give us all pause for thought
Market researchers should keep this in mind when dealing with, and presenting to, their customers. The logic of Seth’s prose helps explain why ethnography and live clips from qualitative research are so powerful, particularly compared with didactic utterances based on tables of numbers.
Seth’s prose also links in well with the growth of interest in WOM (Word of Mouth). Increasingly comments written on blogs, review sites, and sites such as MySpace are being taken as more credible than what “they” say, where “they” includes politicians, reporters, big brands, and market researchers.
A few researchers are trying to develop the workshop presentation rather than the traditional PowerPoint presentation. One aim of the workshop presentation is to guide the client into discovering the insight in the data so that they “tell themselves” the message and are therefore more likely to believe and act on the results.
OK, so many of you will already be familiar with RSS readers and the different ways of finding out what is being posted. But, several people I have spoken to this week are not, and this post is for them.
Most sites that post useful material also ensure that they provide feeds (and RSS being perhaps the most well known type of feed). Many news sites, such as the BBC also use feeds (hence those many orange RSS symbols next to stories).
What do these feeds do for you? Without feeds you would need to visit each potentially useful site on a regular basis to see if there was any new news. Sometimes sites publish an email service highlighting news, but most don’t.
With RSS feeds (there are also other systems such as Atom, but you don’t need to worry, most readers read them all) you can use a news read, or aggregator, or similarly named program to collect a reference to stories published on the sites you are interested in. These stories are then organised and delivered to you. The stories are delivered to you as a headline plus either the complete story, or as an excerpt with a link to access the full story.
There are essentially three ways of working with feeds, you can download a program onto your computer (for example RSSOwl), you can use a browser such as FireFox which has an RSS reader built in, or you can use a web-based service to collect the feeds.
Because I use several PCs I find it easiest to use Bloglines, one of the web-based services. Bloglines is free, easy to set up, and can be reached by any web-enabled device. The first step is to register an account. During registration process you have the chance to pick from a list of RSS feeds that other people find useful. Add or removing feeds at a later date is an easy process.
Once you have created your account you will want to visit bloglines at least once a day to stay up-to-date. Normally, all articles you view are removed from your list and will not re-appear the next time you log in. However, you can tick a box to say keep this article until I un-tick the box.
BuzzMetrics, or Niesen BuzzMetrics as is it these days, is the company most associated with the growing field of WOM (Word of Mouth) research. So, what is so special about what they offer?
The first point of interest is the way that BuzzMetrics has focused on CGM (Consumer Generated Media). Examples of CGM include blogs, message boards, online review sites, and more exotic options such as the files uploaded to youtube.com. This is an exploding area of interest and is beginning to replace older media.
In traditional media the key areas of interest were how important was the medium (e.g. the Financial Times was more influential than a local newspaper) and how many people read or viewed (the opportunity to view). With CGM the issues are: how many people are saying something, how many people are reading it, and how many people are linking to it. This change needs new, more flexible, approaches.
In stressing the importance of CGM, BuzzMetrics point out that research has repeatedly shown that consumers prefer to trust personal recommendations and online reviews to most other forms of information.
So, what can you find at the BuzzMetrics website? First of all there are numerous papers, articles, and links to other sources of information, invaluable to anybody trying to get to grips with WOM. Secondly, there is BlogPulse.
BlogPulse is a search engine that provides a wide range of feedback. Want to know the top 40 blogs, want to know the top 40 links, or news sources or personalities, then check out BlogPulse. You can use TrendSearch to enter phrases and track how they have appeared in the blogosphere over a set period of time, counting the number of posts and listing the posts.
Conversation Tracker can be used to select a particular posting on a site and to then track who is talking about that article. Featured Trends highlights flags up the main topics and subjects that people are talking about in their blogs.
So, to find out more about how to research the blogosphere, or simply to find out more about what is going on, visit BuzzMetrics.
For many years conference speakers such as Virtual Surveys Pete Comley have been warning about the dangers of sites that advertise research surveys and panels and which advise people that they should do surveys to earn cash. This article looks at two of these sites and explores the implications for market research.
Surveys4Money announces that it is “The free Get Paid to Take Surveys Online Guide”. On its home page is a long list of panels, including such household names as Ipsos, Lightspeed, Synovate, NOP, Survey Spot, and Ciao, along with many less common names. On the home page most of the links are for US organisations, but there are special links to go to pages specialising in Canada, UK, and Australia.
The FAQ on the site talks about how much money you can expect to make by doing surveys. Whilst the site points out you unlikely become rich by doing surveys, they estimate that a realistic sum is “in the hundreds of dollars per month”. Clearly, to earn hundreds of dollars a respondent would need to do many surveys per month, probably 30 to 60 per month.
Even more worrying than promoting the membership of panels for quantitive surveys, Surveys4Money also advocate becoming a member of online focus groups, saying you can easily earn $100 per group.
PaidSurveys-uk goes even further than Surveys4Money, in that it offers a chance to download roboform. Roboform helps the budding respondent fill in their answers automatically, mainly things like the demographic questions. Roboform also has a multiple identities facility that allows people to readily switch between different membership profiles.
The thought that many of the people taking market research surveys might have been recruited via these sites and might in some cases be taking 50 surveys per month, using multiple identities, will give many researchers pause for thought.
The key question is not whether this process is in some sense ‘morally’ right, but whether it makes any difference. So far, studies that have looked at regular versus infrequent respondents or at people who say they are more motivated by rewards (compared with people who say they are trying to influence brands and decision makers) have showed very few differences. However, this may not continue in the future, and it behoves researchers to keep reviewing this point.
One tip, from a regular user of online panels, is to include one or two questions which you already know the answer for (age and sex are fairly easy), to check the panel member is consistent with their stored profile.
Remember the two sites featured in this article are just two amongst many. Most panels have open membership, and as long as they have open membership there will be sites telling people how to find them. So, these sites, and the implications of the people they recruit, are going to be a fact of life for all of us for the foreseeable future.
Online e-zine WNIM (What’s New in Marketing) has published an article by Ray Poynter about the way companies are beginning to tap into WOM (Word of Mouth) – click here to see the full article.
As well as describing various phenomena such as: Consumer Generated Media, the semantic web, and blogs, Ray looks at the implications for marketers and therefore for researchers.
The key message from Ray is that these changes affect every aspect of market research and that the changes we have seen over the last couple of years will be dwarfed by the changes that will unfold over the next 10-20 years.
For many years marketers (and market researchers) have adhered to the conventional wisdom of the 80:20 rule, e.g. that 80% of profits come from 20% of customers, or 80% of revenue from 20% of products. But it could be that the Internet is changing that long established paradigm.
Since 2004 Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, has been advancing the Long Tail proposition, and Anderson has now published his ideas in a book (The Long Tail, published by Hyperion).
Anderson has looked at the way that reduced production costs (often through outsourcing), reduced distribution costs, and most importantly the endless shelves of online retailing are shifting the focus away from one-size-fits-all products towards niche products.
As an example of the Internet creating the long tail Anderson quotes Robbie Van Adib (an ex-CEO of Ecast, a digital juke box company offering more than 150,000 tracks). Van Adib asked the question “What percentage of the top 10,000 titles in any online media store will rent or sell at least once a month?”. Evidently most people guess 20%, based on the conventional 80:20 thinking. The true answer is 99%, showing how long the tail of demand truly is.
Anderson uses Wal-Mart to illustrate the difference between a large conventional store and the endless online store. Wal-Mart needs a CD to sell 100,000 copies before it makes sufficient profit. If a CD is unlikely to hit that figure it won’t be stocked, disenfranchising the 50,000 who might want one CD and the 60,000 who might want another. By contrast www.rhapsody.com stocks over 2million tracks and its top 400,000 are each being streamed at least once a month – that is a long tail.
Another example Anderson quotes is Barnes and Noble (a major US bookstore) and Amazon. Barnes and Noble stock a truly impressive 130,000 titles. But Amazon finds that over 50% its sales come from books outside its top 130,000 titles.
The concept of the long tail raises some interesting and challenging questions about market research. In classic market research we ask closed questions to a sample of 200 – 1000 people. Our questionnaires and techniques are not well suited to explore 100s, 1000s, or even millions of options. Much of classical research is firmly locked into the 80:20 rule. Procedures such as TURF are designed to find out which 4 flavours from a list 8 a brand should offer – this is fundamentally inappropriate from researching the long tail.
Researching long tails will depend on massive sample sizes, ridiculously low costs, and integration with CRM and marketing. This raises the question whether the research industry will develop these approaches or leave it to other business sectors?
In early July Ray Poynter interviewed Peter Harris, the Director of Corporate Services at Colmar Brunton Australia’s largest independent ad hoc research agency, about the issues facing the Australian research market. Peter’s role at Colmar Brunton was created to enable the company to focus more on overall strategic development, which puts him in an ideal position to cast his view over the industry.
Colmar Brunton was formed in 1989 and has grown to a company with 150 consultants, 600 casual/part-time staff, and offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide, and Singapore. Peter identifies the key to the Colmar Brunton culture as being its positive relationship with its own people and points towards the way that Colmar Brunton are employee owned – meaning that they are not looking over their shoulders when making decisions and recommendations.
As well as Peter’s role with Colmar Brunton, he is the Vice-President of the AMSRS (Australian Market & Social Research Society) and has particular responsibility for the AMSRS’s Future Trends Sub-committee. The sub-committee has a triple mission: 1. Assess future trends in technology and information to ensure the AMSRS is the pinnacle body of market and social research and measurement in Australia. 2. Ensure the AMSRS is ahead of potential new competitors who could disrupt the role of market research within Australian business. 3. Keep the AMSRS in line with developments currently underway globally within major industry bodies such as ESOMAR, MRS and others.
Although Peter is keen to keep abreast of global changes and initiatives, in order to respond to them, he is also keen to make people aware of the fact that there are areas where Australia already leads the world and where its proper role is as a leader. Peter cites the example of gambling, as an area where the Australian market is more developed than others, and where market research is addressing issues that have yet to be discussed in other markets. Earlier this year Peter presented a paper to the International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking (May 2006, Nevada, US), urging that more markets learn from the Australian experience and move from a commodity to a brand approach.
Anybody wanting to hear more about Peter’s views about the future of gambling and risk taking research, both within Australia and globally can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The textbook is a useful resource for anybody with a reasonable grounding in statistics and probability who wants to start to understand more formally how things work and how to test them. The authors stress the use of computers to simulate experiments and several programs are available to download. The book is published using GNU Free Document License (FDL), which put simply means that you can use it for anything you like as long as what you do does not prevent others from using it freely.
To download the book and/or its programs click here.
Black Swans are what applied statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls high impact economic or technological upheavals, similar to what Clay Christensen has termed disruptive innovations. In an interview with New Scientist, Taleb talks about his belief that we can’t forecast these events and that ‘experts’ who believe they can forecast them can be dangerous.
Taleb points to the problem of post-hoc rationalisation as part of the problem. We look at major events in the past and we think we can see the patterns that caused them, but we are leaving out all the events that could have happened, but didn’t. In the field of science Taleb talks about the problems caused by the choice of which studies are reported (generally the ones with successful results), causing us to confuse a finding of absences with an absence of findings.
As an example of the problems and dangers of forecasting Taleb quotes US oil price forecasts shown to him by somebody responsible for producing 25 year forecasts. In January 2004 the 25 year forecast was for $27 a barrel, six months later the 25 year forecast was $74 a barrel.
Taleb draws a distinction between what he refers to as Type I randomness and Type II. Type I randomness was much more common in pre-technological society and relates to things like the throw of a die, or whether you catch flu or not, this type of randomness averages itself out over time, so that in aggregate the patterns make sense, and can be predicted. Type II events are one-off events, they don’t average out because the distributions they belong to are so large and the events so infrequent that most types of events do not happen, or they happen only once, making predicting them impossible.
Taleb is publishing his ideas more fully later this year in his new book The Black Swan.