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.
A couple of years ago I had a presentation deck that had a slide of contextual information which included the comments that scientists believe that some people alive today will live to be 1000 years old – because of changes in technology. After a couple of outings I removed that comment because it was attracting more attention than the core messages I was trying to convey.
For anybody who is interested in how science is beginning to seriously threaten the idea of three-score years and ten (which is an old fashioned way of saying we should expect to live for 70 years), there is a great article on Wired.
The article looks at how a range of new drugs are showing signs of being able to target the aging process.
Between September 16 and November 18, I have just had the most tiring, exhilarating, and planet damaging two months for a long time.
September 16 was the Research 2.0 Conference in London, and involved me being the opening speaker and facilitating the Pecha Kucha session. I thought this was a really good one-day conference, and most people I spoke to agreed.
September 22 saw me in Montreal, for the ESOMAR Congress, running a workshop on Advanced Quantitative Techniques, a course I have run several times for ESOMAR and which I co-lead with Jon Pinnell. The feeling of delegates at Congress seemed to be very optimistic, although by over-riding memory was of just how vast the Palais des Congrès is in Montreal.
October 13 was another ESOMAR workshop, still Advanced Quantitative Techniques, but this time in Moscow. ESOMAR had organized a week of workshops specifically for the developing Russian research industry, and the people who attended were very bright, very good, and very appreciative.
October 23 and 24 took me to Dublin for the second day of the ESOMAR Panel Conference and their Online Forum. A forum is a relatively new type of event for ESOMAR and is different from a Conference in that the numbers tend to be fewer and the level of discussion and interaction tends to be higher. Again the level of optimism seemed high, but brittle. I say it was brittle inasmuch as when I pressed people about what they thought 2009 would be like, they tended to admit to being nervous.
October 31 was a brand new location and type of venue for me. Working with New Zealand agency The Research Agency, I appeared at the Lido Cinema, Auckland, which was packed with 55 attendees (it a small, luxury cinema) to hear me present on Research 2.0 and its implications for business and research. This followed a session on presenting trends the day before. Research 2.0 seems to be quite new to many New Zealand clients, but I suspect they will soon be making great strides with it.
November 3 was the warmest of all the locations I visited, I was in the luxurious Hyatt in Canberra, Australia, with Colmar Brunton, presenting to a roomful of Government and Social research buyers, again covering the topic of Research 2.0, and showing them the potential for their area of interest.
And finally, November 18 saw me at the Insight Show in London, firstly running a training academy session for the MRS, again looking at the use of Social Media in market research, and then in the afternoon presenting our finding about the recent ID Card research (using an open online community) with the Identity and Passport Service.
Unfortunately, the last two months has not been all conferences and workshops, I still had to run analyses, write presentations, and makes several presentations to clients, but it was still thoroughly fun.
Looking back now I can draw several trends that I think summarise where the research industry is at:
As Stephen Barifelt of Purple Research said to me “There are two types of research companies, the ones who are struggling and who admit it, and the ones who don’t admit it.”. Like all generalisations, this will not be true for 100% of agencies, but I suspect it is true for 80% - some of whom may not have even realised it yet.
We live in a mixed ability world, especially with respect to Web 2.0. At any conference there will be a group of people who are in the vanguard, who are attending 3, 4, or more Research 2.0-type conferences a year, and who tend to complain that the speakers and the topics were the same as the conference they saw a few weeks ago. And there will be people for whom all of this is new, and who really value the introductions and reviews. A good example of this was Phil Rance’s presentation at Research 2.0 in London. In my opinion, and the opinion of many delegates, it was a great exposition of the problems that bad surveys create, and the steps that researchers can take to improve the respondent experience. But for some people it was felt to be too basic. You can’t please all of the people, all of the time!
The Pecha Kucha session and Research 2.0 and the ESOMAR Forum in Dublin show that there is an appetite for new ways of running conferences, or perhaps more correctly sessions at conferences. The old fashioned man at the front talking (and it is all too often a man) is a somewhat dated model. It will never go away entirely, but we need to discover new additions to the mix.
The appetite for training and improvement seems enormous in Asia Pacific and in those bits of Europe we don’t call Western Europe (I am not quite sure what we now call the area from Warsaw to Moscow, and Tallinn to Sofia. By contrast, many researchers in the larger Western countries seem to think that once they pass about thirty years of age they can largely coast. This will increasingly, IMHO, open up a skills gap at the top of many European companies. I find US companies to be somewhere between the European and Asia/Pacific positions, in terms of their hunger for training.
I have finished with Conferences and Workshops now for 2008, and will concentrate on my day job and hopefully get my Christmas shopping completed.
UK telecoms regulator regularly provides some really useful reports, paid for by the UK taxpayer, and made publicly available. The latest report is available at their website and provides an international comparison of TV, phone, radio, and Internet (looking at UK, USA, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and others).
Back in 1925, in Tennessee, John Scopes was tried and convicted of teaching evolution in a High School. The State of Tennessee had passed a law making unlawful to teach anything which cast doubt on the literal interpretation of creation as set out in the Christian bible. Scopes was later cleared on a technicality by the Supreme Court and this type of law was ruled unconstitutional in 1968.
Now it seems as though Arbitron could be suffering a similarly unscientific attack by US politicians and courts. Arbitron have developed a system called Portable People Meters (PPM) which is supposed to radio consumption more accurately than the traditional system - by recording it automatically. The traditional system is also run by Arbitron in the relevant jurisdictions, and is based on people keeping written diaries.
The nub of the problem is that the new PPM system produces lower listening figures for several minority radio stations (e.g. African-American or Hispanic). Lower ratings would mean reduced advertising revenues, which in turn could mean the closure of some stations.
If Arbitron’s methodology is sound (critics have complained that some women don’t like carrying the monitor, that cell phone only households are under-represented, and that sample sizes are too small), then there should be no basis for a complaint. Even if the PPM is not perfect, it is hard for anybody who is informed and honest to claim that paper diaries on radio consumption are anything like accurate.
This should be a technical issue, dealt with by some sort of qualified reviews. If method A gives different results than different B, then we have three choices, A is right, B is right, or they are both wrong. However, this is not how it is panning out. The New York City Council (who are presumably sampling and methodology experts) have voted unanimously to call on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate PPM and New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has sued Arbitron over “alleged false advertising and deceptive business practices, implementing a Portable Meter system threatens to drive minority broadcasters out of business.”.
Four Senators (one of whom is President Elect Barack Obama) are reported to have written to Arbitron saying that any new system must not adversely effect any radio station. Note they are not saying errors must not unfairly effect stations, their comments would include releasing accurate data that adversely affected stations!
I do hope that Arbitron have got their science right, because, if they have, we will see how far some politicians and lobby groups will go to kill the messenger.
I have just been sent a link to a an interesting longitudinal study of how firms are using Social Medial, see it here.
One of the interesting statistics was that the number of companies who claim to be very familiar with Wikis has grown from 16% in 2007 to 35% in 2008. This very much agrees with conversations I have been having with market research companies recently, where most of them report some sort of Wiki usage inside their organisation.
My favourite Australian florist is www.easyflowers.com.au, I have found them reliable and have always been pleased with the flowers they have delivered.
However, I am puzzled by one option on their website which offers "Mystery Flowers" for people who can't choose their own.
There used to be a marketing strap line in the UK which went "Say it with flowers", and in our culture we have the idea that it is "the thought that counts". So what message we send when can be bothered to remember to send flowers, but can't be bothered to choose?
Bloomberg report that Volvo's European orders for trucks in the third-quarter of 2008 were down to just 115, from 41,970 in 2007, a drop of about 99.7%.
Economic theory tells us that the accelerator means that companies who provide the replacement machines for industry are the hardest hit in a recession, and these figures for Volvo would certainly support that view.
Many years ago I processed the data of a banking choice based study conducted in Romania. I was surprised to find a large group of people whose only aspirations were for the bank not to lose their money, they had almost zero utilities for service, higher interest rates, telephone banking or any of the key items being tested in the study. In conversation with the agency running the project I was told about a banking crash that had robbed many people of their life savings, so the choice data was based on something quite tangible. At the time I passed this off as a phenomenon of interest, but of limited relevance to other markets.
However, today I saw a billboard in Brisbane making exactly the same point. RaboPlus is selling itself as Australia's safest bank, with no reference to interest rates, charges, or services. Even the website defualts (at the moment) to a page claiming RaboPlus is Australia's only bank to be rated as AAA by Standard Poor's.
Amongst the points of interest in this campaign is the reference to Standard and Poor's. I would guess that very few people know what Standard and Poor's is, and, amongst the few that are familiar with that rating agency, I suspect very, very few hold it in the sort of high regard it was held before the 'credit crunch'.
The website is somewhat vague on the point that RaboPlus is owned by a Dutch bank. The webasite does say quite promenently that RaboPlus is part of Rabobank Australia Ltd, but is less 'in your face' that the Rabobank parent is based in the Netherlands. Which, given the concerns over some European banks is probably a key point.
p.s. this article should not be interpretted as providing financial advice in any way shape or form.
The BBC have a report that should be a warning to any market researcher conducting international research. Road signs in Wales have to show both English and Welsh. Swansea Council (in South Wales) sent the text "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only" to a translation company, and produced the sign below.
However, what the Welsh actually says is "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated".