As a veteran of academic conferences, I was excited to attend my first market research conference at the Quirks 2018 event in Irvine, CA. My experience was illuminating, teaching me more about my own role, and the roles of the other players in the market research ecosystem of clients, products, and services.
Being uninitiated in the world of industry-centered conferences, one aspect of this conference that stood out was the co-mingling of information-sharing with the marketing and selling of products and services. Commoditizing research and research tools in this way can lead to a problematic shift in perspective in which approaches and solutions become disconnected from the questions and problems they purport to solve.
It makes sense to stress capabilities over limitations. When trying to earn a place in a client’s budget, it seems logical to want to promote a product or service as more versatile and therefore more valuable. All around the conference, products and services were often sold based on their versatility, on all the problems for which they were the solution. As I talked to exhibitors at the event, each seemed to promise me more in-depth insights with more participants on faster timelines: more bang for my buck. But when it comes to research, that tactic is highly misleading.
The truth is that research approaches or tools are limited in the kinds of questions they can answer and the kinds of insights they can provide. Knowing what a research approach or tool cannot do can be just as important as knowing what it can. In-depth ethnography can provide intimate insights into consumers’ lives, but it can’t quantify those insights into reliable statistics like a quantitative survey can. A large-scale survey can provide reliable statistics, but it cannot explore individual nuances like qualitative research can.
Proper research starts with questions, not answers. There’s a saying that I like to remind myself of when designing a research approach: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” As market researchers, we need to be careful to make sure that the approaches we take are born of the questions we are trying to answer for our clients, and not the other way around. Otherwise, we risk limiting our research impact for our clients with one-size-fits-all solutions that actually fit no one.
In the past few years, focus groups have shifted from not only a marketing research methodology, but also an actual marketing tool. We’ve seen the Chevy “Real people. Not actors” ads; one, for example, parodying a focus group of millennials discussing what they want out of a new car, and the stereotyped results that follow. Just recently, Athleta released its “Up For Anything” ads, which show women who believed they were participating in focus groups being challenged to do things they never thought they could do. Ads like these experiment with the focus group format while also playing with what we ask participants to do and the kinds of results we might get from them.
So what do we really get out of focus groups? How did they evolve into what they are and how we use them today? Coming out in February of this year, “Divining Desire: Focus Groups and the Culture of Consultation” by Liza Featherstone should give us a thorough and interesting account of the role focus groups play in American consumerism, market research, politics and more.
According to the book description, “Divining Desire” will cover a history of focus groups in the United States. This includes their origins in gaining a better understanding of political discourse, to their shift to market research and consumer insights. The author also discusses how focus groups play into people’s distrust of “out-of-touch” CEOs and politicians, questioning whether focus groups are a good way to deal with these issues. The book promises a critique of the pitfalls of focus groups, and what true benefits they have. Ultimately, the text may be asking us “are focus groups really about democracy?” Are focus groups about giving people a voice, or are they about making people FEEL like they have a voice?
So what is the future of focus groups? Featherstone’s book may give us a hint, but for now, it’s up to us in the industry to make our own innovations and decide where we want to go.
Segmentation provides great perspective into the diverse clusters of consumers in a target market. Once segments are defined, however, it is important to identify which provide value and promise for the brand.
This determination often focuses on a) segment size; b) the percentage of the segment engaged or open to engaging with the brand; and c) their spending potential in the category. Understanding who the segments are, but also their current and potential relationship to the brand, makes a segmentation more strategically actionable.
For more on W5’s philosophy and approach to segmentation, please refer to our newly-updated white paper, “W5 on Segmentation.”
Lately we’re all bearing witness to an array of irresponsible behavior—it seems to be the tone and tenor of today. We’re taught to wipe our feet, hold the door, and say “thank you” when served. But what about the big stuff? Who is there to guide us as we move from crawling, to walking, to running our own thing?
One area of my life I thought would be difficult to manage was investing. Investing money is never easy, as there are a host of rational and emotional issues attached to assuming risk. More so, I thought investing was ‘dark’ and could not be easily done in an ethical manner. It just seemed putting my money in the hands of companies, or people, who wouldn’t adhere to my standards was a nerve-racking endeavor―as news on investing was often fraught with people operating unethically, or even illegally. Yet I wanted to invest well, and at the same time find a good rate of return for my risk. I was perplexed.
Then I came upon the concept of ESG investing. ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance―three main elements to consider when measuring the ethical impact and overall sustainability of investing in a company. Environmental measures assess the company’s impact on nature as well as other animals; social aspects take into account a company’s business practices with others including vendors, its own employees, as well as the overall community in which it operates; and governance, or how a company operates and runs the day-to-day accounting practices and its management style. Basically, they are yardsticks with which to measure corporate behavior with the rationale that a company that behaves well on ESG measures, over time, also performs well financially.
How W5 conducts its business has always been paramount to each and every employee at our firm. How we operate is why we operate. It only made sense to extend this principle to the money I saved for my family’s future―ESG investing fits the bill.
I’ve found it easiest to ESG invest through mutual funds, Index funds, and ETFs. That way the chore of determining ESG suitability of a stock or the like is left in the hands of a team of experienced investment professionals. At the close of 2017 there are now a dizzying array of ESG options. The goal is to find the right set of people to handle the task at hand. Personally, I recommend looking beyond the fund itself and see how well the investing company itself does at adhering to ESG standards.
Any company can develop and market an investment instrument that fits the profile of ESG investing, yet I’ve found the most successful funds are those resulting from an investment firm’s ethos―the reason it exists. One such company is Parnassus Investments based in San Francisco. Not only does Parnassus have a series of successful ESG-related funds, it is founded and managed on such principles. There are other such firms, and I’ve found it’s a matter of matching personal style with investment style. Such an approach has been a winning combination for me, making it possible to successfully invest in today’s complex world and still sleep at night.
Strategic tracking of brand health and perceptions over time helps companies understand which marketing initiatives are successful and where future efforts may be focused to improve market positioning.
With 2018 on the horizon, many companies and brands take this time of year to consider their strategic tracking initiatives. Some may be initiating a brand health and tracking research study for the first time – establishing benchmarks and getting the initial brand pulse. Others are looking at a dinosaur tracker and ways to make it more respondent-friendly, mobile-optimized, and strategic.
At W5, we often hear clients ask “How can I make my brand tracker strategic and more insightful wave-over-wave?” We get the question so often in fact, it was featured in the December Quirk’s Ask the Expert series.
We understand as times change, so do the methods and best practices of strategically tracking brands, which is why we evolved our white paper on the subject, W5 on Strategic Tracking. Learn about our approach, research objectives tracking can answer, considerations for mobile-optimized trackers, how to leverage qualitative research, and various reporting strategies.
Whether you are looking to launch a new tracking initiative in 2018, or discuss ways to better leverage your current brand tracking research, we encourage you to reach out to W5. We are keenly aware of the importance of consistency and planning to bridge the transition between tracking methodologies and partners, and have successfully transitioned tracking surveys for several clients―each presenting unique challenges and opportunities.
I think automation is just getting going by the likes of Amazon, autonomous driving, and behavioral algorithms. Should it follow typical diffusion of innovation models, our future will soon be on auto-pilot. And not just driving, but lots of stuff that is repetitive and easily replicated, such as factory work, construction, food prep, transportation, insurance renewals, and financial services transactions will soon all be executed by autonomous artificial intelligence (AI). Entire industries will be on auto-pilot, more or less.
This means a lot of people will no longer be needed to do that work as robot-to-worker ratios soar. What will these people do? I’m sure they’ll be a lot of political bluster and reflexive pullback, but in the end, I think these people will simply not have to work. How will they earn a living then? Maybe they won’t have to worry about that too much. One solution I hear more and more about is Universal Basic Income (UBI). UBI is basically giving people a certain amount money, a basic income, free of charge or obligation. No needs test, everyone gets a stipend, regardless of current status.
As a typical industrious American, my initial reaction was not positive. Overall, it just sounded lazy and, in the end, not beneficial to those receiving or giving; nothing breakthrough, or even clever about it. But then I did a bit of homework on the matter, and my opinion is starting to change.
While the concept of UBI may sound like the outcome of twenty-first century liberalism, it’s roots are old and deep. Over two hundred years ago one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, advocated “a citizen’s dividend to all United States citizens.” Noted Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek promoted a “wage floor, which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself.” Even current conservative man of the moment Paul Ryan has proposed that states commingle different forms of federal anti-poverty funding—food stamps, housing assistance, and more—into a single funding stream.
The thought is that free from the constraints of having to [continually] prove a ‘needs-based’ model to receive assistance, all people would have a basic ‘floor’ from which to build their lives, say $10,0000 per year. From there, people could control how to direct their lives, rather than living a life prescribed by the government―a blending of neoliberalism and reform conservatism.
Proponents of such a model believe we’d see a rapid reduction in poverty and crime, and an increase in creativity and innovation―especially among the young and old; to those most vulnerable, ten grand a year would mean the world.
Pieces of such a model already exist in one form or another, right here in our country. For years the state of Alaska through the Alaska Permanent Fund has made an annual distribution of thousands of dollars to all state residents―absolutely free money. Stockton, California’s 27-year old mayor is getting ready to pilot a program where all residents of the town will be given $500 monthly, no strings attached. Further afield, the UBI model is currently being discussed, tweaked and/or tested all over the world, from Finland and the Netherlands, to France, India, and Kenya; the nature of the concept is not constrained by geography, politics, or current economic strength. I find such an idea very intriguing.
While there are many arguments for and against UBI, the fact remains the idea is quickly gaining traction as we evolve from an industrial-based world economy to an information-based model. The vast effects of such a rotation are not yet fully comprehended by financiers, politicians, and certainly not your Uber driver―who may soon need it most. Yet such a fundamental shift will require an equally radical response to counter the effects of this transformation of toil. UBI might be a step in that direction.
If you want to part of the solution and help the extremely poverty stricken today, go to Give Directly and launch a UBI of your own for someone less fortunate.
Alltop – Market Research
Designing for Humans
The Green Book Blog
Harvard Business Review
Herd – Mark Earls
Joel Rubison on Marketing Research
The LoveStats Blog
Pew Research Center
Smart Mobs – Howard Rheingold
The Survey Geek
Vovici Listening Post