Market Research in the Age of Uncertainty

I recently spoke at the Insight Intelligence conference in London on market research in the age of uncertainty. The irony is, as I write this short article, we have just had a general election in the UK which returned a hung parliament – the electorate’s way of saying they are uncertain. A perfect illustration of the theme of the conference.

Here are some of the key considerations I shared, starting with a light-hearted quote borrowed from Woody Allen, that great American film maker and comedian. The more observant of you will note how I slightly adjusted his words and replaced ‘mankind’ with ‘market research’, but either would work I think.

“More than any other time in history, Mankind Market Research faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly”

This quote is both funny and apt as it describes some of the pessimism surrounding market research as we know it. We don’t know which way to turn. We are in a state of flux – sometimes with a silent “L” – and we sit in the shadow of the future.

Maybe I am a rational optimist, but I don’t think we have anything to really worry about. Understanding the human condition and what drives sentiment, attitude and behaviour is, if anything, a greater challenge today than it has ever been. We know more but understand less. Let’s face it: Brexit, Trump, North Korea, The Great British Bake Off and Kim Kardashian are not easy to understand.

Understanding change is critical in an uncertain world. Often, historical context, expressed in the following quotes that illustrate how we all think we live in similar times.

 

Heraclitus

Trotman

Mohammed

 

With the right historical context, nothing seems really new. Basically, we are trying to understand people and that is never easy. Blaise Pascal the 17C French philosopher makes this abundantly clear:

“What a Chimera is man! What a novelty, a monster, a chaos, a contradiction, a prodigy! Judge of all things, an imbecile worm; repository of truth, and sewer of error and doubt; the glory and scum of the universe.”

Some things don’t change, do they?

I think MRX is focusing too much in the wrong place. An obsession with behavioural economics and neuroscience is, I think, leading us in a rather blinkered direction. Looking inside our heads is not the only place to look and find insight.

I listened to a podcast with Daniel Glazer, the neuroscientist, who when asked what FMRI scans mean, said something like, “we have no idea”. “So, what do you do?” the interviewer asked. “We ask direct questions!” said Daniel. I thought this was fascinating especially as, no doubt, he used direct questions.

Dial forward to today, and the mantra of most companies today is, ‘we put the consumer first’. In fact, paralleling the growth of ecommerce, many consumer manufacturers are selling direct to the consumer. They are obsessed with consumer understanding.

So where should we look? Much of what humans think and decide happens between brains. It’s a collective phenomenon. It’s what the author, Matt Ridley, called a “declaration of interdependence”. I believe this is the place to look for real understanding of social animals like us.

Although Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”, I believe MRX has a very bright future as synthesiser and psychologist of what makes people tick. A bricolage for the future.

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Hysteria or Validated Concern? You Be the Judge.

As of October 19, 2016, there were 4,016 cases of Zika in the continental US. Of these cases, 137 were acquired in the US, and the remaining 3,878 cases were acquired in other countries[1].  Despite the low prevalence, Zika has gained wide media coverage across the US and is seen as a significant threat to many.

Here at BuzzBack, we were interested to find out what residents in the US and Brazil understood with regards to symptoms, transmission and prevention of Zika. According to our study, when asked to select the most severe among a list of outbreaks/pandemics, Zika was a close second to HIV/AIDS, selected by 20% (HIV/AIDS was selected by 24%). This may be surprising, given that HIV/AIDS impacts millions of people in the US[2].

Brazil, on the other hand, has faced far more Zika cases than in the US – over 90,000 new cases reported from January to April 2016 alone[3].  When asked to identify the most severe outbreak/pandemic, 24% listed Zika as their top concern (similar to that of the US) – whereas 44% indicate HIV/AIDS as the most severe.

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Data collected from PAHO & WHO: http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12390&Itemid=42090&lang=en

While it is not surprising that Zika is particularly top of mind and viewed as relevant at the moment, what is surprising is that (1) the concern in the US appears to be comparable to that of HIV/AIDS – despite having FAR less of an impact and (2) the general concern in the US appears to be comparable to that of Brazil – despite vast prevalence.

By utilizing BuzzBack’s eCollage (a non-lexical, indirect format to reveal personal feelings, using images as metaphors to reduce dependency on rational thoughts), the drivers of concern in the US are identified. The key source of fear in the US is the unknown. Individuals know there is a lot of information on Zika, but they are unsure of what is true or false. They worry about how much the virus will spread, and fear they will not see it coming or would not know they’re infected until it is too late. Not understanding the disease fuels fear – Are there clear signs of infection? Can it be stopped? Is there a cure?

Does Zika warrant this grave concern?  Or is this more of a reflection of people in the US being impacted by heavy media coverage?  Will the media ultimately help give individuals a greater understanding of what Zika is all about? Are there certain organizations (e.g. CDC, WHO) who can help clarify concerns about Zika? Only time will tell…

If this topic interests you, head over to watch our latest webinar which features more insights from our Zika study.


[1] http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/united-states.html

[2] In 2014, 44,073 people were newly diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States; in 2012, 1,218,400 people were reported living in the US with HIV; and in 2013 there were an estimated 12,963 HIV/AIDS-related deaths. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/ataglance.html

[3] http://www.rte.ie/news/2016/0427/784704-brazil-zika/

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Campbell’s Rewrites Its Recipe for Success

Few products are more iconic and nostalgia-evoking than the red-and-white can of Campbell’s chicken soup. How many American consumers associate that brand with cozy occasions, whether the comfort it brought on a sick day home from school or just simply as a quick and easy way to warm up on a rainy day?

But in what seems like an act of sacrilege to some, the Campbell’s Soup Company recently announced a change to the product formulation. The New York Times reported in November that “…the new version of its chicken noodle soup contains 20 ingredients, most of which can be found in the average home kitchen, compared with 30 in its previous incarnation…” Campbell’s CEO Denise M. Morrison said, “We’re closing the gap between the kitchen and our plants.”

As marketers, we give Campbell’s props. This is quite a bold move, messing around with a beloved brand. And one certainly not made haphazardly. With purchase and consumption of canned soup on the decline, and consumers seeking healthier alternatives to heavily processed foods (check out our Healthy whitepaper), Campbell’s clearly recognized the white space and emerging differentiation opportunities. Canny marketers (see what we did there?) turn to Attitude & Usage studies to uncover if in fact consumer behaviors are changing, and if so, then why and how.   What’s important when buying chicken soup? How do consumers decide what to buy or who do they purchase for? What do they use most often and why?

Campbell’s appears to have done just that, looking at current products and adjacent categories to grow share. According to the New York Times article, “…the company is banishing ingredients that today’s consumers don’t like and using advertising and social media to have a conversation with consumers about what it is doing. Acquisitions have also given Campbell toeholds in new markets and brought new ideas to the organization.”

In fact, just at the time of this blog post’s writing, the company announced that it was starting a venture capital fund to invest in food startups, hinting at opportunities inspired by farm-to-table, fresh food prep/delivery and healthy eating trends disrupting the big food industry. This comes shortly after the company announced that it was reversing its opposition to the labeling of GMO ingredients.

The risk of course is making sure that any innovation stays true to the brand consumers have grown to love. In our recent exploration of what Authenticity means to consumers, respondents told us that they are more likely to be loyal to companies they believe are authentic. Words and images associated with this conveyed ideas like “hand crafted” “simple” “pure” “natural” “trustworthy”.  Simplifying their soup is in line with these consumer expectations, and Campbell’s seems to be on sure footing. Taking the time to really understand consumer attitudes and usage can not only point to where a brand can go in familiar territory, but also how far it can push into new directions.

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More Delight. Less Disappointment.

Zappos. Warby Parker. Lumoid. Casper Mattresses. What do these companies have in common? A celebrated try-before-you-buy policy. These brands are pretty confident their products and services will be winners with consumers. After all, Casper claims to be “one perfect mattress.” That’s quite a high bar. Or a costly brag if they have to send a truck out to reclaim a mattress from an unsatisfied buyer.

This strategy is timely given increasingly sophisticated consumers who demand brands deliver on expectations. But it’s one that could be riddled with risk for companies that don’t test product positioning and even packaging.  Because consumers are more empowered, informed, and connected than ever, it’s critical for companies to clearly communicate the brand promise and have a firm grasp of the actual user experience with their product. Whether a $1 candy bar or an $800 mattress, customers don’t want unhappy surprises with their purchase – just delight.

How can brands ensure that the experience that they’re promising is fulfilling expectations? Usage testing is a wonderfully effective way to make sure what a company thinks they’re selling is in fact what the consumer is experiencing.

One shelf-stable food brand asked us to learn whether the positioning and messaging that they had developed matched what consumers were experiencing at home. We set out to determine which messaging elements worked and why – how well the product delivered on the promise being made. What communication facets needed to change? Our visual and verbal techniques – online projectives – are ideal for helping consumers articulate the experience and benefits of the product (including sensorial and tactile). Through in home product usage, we revealed the phrases and words that could be adopted or incorporated into copy. This helped craft an authentic message that was faithful to the experience.

This approach can be included further upstream when developing product concepts, and even later when testing packaging – all in effort to ensure each part of the consumer journey meets and exceeds expectations. This was the case with a beverage company who needed consumers to evaluate packaging. While consumers had previously raved about the product, they hated the proposed packaging – a delightful product could have been torpedoed by a disastrous container. We were able to identify specific packaging requirements that would be equally appealing as the product inside.

So, is your brand promising perfection? Fun? Luxury? Whatever the essence you believe it telegraphs – make sure it’s one grounded in the reality of the consumer usage experience.

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Do Consumers Want Green Coca-Cola?

Earlier this month, Coca Cola unveiled its latest innovation. No, not a new beverage formulation. But a novel vessel for its products – a fully recyclable plastic bottle made entirely from renewable plant materials. Chalk one up for Planet Earth, as the “PlantBottle™” is a move away from petroleum based materials. Using a patented method that turns natural plant sugars into plastic bottle ingredients, Coca-Cola launched an earlier version in 2009 that was 30% plant-based – this 2015 edition is 100% bioplastic. According to a profile in Plastics Today, Coca Cola believes PlantBottle™ packaging is “estimated to have helped save the equivalent annual emissions of more than 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.”

Coca Cola’s move is just the latest by an iconic brand looking to embrace more sustainable packaging. Other recent “green” newsmakers have included Method, Hershey and Clorox. But are these just good, practical business tactics or are companies making changes in response to a growing consumer trend? Is sustainability becoming a concern among everyday consumers? Is it increasingly something that companies should consider when exploring brand extensions, new product development, and packaging design?

According to our study on the subject, the answer is yes. While U.S. & U.K. consumers conveyed a basic understanding of sustainability, there were strong associations around the idea of preserving the environment for future generations. Our insights suggest that products with a sustainability label have a higher likelihood of success, as 80% of consumers said they would be more likely to purchase clearly-marked environmentally-responsible products.

In our study, we asked consumers to both verbalize and visualize their personal associations with sustainability. Brands looking to capture the hearts and minds of eco-aware consumers may want to take note. Positive words that came to mind include renewable, green and recycle. Negative ones included pollution, waste and greed. Visualization of sustainability resulted in imagery around preserving the environment and health (interestingly, in another study we recently led to learn what Healthy means to consumers, participants mentioned that taking care of the environment was a dimension of Healthy). While consumers may not have a full grasp of specific corporate sustainability initiatives, they did have definite ideas about what values they associate with sustainable brands: integrity, trust and authenticity.

As companies seek to help consumers navigate an ever overcrowded sea of choices toward their product line, sustainability can be an important competitive differentiator on shelf – as long as it can be communicated in a meaningful manner. Consumers expressed willingness to buy products from companies that align with their personal values. This creates an opportunity for brands to become a functionally and emotionally relevant solution at purchase

For more information on BuzzBack’s Sustainability study (or the one on Healthy), click here.

 

 

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Are Avatars What’s Next for Your Brand?

What does online dress game, Stardoll and virtual world game, Second Life have in common with consumer insights? You might not think much, but actually there’s a key link when it comes to personal expression. Today more than 2 billion consumers participate in virtual gaming communities using avatars to represent and express themselves. Participants create fantasy characters using menu options of physical traits and wardrobe. But, as it turns out, these avatars are not all about gaming and play (well maybe just a little). Recent research shows that an avatar’s virtual appearance subconsciously signals important clues into the individual’s own and very real personality.

So what’s the link to consumer insights?  Creative visualization and expression tools have proven to be an effective means of getting at richer insights. At BuzzBack, we use these daily to get consumers to holistically express themselves – both obviously and latently – to better understand their behaviors, choices and motivations. It’s why we’re proud to be part of the GRIT Top 50 as one of the most innovative companies in our sector. These conceptual ideas behind avatars are the foundation for what’s next in innovating our tools and techniques for consumer self expression.

One of the many new directions we’re going in at BuzzBack – stay tuned to see what’s next as we illustrate why we deserve to be on the GRIT…

 

 

BuzzBack Avatars

Read My Lips! And Eyes! And…

Affectiva, a pioneer in emotional recognition software, seems to be everywhere lately – from discussions in my office about new MR techniques, to a recent article in Wired. Their Affdex technology views a respondent’s face and can read what emotions are being expressed. The technology itself is impressive, but it leads me to the question: which of my devices will read my emotions, and what will they give me in return?

Affectiva recently offered a 45-day free trial to developers who want to experiment with their API – which got me thinking… what are some apps or devices I would want to read my face/emotions? I’m not a developer (just a dreamer) so here is my short list:

 

  1. Apple TV / Roku – Could the device please pause my show when I inevitably doze off while catching up with my shows on Sunday evening?
  2. eCommerce sites (Amazon, Gilt, etc.) – While I shop, can you tell which items I react positively to, and tailor my experience like a virtual personal shopper?
  3. Dating sites – maybe Tinder can tell exactly how you feel about a potential match, so you don’t have to keep swiping left/right? Perhaps you would find different matches based on your initial emotional response, which you may not even be aware of.

 

What about the rest of you – any other ideas for places you do (or maybe don’t!) want to have your face/emotions read?

Read the full post here on The Market Research Event blog.

face reader

Love App-tually

Are you ready for the most romantic holiday of the year?  If you’re still looking for love or the perfect way to express how you feel, consider yourself lucky! This season, Love Hearts®, a popular Valentine’s Day staple, will have a few new phrases added to the mix. Fourteen phrases were chosen as part of a contest this year to celebrate the candy’s 60th anniversary and to help them stay up-to-date with how people choose to communicate. Winning phrases – including ‘YOLO,’ ‘Take a Selfie,’ and ‘Swipe Right’ – will definitely help the confection stay current with today’s lingo.

And if you’re just not sure what ‘Swipe Right’ means, allow us to explain. Tinder is a mobile matchmaking app that uses location tracking to show you profile pictures of people in your area. You swipe right if you like what you see, left if you don’t. Among Millennials, Tinder is currently very popular. In fact, our recent Valentine’s Day BuzzPoll found that for one-third of Millennials, Tinder is their most favorite or most used app. They express appreciation for Tinder’s casual approach: it’s easy to meet local match-ups and there is a large variety of men/women to browse through – unsurprising, given the app’s current popularity.

OKCupid, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, and Coffee Meets Bagel are also deemed Millennial favorites in our study. You might be asking, how do Millennials choose which matchmaking service is right for them?  We found that unique reasons for preference started to surface for each app. For example, OKCupid is preferred for its user-friendly interface and for being easy to use and understand. Long-term relationship seekers appear to gravitate towards eHarmony, with a handful saying their system is realistic – asking detailed questions before matching you up – and users feel it has the most potential for success.

We also found that the majority of apps mentioned are favored for being free. Then it got us wondering, how are these online dating sites making money? A little digging helped us discover that while most of these matchmaking apps and websites provide free options, they currently generate revenue through a combination of brand advertising and paid upgrades or memberships. Like most websites and apps, Tinder is completely free – except for a new, less popular option called Tinder Plus. Both options have  yet to allow brands to openly use their app for advertising purposes; and, with its widely popular status among Millennials, this is making some brands a bit anxious.

Earlier last year, Tinder employed experimental advertising through profiles for Domino’s Pizza and the U.S. TV show, “The Mindy Project.” Most recently, Gillette teamed up with Tinder to test out the theory that ladies prefer men with well-maintained facial hair (as opposed to unkempt beards). However, this approach was not considered traditional advertising and was not purchased through ad inventory on the Tinder platform.

While Tinder keeps toying with the idea of raking in advertising revenue, it has yet to settle on a strategy. So for all those brands out there that may want to strike up a relationship with Tinder in hopes of getting in front of the Millennial audience, you’ll just have to wait. Tinder’s just not that into you… yet.

For more info, click here or scroll below to see how Millennials these days are using online dating apps to find ‘Love App-tually.’

 

Photo credit: Love Hearts®

 

BuzzBack BuzzPoll Millennials Valentines Day FINAL

Swipe-Right

Flu Vaccine: Hype or Hope?

When I walk around New York in the winter time, it feels like I run across a drugstore on every other block with a large ad in the window for flu vaccinations. The ads offer a quick, walk-in vaccination covered by most health insurance policies, which sounds like a pretty good deal.

Not everyone is persuaded by those ads, however. In our upcoming BuzzPoll infographic on flu vaccination, more than half of respondents (54%) have no set plans to get a flu vaccine this year, with the primary reason for non-vaccination being skepticism over how effective flu vaccines are. Unfortunately, some of that doubt is particularly warranted this flu season, as the CDC has reported that flu vaccines are only 23% effective this year, compared to a typical flu prevention rate of 60-65%. The main influenza A (H3N2) strain circulating this year has mutated enough that about 68% of those viruses are genetically different from the flu viruses used in this year’s vaccines.

Still, even a less effective vaccine offers some level of protection, especially considering that the flu vaccine protects against several different strains of flu. So a flu shot now could also protect you from some of the different strains that emerge throughout the flu season. Half of our BuzzPoll respondents who do plan to get vaccinated this season cite doctor recommendation as a reason, and the CDC recommends annual vaccination for everyone 6 months and up (with only a few rare exceptions).

So if you’re among the more than half of Americans who haven’t been vaccinated yet, maybe you’ll want to take a second look the next time you pass by an ad for the flu vaccine. As for me? Walking by all those drugstores drove the message home – I got my flu shot a few days ago.

For more information on our flu vaccination findings, get in touch with us below.

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We’re Focused on Millennials

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve visited more than a dozen clients on two continents. Just when I think I’m done hearing about Millennials, inevitably the client says, ‘We’re focused on Millennials.’ I should know better. This is a demographic still on the rise if a recent report by eMarketer is any indication. It predicts that Millennials’ spending power will reach over $1.4 trillion by 2020.

With so much spend potential, every brand we work with is eager to nail what makes this demographic tick. How are they similar and different to other generations, such as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers? How do we talk to them? Develop products for them? Which brand name will appeal to them? What ideals drive them to purchase?

We cover some of the similarities and differences in attitudes and behaviors among Millennials and other age segments in our recent Sustainability webinar. This study explores consumer emotions, imagery, attitudes and even the types of language each group uses to talk about Sustainability. The Millennial findings from the study carry forward to other factors that make this critical cohort more mindful of their actions – all with implications on brands looking to win over their hearts and wallets. Click here to view the webinar or request a summary of the findings.

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