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

Turning Data Into Insight Into Action

I recently moderated three one hour sessions with marketing professionals at the Richmond Events Marketing forum exploring the ‘thorny issue’ of Turning Data Into Insight Into Action. Over the duration of the discussions it became apparent that it would have been better to describe the subject as From ‘learning to kick’ to ‘Golden Balls’* since this described the diversity of experience levels of those in attendance.

Although the footballing metaphor may seem a little far-fetched, the expression ‘learning to kick’ and ‘golden balls’ were actually used by participants – and no it wasn’t an all-male audience. I think that the footballing expressions were useful because they reflect a sense that you have to practice to achieve excellence. Further, to achieve success you have to experiment and try new things. This spirit of testing, learning and applying was a key discussion point and the learning from our shared collective experiences proved the most useful outcome.

The learning can be summarised using Lamoureux’s Experiential Learning cycle reproduced below.

The participants segmented the subject Turning Data Into Insight Into Action into three broad themes: collection, analysis and action. We discussed examples in each area where the participants had seen success and also (from those brave enough to share) failure. None of us were surprised that we don’t typically hear many (any?) failures. The perfectly manicured PowerPoint slides about marketing success at conferences are the equivalent of airbrushed models in Vogue magazine. Funny that!

We mapped out some key thoughts:

Collection: how to incentivise stakeholders who have little motivation to collect data that will be of use to marketing further down the line (not seen as their job). How to provide a case to senior management for funding for market research and/ or data capture.

Analysis: from the advanced (latent class analysis was mentioned – click here to learn more!) to the simple tracking of responses to direct emailing campaigns were covered. What provided most interest was individual case studies of successful analysis and action. One campaign (has to remain nameless I am afraid) had led to significant success and a ROI of 30 plus. Jealous?

Action: we didn’t always get time to get to this point in the discussion (let’s face it covering the first two topics in the hour was already a Herculean task). However, one key insight was that the results of any analysis needed to be presented ‘carefully’ to senior management. It was felt that if the analysis was consistent with management’s view of the world it was more likely to be embraced yet ran the risk that it was perceived as waste of time since ‘I already know that’. If, on the other hand, it challenged senior managements view of the world it could well be ignored.

Overall, and it may seem obvious, we concluded that action based on recommendations with evidence from case studies is the most impactful in improving decision making. Easy isn’t it?


*For those of you who are not familiar this was one of the nicknames attributed to David Beckham by the UK tabloid press. Yes, it does have a double meaning!


Oh, I See Now! – Using Visual Communication to Improve Adherence

The high level of nonadherence across all therapeutic categories is a hot topic, and becoming hotter.  It’s a question of enormous cost on one hand (to patients, insurers, CMS, hospitals, families…) and a serious question of lost revenue for the pharmaceutical companies. The team at BuzzBack has been working on nonadherence related issues for a number of years, and we utilize our tools to interpret how patients with a given disease understand and feel about what, exactly, they are going through.

In that light, a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Lisa Rosenbaum, M.D. caught my attention. Dr. Rosenbaum, who writes on medicine for many publications and is a cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, explores how patient feelings impact adherence to medication for cardiovascular disease. The author cites a study that suggests that “one way to address medication avoidance is to better communicate the benefits of a drug. Although such communication is essential, so is the understanding of what beliefs contribute to avoidance of cardiovascular medications in the first place.” What’s exciting about that statement is that an increasing number of pharma companies are working with firms like us to dig deep into the “why” behind patient nonadherence. In fact, BuzzBack is currently working on a study (which we will present at the Pharmaceutical Market Research Conference on February 5) in which patients express feelings about their relationships with their doctor, their disease, and their therapeutic regimen, using visual imagery as well as direct questions. We are looking into how strongly positive and negative emotions can influence adherence, and whether it is related to usage of alternative medicine.

In her article, Dr. Rosenbaum recalls conversations with patients about why they abandon their regimens. She observes how some patients cite an interest in “natural” solutions. Patients see their prescriptions as “chemicals” to avoid – the drugs intrude upon the natural state of things. Other negative feelings and associations that reduce adherence include suspicion, shame, failure, aversion, fear of risk, and loss of control. Patients also say that today’s advanced medicine and its apparent speed of effect makes adherence seem less important (paraphrased as “I feel so much better leaving the hospital than when I came in – I don’t need to take the drugs anymore”). Related to that idea, patients who begin to feel better once on their own often become nonadherent. This is especially true for asymptomatic patients who lack concrete evidence of their improvement.

The article advocates what we often find when studying adherence. Pharma companies need to better articulate the purpose of their drugs to patients. They need to explain how both the obvious and unseen changes are both important. The article confirms what we have worked on for many years: visual metaphors and the visual delivery of this information can improve compliance. Dr. Rosenbaum writes about how patients on clopidogrel frequently explain why they take their medicine and what the benefit is to them. These patients use visual language (from Plavix ads) to paint the “here’s why I do it” picture: “It keeps my blood flowing. “It keeps the pipes from clogging.” The distinct visual lexicon creates a compelling mental image that seems to encourage adherence. Other research over the past 30 years has confirmed that visual imagery helps patients understand their disease better and adhere better to treatment. Rosenbaum proposes creating visual communications that make an emotional and personal patient-to-prescription connection that literally illustrates the purpose and benefits of the treatment. This begs the question: what visual metaphors can help companies outside Dr. Rosenbaum’s cardiology realm? How can visual and latent emotional insights improve diabetes adherence? Adherence with asthma therapy? What pictures should be included in communications that will ultimately improve and even save patient lives?

Dr. Rosenbaum’s conclusion echoes the spirit of BuzzBack’s mission when working with healthcare companies:

“Although we tend to view nonadherence as patients’ failure to know what’s good for them, learning about people’s feelings about medications has made me recognize that my ideas of good and bad were defined solely in my terms. What I’ve learned is that if I felt what they feel, I’d understand why they don’t.”

When innovating insights for pharma, we are driven to get at the why so we can influence better outcomes – often uncovering the visual language that will resonate profoundly with patients. As an insights professional, I often find those projects the most meaningful and memorable because they do the most good.

If you’re interested in learning more about BuzzBack’s own study on adherence, get in touch with us below.

man taking pills

Inspiring Who’s Next

Recently BuzzBack hosted 16 students from my alma mater to learn about our company and hear about careers in Market Research. It was a rewarding experience all around as students and our team members participated in lively discussions about the industry and predictions about where it’s headed. The visit also provided the students a chance to experience “A Day in the Life of a MR Agency”. I highly recommend that my MR colleagues consider sponsoring such an event at their organizations – both on the client and the agency side. It’s a terrific opportunity to “give back” to the industry, but also a fantastic way to tap into the next generation of research professionals.

By the end of 2014, Millennials are slated to become 36% of the workforce, and almost half by 2020. As older MR professionals retire, their exit potentially creates a skills gap, so it’s critical for us as an industry to proactively reach out to young people to fill the talent funnel. For a company like BuzzBack, we’re particularly keen to attract these digital natives because their technological and new media savvy is in complete alignment with our core essence as a company. From our start, BuzzBack has always been about advancing market insights by harnessing the power of available, emerging and blue sky technology. We have found that making direct contact with Gen Y is much more effective in sparking interest in a Market Research career than waiting for them to discover it on their own.


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.


Three Reasons Why I Love TMRE

This year will be the sixth time I get to attend The Market Research Event, our industry’s largest and most exciting conference. With over a thousand attendees, the Event feels big, exciting, and energetic. Three reasons why I love attending are:

  1. Meeting friends– As an industry veteran, I feel like I’m attending a reunion of sorts, seeing colleagues, clients, and suppliers, some I’ve known for years and others who are newer relations.
  2. The sessions – From the keynotes to the individual breakouts, TMRE has great presentations from start to finish. In fact, sometimes the only complaint I hear is that folks can’t see everything they want. And let me put in a plug for my colleague, Silvena Milenkova, who will presenting with Jean Enloe of 3M on how mobile research compares to online PC-based research and how it fits with a broader brand strategy.
  3. The industry – When I attend TMRE, I realize I’m part of a large, innovative, and crucially important industry. The role we play in helping our organizations understand their customers and succeed in today’s challenging marketplace is never more on display than when we gather in mass.

Will you be attending TMRE? What sessions or social meet ups are you looking forward to?

Hope to see you there!


Our Suppliers as Partners

You may be familiar with Michael Porter’s ‘Five Forces of Competitive Strategy.’ This famous publication provides an infrastructure for how to build a competitive advantage. Porter talks specifically about the powerful influence suppliers have on that goal.

In our pursuit to provide the highest quality market insights, suppliers have always been an integral part of our client service model here at BuzzBack. They play an important role in every project we do. We treat them as an extension of our team, and are therefore very choosy when deciding with whom we work. For example, when it comes to global studies, we partner closely with Lionbridge, a leading provider of translation with global solution centers in more than 26 cities. Since language is such an important component of the insights we deliver, Lionbridge ensures we provide top quality translation. This partnership adds value to our clients’ studies – particularly those around naming and messaging where clients want to make sure that nothing gets lost in translation… literally.

Beyond the niche expertise our suppliers bring to the table, we seek to mutually build our businesses and share ideas. “Lionbridge and BuzzBack complement one another very well. Like Lionbridge, the team at BuzzBack enables their customers to engage global audiences in new ways. In our partnership, we challenge one another to bring fresh ideas and solutions for BuzzBack clients. Our relationship is mutually beneficial and continually evolving. We are proud to be a BuzzBack partner.” says Jason Hobart, VP , Global Markets and Strategic Partnerships.


Are You Suffering From Ad Blindness?

Here at BuzzBack, we recently sent out a piece about messaging, titled “Is Your Messaging Getting Lost?” We talked about how we as consumers are exposed to thousands of messages every day, yet many of them seem invisible, unable to penetrate and become memorable. Having walked through Times Square this morning, I can attest to this fact. While I was “exposed to” some of the most expensive outdoor advertising in the world, I literally could not recall a single ad that I “saw.” Now my wife will tell you that I suffer from male pattern blindness , but the problem is larger than that. It’s a case of being exposed to so much that I can’t focus on one single ad.

The same problem can happen in store, in publications, or wherever marketers are trying to break through. An Online Media Daily article from last year stated that 60% of people are unable to recall the last display ad they saw, proving that the majority of consumers aren’t paying attention to those ads you worked so hard to make. So, what’s the solution?  When it comes down to finding a cure for ad blindness, there’s no easy answer. We’re unlikely to ever see fewer ads, so marketers must instead work to get the most out of their ads. The same article also found that only 2.8% of respondents thought that the ads they saw met their needs in either being able to respond to a question or provide more information, so maybe part of the solution lies in providing consumers with the answers they’re seeking to find.

What do you think? Does the cure for ad blindness lie in providing more information in ads? In creating an attention-grabbing ad that goes viral? Or maybe a little bit of both?

ad blindness

Stay Nimble, My Friend

Innovate or die. That’s been the business rallying cry… but I think there’s something missing there. Innovate FAST or die. As consumers we have been conditioned to expect bigger, better, over and over. Companies have created a relentless pressure cooker for themselves. Ideating, developing and delivering new products to market faster and faster is the order of the day. But we also know the stats – anywhere from 50-80% of new products fail. How can one quickly separate the winning ideas from the dogs? So, one can’t just be innovative – one must be astutely nimble too. When it comes to insights, we are not immune from the pressure. This is especially true here at BuzzBack. We are perennially curious about new technology and how it can be exploited and deployed to our industry’s advantage. We embrace disruption – it keeps us agile and creative. Lately this idea of harnessing technology to help our clients be smarter, nimble innovators has been keeping us up at night.

We want to see more brands experience wins like last year’s introduction of Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Yogurt – a product that went from a passing comment to home run launch at unheard of speed. How might we help inspire more success stories like this while mitigating the risk that often comes with moving faster than market insights can keep up? So we’ve been developing our own new concept to help clients expedite how they create, evolve, refine and advance ideas with consumer input, all while increasing the likelihood of marketplace success. Watch this space for more news about it, and details on how it works.

stay nimble

Are CMO’s Giving More Importance to Consumer Insights?

Recently I read several articles highlighting how Chief Marketing Officers of large CPG companies were stressing the importance of consumer insights.

Nuno Teles, CMO of Heineken USA,  talked to the New York Times about how they turned lagging sales of Heineken Light around by adding Cascade hops, an ingredient mostly found in craft brews. “Everything in marketing should start with a consumer insight.” The key insight that led them to that decision, was that “40 percent of 21- to 27-year-old consumers desire a light beer with full taste.”

In some companies, this change of attitude involves some important internal reorganization. The CMO of Newell Rubbermaid, Richard Davies, explained to that his company doubled the market research budget. “The reality is that a lot of marketers are not overly interested in understanding the consumer. They’re just playing lip service to the consumer,” said Davies. But at the end of the day, it’s the depth or complete lack of consumer understanding that will determine your success or failure. That was true 40 years ago, and it will remain true 40 years from now.”

Earlier this year, Advertising Age mentioned that he also doubled the market-research staff as well.

Are these two examples representative of a trend or not? Are you seeing some moves by CMO’s that might hint that they they are changing their vision of consumer insights within their organization? What are your thoughts on the matter?