Best Tips to Understand the Ever-Changing Global Market

I often see clients requesting to conduct research across multiple countries. After all, understanding how products or ideas perform in different markets is crucial for corporations to compete in the fast paced and ever-changing global market. When conducting this type of research, companies need to understand that there’s more to global research than simply translating concepts/ideas and surveys.

Often, we are gathering information from unfamiliar markets where cultural backgrounds, perceptions/interpretations, as well as product usage can vary greatly. Therefore, it’s important to understand these aspects when conducting research across international markets.

As with all research, it’s very important for companies to have well defined objectives. For example, is the intention to have a single message/campaign across different countries with just minor adjustments to adapt to different cultural backgrounds? Or is it desirable to select individual messages for each country?

If companies work towards a better understanding of foreign cultural environments and the impact they can have on consumer perceptions, global research can become more insightful and actionable, leading to more successful global adoptions of messaging, products, and new ideas. Some companies are already working to better understand the impact of cultural differences, but I think there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement.

Dare to Be Different

Every so often I find myself in a conversation with a brand manager whose objective is to develop a concept, package or positioning that differentiates them from their competitors. Yet they propose to achieve this with the same research approach that everyone else is using. This leaves me scratching my head.

I think that by following the same protocols clients will end up in the same place as their competition. This conundrum is analogous to the challenges faced by the automotive industry when all companies used the wind tunnel as the linchpin of their design approach.  The result of this was years of cars all looking the same, because they followed the same inherent, aerodynamic shape.  Congratulations: parity by design. It was only when this similarity became evident in practice that the industry realised they did not have differentiation. Furthermore, when the pure aerodynamic design was explored in detail it was discovered that the benefits in terms of fuel consumption only really became apparent at speeds way above the legal driving speed in most countries!

Market research and insight professionals sit in an influential position to lead change for their companies in their pursuit of differentiation.  Perhaps Jeff Hunter, formerly of General Mills, captured this thought best at the MRS Conference a few years back – here’s a clip of his presentation.  He eloquently challenges us to seek alternate routes at the 1:57 time mark.

So, does your company seek competitive equilibrium?  If the goal is to be the SAME then, by all means, walk into the wind tunnel.  In this way you will follow the same exact methods as your competitors, act on duplicate insights and in all likelihood achieve very similar results.

But if you dare to be different, then partner with an agency that is nimble and excited by the opportunities that new methodologies bring.  Can you imagine the innovation that could result from that kind of energy?

Respondent Privacy, Are We Doing Enough?

Being in the business of data, we are constantly confronted with the idea of responsible use of consumer data. We are tasked both with collected lots of data (sometimes unbeknownst to the respondent) to verify someone’s identity and assure the validity of our interviews, but also to be sure to carefully lock away any personal information about our respondents.

We have seen many increasingly sophisticated methods of authenticating survey respondents; most recently there has been a lot of buzz around Survey Monkey’s True Sample. But on the data security and privacy side, we can’t rely on fancy new technology to do the work for us. When privacy is the concern, an organization’s integrity and transparency are the measures of success. So how does a respondent know who to trust?

I had the pleasure of listening to Jane Frost, CEO of MRS, speak back in April at the ASC’s conference on collaboration in survey technology about the new Fair Data initiative she had been working on. She was so passionate about the importance of protecting our users’ data, because if they don’t trust us they will stop sharing with us, and the day respondents stop answering us our industry is in some big trouble.

I think it is great there is an industry-specific data privacy mark for Market Research, but what comes next in the privacy arena? How can we help put in place our own checks-and-balances as an industry to keep each other honest, and get that across to our respondents? Is a pledge and a stamp on our website enough? I think the seal of approval from an industry-specific group like MRS helps add credibility. But is that enough for respondents to feel safe?

It’s Not Fair!

Last week I was planning a trip from Atlanta to another southeastern city and encountered an airfare that seemed extraordinarily high.  I compared the rate to a previous trip to that same city and to some other cities in the same state and much to my chagrin; the new rate was about triple the price I expected to pay.  My immediate reaction:  “It’s not fair!”

As it turns out, my reaction is actually based in science. At about the same time of my airfare crisis, I came across an insightful and amusing video from a TED Talk by Dr. Frans de Waal on the Moral Behavior in Animals. It seems that this sense of inequity I was feeling is perhaps wired deep within me, not only as a human, but as a primate.  So while I can logically puzzle out the intricacies of online airline pricing (e.g., it’s hub to hub, there’s no discount airline in the market), I’m stuck with these feelings of being treated unfairly.


This is meaningful insight to us who ponder the neuroscience that drives consumer/brand relationships.  What companies can learn from this is that customers react to their offerings in ways that are primitively emotional, as well as in ways that are intellectual and logical.  Surface-level, visible and articulated thoughts, ideas, behaviors, attitudes and feelings are not enough. Marketers must consider that the primal, unarticulated, latent bases are covered too when developing products, setting prices and marketing messages.  Especially messages that counter the “That’s not fair!” reaction!


Is Tea the New Coffee?

If you haven’t heard, Starbucks just opened its first Teavana Tea Bar in Manhattan in hopes of slicing out its share of the $90 billion global tea market. They are looking to open at least 1,000 more of these bars within 10 years.

At BuzzBack we were also fascinated in the growing interest of tea, and conducted our own BuzzPoll to better understand what was driving consumers.

Not surprisingly, the focus is on tea’s health benefits. But not only that … drinking tea is also a state of mind.

In our study, we asked consumers who drink tea to create an online collage that expressed the thoughts, feelings, and associations that come to mind when they think about brewed tea. Below are some examples from our eCollage™ tool.

tea 1
“Tea makes me think of relaxation, meditation, nature and health.”
tea 2
“It is a quiet time to sit and enjoy the day and reflect on life. Since I like the herbal teas and flavored teas the fruits are a reminder of them. The cup is a reminder of my mother and her love of the afternoon tea break using one of her many fancy tea cups.”
tea 3
“Tea is a refreshing, soothing, delightful, and social beverage. You have to slow down to prepare and drink it.”













However, don’t expect tea drinkers to give up coffee. In our BuzzPoll, about two-thirds of brewed tea consumers still drink coffee almost every day and Starbucks is banking on that too. While the Teavana Tea Bars will have a more relaxed, leisurely atmosphere where people come come in, sit back and relax, customers will still want to pop in to Starbucks for an on-the-go beverage.

Click here for more information on our tea study.


The Rise of the Hispanic Consumer

According to the US Census, 1 in 6 Americans is Hispanic. In the next decade, Hispanics are expected to account for 40 percent of net new households. In an article earlier this year, The Economist reported that in one decade (between 2000-10) Latino buying power more than doubled, and the Latino share of wallet is becoming increasingly important to marketers. Many of our clients are focused on this growing consumer segment and coming up with new products and culturally-relevant messaging.

As such, I often get asked the question, “Can you reach these folks online?” The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ In fact, a Pew Research Center study released this summer reported that “Latinos own smartphones, go online from a mobile device and use social networking sites at similar—and sometimes higher—rates than do other groups of Americans.” Many of our sample providers have identified these people so we can get at them quickly and efficiently.

“Several years ago, uSamp recognized that our clients were struggling to effectively reach the Hispanic population. We’ve gained expertise in the market and we’ve invested heavily in tapping new, unique sources in order to deliver Hispanic audiences that can help clients glean the business insights they need. Our Hispanic panels now host more than 125,000 members and we’ve made it our mission to understand this complex and diverse audience. The distinction between unacculturated and acculturated Hispanics is just as important as other demographic differentiators such as age, occupation, and location.

When developing SúperOpinión, our premier Hispanic panel, we wanted to give our members the option to fully customize their account – language preference, email invitation frequency, etc. Additionally, they can register from their mobile devices, which is critical in this expanding mobile world. By building and managing our own proprietary panel, acculturation model and rewards engine, we strive to bring panelists an unparalleled user-experience and retain them for the long-haul. We realized that no two panelists are alike, and we wanted to build an environment that accommodated their diverse needs. This is only the beginning of our efforts to engage and build these audiences, and hope that we keep reinforcing our central mission: panelists are people.”

Dave Gaston, Regional Vice President Survey Solutions at uSamp

The trend among our clients is establishing multicultural teams that span multiple brands in an effort to ramp up quickly on who these consumers are, and to really understand their attitudes, behaviors and motivation. Because after all, engaging this segment is more than just speaking en Español – marketers need to understand them culturally too!

Is Pop Culture Shifting Millennial’s Attitudes on Materialism?

You’ve heard it all before, Millennials are optimistic and idealistic about their future, but due to a lagging economy and high student debt rates they are choosing less-expensive schools, aren’t buying cars and are tightening their belts overall. In fact, BuzzBack’s recent Student Debt survey found that males and females prioritize spending differently.

“When presented with a list of behaviors that may be impacted as a result of their debt, more females point to cutbacks on daily spending (e.g., eating out less often, spending less on clothing, spending less on groceries) while more males select larger, lifestyle changes (e.g., living with roommates, taking public transportation, and even putting off getting married). Nearly half of both males and females agree that trips/vacations have been put on the back burner.”

However, I’ve been noticing a trend in pop culture lately that has me wondering if this conservative spending will be embedded so deeply that it will carry on into their lives for a long time to come. It’s no secret that music has long influenced generations. And now thanks to the internet and wearable technologies we are able to play music whenever we want. Most recently there have been a few popular songs that have resonated so much with consumers that the songs themselves seem to have catapulted the musicians to celebrity status. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ huge hit, Thrift Shop rose to the top of the charts and boasted about rummaging through consignment store discounted wear.

Being sure to practice what he preaches, Macklemore instructed fans to pirate his album and to purchase T-shirts online or visit Seattle thrift shops if they couldn’t afford them due to venues jacking merchandise prices.

Lorde is a 17 year old, New Zealand-born singer/songwriter who released her first album for free on SoundCloud. Her hit song, Royals, poo-poos those obsessed with extravagant items most people only dream about while also shining a light onto other artists for not speaking accurately to a generation with little to no money.

Both songs have reached #1 on the Billboard charts and both songs were written by Millennials. More specifically, Thrift Shop is only the second song in history to ever reach the number 1 spot on the Hot 100 without the support of a major record label. Royals  is currently in the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for it’s 8th week.

Could a shift in attitudes away from materialism be on the horizon? Should marketers be concerned with the idea that even if/when the Millennials have excess money that they might not want to spend it on the majority of brands currently in market? There is data out there to support this post Great Recession philosophy. Are people bucking against materialism and the usual need to keep up with the Joneses/Kardashians? If so, how will brands need to position their products differently especially for this already skeptical consumer group? Will the Millennials change the market landscape for good? We’ve already seen an upsurge in sustainability initiatives by brands. If Millennials truly care about buying less and caring for their community more, will this be the key to securing this target demographic?

Click here to request our Student Debt study.

The Importance of Corporate Culture

In case you missed it, there was a great article about HubSpot and the importance of corporate culture. The headline alone reflects how I feel about a company’s culture and how important it is to maintain your culture as you hire and grow, and I think Brian Halligan hits on all the key points. Your culture is who you are and it can be a competitive advantage.

At BuzzBack we have 5 core values that depict our corporate culture. I didn’t make them up, we came up with them as a team. In fact, collectively, we all arrived at the same core words through brainstorming about 3 years ago, and we formalized these as our Core Values. For BuzzBack, it’s about the team. More than 35% of our employees have been with BuzzBack for 5+ years. And 40% of new hires are employee referrals. Can you imagine how powerful that is? When we hire, one of the things we make sure is that candidates fit this ethic; and when someone leaves, it’s usually because they reach a point when they don’t fit with our culture any more.

To Piggyback Or Not To Piggyback?

Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend in market research — implementation of social media platforms such as Pinterest to conduct qualitative research online. It’s been highlighted in this Quirks article, but I’ve also come across this topic in other online MR conversations. I see how this seems easy, useful, and innovative to some, but I worry that it’s a bit shortsighted.

While I wholeheartedly agree that researchers need to reach and interact with respondents in ways applicable to what they do online and also find the use of imagery in research powerful I see issues with just turning to a social media platform as a research tool. For one, this type of integration between a social media platform and research is time consuming and only seems to work on a few people at a time. The researcher needs to train each respondent on the platform so they are correctly pinning images. Also, the respondent then needs to go out and find each image which can potentially result in them not thinking broadly enough about the topic or even becoming distracted from the task. Many Pinners know how tempting it can be to continue clicking through links!  But even more importantly, this does not allow us to engage a higher number of respondents, apply certain analytics or control for bias.

Using technologies not intended for research purposes tends to leave a lot of opportunity on the table. I think research should invest more in developing its own technologies keeping methodologies and best practices in mind.

Filling the Cup of Consumer Cravings

Energy is a key theme for many of the food and beverage companies I work with day-to-day. In recent years, I’ve seen more and more of my clients looking to play in the energy space with products that not only deliver on functional benefits, but also connect with respondents on an emotional level. While these emotional benefits vary, there is usually one thing they all have in common – they get you up and get you moving so you can do more.

I recently read an article in the WSJ that says US energy drinks totaled $6 billion in 2012 according to Beverage Marketing Group. However, this same article caught my attention not because it focuses on energy drinks, but because it focuses on relaxation drinks – beverages that provide relaxation, anxiety relief, stress reduction or just a good ‘Chill.’

While energy is still sizzling as a category, there seems to be a growing trend of consumers wanting to slow down and destress. Recently, we explored the different dimensions of Luxury, and a predominant theme that arose was this idea of time, especially quality time, as a luxury they wish for. Maybe in the end drinks that slow you down will speed up in popularity.

Click here to request our Exploring Luxury study to find out more about the quality time that consumers are craving, in addition to other insights that were uncovered.