Don’t Fear the F Word – Flexibility

This weekend both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal dedicated significant editorial real estate to women who work. Two of the stats mentioned worth noting:

– women in the US workforce has declined from 74% to 69% the past few years because corporate America doesn’t provide enough flexibility compares to other countries
– woman-run companies perform significantly better than those run by men, yet female leaders are still in the minority

But as we all know, issues around balance and flexibility are no longer just a woman’s issue. A recent study shows a growing majority of men seeking flexible work/life balance benefits from companies. And as more workers start caring for elderly parents or family members, these are workforce challenges that companies are going to need to address. Yet so many companies are still afraid of the dreaded F word – flexibility.

When I started BuzzBack about 14 years ago, my vision wasn’t limited to just reinventing research. I was also driven to build a unique and flexible culture to attract great talent. After 15 years in a rigid corporate work environment I could see how technology disrupted, enabled and liberated paradigms. So at BuzzBack, in addition to pioneering research advancements, we have also championed what’s called the Agile workforce. Besides being a diversity woman-owned business, we support a family culture. More than half of our employees are female, and about 40% of our team is referral based. One of our core values is flexibility and it’s a key reason people work at our company -and they stay longer as a result (more than 35% have been with BuzzBack 5+ years). But it’s not just employees or our company who benefit from happy, loyal, productive employees who stick around – clients win too. They have access to a unique knowledge store and deep memory when it comes to our work, enriching their insights experience.

In fact, what we’ve found is that flexibility-enabled employees are more empowered and more responsive –  just ask any of our clients! It’s the word most frequently used to describe our team.

Whole Foods is Betting on the Conscious Consumers’ Values

Now that more mainstream grocery stores and big box retailers like Walmart and Target have expanded their organic offering, Whole Foods has pumped money into a new brand campaign to remind people that they stand for more than organics, homeopathics and new age thinking. And because consumers now have more access to lower cost organic food, Whole Foods has much work to do to overcome the perception of being an overpriced, exclusive, luxe grocery store to the wealthy (perhaps you’ve heard the store referred to by the tongue-in-cheek moniker Whole Wallet). In some cases, they will have to justify why their prices are higher for certain items. This is where the campaign’s focus on corporate values comes in.

Whole Foods is placing a hefty bet on the Conscious Consumer trend. According to a study by the Hartman Group, Gen X (the often overlooked middle child of generation-focused marketing) holds much purchase power when it comes to grocery shopping, and have strong opinions about the food they buy. And let’s not forget that most coveted group of consumers, Millennials – who in 2013 represented 20% of US spending. According to a 2013 Boston Consulting Group study, up to 10% of Millennials are Clean-and-Green Millennials who make purchases because they are cause-driven or environmentally-minded. But the largest classification of Millennials – 29% – are Hip-ennials who “…seriously believe one can have a positive impact on the world.” Our own study about Sustainability and generational opinion revealed that Millennials felt personally responsibility for driving environmental changes, while also believing  in sharing responsibility with others. They also want to have their voices/opinions heard in terms of influencing companies’ Sustainability efforts.

If Whole Foods can capture the minds, hearts and wallets of these consumers, the investment on this latest brand campaign will be money well spent.

For more information on our Sustainability study, click here.

On Your Mark. Get Set. Shop!

It seems like everyone, almost everywhere kicked this holiday season into high gear over the weekend. My social news feed was splattered with trees, lights, decorations and even a few pictures of kids with that ole jolly fellow.

Meanwhile, my inbox has been filled with messages alerting me to all the best deals taking place from now through Black Friday and into Cyber Monday.

Last year, we saw a slight increase by 2.3% when combining Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at brick-and-mortar stores for a total of $12.3 billion. However, Cyber Monday sales increased by 18% from 2012 to 2013, making it the biggest online spending day in history with total sales reaching $1.735 billion.

Since we carved out our little corner of the internet many years ago, and because we work with many retailers and CPG companies, this definitely got our attention. Every year, more and more people are shopping online. This year, we’ve already seen an increase in the amount of retailers extending the discounts beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Deals are now being offered early and often. With this in mind, we decided to take a look at what consumers were planning and plotting this time around for the biggest shopping event of the year. Our most recent study explores where, what, when and how much they’ll spend. Check out our latest infographic below.

2014.11 BuzzBack Infographic_Holiday Shopping

Interested in more information? Just email us.

The Psychology of Naming

Humans are obsessed with names. We attempt to label every object and every idea that we happen to come across, and if we don’t have a name for something in our brain’s encyclopedia already, we are driven to inquire, or look up, what it is.

That humans attach emotional significance to names (either of people, places or even things) does not come as any surprise, I know.  But why? Our naming obsession is driven, perhaps, by curiosity, but it’s rooted in another area of our psyche: our sociality.

You’ve probably heard it before, and it seems excruciatingly obvious, but humans are social beings. Being social and connecting to others makes [most of] us happy. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense, as we often must depend on each other. As a result, our brains are essentially primed to anthropomorphize anything we can (to see what I mean, just check out this BuzzFeed article).

So how does this relate to names? When we encounter something new, we want to know how it fits into our social world, how we are supposed to interact with it, what it can do for us, or how it might harm us. And we look to its name as some sort of indication of these characteristics. Let’s look at a very basic example of how names are related to characteristics: looking at the images below, which one is a maluma, and which one is a takete?

tekete maluma

Let me guess: you said the left one was a maluma, and the right one was a takete? This little experiment was first done by Wolfgang Kohler in the 1920s, but reenactments have revealed that as many as 98% of people pair the left image with maluma and the right image with takete (other estimates hover around 80%, but it’s still an impressive percentage!)

We associate words with ‘sharp’ phonemes such t, k, c, z, g, etc. as harsh, angular, etc., like the right hand shape above. On the other hand, ‘soft’ phonemes such as m, l, s, n, etc. are perceived as gentle. And from there, we make all kinds of wild assumptions based on names. For example, researchers Heath, Chatterjee and France (1990) found that increasing the number of ‘sharp’ phonemes in fictional names for toilet paper directly influenced respondents’ likelihood of describing the product as harsh/rough.

Interestingly, research has found that brand names are neurologically processed in a different way than common nouns. Indeed, the right hemisphere (RH) is implicated in their processing more so than in the processing of common nouns. The RH has been associated with processing items of personal importance and emotional significance, so this finding supports the notion that we form emotional ties with brands, based – at least in part – on their names.

Further evidence of the social/emotional nature of names comes from looking at the ‘maluma/takete’ effect described above in individuals with autism: they only agree with the standard about 55% of the time, ever so slightly above chance (Oberman and Ramachandran, 2008). Autistic individuals do not anthropomorphize objects in the same way non-autistic individuals do, and they are generally less social. That this group fails to establish the same connotations as the general population reveals that these connotations – and general impression formation based on names alone – are rooted in our tendencies towards sociality. There is a deep connection between the name we hear and how we fit what it stands for into our known world.

So what’s the takeaway here? If you’re trying to sell a perfume called Vindox, you might be in trouble. Similarly, a rugged all-weather tent called Flamella might not appeal to many. It’s not that Vindox is necessarily a ‘bad’ word, it just indicates something to us, as social creatures: that this product/brand might be harsh, or masculine, etc. Indeed, Vindox could be perfectly suited for another type of product, perhaps cleaning solution. But it might not fit the bill for the social connotations of perfume.

It’s obvious that a good name should be catchy, and easy to remember, easy to pronounce, etc. But ultimately it should also appeal to the social nature of the product or brand being sold, or else the incongruence between name and product will drive consumers away. BuzzBack’s projective tools, like Thought Bubble, for example, help elucidate the potential social and emotional connotations of potential names to ensure the right message is being delivered by a suitable name.


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.

Articulating The Patient Journey & Why It’s So Important

I am just returning from the annual PMRG Institute, interfacing with peers in the pharmaceutical sector around a series of new topics & challenges in market insights. The theme of the conference was a 360º View, and many of the presentations focused on storytelling and the current wave of patient-centric initiatives impacting global pharma leaders such as Merck, Teva, UCB, Boehringer-Ingelheim to name a few.

It’s no surprise then the New York Times also recently published an op-ed on the importance of storytelling with Why Doctors Need Stories. This piece by Peter D. Kramer talks about Danish psychiatrist Per Bech, an innovator in clinical psychometrics, which is the science of measuring change in conditions like depression. Per Bech generally focuses on statistics, but more recently he’s shared stories about patients and case vignettes.

This Per Bech example reflects many of the exact challenges of our industry today – how we are changing our perspective in treating specific conditions, shifting to more patient-centric and relatable materials. That’s something we do first hand at BuzzBack. Our eCollage™ is a unique storytelling technique – in research-speak, it’s an enabling technique that helps both patients and physicians open up and express themselves more authentically. We use this technique in our Diabetes study and much of the other healthcare work we do. It helps clients get to the ‘power of the narrative’ and the ‘texture’ alluded to in Why Doctors Need Stories.

The narrative completes the job – it fills in the blanks between clinical facts and data points.  For pharma marketing, the article’s author articulates it beautifully, “But vignettes can do more than illustrate and reassure. They convey what doctors see and hear, and those reports can set a research agenda”.

The physician author admits that vignettes about cases and outcomes augment evidence-based medicine and inform his decision making. In our daily work, we have seen how stories tell the big picture, while also capturing the details of a smaller snapshot too. Time and again, stories provide opportunities for the audience to recognize themselves – and in this case, for the physician, his patient. Stories help individuals connect on a deeply personal level. For marketers, this is the gold they are mining for when weaving their brand narrative.

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!

That Word Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means…

Have you seen the post about the 25 Common Words That You’ve Got Wrong? It’s been showing up all over my social news feed lately. Basically, it’s a list of words that people have repeatedly used incorrectly over time. Some of the words might surprise you! For some of these words, the confusion was understandable – they sound like another word or the definition was close to another word.  However, reading through this list serves as a gentle reminder to those of us in our industry. The need to understand what consumers think and how they perceive certain words or ideas is imperative to a brand’s overall communication efforts. This goes to show that you can’t simply rely on what the dictionary says.

And, going beyond played back definitions, we’ve found through our own research on research that even surface level associations don’t oftentimes match what consumers feel about certain words. It’s often difficult to understand what motivates consumers and how they feel about a brand and why. So how do you extract the deeper feelings about a brand or a concept? Well, research has shown that 80% of human expression is non-verbal, with most decision-making happening in the subconscious.* This indicates a need for evolved market research methods that go beyond reporting what consumers say, and to provide understanding around what they are feeling. One of the ways that we are able to get at the deeper meaning is through eCollage™ which uses pictures and images as catalysts, to elicit emotions more effectively. This type of technique allows for deeper and more personal self-expression. Want to see how it works? Click the image below to go ahead and give it a try.

Click for a demo
Click to try eCollage™

*Zaltman, 1995 et al

More Companies Are Adopting The Agile Workforce & Here’s Why

This past week we moved our NY HQ a few blocks south. During the transition, many of our employees had to work at home while we transferred systems, servers and files. But we didn’t skip a beat – that’s because our BuzzBack team can work pretty much anywhere. Given we’re in a 24/7 business, it has always been this way in order to be responsive to our clients! We were early adopters of the flex office – a trend that many believe will be a hallmark of the future of work.

Our client Unilever describes it as Agile Working. The Unilever House headquarters in London is one of their Agile Workspaces.

Here’s how they explain why they’ve adopted this trend: “This new way of working measures performance on results, not time and attendance, and reinforces diversity by helping people – particularly women – balance their personal and professional lives.”

I visited there last week. The office space can only accommodate 60% of the workforce. That means Unilever employees need to work anywhere, anytime. And if they’re not traveling for business, they often work from home. Location has been taken out of the work equation. It doesn’t matter, because work is about performance, not place. Embracing this notion takes some adjustment, but having experienced it ourselves, it actually frees us up to collaborate and think differently. For Unilever, it allows them to operate globally, across some of the biggest global brands, such as Knorr and Dove. While BuzzBack’s not quite of that scale, having an agile workforce empowers our team to focus on creation, not location.