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How Brands Really Grow 4: Great Advertising

One of the ways in which great advertising works is by co-opting pre-existing memories and contexts; and shaping the brand to them.


Jan Hofmeyr (Ph.D.)

The runner-up was ‘the pause that refreshes’, conceived for Coca-Cola in 1929 by Archie Lee of D’Arcy Co. Its enduring power comes from its timeless, almost poetic words; and from its adaptability to many human contexts. More than 85 years later, Coca-Cola is still ‘a pause that refreshes.’

In my last blog, I looked at how a brand becomes mentally available – that is – how it gets to be the first brand that comes to mind when a person faces a choice. In this blog I’ll use ‘the pause that refreshes’ to show how it can be done with advertising.

Our story begins back in the 19th century. Consider the pictures below.

The first: Santa Claus from the 1880’s. He’s a grumpy old man wearing a muddy brown suit. He has to be capable of ‘grumpy’ – otherwise he wouldn’t be credible as someone who might not give you presents.

The second: he’s just about to go back up the chimney. He’s small. That’s how he gets up and down chimneys. His suit is redder and whiter than in the first picture, but only just. He’s cheerful because the children in this household are getting presents.

From its inception, The Coca-Cola Company understood that it was a challenge to sell Coke in winter. In 1922 Archie Lee helped with his first great slogan: ‘thirst knows no season’. The campaign ran for a number of years featuring pictures of people skiing and drinking Coke. But it was only when Lee came up with ‘the pause that refreshes’ that he had the ingredients to craft the perfect winter campaign. He hooked ‘the pause’ into Santa; and the rest is advertising history.

It had become a tradition for children in the USA to leave a glass of milk on the mantelpiece for Santa. After all, Santa might need refreshment on his way around the world. What better than milk? Well… if you were a creative genius like Archie Lee you might wonder ‘why not Coke?’ Lee recruited an artist called Haddon Sundblom to paint the pictures. The result was a series of images that made Sundblom famous.

And so Santa became definitively cheerful. He became fully human. He became everyone’s favourite grandfather. He wore Coca-Cola colours. And he was over-joyed to find Coke on the mantelpiece. Santa’s image in the USA had been moving in this direction through the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Lee-Sundblom campaign nailed it and added Coke to the mix.

People built great tombs and temples before Newton came along. And Archie Lee and Haddon Sundblom crafted great advertising before we understood the neural processes that give advertising its power. A brief reminder from my last blog may be in order. The brain is a massively interconnected memory-prediction engine. By linking likes and dislikes to memories in contexts, it develops preferences about what to do when those contexts re-occur. If a brand is part of the mix, then the brand becomes mentally available in that context. And so, when the context comes along, the brand pops to mind.

Let’s turn our attention now, to the ways in which this campaign leverages this. First: a potent network of affective memories already existed in popular American culture. And although Santa is the centre of the scene, it isn’t just about him. It’s about cute children, happiness, celebration, giving and receiving gifts, everyone’s favourite grandfather; and winter. The device is Santa, but pre-existing neural networks ensured that the imagery resonated across multiple contexts.

Second, the ads don’t invite a logical argument. Your brain doesn’t jump to attention and wonder if this is true or false, right or wrong. It simply dwells on the images and soaks them up… consciously or unconsciously… with Coke embedded in every scene.

Third, Lee and Sunblom understood the importance of repetition (as did most professional marketers back then). What the brain sees together, it puts together. Coke co-opts the associations just by being there.

Robert Heath of the University of Bath has written eloquently about the power of advertising that doesn’t set out to persuade, but that works through the implicit association of the brand with emotionally engaging imagery. He calls this ‘low attention processing’. But by ‘low attention’ he doesn’t mean ‘not engaging’. This is advertising that leaves deep neural tracks. It’s very different from Barnard and Ehrenberg’s idea that advertising is just ‘publicity’.

More than most, The Coca-Cola Company has understood the importance of bothphysical and mental availability. So the fact that Coke reigned for many years as the world’s most valuable brand, isn’t down to its advertising alone. On balance I’d say that physical availability played the bigger of the two roles. But the Coca-Cola team have always understood that they need to pull both levers.

Summary: One of the ways in which great advertising works is by co-opting pre-existing memories and contexts; and shaping the brand to them. Examples like the Lee-Sundblom campaign suggest that this works best when the brand finds a way to be part of the contextual mix without trying to persuade. The formula is simple: show the brand in the desired contexts in an emotionally positive and disarming way. Then repeat. Do not tire of repeating. In this way, adverts that are not overtly trying to persuade, become immensely persuasive. Tracks form in the brain; and the brand jumps to mind in contexts. This is one way to create mental availability.


Measurement Is Falling Short In A Cross-media World

Dear marketing researchers: are you preparing for the day when your main media measurement approaches will completely break down in a cross-media world?



Joel Rubinson

Dear marketing researchers: are you preparing for the day when your main media measurement approaches will completely break down in a cross-media world?

Consider a basic question like, “How well is my TV advertising working?”  That used to be a straightforward question to answer. On the exposure side of the equation, it was easy to measure GRPs, TRPs, and reach and frequency in accepted ways. Campaign trackers of copy recall and use of marketing mix models were standard plays in the research playbook and well understood by marketing.

Today, even the question itself is breaking down as video advertising is cross-platform and no longer synonymous with TV advertising.  Furthermore, online video can be served programmatically, using much more precise targeting than demographics.  In fact, the audience for video advertising is no longer completely owned by a media company.  It is accumulated via individual impressions served to users who meet certain targeting criteria.  Audiences now live at the intersection of profiling data, marketer algorithms and the ad-tech ecosystem. In this new world, reach and frequency calculations are no longer push button as we haven’t yet fully figured out how to link users across devices. The impact is more complicated to model than regression models can handle because the consumer is not in the regression equation (literally) yet the consumer is the basis of the decision to serve an ad impression in a programmatic world.

So, we find ourselves looking for a new playbook for audience measurement and effectiveness modeling.

To move towards this new playbook, I am leading a panel discussion at the IIeX conference in Atlanta Monday morning June 15.  My panelists will be Howard Shimmel, Chief Research Officer, Turner Broadcasting and Rex Briggs, founder of Marketing Evolution.

Here is an excerpt of my interview with IIeX about the upcoming session.

What are you going to be talking about at IIeX?

JR: The measurement challenge in a cross-media world. Measurement sciences is falling behind on its ability to measure audience reach across platforms and how to determine the ROI of an explosion of marketing levers in a context of new organizing rules for media. For example, it is fast becoming true that TV vs. digital is not the organizing principle but that video across TV and digital, delivered via a combination of negotiated deals and programmatic rules is how video advertising will work. Yet, while we can measure TV, we are still struggling to measure cross-platform video audiences.

What are some takeaways from your session?

JR: What the state of the art is regarding audience measurement, ROI assessment, what the remaining gaps are that are high priority to address and how they might be tackled.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

JR: Starting with my days as the Chief Research Officer at the Advertising Research Foundation, I see a new world where the rules of marketing are fundamentally changed. I have been in my own consulting business since 2010, helping 40 clients who are embracing this transformation to create new research approaches that bring together the data and analytics from surveys and the digital ecosystem so that insights can now drive action in real time. To date, I am proud to have created the largest listening platform in CPG, new approaches to marketing ROI assessment, worked with AOL and LRW to create a path to purchase framework to media planning and brand health assessment, created new passive digital metrics for Moat that are widely used in the digital advertising ecosystem, created new global brand tracking systems for a leading CPG, and created new frameworks for how to measure media and brand success in a digital, social, and mobile age. I believe my next big areas of impact with be changing how marketing works by blending ROI assessment and real time adjustment, research tools that enable experience-based marketing, using social media as a legitimate replacement for much of what is in a brand tracker survey, integrating digital and survey data, and creating a Moneyball approach to new product forecasting.

What are you hoping to get out of IIeX?

JR: The conference attracts the leading innovators and disruptors. I want to connect with the best of the best, extend relationships and continually drive myself to stay at or above a rising watermark. I pride myself at being one of the industry thought leaders who make change happen, but you can’t be a thought leader in the isolation booth. IIeX is the place to air out ideas, capabilities and level re-set.

For the full interview, click here.

To register for this conference, click here.

I hope to see you in Atlanta!  Please e-mail me at joel@rubinsonpartners.com if you would like to connect.


20 Companies That Are “…The Breakthroughs We Have Been Waiting For…”

Here are the final results from the open voting phase of the most recent Insight Innovation Competition, and details on what happens next.



The Insight Innovation Competition has been one of my absolute favorite initiatives since Ray Poynter and Pravin Shekar suggested it as part of the very first Festival of NewMR five years ago.  The idea of developing a research-centric innovation competition for young companies to gain exposure, support, and capital was something new for our space, but from it’s inception the response from the industry has been phenomenal. To date close to 100 companies have entered and 42 have made it to the final round, with 7 winners  going on to win the prize.  Many of the participating companies have received funding or been acquired, with even more going on to organic success through new clients and partners.

In short, the IIC is making a difference for all stakeholders in the marketing insights space, and that has always been the goal. We’re thrilled it continues to evolve and deliver on that promise!

In this most recent round, 19 companies officially threw their hats in the ring, and this may be the strongest group of participants ever. But don’t take my word on it. Long-time GreenBook Blog follower and one of my favorite contrarians,  industry veteran Christopher Noel Robinson, commented on LinkedIn:

Christopher Noel RobinsonLeonard I hate to admit it, but some of these are the breakthroughs we have been waiting for. Hats off to IIex!!

If you don’t know Christopher, believe me there is no higher praise! If he thinks we have some game changers in this wave, then we do indeed have some companies that might go on to great things!

Here are the final results from the open voting phase. Click here to go to the site and check out each of these great entrants!


OpinionsApp Adriana Rocha 4334 524
EyeSee, online eye tracking with emotion. Olivier Tilleuil 1505 416
SWAY George Dranovskiy 2051 407
Dataga.me, the self-service research gamification platform Jason Anderson 2292 391
Metametrix Mary Meehan 3024 366
Usenns: neurotechnology for non-conscious emotion detection in MRX studies Javier Minguez 2783 350
Upfront Analytics Upfront Analytics 1695 302
Affinio Inc. India White 1315 142
Market Research Cloud™ Josef Zankowicz 965 133
10º Thumb: Generating Insights about Millennials through Social Media App:… Sima Vasa 795 132
11º LeadSift Inc Pam McBride 1018 129
12º VoxPopMe Tom Higgins 1403 82
13º Fetch Rewards Anusha Sthanunathan 782 70
14º AnswerRocket – like Google™ for Customer Insights Pete Reilly 790 36
15º YouEye: Agile Experience Analytics Platform Collin Sebastian 763 25
16º Ditto Mary Tarczynski 469 23
17º BX Shaun Collett 80 14
18º Cool Tool Dmitry Gaiduk 364 12
19º Impact Groups Kip Creel 116 3


The crowd voting is just the first part though. 5 finalists and 1 wildcard will now go on to the Judging round at IIeX in Atlanta, and here is what they are competing for:

  • $25,000 cash award.
  • Opportunity to be evaluated for inclusion in the Lowe’s Innovation Lab Accelerator located at the Singularity University Campus at NASA Ames Research Center in San Francisco.
  • Exposure to large international audience of potential prospects, funding partners, venture capitalist and angel investors.
  • An invitation to present at the next Insight Innovation eXchange
  • An interview to be posted on the GreenBook Blog, viewed by 36,000+ industry professionals per month
  • An opportunity to work with successful senior leaders within the market research space

The Insight Innovation Competition is collaborating with the Lowe’s Innovation Lab to help competition entrants gain awareness within a broad consortium of global brands.

All participating companies will be vetted for inclusion in the Lowe’s Innovation Lab program. Selected participants will gain guaranteed organic funding through pilot programs with program partner companies, as well as access to acceleration resources for marketing, strategy, finance, and business development.

In addition, all companies will be vetted for inclusion in the Ricoh Innovation Accelerator, an investment and business accelerator program focused on developing new technology solutions that can be applied to a host of business issues, including marketing insights.

So what happens now?

The companies that will go on to the Judging Round and their chance to win $25k and all of the other benefits of making it to the finals are:

  1. OpinionsApp
  2. EyeSee, online eye tracking with emotion.
  3. SWAY
  4. Dataga.me, the self-service research gamification platform
  5. Metametrix

And the Wildcard entrant being added to the mix is Fetch Rewards. 

On June 15, 2015, as part of Insight Innovation eXchange North America 2015, the finalists will present their concepts to a panel of judges comprised of sponsors of the competition in a live event. Each presentation will last 10 minutes: 5 minutes to pitch and 5 minutes for Q&A from the judges. The panel of judges will be moderated by Gregg Archibald, Senior Partner at Gen2 Advisors.

Using a 10-point scale for each category, judges rate each presentation on:

  • Originality of concept
  • Presentation quality
  • Market potential
  • Scalability
  • Ease of Implementation

On June 17, 2015 we’ll reveal the scores. The highest final score wins. The winner takes home the pot and chooses which of the judges they would like to engage with afterwards as a mentor.

A BIG thanks needs to go out to our IIC sponsors who fund the prize:


The judges have their work cut out for them. Each of these entrants have immense potential, and any of them could easily take home the prize! But, there can be only one who will take their spot along past winners of the IIC:

IICWinners (2)

The other five will be in good company as well and will join the 35 other finalists who have gone to great success even though they did not win the competition:


IIC competition_winners_finalists (2)


Just as the entrants are particularly impressive this round, we also have an incredibly strong panel of judges comprised of clients and investors who will conduct their own version of “Shark Tank” on stage. We’re privileged to have such an esteemed group putting these companies through their paces!


Keiko (Kay) Iwaisako
US Lead
Ricoh Ventures

​Kay manages investment and business development operations in US for Ricoh Ventures. She was previously Vice President of Corporate Strategy at Macromill, an online marketing research technology and service firm. Prior to that, Kay spent over a decade as a venture capitalist at Entrepia Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based technology VC firm. She served as a board/observer member at World Wide Packets (acquired by Ciena), ArchPro Design Automation (acquired by Synopsys), HelloSoft (acquired by Imagination Technologies), MagSil and others.

Jonathan Ewert

Jonathan Ewert has 25 years of experience leading public and private companies in tech-enabled sectors, including research and advisory, Internet hosting, interactive media networks, SaaS, e-commerce, and social networks. Prior to Placeable, Jonathan served in a variety of management and Board roles for several portfolio companies of Catalyst Investors, a growth equity firm with $600 million under management across three funds. Before that, Jonathan served as SVP of Corporate Development for LookSmart, where he led the turnaround of the media business. Previously, he was CEO of ePALS until selling the company in 2007, and a Vice President at Modem Media, where he led the preparation for its successful IPO in 1999. Jonathan currently serves on the Boards of Alert Solutions, Codero Hosting, Reputation Institute, and Audience Fuel. He also serves on the Advisory Boards of Google Consumer Surveys and Kinetic Analysis Corporation. He earned his B.A. in Political Science in 1986 from the College of the Holy Cross.

Scott Miller
Vision Critical

Scott Miller is the CEO and a board member of Vision Critical. In this capacity, Miller focuses on developing and leading the execution of Vision Critical’s strategy including strengthening relationships with customers and partners, driving innovation and growth across all markets and ensuring operational excellence across the company. Scott joined Vision Critical after 12 years at Synovate. Most recently, Scott had been the CEO of Synovate North America, where he led the business to industry-leading growth by re-aligning all 1,000 employees on client sales and delivery. Scott also led the rebuilding of Synovate’s advanced analytics business: MMA. His leadership successes can be attributed to alignment of the complete organization around a common vision, clarity and passion in communication and empowering others to contribute at their absolute best. Prior to his North American CEO role, Scott held positions as Head of Global Client Relationships, Head of Synovate’s Research Reinvented (advanced technology) Initiative and CEO of its Global Motoresearch practice. But, Scott was not always a “big company” leader. For the 12 years before Motoresearch was acquired by Aegis/Synovate, he was a partner at the company where he led international development, including the creation of a substantial presence in Latin America. Scott is the Vision Critical management representative on the Vision Critical Board of Directors.

Tanya Franklin
Director, Trends and Brand Health
Lowe’s Companies, Inc.

Jonathan Ewert has 25 years of experience leading public and private companies in tech-enabled sectors, including research and advisory, Internet hosting, interactive media networks, SaaS, e-commerce, and social networks. Prior to Placeable, Jonathan served in a variety of management and Board roles for several portfolio companies of Catalyst Investors, a growth equity firm with $600 million under management across three funds. Before that, Jonathan served as SVP of Corporate Development for LookSmart, where he led the turnaround of the media business. Previously, he was CEO of ePALS until selling the company in 2007, and a Vice President at Modem Media, where he led the preparation for its successful IPO in 1999. Jonathan currently serves on the Boards of Alert Solutions, Codero Hosting, Reputation Institute, and Audience Fuel. He also serves on the Advisory Boards of Google Consumer Surveys and Kinetic Analysis Corporation. He earned his B.A. in Political Science in 1986 from the College of the Holy Cross.

Jeff Krentz 
Executive Vice President

Jeff Krentz is Executive Vice President, Corporate Development & Strategy for Kantar, WPP’s Consumer Insight division. In this capacity he has oversight over Kantar mergers & acquisitions, joint ventures and corporate investments as well as general corporate strategy. Jeff started his career as a management consultant at Bain & Company and Price Waterhouse advising Fortune 500 companies on corporate strategy. Jeff has principal investing experience having raised, managed and invested a $40 million investment pool dedicated to emerging growth companies through the Small Business Administration’s SBIC program. Jeff received his BA in Political Science from Duke University and his MBA and Certificate in Public Management from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Ryan Patel
Vice President, Global Development
Pinkberry Ventures, Inc

Ryan Patel serves as the Vice President of Global Business & Real Estate Development for Pinkberry, one of the fastest growing retail brands globally. Since commencing at Pinkberry in 2011, the company has gone from less than 95 locations to over 260 stores in 21 countries and continuing to expand. An expert in growing brands, he has worked for publicly traded to private companies, and has helped build corporate to franchise stores throughout the retail to food segments, both domestically and internationally. Patel has been vital in providing valuable strategy and leadership in developing international growth plans across multi-cultural and cross functional teams. He has been a key player at some of the world’s most innovative companies including Pinkberry, Wet Seal Retail, Inc (Arden B and West Seal), Jamba Juice, BJ’s Restaurants, Inc and Panda Express. Patel is a frequent speaker at conferences and company meetings in the United States and around the globe, from college students to CEOs of organizations. He has coached hundreds of entrepreneurs and helped companies grow into world-renowned brands. He received his Bachelors from University of California, Berkeley and received his MBA from the Paul Merage School of Business at University of California, Irvine.


Although the other 13 companies that entered won’t get a chance to present to the judges and win the prize, since we believe everyone deserves as much attention as possible and should still have a chance to network with the potential clients, partners, and investors at the event we’re going to ensure they all get a spot on stage at the conference!

Several of them had previously been given stand-alone speaking opportunities, so these companies will still be presenting their solutions in those agenda spots:

  • Usenns: neurotechnology for non-conscious emotion detection in MRX studies
  • Upfront Analytics
  • Affinio Inc.
  • AnswerRocket – like Google™ for Customer Insights
  • YouEye Agile Experience Analytics Platform
  • Ditto
  • KnowledgeHound (An entrant from the Amsterdam IIC who could not make it there)

We’re working on creating some additional “Fast Pitch” session space in the agenda right now where the remainder (as well as a few other companies who wanted to enter the competition at the last minute but we convinced not to due to time constraints) will have an opportunity to make 10 minute presentations on their capabilities and business use cases to attendees. Those companies include:

  • Market Research Cloud™
  • LeadSift Inc
  • VoxPopMe
  • BX
  • Cool Tool
  • Impact Groups
  • Thumb
  • AXIL Engage (last minute pre-entrant)
  • Consensus Point (last minute pre-entrant)

One of the benefits of winning the competition is to also present at future IIeX events, so 4 of our past winners will also be presenting at IIeX to demonstrate to the industry their progress in making a difference in the creating business impact for their clients and helping to drive innovation across the board. Look for sessions with these folks at the conference:

  • Dalia
  • Decooda
  • Glimpzit
  • Zappistore

And if all of that isn’t enough, we have another Baker’s Dozen of young companies presenting throughout the event (some are past IIC finalists as well!), many of which are from outside of the research space and are coming through our relationship with the ATDC incubator in Atlanta.

  • Autocruitment
  • FieldStack
  • GoAnimate
  • Merlin
  • OfficeReports
  • Pointivo
  • Predikto
  • Protobrand
  • Sayroom
  • Sideqik
  • Survata
  • Survmetrics
  • Vehcon

It’s not too late to grab your ticket to IIeX so you can experience these (and many more!) great innovative companies first hand. Don’t be left out from meeting “The Breakthroughs We Have Been Waiting For” and exploring how they can work with your organization to deliver insight innovation and impact!

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How Brands Really Grow 3: Brands in the Brain

Whether consciously or unconsciously, our brains are modified whenever information passes through them. And so preference is dynamic, not static.

Growth (1)


In my second blog, I argued that a business or brand cannot grow unless people’s minds are changed. More precisely: a brand increases its chances of being used by laying down tracks of a certain kind in people’s brains. Those tracks make the brand ‘mentally available’. Mental availability, in turn, helps drive use by, for example, increasing consideration among non-customers for a subscription service like banking; or driving the next purchase of a packaged good like tea.

So what needs to happen in the brain for a business or brand to be mentally available?

A lot. Let’s unpack this by looking at a historically important set of pictures.

On the right: the first pictures in history of a brand in the brain. They were taken by neuroscientists in about 2004 using an fMRI machine (See McClure and colleagues,“Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference…”, Neuron). When people tasted Coca-Cola, knowing it was Coke, the bilateral hippocampus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex lit up.

On the left: what happened when people didn’t know what they were tasting.

Understanding the function of each of these brain parts helps us to understand how brands work in the brain. Obviously what follows is a very basic summary, but it will give you an idea.

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC): this registers liking. The stronger the signal, the greater the liking. It correlates strongly with what people choose when they don’t know what they’re tasting. In other words, it drives preference, untainted by branding.

The bilateral hippocampus (BHC): when people know what they’re tasting, this lights up. It’s a part of the brain that plays a central role in the formation of affective memories; in other words, memory + feeling. Drink a Coke – or walk into a hotel room – or pay for a purchase by waving your iPhone across a sensor; and the BHC will capture a combination of how it feels (from the vmPFC) plus the cues that are present. When brands are part of the mix, they get embedded in the resulting affective memories.

The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC)d: this connects memories (feelings + cues) to a person’s needs, goals, and values. It generates a behavioural bias in favour of (or against) ‘doing that again’ in the presence of a similar set of cues. To the extent that a brand is a positive part of the mix, it will become the preferred brand in the situation. Obviously, the reverse is true if the brand has negative associations.

So there are three neural pieces to branding: emotional valence (like – dislike); affective memories (feelings + context cues + brand cues); and preferences in relation to needs, goals, and values.

How does all of this result in mental availability?

In his book “On Intelligence”, Jeff Hawkins describes the brain as a memory-prediction engine. What the brain sees together, it links. It then uses the resulting, massive networks of memories together with feelings, to guide action. Hawkins points out that there is a bigger network of nerves carrying information outward i.e. from the brain; than into the brain. In other words, the most minimal of cues are enough to trigger a response based on affective memories and embedded biases.That’s mental availability.

To create it, the brain uses multiple kinds of information.

First – there is sheer use. Nothing trumps a person’s direct experience of a product, service, or brand. Second – there is what trusted or credible people say and do. These can be friends, relatives, experts, admired celebrities, whoever. In this regard an important heuristic used by the brain is ‘what are most people doing?’ In a world in which you don’t have the time, or the money, or perhaps the inclination to test everything, a brand’s popularity isn’t a bad guide to a good choice.

Finally, of course, there’s ‘paid for’ information – the things that marketers do. These may include giving people a chance to use the brand; driving recommendation in some way; simulating popularity; or simply, old fashioned creative advertising.

By all these means, neural tracks form to drive preference. We may develop habits as a result; and so it may seem that our minds can’t be changed. In fact however, the brain is infinitely plastic. Whether consciously or unconsciously, our brains are modified whenever information passes through them. And so preference is dynamic, not static. If we want our businesses or brands to grow, then we have to leverage this dynamism.

In future blogs I’ll give examples of how to leverage the brain’s dynamic character.

Summary: mental availability involves a neural process in which the brain pushes out a brand in response to internal and external cues. The brand gets linked to these cues through the formation of positive affective memories. The choice can look automatic, thoughtless, or habitual. No matter, it requires the creation of the above kinds of neural tracks. My next blog will give some practical examples.

A brief footnote about measurement: although it’s a complex neural construct, ‘mental availability in a context’ turns out to be surprisingly easy to measure – just ask “what’s your favourite brand in context x?” A person’s single-mention response tells you which brand has lodged in their minds for that context. We call this the brand’s situational equity.


Hacking & Collaborating: Disruptive Innovation through Inspiration

In the new collaborative economy, there is much to be gained by starting our innovation work with the customer, let them share their pain points and proposed solutions. This inspiration, dare we say foresight, becomes the spark to drive innovation.


By Kevin P. Lonnie

There are two attributes associated to MR that I feel are preventing us from making a larger contribution to innovation.

As a rule, we are:

  1. Risk adverse
  2. Process driven

The above attributes have their merits.  They allow us to provide objective, thorough analyses of potential products through measurable processes.   In contrast, consider the mindset of the product and brand team, who have a vested interest in the success of a new concept.  Their valid concern is that MR’s sole purpose is to rain on their creativity. This led one of my former NFO Research associates to dub MR as “The killing of a beautiful hypothesis.

OK, let’s zoom out and take a macro view of the product innovation pipeline.  More than any other time, companies need to feed that pipeline as customer preferences change ever more rapidly.  According to Professor Richard Foster from Yale University, the average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 “has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today”.   Andy Warhol was talking about people when he said that we all have about 15 minutes of fame, but that line is beginning to sound like the lifespan of today’s corporation.  Clearly, for a corporation to buck that trend and stay relevant for decades, they have to constantly innovate.

Concept testing, with all its normative data, is best at delivering incremental change.  According to Wharton Professor Jennifer Mueller, many people have a subtle bias against innovative ideas.  Her team found that “when creative ideas were presented in an uncertain environment, the more novel ideas often got a lesser rating”.  Applying this we would expect research respondents to be more likely to recognize the benefits of incremental improvement, especially in the contextual relationship of similar concepts.  In contrast, it’s extremely unlikely that disruptive innovation will win the concept test challenge.

Our current concept testing process is sound strategy if the goal is to move your company out of the S&P 500 as quickly as possible.   We obviously need to consider alternative forms of product innovation.  After all, necessity is the mother of invention. (Don’t worry, I’m running out of metaphors, so please keep reading).

As an alternative, let’s consider two forms of disruptive innovation that share similar trajectories:

  1. Product Hacking – This new form of hacking is not done by expert computer users or digital criminals, but is in fact done by everyday people. This new terminology for hacking refers to the act of modifying or customizing everyday products to improve their functionality, repurpose them or just for fun.

EXAMPLE: Adobe Systems recently launched its Kickbox program to help drive employee innovation.  The box cover has a fire alarm image with the words “Pull in Case of Idea.” Within the box, the employee will find instruction cards, a pen, two Post-It note pads, two notebooks, a Starbucks gift card, a box of chocolate and finally, a $1,000 prepaid credit card.  According to Adobe, the Kickbox is “designed to increase innovator effectiveness, accelerate innovation velocity, and measurably improve innovation outcomes.”   How cool is that!

  1. Customer Co-Creation – Co-creation is when two or more people come together as a collaborative team, with a strong desire to create something beyond their individual capabilities, and not knowing, but fully trusting the precise outcome. In contrast to Product Hacking, folks are now working in teams, typically ideating on their own to begin and then collaborating via agile iteration towards common ground.

EXAMPLE: Delta Airlines reached out to its SkyMiles Members to redesign the advance search engine of the flight booking process.  By working in concert with several internal Delta teams via agile iteration, the passenger led innovation has led to a far more intuitive search process.

What Product Hacking & Customer Co-Creation have in common –

  • Anyone can play – Even employees!
  • Ordinary people are given “permission” to be creative
  • Both paths are based on “pull,” not “push”

In fact, I feel these iterative approaches to innovation draw inspiration from the most unlikely MR source, Steve Jobs.  Of course, Jobs famously derided MR as essentially worthless.  And I think there is truth to the idea that traditional MR is only effective in the incremental advance of current products. But that doesn’t mean creatives cannot gain inspiration from the Wisdom of Crowds if we allow “non-professionals” (A.K.A. the rank & file employee/customer) to create something new.

It’s at the raw emotive level where customers are able to design rough constructs to solve their pain points.  The themes that emerge from hacking and/or co-creating can serve as “eureka” to a talented developer.

Steve Jobs didn’t simply come down from the mountaintop with a fully functioning iPhone.  He correctly “observed” what the customer was searching for from a social/communication device and developed a product to answer that.  Of course, geniuses like Steve Jobs only come around every century, so the key to unlocking disruptive innovation at your company is via product hacking & collaborative co-creation.

The moral of the story is that there is little to be gained by applying 20th century MR techniques to the developmental needs of the 21st century.

As I write this, the industry is currently recovering from the black eye over the UK election predictions when our tried and true methods (e.g. surveys & polls) flat out failed.  At the same time, we have done a poor job of establishing a quid pro quo relationship with customers.  According to a 2014 report by Edelman, almost nine in 10 consumers want more meaningful relationships with brands, but less than one in five believe brands are delivering on that wish.

In the new collaborative economy, there is much to be gained by starting our innovation work with the customer, let them share their pain points and proposed solutions. This inspiration, dare we say foresight, becomes the spark to drive innovation.

Follow their trends, learn from their experiments, and see where they’re leading you.  And then dive in, commit resources, because that’s where you should have been yesterday.





GRIT Sneak Peek: The Secret To Success In 30 Years Is…

A sneak peek of the upcoming GRIT report section "If market researchers want to be successful in 30 years, the one thing they should be doing right now is…"



By Jeffrey Henning

We asked GRIT participants to select a few voluntary questions to answer pertaining to their views on the short and long-term changes in the industry. For one of those questions respondents were asked, “If market researchers want to be successful in 30 years, the one thing they should be doing right now is…”

1856 respondents gave us their thoughts, creating a very robust sample of opinions to analyze. Despite this volume of responses, they are clustered around a few key themes: Big Data, moving past surveys, improving the respondent experience, keep learning, and expanding the data source/methodological toolbox.  

Here is a selection of the verbatims from each cluster:

To succeed tomorrow, researchers must master Big Data today.

  • “Understanding how all forms of Big Data deliver insights as much of Big Data will replace many of the social science aspects of market research. Data science, data mining, machine learning are skills that researchers need to embrace ASAP.  In addition, researchers as project managers will be extinct.  Researchers need to spend more time understanding how they can deliver value to the front-lines where the consumer transacts with the business.”

  • “Assessing Big Data and their quality. There’s both plenty of gold out there and as well plenty of crap, simply having faith that Big Data IS the truth is not enough, people must start to be more critical and, as for every fieldwork data, check the quality of data collection. Those who learn to do this now will be the ones who will be successful in the future.”

  • “Look at Big Data and text analytics with market research eyes, understand them and apply the adequate questions. We should be able do use analytics to help our clients reach their business goals, and to do that we should create new methodologies that incorporate it.”

  • “Reshape researchers profile to deal with a totally new environment where traditional MR will become just an ingredient of Big Data. Need for new analytical skills as well as more proactive competencies to face the need of a consultancy role and reach higher level of relationship within client organizations.”

Some respondents want researchers to move beyond the survey.

  • “Stop thinking like market researchers and start thinking about understanding…. stop thinking that changing a survey to mobile is an invention…..or stalking consumers activities is an invention…..just to really understand and adapt.”

  • “Help dismantle all decision-making processes based on survey-based market research and design new internal processes that fit the new ways of generating insights (experimental design and Big Data analytics).”

  • “Stop doing research using panels and surveys. Engage in a natural dialogue with people (not respondents or consumers even). Stop saying we can predict the future. We cannot. But we can give you the most plausible future scenarios instead. In thirty years, we can tell what people really think, believe, trust and what drives behaviour. Only to find out there are still many unknowns that have an impact to the future which we cannot control nor predict. In that sense, innovation will never stop in our profession!”

  • “Training new researchers to ASK QUESTIONS. That includes asking clients questions to get to the bottom of what’s REALLY important. Not just survey questions; REAL questions.”

success wordcloud


Others want researchers to improve surveys.

  • “Becoming data agnostic, that is, aggregating information from multiple sources if appropriate to get the whole story. Perhaps related, designing surveys that can be crossed and combined from different respondents so that no one respondent has a survey more than 5-10 minutes, or only has surveys that are interactive and probably verbal.”

  • “Figuring out how to reduce survey length to under 10/15 minutes and available via mobile devices. With this, we need to identify sources of available data that can fill in the blanks that were cut from the longer survey.  Taking disparate data points and bringing them together to answer the same questions one longer survey could answer.”

  • “Coming up with new ways to engage the consumer and get more accurate survey results. This includes utilizing virtual reality, incorporating games into surveys, and being able to optimize surveys for the mobile experience.”

  • “Reinvent the way they source consumer data, look to turn more passive rather than survey driven, or at the very least keep survey questions minimal and augment respondent provided feedback with passive, interconnected, Big Data elements.”

To help organizations learn from their customers, researchers must keep learning.

  • “Move to Big Data and combine predictive modelling with understanding the voice of the customer. Furthermore, MR is a constant search for inspiration, a continuous learning cycle owned by the whole company. How you present the inspiration is at least as important as what you share.”

  • “LEARNING!! I’m finding the new researchers of today aren’t learning the basics of marketing research, specifically good sampling and best quality practices. It seems that price and speed are the only drivers in many of today’s companies and I’m very concerned about where that will lead the industry in the future. IF we provide only bad data driven by poor initial decisions, leaders of tomorrow will look to researchers as providing a disservice and stop utilizing research altogether (which I have already seen happen in 2 companies in the past 2 years).”

  • “Learning to be about more than data and research. Be well read.  Have other interests.  Develop a knowledge about non-research business-related issues (e.g. finance or branding).  Understand how the world works.  Know how to communicate.  Research may become so specialized (e.g. calling the biometrics expert) that ‘general’ researchers have to know how to select and interpret methodologies and studies far more than they will have to know how to conduct them.”

Technology is inescapable and opens up new avenues for insight.

  • “Pay attention to advances in technology that monitor health, behavior and emotion. Wearables and other devices and the data they provide will be a valuable resource for insights that influence marketing decisions.”

  • “Market researchers need to learn how the current wave of technology will radically change our ability to predict people and market behavior. Contextual ‘web’ based purchasing, mobile and wearable computers coupled with machine learning and AI and cognitive science/psychology will integrate and accelerate until we have an entirely different ability to predict people’s intentions.”

  • “Embrace new technologies without being scared of them. Understanding what they can or *cannot* do for market research. Develop clear ideas how we can use technology without forgetting what we do best — work with data.”

  • “Don’t lose the foundational methodologies of today and yesterday (understanding how to do a paper survey or CATI is still important), but look for ways technology and enhanced techniques can improve upon those foundations.”

  • “All about technology. Everything about data – whether quant or qual.  Using, apps.  Plus, knowing how to talk to the consumers.  Plus knowing how to turn a mountain of data into an actionable 1-page report for clients.”

It seems as if the consensus is clear: the future keys to success have little to do with traditional methods as the primary drivers of the industry, and subsequent questions in the report reinforce this conclusion.


On Technology & Human Nature (And What It Means For Marketing Insights)

Figuring out the fundamental drivers of markets, and maintaining a focus on delivering against those motivational needs is a cornerstone of marketing strategy. And it might just help us to anticipate the "science fiction" of today that will become science fact tomorrow.



By Todd Powers, Ph.D.

I’ve got some thoughts to share about how technology has evolved, and how, as humans (with all of our aimless demands and whining) we have influenced that technology.  I’m not an engineer, and I admit that I am hardly the person to speak to when it comes to how digital technology actually works, but I have spent most of my career in market research surrounded by the rapidly-changing technology of our world, and have made a few observations.  And I’ve got some thoughts about how the examples in technology can be a bellwether for research practitioners.

Let me start with a couple of little stories about technological advancements.  Both of these events only really became meaningful to me upon subsequent reflection.

The first event occurred when I was working as a supplier to, and an employee of, Nortel Networks, the now-defunct Canadian inventor of the digital switch in telephone communications.  We were doing research on the demand for things like ADSI phones, smartphones, and interactive television.  The fellow I worked for – he was an actual living, breathing engineer, btw – was chatting casually with me one day, and remarked that, “It has to flip, you know.  Television and phone transmission, that is.”

Keep in mind that this was about 25 years ago, and I thought he was crazy.  But he continued.  “We get our TV through the air, and we get our phone service over telephone lines.  That has to flip.”  He was referring to the fact that people received TV via antennas on their TVs or rooftops, and received phone calls from people at the other end of a connected wire.  He then noted that TV signals were high bandwidth, consuming huge amounts of the total available spectrum of airwaves.  With 3 or 4 channels, this is not a big problem, but if we want to have hundreds of channels (“and this is coming, mark my words”), then we’re gonna run out of bandwidth.  Phone conversations are easily converted from analog to digital formats, and these can go over the air with almost limitless capacity.

“Oh, come on,” I said.  “Think of the infrastructure we have invested in these communications mechanisms.”  There was just no way to pull that off.  It would cost billions.  Crazy talk.

Looking back … maybe not so dumb.

The second event gave me the same kind of I should have seen it coming revelation, and also popped into my environment about 25 or 30 years ago.  I had a market research company in North Carolina, and we had been retained by Duke University to help them with a project they called “The Library of the Future.”  Perkins Library was doing some serious thinking about what that university institution could, and should, look like as both needs and technologies changed.  As part of our research, we were interviewing key constituents – faculty, students and staff – to determine what they felt were critical aspects of the library.  And I found myself in a one-on-one interview with a smallish fellow, a professor of Chinese religions who must have been 75 years old.  Wisps of gray hair on the sides of his head.  I was skeptical, but open-minded, and dove into my set of semi-structured interview questions.

Well, the next 45 minutes were indeed remarkable.  He informed me right off that he had already read everything ever printed about the particular religious sect that was his life’s pursuit.  Everything.  But he needed to know about every new publication that might be put out there by other scholars and practitioners.  So he wanted his library to have some sort of system that would go out, every night, and scour the Internet, and come back and tell him what was new and interesting.  He wanted this information sorted by likely relevance to his research and waiting patiently behind his computer screen each morning.  What he wanted was an electronic agent.  Today, of course, those services are available, but it seemed visionary at the time.

A bit later our little professor told me that he was a sports fan.  Loved basketball.  And he subscribed to Sports Illustrated where he routinely devoured the review articles.  But he did not want to wait for his magazine to arrive.  He felt that we should have computers at home “about the size and shape of a clipboard,” which could be plugged directly into our phone jacks.  We should be able to download these articles instantly, he told me, and he should be able to read about the Chicago Bulls game that very night.  And he said where it showed a picture of Michael Jordan making the winning shot (see, it really was 20 years ago!), he should be able to touch the photo, and have it come to life, so that he could watch the shot go in.  He was describing today’s tablet computer, of course.

“Actually,” proclaimed my new mentor, “our computers should be about the size and shape of a pack of cigarettes.”  They should fit neatly into our top pockets.  And if I walk into a café, or classroom, or wherever, I should be able to just plop that little device onto the table and turn it on.  It would project a keyboard onto the tabletop in front of me, and it should project a screen image onto the wall on the other side, in bright, high-resolution color.  I didn’t think to ask him about a mouse, or other device for manipulating images.  Mostly I was just listening, as he described a smartphone on steroids.

But before we ended the conversation, the Chinese professor added another twist.  He suggested that the image put out by his pack of cigarettes might be better if it was a hologram.  Then he could watch little 12-inch tall ghosts of Michael Jordan run up and down his living room carpet, dunking basketballs over all comers.

While this seemed like “pipe dreams” 30 years ago, it is now apparent that all of it is basically here.  It is a simple advancement of technology, enabled largely through network speeds and capacities.  So what is coming – what we have all seen coming – is the notion of a single source for all of our desired content, that is, “The Great Media Merge.”  In short order, we will be able to access all content – personal, company, and public; entertainment and information — whenever and wherever we like.  It is made possible by the Internet.  The IP network is unique to our world of communications, and it is shepherding in innovations at a machine-gun rate.  The IP network is a packetized network, and can accommodate all of the media that typically host advertising, once that medium has been digitized.  We now get print communications (newspapers and magazines) over the Internet.  Same for audio (WiFi-based radio and telephone).  And same for video (TV).  If we want to, we can drop our existing radio, telephone and TV networks altogether, and just make do with the Internet.  Quite a few people already have.

And everything that clairvoyant Chinese professors want is right there for the asking.  When I first starting describing the coming of the Great Media Merge to people in the marketing communications industry (a few years ago when I was at the ARF), people would just nod.  Yeah, that’s probably happening.

So just what exactly, you might ask, is the point of these two little stories about research encounters some time ago?  The first point is that it is easy to look back – as I have just done – and interpret things in a way that explains current outcomes.  How many times have we read that Kodak made the mistake of believing they were in the photographic chemicals business, and they should have been thinking they were in the business of providing memories?  In hindsight, things seem obvious.  What I think we need, as researchers, are tools to help us see those important indicators as they are happening.  Or maybe some tools to motivate us to act.  That little professor of Chinese religions slapped me squarely upside the head, and I was too naïve, or incapable, or unwilling to do anything about it.

The second point is that as researchers, we should strive more often and more diligently to understand and provide our clients with insights about the basic underlying drivers of change in our markets.  I have come to believe that the basic drivers of the growth in the Internet are a combination of human desires and technological capabilities.  But forget technological advancement.  Just assume that it will, ultimately, keep up with those ever-evolving desires.  And as for the drivers of human wants and needs, in the Internet space I believe they are the desires for information, for entertainment and for connectedness.  Most of what exists, or is in development at the Web, is steeped in one or a combination of those three key drivers.  And the technology that can deliver that driver best, or fastest, or cheapest, or even in the most fun way can triumph.

Figuring out the fundamental drivers of markets, and maintaining a focus on delivering against those motivational needs is a cornerstone of marketing strategy.  And it might just help us to anticipate things like smartphones and holographic basketball games.  Oh sure, you can tackle the nuts and bolts of competitive positioning and such, but that is done with an ever-mindful eye to the core drivers.

And as researchers, I think we do something in the neighborhood of “not nearly enough” of the work required to maintain that focus.  I’m one of the guilty parties.  It’s much easier to put together research designs that can tell whether the green or the blue package will sell best.  That delivers an obvious ROI, and everyone is happy.

Meanwhile small professors of Chinese religions, and many kindred souls, wait patiently for us to figure it out.

There are the occasional exceptions, of course.  Some folks I know work hard to find those fundamental drivers.  Rob Key of Converseon and David Rabjohns of MotiveQuest use social listening technology to uncover basic emotional/motivational drivers.  David Forbes and his team at Forbes Consulting use a different approach, anchored in more traditional survey research, to get at some of the same stuff.

But mostly, we just do tactical research.  We might think about changing that focus.


The Future of Panels: Five Investments Needed to Improve Participation and Reduce Bias

Posted by JD Deitch Thursday, May 14, 2015, 10:36 am
Posted in category General Information
Among the many challenges market research firms face, none is more severe or important to solve than the mounting difficulty in securing a representative sample of survey research respondents. The recent UK elections provide another proof point. Smartphone-friendly surveys help, but at the end of the day the real trouble is that panel companies are unable to demonstrate compelling value to their most in-demand audiences and their samples are generating ever more biased data. The only way panel companies can ensure future relevance is by thinking and investing like brands, expanding reach and diversity, offering meaningful engagement, jealously protecting their flock, deeply and respectfully understanding their members, and demonstrating a new commitment to quality.



By Jonathan D. Deitch, Ph.D., Global Head of Sampling, Ipsos

In the dark corners of the bar after a long day of conference presentations, back in prehistoric times before online panels but even as recently as pre-social media, conversations among researchers always turned to one subject: the disasters that had befallen each of us. As a former colleague once quipped, when you’ve worked in the business long enough, you know where all the bodies are buried.

Nowadays the conversations turn to a different subject: the trouble with panels. To be clear, nobody believes there’s a problem acquiring and retaining people who came of age before the Internet and time-shifted TV. The problem is everyone else. Scour the panel companies (or full-service shops with panels) for people under 35 or the parents with kids and you’ll find precious few. Racial and ethnic minorities, too. They aren’t joining traditional research panels any more.

The adoption en masse by these subpopulations of portable, always-connected devices is only a symptom of the industry’s pathology, one which device-agnostic surveys helps to alleviate.

The real disease, though, is that in general panels don’t offer compelling value to these people. The situation is critical in the U.S. and many countries in Western Europe (including the UK) and is becoming so elsewhere.

The impact of this crisis will be a real change in how sample is sourced, how much it costs to access real respondents, and on the future of panels themselves.


The problem is easily summarized. Research participants who have even a modest interest in rewards quickly figure out that, to earn enough points, they have to take way too many surveys, most of which aren’t compatible with their preferred device or the amount of time they’re prepared to dedicate for meager nonfungible compensation.

Those who feel more altruistic or simply want to speak their mind have plenty of direct outlets to engage with their favorite brands or vendors. These outlets often provide recognition in the form of return contact. Likewise, most Internet polls show results immediately. Users get the instant gratification of knowing if their answers are “right”, or at least how others have responded. The research industry rarely offers this. Studies are blinded for fear of self-selection bias. Results are hidden, the confidential property of our clients.

If the slow and steady decline of panel participation is an infection, the industry’s response has been to continue to apply leeches. Acquisition techniques are evolving, but panel management and retention practices have remained static. Engagement is still largely transactional. Competition grows fiercer by the day. Attrition is a big problem.

In fairness, panel companies are caught in a Bermuda Triangle of sorts. They face a sea change in respondent behavior driven by constant connectedness, one they are powerless to control. Their clients understand the need for change but many are unprepared or slow to accept it. Their managers (or shareholders) are concerned about financial risk given the high levels of uncertainty. Like a drug-resistant disease, no existing medications will help.

Building the Panel of the Future

Panels will decay into mere email lists (or social media “likes”) without new thinking and action around every aspect of the respondent lifecycle, from acquisition, to participation, to engagement and retention.

1: Reach and diversity are essential

Having fished the same waters for too long, panel companies have been forced to look to other sources to expand the top of the recruitment funnel. One of first was incentivized networks, or the “river”. Without a doubt, river/non-panel sources will become more important, which requires rebooting the conventional wisdom for many researchers.

Managed properly, the only real difference between a panel respondent and a river respondent is that the latter has decided not to join a rewards community. This is from whence we come methodologically, yet there are clients who consider river respondents to be of lower quality than panelists when, methodologically, the sources are equivalent: neither can be linked back to the population with a known probability of selection. It is ironic that these same people ask what suppliers are doing to combat “professional” panelists. Nobody has found the Goldilocks respondent yet, though we’re all looking. At least in the short term, and probably for longer, the river will continue to supply audiences that are increasingly shunning panel.

Firms will need to invest heavily in making programmatic acquisition work as well. The challenge in a programmatic world is not so much the right demographic profiles, but finding those willing to participate. Buying on impressions (CPM) is an easy way to lose a lot of money if the people one acquires don’t take surveys. The ability to recruit richly at scale and evolve as the market evolves will be an asset that provides competitive advantage.

Implied in this greater attention to reach and diversity is the need for new measures of quality. Panel size and response rate are becoming meaningless. Both can be artificially manipulated in ways that do little to really help us understand bias. Response rate simply isn’t applicable in a non-panel environment. What matters now is feasibility across an ever-evolving panoply of sources. Reach and diversity are the only ways to increase feasibility and reduce coverage bias.

2: Incentives and engagement must be meaningful

Reach and diversity help with the question of “who”, but not “why”. Panels are in desperate need of a new value proposition.

The easiest target for change is the proprietary incentive system, that is, those rewards that only have value through single panel participation. Common sense suggests these are of little interest to the audiences the industry needs the most. It seems safe to conclude that the level of participation required to earn a meaningful reward is too high. Companies that solve the incentive problem will allow respondents to accumulate points in multiple diverse ways and have fungible currencies. There are panel companies that do this already. Incentivized ad networks that form the backbone of many river sample offerings do this as well.

There are more interesting challenges on the incentives and engagement front, though. One is the impact that shorter, device-agnostic studies will have on retention. The burden on the panelist will be less onerous, but the incentive will be lower, too. This seems to still point to the need for transferable currencies.

Another is the possibility of differential incentives by respondent type. The only relationship in the value chain where payment is not a function of demand is between the panel and the general population respondent. Automation and access to data on costs by source could easily lead to highly personalized rewards by profile that improve participation, with the only caveat that companies will need to pay greater attention to fraud.

The third, and perhaps the toughest, challenge is providing the intangible engagement that is generally lacking in most panels. While panels have become more “social”, they don’t compete with other networks for stickiness. Whether it’s sharing how the data were used or permitting comparisons with a peer group, or offering interesting content, panel companies need to appeal to the latent feeling of “interestedness” respondents have that leads them to participate in the first place.

In his recent Greenbook article, Jan Hofmeyr reminds marketers of the importance of working on both loyalty and acquisition. This applies in equal measure to panel companies. They need to acquire and reacquire/retain participants in ways that will force them to pay attention to—or to simply pay more for/to—the people they need.

3: Suppliers need to stop putting up with abusive buyers

More has been written and said on the move to device agnostic questionnaires in the past year than any other topic related to sample.  Panel suppliers are shouting the loudest, exhorting researchers to move at a less-than-glacial pace to overhaul their designs.

Panel providers will, of necessity, start protecting their respondents. They will be able to measure survey pain by and construct “buyer ratings”, which, thanks to automation, will be easily calculable as a function of length of interview, device compatibility screenouts, abandon rate, and perhaps others. These pain measures will affect pricing as one would expect: buyers whose questionnaires fall short of the panel company’s standards will pay higher CPIs. At some level, suppliers will turn away revenue, either implicitly through pricing or explicitly by refusing to bid. This is happening already, and frankly it’s long overdue.

Similarly, companies will improve the routing experience, the process of shunting respondents hither and yon from study to study in search of a match, which still largely stinks. In part, it’s because the technology doesn’t move fast enough. In part, it’s because the industry has as yet been incapable of creating standards for passing basic demographic information, thereby requiring respondents to indicate their sex and age over, and over, and over. Many in the industry recognize the importance of standards. Work began at Samplecon and will continue at the Online Sampling Forum prior to the CASRO Technology Conference in late May.

4: Respondents will be deeply and respectfully profiled

Companies that broker survey respondents continue to explore ways in which they can add value. Profiling is one nut that many hope to crack. From micro-surveys to data enrichment to analytics that enable suppliers to infer behavioral and attitudinal propensities from survey responses, there are many exciting prospects.

Having said this, it will surely become more and more difficult to collect profile information directly. The marketing and research industries will be forced to take a far more serious approach to privacy. Privacy is a throwaway thing for researchers. The fact that panel companies generally collect this information without meaningful compensation is proof. Researchers will need to carefully watch the trends in personal data security. Mounting concerns over privacy suggest a future in which, at minimum, there’s little trust for unknown data collectors.

More intriguing are the embryonic marketplaces for personal data, one of which explicitly speaks about cutting out the market research middlemen. Entrepreneurs are helping individuals become aware of the value of their personal information and facilitate its exchange. It’s too early to know whether this will take off, but it needs to be watched.

5: Quality practices will need to evolve

Any research company of appreciable size has automated speeding and straightlining detection methods. These algorithms arose as reactions to clients’ punishing research designs. In a grid-less, device-agnostic world with shorter questionnaires, speeding and straightlining are no longer meaningful problems.

As the recent UK elections have proven, extant practices for ensuring representativity and response quality are insufficient. That the pollsters have suffered this massive a setback should strike fear into the hearts of other researchers, as the pollsters are generally more stringent in their methodology and write simpler, shorter questionnaires.

Panel companies can demonstrate additional value and potentially charge a premium by developing bias correction methods. Two avenues are worth exploring.

One is examining the relative consistency of responses. The technology exists to be able to automatically detect whether Panelist ABC’s responses are consistent with others of her demographic, attitudinal, or behavioral cohort and then decide what to do. Parameters could be set based on tolerance for some numerical deviation, at which point the respondent and his data would be eliminated or quarantined.

Another avenue of interest is asking questions that have gold-standard references. Standard practice is to weight data to correct for demographic imbalances, but more is possible. The essence of this type of bias correction would be to benchmark against gold standard data and calibrate responses to reduce bias.

Cost and Conclusions

I’ve written elsewhere that technology will, in the short term, drive down the supplier’s costs by eliminating manual labor. It will expose market liquidity and reduce the information asymmetry between buyers and suppliers, creating greater pricing parity.

But make no mistake, the marketplace that panel companies and the industry have taken for granted is that of general population research participants. The implication of the above points is that the cost of securing an in-demand respondent is likely to rise. For people with no relationship with the participant, the cost will be direct and steep. For panel companies, the cost will be the investment needed to build compelling value. They will be forced to compete like brands for loyalty and interest, which for many will be an existential challenge. This is one reason why brand-based social communities are flourishing: they are able to capitalize on pre-existing affinity.

It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the market for sample will evolve like the market for bonds. Bond quality is inversely proportional to risk: the higher the quality, the lower the risk. The only hitch in the metaphor is that higher quality bonds have lower payouts down the road, while higher quality sample will cost more up front. As mentioned above, there is (or will be) enough information being automatically transmitted to permit this sort of calculation.

It’s impossible to predict how the factors that are driving sample challenges will resolve themselves. What’s sure is that the forces are inexorable. The worst assumption the industry can make is assuming the future looks like the past. Research companies of all stripes, private and public, need to understand that they are not facing marginal cost decisions. Their actions require new thinking upon which sustainable futures can be built.

Copyright © 2015. The Author. All rights reserved.


Let’s Not Dismiss Mobile Or Digital In-Store Just Yet…

Without question, the rapid adoption of smartphones is not only changing shopper behavior in many categories, but is also providing new ways for researchers to better understand consumers and their behavior in store.

slow down


By Mark Michelson

Without a doubt, the world of marketing research never lends to the transparency of black-and-white absolutes. However, for the critics ready to dismiss in-store mobile use and digital store integrations with a few keyboard taps, perhaps given what’s at stake for brands and retailers, we might want to take a closer look at what “covens” like the MRMW are really preaching?

Yes, it seems like every year has been “the year of mobile”, and now the latest craze is beacons. Then of course, there’s the fact that 94% of all retail sales in the U.S. last year were made in brick-and-mortar stores, not online, which also seems to support little need for much attention on digital or mobile in retail environments (U.S. Census Bureau).

However, I do have a few more pieces of this story to share regarding the growth of mobile and digital. A popular reference for the critics comes from a POPAI study back in 2012, which found that only 8% of grocery shoppers and 19% mass-merchandise shoppers used their smartphones for shopping related activities. This is where we’ll have to begin to disagree. When it comes to grocery and mass-merchandising channels, mobile will tend to have very low usage, since most people shopping these channels are usually doing routine shopping. It’s also important to consider that in 2012, smartphone penetration in the U.S. was only around 50%, which is fairly low compared to the 75% penetration at the end of 2014. That’s pretty strong growth over a 2-year period.

Not to mention, in a “Reality of Retail” report released by InReality a couple weeks ago, it’s fairly clear that mobile usage and engagement while shopping varies greatly by category and demographics (no absolutes). The report also highlights that 75% of consumers are actually using their mobile devices in store, a finding that has been well-supported by research from Forrester, Google, Motorola, and Deloitte, to name a few.

Other highlights of the 2015 Reality of Report included:

  • 46% of shoppers admitted to using their mobile devices for price comparisons in-store
  • 25% of shoppers are actually using their mobile devices to make a purchase in store

Again, these are aggregate highlights, and they vary quite a bit when we look at mobile usage and influence by category. Mobile appears to be used much more in stores for purchases that are not routine, such as appliances, home furnishings and, as expected, consumer electronics.

As head of MMRA and an advocate of MobileMR in my own practice, I admit I may be biased. Maybe I’ve attended and spoken at too many conferences on this topic over the past 5 years. Call me an orthodox coven junkie if you may… However, one thing I think everyone can agree on is that things are changing rapidly, impacting the way consumers shop and calling for brands and retailers to think and act differently.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had to say goodbye to big brand names like RadioShack and Borders, and others like Sears, Office Depot, Target and Barnes and Noble wouldn’t have been forced to close hundreds of stores.

The reality is that growth in technology, especially mobile, is changing the way consumers shop. And, it’s consumers not marketers that are driving this change. Consumers’ expectations are changing as they become more comfortable using new technology, especially when navigating in unfamiliar territories.

That said, however, there’s still a lot of work to be done to understand the effects of new technology on shopping behavior. And, rushes to deploy “digital for digital sake” is not the answer. After all, there may not always be a role for digital in store. Digital should only be used if it will enhance the consumer’s shopping experience and help them buy.

Without question, the rapid adoption of smartphones is not only changing shopper behavior in many categories, but is also providing new ways for researchers to better understand consumers and their behavior in store. I have no doubt that technology will continue to grow and change rapidly, as will consumer adoption and use of new tech while shopping—whether we encourage it or not. But, it’s got to be done correctly.

Would love to hear your thoughts on whether there is still much to do in “digital this” and “mobile that”, or if mobile and digital usage in retail is still much ado about nothing.


How Brands Really Grow 2: People Change Their Minds

Your business or brand will only grow if you change what people want. The question is: how?

Growth (1)



In my first blog (How Brands Really Grow: 1), I criticised the Ehrenberg School of marketing for focusing too narrowly on acquisition as the key to brand growth. In this blog I’ll make a sharper point: there’s a contradiction at its heart.

To begin with, let’s get some areas of agreement out of the way.

Loyalty exists. There’s a common misperception that double jeopardy (DJ) destroys the idea of loyalty. In fact however, what characterises behaviour in a DJ world is what Ehrenberg calls ‘polygamous loyalty’ (See “Understanding brand performance measures…,” Journal of Business Research, 2004). Loyalty can be low (as in a person who buys a brand loyally but only 20% of the time); or it can be high (as in that same person buying another brand 60% of the time). It’s a matter of degree. I use ‘share of wallet’ to measure the extent to which a person is behaviourally loyal. And so in my world, behavioural loyalty is a percent that runs from 0 – 100.

Users who use the brand seldom are typically responsible for a lot of its sales. DJ analysis has made an important contribution to marketing by drawing attention to the value of what I’ll call ‘casual’ users. They may be people who seldom buy the category; or they may be low-level loyals. Either way, there are a lot of them and they’re not like the highly loyal. They respond to light-touch mental reminders (like eye-catching adverts just before they shop). And they respond to marginally stronger physical nudges (like a centimetre or two of additional shelf space). They’re not obsessing; and it’ll be hard for you to get them to obsess.

So if we agree on this, what’s the problem?

At the heart of ‘double jeopardy’ lies an important discovery: its aggregate patterns result from applying what’s known as the Dirichlet distribution to individual buyer behaviour. And that’s the problem; because one of the central tenets of the Dirichlet is that no person ever changes their level of loyalty to any service or brand.

You read that right: no person ever!

It’s worth repeating – what holds the DJ edifice together is the Dirichlet distribution; and the Dirichlet asserts that individual preferences are stationary. That may be one reason why Ehrenberg insisted on the idea that ‘advertising can’t be persuasive’. In a world ruled by DJ, people can’t be persuaded because their minds are made up. And so nothing persuades – neither friends nor relatives, neither experts nor celebrities, not a string of bad experiences; and especially not advertising.

Now – there’s a lot that I agree with when it comes to ‘double jeopardy’. I agree that marketing is about physical and mental availability. And I agree that sheer presence, whether physical or mental, is an important tool in the tool-kit. But you can’t argue, on the one hand, that brands only grow by acquiring more users; and yet assert, on the other, that people never change their preferences – for what, after all, are all those additional users if not people whose preferences have changed?

DJ encompasses a remarkable range of behaviour; and a lot of what looks like people switching back and forth between brands is just probabilistic variation around stable underlying preferences. But DJ isn’t a world in which businesses or brands can grow.

Let’s end by going back to the question about how brands really grow.

From the first blog: it’s not only about acquisition. People’s loyalty is shifting both up and down all the time. Your business or brand will only grow if the rate at which some increase their loyalty, is greater than the rate at which others decrease it.

Now I would add: you can’t grow share without changing what people want. So the big question is: how do you change what people want?

In the next few posts I’ll talk about that.

Summary: if individual behaviour were perfectly described by the law of double jeopardy, then businesses and brands would not be able to grow. Fortunately, it isn’t. Brands can (and obviously do) grow. But your business or brand will only grow if you change what people want. The question is: how?