The Solar System of Social Media

If social media were a solar system, what would it look like?

By Michael Lieberman

If social media were a solar system, what would it look like? Would there be a sun, an earth, a moon?

In a survey respondents were asked which Social Media sites they regularly used. With this data we were are able to map a network, with the size of the spheres representing market share and the thickness of the lines representing the relationships between spheres.

The red spheres represent are our major players—the center of the social media universe. No surprise, Facebook is the Sun, YouTube is Jupiter, and Twitter is, say, Saturn.

The blue spheres are Social Media sites with the second highest proportion of users; the second tier. Green spheres the third ring. The small planets in black are kind of like Mars, out there somewhere, existing but small.

The ultimate utility of this map is that in one glance a client can grasp the social media solar system. Yes, MeetMe is small, but it a better connection to Instagram than to Google Plus. Great information. is an anonymous question and answer platform website used regularly by lots of young people in Ireland and around the world. Its strongest connection is to Facebook, which is the worldwide leader. Bebo describes itself as “a company that dreams up ideas for fun social apps;” Though not a central player, its strongest relationship is with Google Plus. This seems intuitive given that Google is the largest distributor of apps, and terrific information for the executives at Bebo.

These types of visuals can be employed not only for the solar systems of Social Media, but to brand space of any product, purchase path behavior for click throughs, or the shape of attitudes around client behavior. They can be used in place of correspondence maps or set to configure the political structure of the parliament of the United Kingdom, the United States Senate, or a local school board. Send us your data, we can map it. Then tell you the story.

Visualization of data networks, social media, industry structure, and even now enourmous transational datasets are now coming online to make sense of the data deluge and convey the results of analyses through emerging, open-source programs. This kind of analysis is not limited to Social Media, but also can be applied to other megadatasets, consumer sales data from any major corporation, major supermarket, Walmart or survey data. It is a great new tool that, together with our analytic skills, we can deploy to give our clients a full picture of their product solar system.

Network anlaysis expands marketing research industry core competencies such as segmentation, pricing, conjoint analysis, regression modeling, forecasting, data mining, project management, and overflow reporting. As the industry moves from the reporting to the consulting phase, this techniques offers a powerful, simple, and easy to explain summarization. As it is said, a picture paints a thousand words.

We expect the availability of tools such as Network Analysis to have a positive impact on brand research. As mentioned above, visualing your brand solar system is a fruitful area of study, as is research into approaches for jointly analyzing megadata and text-content data. That is, companies have learned to harness the power of thought leaders, experts, and influencers to promote their products. Brand solar system visualizations will play a central role in the forthcoming drama.

What is your brand solar system?

Making Your Data Hot: Heatmaps for the Display of Large Tables

A heatmap, which replaces the numbers with colors or shades proportional to the numbers in the cell, is a lot easier than a table for our brains to digest.

By Tim Bock

Sometimes tables are just too big to read. The table below shows the personality attributes that people associate with different iconic brands. A table too big to read easily and too big to show elegantly on a web page, in this case, leaves only the first page visible. A heatmap, which replaces the numbers with colors or shades proportional to the numbers in the cell, is a lot easier for our brains to digest.

While we were unable to display all the data in the table above, the heatmap below shows it all nicely.  By replacing the numbers with colors, all 42 columns and 15 rows fit in one compact view.

An additional benefit of the visualization is that it is an image. With a table, our brains need time to process each of the numbers and work out their implications. A heatmap, on the other hand, allows our brains to readily detect the differences in intensity. You can still view the numbers in these examples by hovering your mouse over the heatmap.

Making patterns in heatmaps easier to spot

While we can hunt out patterns in this heatmap, it is a painful process. Reducing the size of the visualization makes patterns easier to see. They are not, however, simplified. A common solution to this problem applies both here and to tables: compute the average of each row and column, and sort the table from highest to lowest (see below).

We can see from this that the personality traits that are near-synonyms for appeal are at the top, indicating they were most likely to be associated with these brands (all of which are successful). We can also see that the car brands appear mainly on the left. This highlights that years of personality-based car advertising has had some effect.

Using cluster analysis to improve the heatmap

While reordering of the rows and columns has improved the visualization, it has not highlighted patterns showing the relationship between the personality attributes and the brands, which is the main goal of the analysis. We can improve the heatmap further, by clustering rows and columns so as to group together similar rows and columns. The visualization below has dendrograms showing these groupings.  The visualization is now, at last, paying off in terms of allowing us to see interesting conclusions.

To name two:
• On the left, we can see a cluster of luxury brands, starting with Calvin Klein through to Porsche.
• The next set of brands contains more rugged outdoorsy brands, including jeans, shoes, and just one car brand: Toyota. There are, of course, many more insights that now leap from the visualization.

You can play with the R code used to create these examples in Displayr.


Thanks go to Michael Bostock, Joe Cheng, Tal Galili, and Justin Palmer, who did the heavy lifting in creating the wonderful d3heatmap package used in this blogpost, and to Michael Wang who tweaked it so it did precisely what I wanted.

Originally posted here

The Giant That Was Greenfield Online

How the Tentacles of the Former Sampling Behemoth Still Survive Today

By Matt Dusig

In every industry, there’s a pivotal, innovative, company that forges new paths to do something that’s never been done before. In 1998, PayPal created the consumer-friendly, money transfer solution that you know today. The early founders and group of leaders within PayPal have been referred to as the PayPal Mafia because of the influence they wield around Silicon Valley. After the sale of PayPal to eBay, this team went on to create many incredible businesses that you use today. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, was a co-founder of PayPal. Reid Hoffman, also a co-founder, created LinkedIn.  A web designer and engineer from PayPal created YouTube and a few PayPal engineers created Yelp. Three of the PayPal founders created The Founders Fund, a venture capital firm that has invested in Airbnb, Lyft, Facebook and Spotify, to name a few.

In the Market Research industry, I think similar analysis can be applied to people who got their feet wet in market research and online sampling at Greenfield Online. If you started in Market Research after 2009, you’re probably not familiar with Greenfield, which was founded in the late 1990’s. It was the primary driver in the creation of panels online and made the movement towards online market research possible. Greenfield’s history is a windy road, having gone public in 2004, and then embarking on a buying spree gobbling up competing sampling firms around the world.

One of those acquired companies was my first sampling company, called goZing, that I co-founded in 1999 with my Innovate partner, Gregg Lavin. After goZing, Gregg and I went on to create uSamp/Instantly in 2008, sold to SSI in 2016.

In 2005, Greenfield also bought Ciao, a European sampling firm and comparison shopping service. Greenfield was sold in 2008 to Microsoft for $486 million, solely to own the comparison shopping service, and Microsoft quickly sold the sampling assets to Toluna in 2009.

As I assessed the value of this blog post, it became clear that ex-Greenfield’ers still run much of the sampling industry today.

Here’s where some of them are now: 

    • Gregg Lavin and Matt Dusig sold goZing (’99) to Greenfield, created uSamp (’08) and Innovate (’14) – all pioneering sampling firms of their time.
    • George Llorens, also a co-founder of Innovate, was a Regional Vice President at Greenfield, before becoming EVP of Global Sales at uSamp.
    • Toluna is the current owner of the Greenfield Online brand and assets.
    • Michael Anderson, was an early sales leader at Greenfield and went on to become SVP, Head of Sales, N. America for Toluna.
    • Mark Simon was a Client Development Director at Greenfield and is currently the Managing Director of North America for Toluna.
    • Sandy Casey, former VP of Greenfield is now SVP of Global Supply at Toluna.
    • Hugh Davis has been credited with creating the first email-based panels at Greenfield. Hugh co-founded sampling firm Critical Mix.
    • Keith Price, was EVP of sales at Greenfield and became President of Toluna N. America before also co-founding Critical Mix.
    • Jonathan Flatow, the COO of Greenfield Online, is now the Managing Partner for Reimagine Holdings Group (owner of Critical Mix), an investment firm focused on market research, growth-oriented, technology-enabled service companies.
    • Andy Ellis held numerous senior level positions at Greenfield Online, and is now the COO of Lucid, the pioneering programmatic sampling platform that just raised $60 million.
  • SSI
    • David Zotter was an early Director of Research & Development at Greenfield and is currently the CTO of SSI.
    • Frank Kelly was the SVP of Marketing and Strategy for Greenfield, and is currently the SVP of Global Marketing and Strategy for Lightspeed GMI.
  • CINT
    • Richard Thornton was a VP of Europe for Ciao/Greenfield and is now Deputy CEO of Cint.
    • David St. Pierre was the CTO of Greenfield and is currently the CTO of TrueSample.
    • Jennifer Weitz was the Vice President of Global Supply at Greenfield and is currently the Chief Revenue Officer for Imperium.
    • Michael McCrary was a Senior Vice President at Greenfield, before becoming MD of N. America for Cint and President at Federated Sample. He is now the founder/CEO of the sampling platform PureSpectrum.
    • Terence McCarron was SVP of N. America sales at Greenfield, went on to become the MD of N. America for Cint before founding his own company called OpinionRoute.
    • Doug Guion was VP of N. American Operations for Greenfield and is currently President of Acturus.
    • Beth Rounds was the SVP of Marketing at Greenfield is currently the CMO of Dapresy.
    • Rudy Nadilo, an early CEO of Greenfield, is now President of Dapresy North America.
    • Dana Stanley was the Senior Director of Client Development at Greenfield and is now the COO/CRO for the GreenBook.

There are hundreds of people who still work in online sampling today (too many to list) who gained experience in market research through their time at Greenfield. So, maybe there isn’t a Greenfield Mafia like the PayPal veterans, but the accomplishments in market research, from the people above, are still impressive.

Over the past 20 years, many of us have built our careers around surveying and sampling, and it’s amazing to see how today’s leaders are so connected to the past. My hope for the future of market research and sampling is that today’s leaders remember that change is the only constant in life and we all must all push forward, and continue to Innovate.

Did I miss someone you would add to this list? Please add them to the comments of this post.

Growing the Industry by Funding More Research – Part Seven

Collaborata is the first platform that crowd-funds research, saving clients upwards of 90% on each project. We’ve asked Collaborata to feature projects they are currently funding on a biweekly basis.

By Peter Zollo 

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our next post featuring three insights projects currently offered on Collaborata, the market-research marketplace. GreenBook is happy to support a platform whose mission is to fund more research.

Collaborata Featured Project #1:

“Generation Nation: Redefining America’s Boomers, Xers, Millennials & Gen Z”

Purpose: To provide fresh insights on the real differences and commonalities in post-Obama America among Boomers, Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z with which to equip brands to deeply connect to any or all of these generations.

Pitch: Here’s the one thing everybody can agree about Millennials: They’re a huge, powerful cohort. But, that’s where consensus ends and “Generation Nation” begins. This study will debunk the myths and open your eyes.

Even if you think you know Millennials, think again. And, even if you’re targeting another age, lifestage, or generation, this research will deliver new insights you can act on.

No wonder, this is the fastest-funding study yet on Collaborata!

Deliverables: Formal report, data file, web-based presentation, and a one-hour consultative call with the researchers. In-person presentation also available at additional cost.

Who’s Behind This: 747 Insights, a highly regarded boutique insights agency, specializing in generational research.

To watch a 60-second video on the study: click here

To purchase this study or for more info: click here or email

Funding stage: Fully funded (currently being fielded)

Collaborata Featured Project #2:

“Consumer Trends and Lifestyles in the New Megacities”

Purpose: To identify key trends coming out of global hubs, while also serving as a mini “Ominbus” for sponsors.

Pitch: At the heart of increasing globalization and interconnectedness are megacities — global hubs from which key lifestyle, consumer, and tech trends emanate. It’s time to capture trends from these cities

Deliverables: Web-based report and online dashboard. Sponsors may each include three proprietary questions.( For an additional investment, you can gain category exclusivity.)

Who’s Behind This: Dalia is a technology-driven research company, specializing in understanding global audiences through mobile and web surveys

To watch a 60-second video on the study: click here

To purchase this study or for more info: click here or email

Funding stage: Currently funding

Collaborata Featured Project #3:

“Capturing the Imagination of the Home-Improvement Shopper: How to Target Key Homeowner Segments”

Purpose: To segment the home-improvement market, focusing on frequent shoppers of the big-box stores – Home Depot and Lowes.


How well do you know your DIY target? This research will help you target your consumers while they are in-store, resulting in branding, packaging, and messaging that speak directly to their needs. Special attention will be paid to co-sponsors’ categories.

Deliverables: Detailed report including segment profiles. Sub-analysis of your own category. Typing tool so that may target your segment(s) in future research projects. Web-based presentation. Consultative phone call with the lead researcher.

Who’s Behind This: Alisa Hamilton, of Harvest Insights has been in the marketing-research industry for 15 years; she has supervised many national and international accounts, including Lowes, Pfizer, Kid II, and Pulte Homes, and has worked on numerous CPG projects.

To watch a 60-second video on the study: click here

To purchase this study or for more info: click here or email

Funding stage: Currently funding

If You Build It, They WON’T Come Willingly! Building A Consumer-Centered Innovation Mindset & Culture!

How do you build consumer-centered innovation within your organization? Find out in the latest Big Ideas article from Shawn Nason.


Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas Series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Shawn Nason will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 12-14 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX NA. Click here to learn more.

By Shawn Nason

The Story

If you have worked in innovation or consumer experience for any length of time, you have more than likely made the same mistake so many of us have. You have a brilliant idea that you believe will shift the strategic direction of an organization. You envision being able to transform the culture or alter their mindset.  And then it happens, you FAIL!

This happens every day for so many people that choose to work in this space. Elon Musk says, “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” I remember when I first became Chief Innovation Officer in an organization that was not ready to innovate or move as fast as I wanted. I constantly felt like I was fighting an uphill battle.

The Mindset Was Old And Not Ready To Move!

The Culture Was Just As Old, And No One Was Ready For Change!

The Leadership Had No Desire To Push The Boundaries! 

What I Learned

You can’t make an organization change its mindset or culture until you get all the leadership on the same page. Once you have leadership aligned with you and moving in the right direction, then you can begin to shift mindset and culture.

“Eliminate The Mindset of Can’t! Because You Can Do Anything!” ~ Toney Horton

Additionally, I have learned over the years that some organizations will never be ready to innovate and you just have to move on.

What I Did

Over the years, I have learned that the Power Of Yes is the best way to get people to buy-in to a consumer-centered innovation process. Just recently, I began to read a book called, Play Bigger. This has changed my mindset about innovation. No longer am I looking at competitors and what they are doing. Now, I am looking at what I can do different that makes me unique in this space.

What You Can Do

Surround yourself with people that advocate taking the risk and pushing the boundaries. Take the first steps to influence leadership, transform culture, and develop a new mindset. A colleague and I will be digging into these three fundamental principles and much more during our workshop on Monday, June 11th.

We look forward to hearing your stories on building consumer-centered innovation within your organization.

How to Transition Your Data Collection Platform

From cloud-based offerings to low-cost DIY solutions to open source tools or even high maintenance multiserver inhouse installations, businesses have a multitude of options when it comes to selecting a platform that best fits their data collection needs.

By Jitesh Marlecha 

Much like the rest of today’s ever-evolving technological world, the market research landscape continues to advance, especially as tech companies make large investments in new data collection tools. Businesses can now choose from various data collections tools, unlike the old framework, which only involved a handful of big name solutions dominating the marketplace.

From cloud-based offerings to low-cost DIY solutions to open source tools or even high maintenance multiserver inhouse installations, businesses have a multitude of options when it comes to selecting a platform that best fits their data collection needs.

If your organization is looking to adopt a new solution or even transition your existing platform to a totally new one, there are several key elements to consider. Read on to ensure you are setting your team up for success when it comes to data collection.

The question

The first question is often a simple, “why should I change?”

Let’s answer this question with an example from our day-to-day lives. Several years ago we were content hanging on to the same mobile phone for three or four years. Now, with constant upgrades, and new features and platforms, it’s become common to change phones more regularly. The world is moving fast, and to stay up to speed, we do need to embrace change.

The same concept applies to your business. The rise of the digital customer has forced businesses to act fast. Market research and consulting firms helping businesses make valuable insights now have to deliver speed. The challenge is the demand for research has increased, but the budget remains the same. So to stay in business and grow, one can’t shy away from a periodic review of technology and should remain open to change.

A platform transition is, of course, not a simple endeavor. Scrapping old technology calls for significant investment of time & money, training investments, integration & implementation efforts. So an organization should make sure they have a plan.

The framework

Once your business is ready to change, you can ensure a smooth progression by following a simple framework:

When to change

An organization should have some sort of mechanism for reviewing current and future customer and industry needs, the competitive landscape and the existing technology road map. Doing these on a periodoic basis allows the business to make an informed decision about the need for change.

Who to change

It is important to keep your eyes and ears on what’s happening in the industry and compare it to your existing technology platform. Questions to ask: Which technology will help innovate, improve speed, efficiency, lower cost of operation and be easy to integrate with your existing ecosystem? Another important set of questions; is the new technology popular enough to find people with skillsets to use it, as well as a supplier market that can support it. Unless all aspects of the change are thought all the way through, one may end up married to an unsustainable technology platform for several years and/or scrapping the solutions in a few years, losing significant time and money in the process.

How to change

At this point, you have already invested in the licenses of the new technology and everyone is eager to see the benefits. You should make sure expectations at all levels are set, and then deploy a seed transition team dedicated to the initiative. The team should follow a transition road map with specific milestones and establish a process for using the new technology. Other critical steps are to make a list of necessary integrations with other systems, baking in a parallel run plan before movement of any live projects, thorough testing of all connections, building reusable assets which complement the capability of the new technology, and a governance model around the transition plan.

A platform transition is a costly and demanding initiative for any organization, but it’s also imperative to stay up-to-date with current data gathering tools. By investing up front in the above framework, organization can do it correctly and reap the benefits.

Jeffrey Henning’s #MRX Top 10: Automation, Small Data, & Effectively Targeting Consumers

Of the 2,991 unique links shared on the Twitter #MRX hashtag over the past two weeks, here are 10 of the most retweeted...

By Jeffrey Henning 

Of the 2,991 unique links shared on the Twitter #MRX hashtag over the past two weeks, here are 10 of the most retweeted…

  1. Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done” – Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Clayton M. Cristensen et all explain how successful innovations focus on the circumstances surrounding a customer rather than their characteristics, citing far-ranging examples from American Girl dolls to SNHU online courses.
  2. Let’s Get Personal with NextGen – In the third of four articles exploring key aspects of the younger generations, Joeri Van den Bergh of InSites discusses how brands successfully attract Millennials and Gen Z by embracing personalization, imperfection, and willingness to fail.
  3. Ads Must Work with People’s Brains Not Against Them – Nigel Hollis of Kantar Millward Brown shares an anecdote exemplifying how it can be difficult to determine what will intuitively work with a consumer’s thought process instead of against it.
  4. GRIT Sneak Peek: Adoption and Consideration of Automation Platforms – Ray Poynter of NewMR delves into the most recent GRIT data regarding automation in market research. While many organizations already have automated quantitative processes, analysis of text, image, and video data remain a high priority.
  5. Small Data: Avoiding the Big Data Overload – Iulia Ghindeanu at FlexMR reveals some of the pitfalls of Big Data: analysts’ tendency to commit confirmation bias and assume that correlation implies causation.
  6. Three in Five Consumers Not Being Targeted Effectively – BlueVenn recently conducted research that found that 58% of consumers do not believe that brands are targeting them effectively: the report also found that 87% of marketers believe that, until they have the right tools, it is impossible to effectively analyze customer data.
  7. The Insight Economy – This special report, published in The Sunday Times, seeks to answer why British citizens should pay attention to political polls given their recent inaccuracies, how digital is boosting the market research industry, and how developing markets are contributing to a more globalized MRX industry.
  8. 4 Frameworks for Mapping Customer Decision Journeys – Alex Xiaoguang Zhu of SKIM maps the four journey frameworks that a customer takes: the planned journey, the (disrupted) habitual journey, the ecosystem journey, and the patient-centric journey.
  9. Old is the New Young: How Global Consumers Are Challenging Ageing – This Euromonitor International white paper explores the evolving buying behavior of the fastest growing population segment, consumers aged 60+. Pro tip: don’t remind them of their age when marketing.
  10. 4 Design Principles to Help You Build More Actionable Insights – Ingvald Smith-Kielland outlines four ways to develop meaningful insights: changing to a collaborative, multi-disciplinary mindset; reframing statements to articulate insights; using visualizations for empathy building; and brainstorming what-if’s to help link findings to opportunities.


Note: This list is ordered by the relative measure of each link’s influence in the first week it debuted in the weekly Top 5. A link’s influence is a tally of the influence of each Twitter user who shared the link and tagged it #MRX, ignoring retweets from closely related accounts. The following links are excluded: links promoting RTs for prizes, links promoting events in the next week, pages not in English, and links outside of the research industry (sorry, Bollywood).

Who Are The 50 Most Innovative Companies in Market Research? The Q1-Q2 2017 GRIT Report is here!

The Q1-Q2 2017 GRIT Report is now available, including the rankings of the Most Innovative Suppliers and Clients.

I’m immensely pleased to announce that the 21st edition of the GreenBook Research Industry Trends Report, using data collected in Q1 & Q2 of 2017, is here!

This is the edition that features the “GRIT Top 50” rankings of research suppliers and buyers perceived to be most innovative, and it’s quite the list! In the infographic summary below you can see the Top 10 from each list, but you can access the full rankings here. Over the past seven years, the GRIT Top 50 ranking has become one of the key metrics many companies use to understand their position in the marketplace. At its core, it is a brand tracker using the attribute of “innovation” as the key metric, and we’re thrilled so many organizations in our industry use this metric as part of their strategic planning and marketing positioning.

In addition to the GRIT 50, we keep looking into issues surrounding automation, sample, and research budgets. The report also dives into the skills and resources needed for educating the researcher of the future in post-secondary programs as well as market positioning of the U.S. MMR programs.

Last but not least, we are unveiling the GRIT Benchmark, designed to give research organizations a set of comparison points against which they can measure their development and performance. Later this month, we’ll release an interactive online tool using these benchmarking data, so stay tuned for that!

This GRIT Report is based on the biggest sample ever, with 2,637 completed interviews globally. Although the sample sizes are still not robust enough outside of North America and Europe, overall – and in relative balance with market sizes – we are at a point where GRIT may already be more on the “representative” side than just “largely directional”. However, we won’t claim representability yet so treat the findings as VERY “largely directional”. In keeping with the spirit of transparency and collaboration, we are making all GRIT data available to everyone for further exploration via our partners OfficeReports.

As a research effort, GRIT allows us to “walk the talk” and, as always, we do better in some ways than in others. We feel the same pain that many clients and suppliers do in trying to migrate to new modes or incorporate best practices in mobile-friendly designs. At 15 minutes GRIT is longer than we’d like, but compared to many comparable B-to-B studies we’re pretty proud that we keep it within a reasonable range while also covering all the topics that we do. However, as always we hear lots of feedback from the industry on design, question areas, etc… and we appreciate the suggestions. For those who participate in the survey, we appreciate your contribution as we continue to fine tune the study.

And our objective? A report that goes deeper to explore the key drivers of our industry, offers better guidance, and helps chart the future as a strategic planning tool. We hope the GRIT Report is a touchstone for you and your team to understand what is happening, what it all means, and what you should do about it.

GRIT is a community effort and our authors, commentary providers, sample partners, advertisers, and most especially research partners make this all possible. Special thanks go out to the organizations who helped with data collection and analysis, including Ascribe, AYTM, Bakamo Social, G3 Translate, Gen2 Advisors, Lightspeed, mTAB, Multivariate Solutions, NewMR, OdinText, OfficeReports, Research Now, Researchscape International & Stakeholder Advisory Services.

As always, I think you will find the report informative, provocative, and useful. Enjoy!


The True Value of Trends Insight is Knowing When and How to Apply It

Trends are an easy bandwagon to join, however companies need to consider if they are right for their brand and its goals before hopping on.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas Series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Amber Davis will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 12-14 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX NA. Click here to learn more.

By Amber Davis

It’s easy to be dazzled by trends, and saying ‘no’ to adopting the latest for your own brand can be tough – especially if it appears to be giving your competitors an edge.

Jumping on the bandwagon can be fruitful — although it can be about as ground-breaking as using hackneyed idiom in strategy advice. The key is knowing when that jump is appropriate for your brand and its goals.

Festivals, for example, have become a feeding ground for brands cross-industry.

From fashion, beauty and retail brands helping festivalgoers create the right ‘look’ – think Coachella sponsors Sephora with its Beauty Bar offering the “hottest new festival make-up trends”, or Hewlett Packard, which created a lounge where visitors could selfie themselves to oblivion in a blackout photo booth capturing 120˚ photos with customizable lighting effects. In each instance aligning the brand with such an event makes sense – a specific need for a specific audience is served.

Of course, that is not always the case.

The reputation and value of trend research has morphed in the past 10 years, with many businesses now viewing it as mission critical when developing new products and brand strategy. But excitement over leveraging the zeitgeist can sometimes get in the way of truly understanding its defining values and conditions. If one wants to sell resistance and rebellion, for example, one may need to point to something to rebel against (nota bene: in most cases, wigs and ergonomic bottle shapes are not compelling enough).

Identifying trends is as much about looking outward as it is inward and should be a ruthlessly exploratory experience – inspiration can and should come from neighbouring industries as well as one’s own. A skincare brand, for example, can benefit from looking to sportswear for inspiration, while also keeping an eye on food trends.

Retail is an industry in the midst of a far-reaching exploratory moment, driven by a plethora of factors – from the growing preference for experiences over things, and an increased desire for less clutter, to the realities of tech innovations that continue to streamline the three-dimensional world. The result of this kind of exploration can be seen in the expansion of the sharing economy into more varied categories. California-based Wags Lending, for example, works with pet stores to lease pure-breed dogs to its members, while Bloomerent enables couples to share bridal flowers.

It’s a shift that can be applied to businesses across categories, from fashion to perishables, though only when serving an actual lifestyle need, rather than merely playing “me too”. Time-sharing lingerie, for instance, may be a tougher sell than renting contemporary art.

When considering how best to innovate around a trend, whether it means launching a new product range, store concept or even engaging an emerging demographic, it’s important to consider two things:

1) Is there a brand appropriate way to execute?
2) Are you acting out of the fear of overlooking an actual consumer need or just missing the bandwagon?  

On the theme of inspiration, here are my three top reads:

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, by Kevin Kelly – by situating contemporary technology and innovation in a larger history – a continuum even – Kelly’s analysis soothes some of those keeping-up-with-the-times anxieties that can lead to a ‘me-too’ way of thinking.

The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space by Wolfgang Schivelbusch – this book offers up a model for thinking through the far-reaching implications of the emergence of time-space-paradigm shifting technologies. When thinking about the potential impact of autonomous vehicles, for example, on say, retail, medicine, publishing, dating, the service economy or anything else, the past offers some interesting possibilities worth considering.

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, by Albert Camus – in its own way this book offers a reminder of the base emotions, anxieties and desires that underlie a lot of consumer choice – whether rational or irrational.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the use of trends insight, come and hear my talk at IIeX NA: [Lowe’s Showcase] Retail 2030: How an Unusual Partnership Applied Innovation to Long-term Strategy – Tuesday, 13 June, 11:00-11:20am.

This year I’m particularly excited to hear from Grant McCracken, author and cultural anthropologist. Aside from being one of the most elegant writers on consumer behavior, some of the ideas he brings together in Dark Value have really rattled – in a positive way – my thinking around choice and price.

Silos: Good for Grain, Bad for Market Research

Silos in market research detract from making actionable, big picture recommendations. This can be overcome by combining different parts of the data puzzle from the beginning to make them work together.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas Series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Keri Vermaak will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 12-14 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX NA. Click here to learn more.

By Keri Vermaak

Silos, you might say, run in my blood. In fact, back in the day, my grandfather built concrete slab silos in South Dakota for their original use – storing grain. Believed to be around since ancient Greece, the term “silo” has evolved from being a purely agricultural term, to a metaphor used today to describe the isolation of functions or systems in an organization, particularly when it comes to technology.

In market research circles, we hear a lot of negative commentary about project functions operating in such silos – and while silos are good for grain storage, they are not good for market research. After all, our goal as researchers is to be able to show others a joined-up “big picture” of insights that will help them make data-driven decisions that deliver better business outcomes. But how do we help put the data puzzle together when the pieces are so often stored separately?

Remember: we’re not grain!

As an industry, we know we must overcome the inefficient compartmentalization of the steps that make up the research process: collecting data, organizing data, analyzing data, creating visualizations and presenting them. When these steps are done in isolation from one another, we often end up with orphaned data that we have to try to piece back together so we can deliver a coherent “big picture”. We can manage it through largely manual processes, but it’s clumsy and slow and often results in mistakes or, worse, key insights getting lost in translation. These manual processes break links at every step, putting quality and useable outcomes at risk.

When you look specifically at the market research industry, a common disconnect is found between the market researchers (qualitative focus on bias, attribution, emotion, sociology) and data scientists (background in computer science, numbers and modeling). Going back to the beginning and combining different forms of data from the outset is one way to start breaking down silos. This combination should carry through to the output, creating data stories and insights in an uninterrupted, cohesive process across different data sources.

Three tips to help overcome silos in our space

Here’s what I’ve seen work really well when it comes to delivering a coherent “big picture”:

  • Bring all the pieces together at the outset and combine different data sets to make them work together
  • Utilize single-platform technology that is able to bring these pieces together without damaging outcomes or original data sources
  • Make the insights accessible – layer and share that data with the right people, in a way that can deliver new insights and impact business decisions

The end goal of course is to get high quality data stories into the hands of the people who can use them to create value for their brands and markets. I’m looking forward to sharing more on this topic at IIeX North America next month with my presentation No More Mutant Toys: Playing nice with market research outcomes.