If you read my blog regularly, it should come as no surprise that I am an ardent fan of using mobile devices — whether mobile phones or tablets — for market research purposes. I have discussed how consumers are already forcing our hand into the world of mobile and that market insights professionals are not conducting mobile market research but instead are conducting market research in a mobile world.
Given this, I was both delighted and dismayed when attending this year’s ARF Re:think 2013 conference. Why was I delighted? There was a marked increase in the number of talks that focused on the role mobile plays — whether as a research technique or how it plays a significant role in consumers’ lives. Of just the talks I attended, which were a lot, almost 60% of them discussed the role of mobile. And a lot of these “mobile” talks were in the main track session. Talking with colleagues who attended last year, it’s clear that mobile has definitely moved front of mind compared with ARF Re:think 2012.
But I was dismayed that it was still just talk, talk, talk. At the conference, I was surrounded by tablets and smartphones, and people were using them all the time. And while we’re living this mobile life, we’re listening to speeches telling us how we need to start thinking about the role of mobile. Dare I say that we need to do a bit more than just thinking at this point in the game? We clearly have to get our act together soon.
I am now back from attending this year’s The Market Research Event (TMRE) in beautiful Boca Raton, Florida. As always, TMRE produced a content-packed program that addressed a multitude of different topics, ranging from mobile and technology to shopper insights to ROI and measurement and even data analytics and big data. While I attended my fair share of talks focused on emerging and innovative methodologies, I was really interested in the consultative skill development track. This was a track that focused on discussing what client-side Market Insights (MI) Professionals have learned are the best practices for storytelling and data visualization.
One of the talks that I really enjoyed was by Brett Townsend of PepsiCo, whose talk title was aptly named “Treat Your Clients Like Your Kids — Tell Them A Story.” While this isn’t a new idea for MI Professionals — and he discussed well-known takeaways such as “If we can’t tell a story in 20 minutes, then you don’t have a story to tell” — one comment really struck me: Conflict is the engine that drives the story. Our primary goal as MI Professionals is to understand the conflict that consumers are experiencing in their daily lives and to understand what that means to the company or brand.
To focus on the conflict, Brett broke down the story-building process as if we were in the movie business and we were writers writing a script. For each project you work on, you need to understand the following factors:
· Who is the hero? For our purposes, it will always be the consumer.
Yesterday, I realized I have a criminal side. Of course, I know that I have a bit of a history for speeding. And I’ve had my share of parking fines. But until yesterday afternoon, I didn't think I had ever violated someone else's property rights. Now I know that I have – and I do it quite regularly as well.
The data protection laws talk about data. Data is defined as every type of information in a machine (device). When I’m talking and you’re listening, there’s no data. When I’m talking and you record my voice or take a picture, there’s data.
I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the time of year and the fact that my upcoming holiday makes me a bit introspective. Maybe it’s the weather, as it’s been a horrendous summer so far in the Netherlands. Or maybe it’s just me, being inundated with tweets, blog post, articles, white papers, vendor briefings, etc., about market research. Whatever the reason, the outcome is the same: I’m currently struggling a bit with the pervasive authoritative voice in the industry. Don’t get me wrong; I’m well aware that I’m as guilty as everyone else. But we all seem so certain about what’s going on in research, what needs to happen, what’s wrong, and what’s right; about who’s in and who’s out. I feel we’re losing an important skill that distinguishes good market researchers from great ones: the ability to doubt.
With market research, there is no absolute truth. Research is about interpretation of results, placing numbers into context, finding the story behind the numbers. Any data set can have multiple stories; it’s the market researcher who uncovers and shares the story that he or she believes to be most powerful for the business. In the end, however, it’s just one perception of the truth. Great researchers know this, and they always challenge themselves, trying to pick holes in their story, finding examples that prove the opposite. The problem with today’s business environment is that it doesn’t leave much room for doubt or uncertainty. In fact, doubt and uncertainty are seen as weaknesses. So, what do we do? We cover up and only show our best side.
As some of you know, I really have a thing for doing research in multiple countries. I’ve been working in market research for two decades now and have always conducted international research projects — and experienced all the challenges that come with them. But I believe that conducting international research is even more challenging now than it was 20 years ago when I started my research career.
I see three key challenges that market researchers must deal with when doing multicountry projects:
1) How to collect globally comparable data. As soon as the surveyed cultures are so different that you need to adapt research methodologies and localize questionnaires, you’ve lost the chance for global comparisons. How do you walk that fine line between globalization and localization?
2) How to put this data into a local context. It’s really hard to understand the real drivers of behavior in different regions. Just looking at the results and comparing them with those of other countries might result in the wrong conclusions.
3) How to distribute and communicate these results back. Collecting information is one thing, but communicating it back to the local organizations and having them act on it is quite another. Will your local market insights teams use, share, and implement the data that you’ve collected globally?
Earlier this week, I attended the Esomar Congress in Amsterdam. It was a home game for me, but even I was impressed by the location and its very Dutch look and feel; I felt proud of my country (of course it helps that I’m a big fan of stroopwafels, poffertjes, mature cheese, and bitterballen).
Not only were the surroundings impressive, but so were the presentations. Only a couple of the 20 or so that I saw were average. Most presentations gave a good overview of a new methodology, the client side of the story, and the challenges faced. My personal highlights included the Heineken/TNS presentation, in which they used neuroscience (or more precisely electroencephalography [EEG], biometrics, and eye-tracking) to measure how relevant viewers felt the ad was to them, how excited they were by it, and what areas of the screen they looked at while it played. You can find the summary by Robert Bain of Research Magazine here.
The past three weeks have been quite busy within the enterprise feedback management (EFM) vendor landscape, with two major acquisitions. The first occurred on July 19th between Verint and Vovici; the second was announced today between QuestBack and Globalpark. These mergers make sense and are in line with how I see the EFM vendor landscape evolving over the next five years.
One part of the EFM vendor evolution will be the creation of what my colleague Andrew McInnes calls “comprehensive customer experience solution sets.” The Verint and Vovici merger demonstrates this. Here you have two distinct vendors, each with their own sweet spot within the EFM world. Verint is primarily known as an actionable intelligence solutions vendor that focuses on creating enterprise workforce optimization software and services to evaluate customer communications, especially in the contact center. Vovici is primarily known as an online survey management and enterprise feedback solutions vendor that focuses on helping companies obtain customer feedback from different channels and bring it all together to create a more holistic view of the customer. Essentially, Vovici had what Verint lacked — and Verint had what Vovici lacked. The result is now a more well-rounded and robust EFM offering.
July has been a “sizzling” month so far, and I don’t just mean the weather. Although its pretty hot and humid here in Miami, the market research world has been burning up with talk about mobile market research over the past three weeks. First, we kicked off the month with a debate I moderated about whether mobile research is the great hope or the false dawn. You can listen to a recording of the lively debate here. And now, the Merlien Market Research in a Mobile World conference just wrapped up. This conference brought together more than 200 client-side senior executives, market researchers, and mobile developers to discuss the challenges and opportunities mobile technologies can bring to generate customer insights.
Is all of this talk warranted? Yes! Just take a look at some of these facts. Forrester forecasts that by 2014, 65% of the world’s population will own at least one active mobile phone (click here for details; subscription required). And, earlier this year, Mary Meeker of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers stated that we have globally reached an inflection point in Q4 2010―the global shipments of smartphones and tablets surpassed the global shipments of desktop and notebook PCs.
Whereas in the age of manufacturing, the age of distribution, and most recently the age of information, companies that had the best skills were winning, in this age of the customer, only companies that fully understand their customers’ needs will win over their hearts (and with that, wallet share). And it’s not enough to be customer-centric — in fact, companies should be customer-obsessed. This is not just jargon, it has a real meaning:
A customer obsessed company focuses its strategy, its energy, and its budget on processes that enhance knowledge of an engagement with customers, and prioritizes these over maintaining traditional competitive barriers.
This report is very relevant for market insights professionals because they are the ones that will need to support their organization to understand the (hidden) drivers behind the needs of the customers — and how to delight them. Josh Bernoff shares more of his insights in this blog post, and clients can access the report here.
About six weeks ago, I attended the Mobile Research conference 2011 in London, where a variety of vendors and clients talked about their experiences with mobile as a research methodology. They shared a range of mobile research methodologies, like using text messages in emerging markets, mobile ethnographic studies, geolocation tracking, and mobile behavioral tracking data. You can find most of the presentations here, and if you want to see me in action as roving reporter, you can click here.
During the whole conference, there was a clear line between the benefits and challenges of online research versus mobile research, and how the two can strengthen each other. Then at the end of the second day, someone asked the following question to the audience: “Do you consider tablets a PC or mobile device?” The answer was almost unanimous: a mobile device.
This got me thinking about the whole concept of mobile research in more detail. In fact, I was wondering if something like a mobile research conference would still exist in a couple of years, because the rapid technological developments of smartphones and tablets will blur the line between mobile and online research. Can we, as researchers, continue to define the research methodology in the future, or are the respondents going to do that? This line of thinking led me to ask this question to our community members: Should research be device-agnostic?