Innovative Research Ideas From Three Vendors

I recently attended a unique event hosted by three vendors who are, at times, competitors: Communispace, BrainJuicer, and OTX. It was a nice change from industry events, and a place to interact with top executives of each of these companies as well as a very nice mix of their own clients from large brands that any of us in MR would recognize. It was a very energizing afternoon, thanks in part to the opening exercises by John Kearon (BrainJuicer's 'Chief Juicer'). I would be embarrassed to come out of the experience without some thoughts to share on the blog. Here are the topics of discussion that really stuck with me:

  1. According to Ari Popper of BrainJuicer, we humans are unreliable witnesses to our own behavior. Case in point: a quick poll of the room, showed that 100% of us thought that our IQ was higher than half the people in the room. (Defying the bell curve!) This led to some very interesting discussion around Mass Anthropology via the Web, as well as Mass Ethnography (a methodology that’s still being perfected by the company).
  2. Still according to Ari, we rely on gut more than thinking when making a decision. This fit with his points on Mass Prediction, which is based on people’s choices on what ideas or products they would buy/sell shares in. In a test from Brainjuicer, this led to an accurate prediction that the movie Alvin and the Chipmunks would be an unexpected success. Who would have thought?
  3. Diane Hessan from Communispace presented 8 rules for transformation in market research, and successfully riled up some discussion among the crowd. The rules I most agreed with: cutting edge technology + poor research design = bad research, and don’t mistake data for insight. The ones I was more skeptical about: Don’t underestimate the power of n=1 (My take: a seemingly great idea or valuable viewpoint from one consumer still warrants level-setting within a larger N), resist the urge to put customers in a bucket (My take: the bigger challenge is finding buckets/segmentations that are meaningful). We’ve actually included  some related thoughts on segmentation in our own market research predictions for 2010.
  4. Shelley Zalis, the CEO of OTX (which was just acquired by Ipsos) gave a very inspiring talk on how to actually innovate – regardless of industry. But the advice that resonated most for market researchers: The words ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ don’t mean anything anymore. They must live together in order to create knowledge.

The overarching message, which my team is also tracking, is that now is the time to innovate in market research -- be it around dipping into new methodologies, updating staid research processes, or engaging as collaborators rather than erecting research bottle-necks.

I would welcome your thinking on how some of these insights strike you. Do they feel new to you? Do they feel realistic? Constructive? What other innovative trends or vendors have you been following?


re: Innovative Research Ideas From Three Vendors

Tamara -- Good summary. One interesting item: of the almost 200 people who have now heard my presentation, the "rule" everyone ranked the highest is "Don't Underestimate the Power of n=1." I'll be blogging about that, but I think it speaks to the same issue about how people are drowning in data, but begging for insight.

re: Innovative Research Ideas From Three Vendors

Wish I'd been there! But assessing one's own IQ sounds more like an attitude than a behaviour. :)

(Though the point stands, I think.)

re: Innovative Research Ideas From Three Vendors

Interesting report Tamara. A couple of thoughts - I think cognitive research is gradually moving away from the old "gut" versus "thinking" distinction because the decisions we thought were "irrational" are increasingly being seen as useful and logical processes to make decisions quickly and efficiently, and also because many of the so called "thinking" decisions turn out to be heavily predicated on various emotional constructs. The point for MR people is to start to see decisions as a process, and to trace the places in that process where we either consider aspects carefully, or make fast decisions - then work out what are the triggers for each - that will allow marketers to refine their approach across media etc.

On the movie one, there's a lot of research around showing movie decisions are often context (what's on near me) and group defined (not necessarily what I personally consider a "great" movie) and that may be why "mass prediction" worked for Brain Juicer - possibly it makes you consider more realistically what you'd actually be able to persuade your better half to go and see, rather than simply being a sort of "film critic" commenting on your own personal reaction!

re: Innovative Research Ideas From Three Vendors

Hi Tamara, also would have loved to had the chance to discuss with people working in such innovative research companies! I would like to emphasize 2 points crucial for doing research2.0 in an innovation context:
1. "The importance of n=1 for cocreation new product ideas in the early stages of innovation processes". The shifting consumer understanding from the traditional passive consumer (functional fixedness) towards an active prosumer (social media revolution) has to be seen differentiated. There are really creative, innovative and brilliant consumers out there, but you have to digg deep to find these nuggets (1-9-90-rule). The challenge is to find and integrate the right consumers throughout the whole innovation processes of companies. Starting with lead users (see v. Hippel) for ideation and ending with "representative" consumers for testing.
2. "Researchers & designers should be best friends". Doing research with creative & innovative consumers means a broader scope of information that has to be analyzed. Passive consumers give you only need-information. But innovative prosumers confront you also with solution-information (ideas, solution priciples, prototypes). Understanding and evaluating sophisticated solution-information requires the expertise of design or r&d, which most market researchers don't have. Thus interdisciplinary teams of researchers & designers are crucial for successful coreation research and open innovation projects. (see esomar paper & slideshare "human-centred innovation - why researchers & designers should be best friends")

re: Innovative Research Ideas From Three Vendors

"The words ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ don’t mean anything anymore." I wouldn't say they don't mean anything, they now mean something different from our traditional view of qual and quant. There is a blurring of the techniques for gathering data and for interpreting the data. So perhaps we need new definitions of qualitative and quantitative.

For example, you can have an online survey question that is asked of a very small sample size, thereby requiring a qualitative interpretation of the results. Conversely, you can have a projective technique (e.g., collage, storytelling) posed to a large sample size, however, you will still require a qualitative interpretation of the data.

The skill and experience of the researcher in qualitative and qualitative techniques will be ever more important moving forward. It also opens up new possibilities for how we approach and conduct our research.

re: Innovative Research Ideas From Three Vendors

Thank you all for your comments so far. As you can probably imagine, we had plenty of debate on these points and others at the event itself. I'm glad we can take it beyond those four walls and into other forums such as this one.
My reactions to the comments:
Diane: Looking forward to reading more about the audience reactions in your blog, especially the kind of discussions that happened around the rankings.

Tom: A fair point indeed! I'm glad you read the post in such detail:)I suppose any time you ask someone for their view on how well they carry out a behavior or where they stand relative to others, it’s more of an attitude. Perhaps the take-away here is that when you do this kind of research, make sure it's on something that people *actually* do have a hard time estimating on their own.

Alastair: Your comments on cognitive research are especially interesting to me. I was recently listening to a radio report with neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer, talking about how we decide the things we do -- fascinating. For anyone who's interested, the transcript is here: I especially like the bit on deciding between chocolate cake and fruit salad.

Netnoblography: Agreed. Never underestimate the Power of N=1 as a starting point, but also don't underestimate the power of broader-based testing.

And Monique: Your points go back to the need for quality insights, regardless of the methodology used to extract those insights. The blurring of techniques which you describe now makes it increasingly challenging to put research into clear buckets of qual v. quant.

re: Innovative Research Ideas From Three Vendors

The Lehrer transcript was really interesting. My quantitative mind couldn't help but think about discrete choice studies and the number of factors to include in any design. We definitely have similar findings in terms of how much different information you can include and have respondents properly compute, even when you are trying to make the trade-offs a somewhat subsconscious exercise. Our best practice recommendation to clients is seven factors. The number of levels within a factor doesn't have the same effect - they can be "unlimited" in the design.