Posts filed under ‘insight’

Rethinking online research

by Pen Stuart

As consultants and researchers try to understand evolving consumer behaviour, we quite often use online survey research. It’s one of those areas which seemed like a revelation when it was first introduced, if only because it pushed down research costs, but has changed little recently. The online world has moved on but online research is still trapped by the legacy of the forms and questionnaires of face to face research. It is a classic example of using technology to do an old thing in a new way.

But there’s a cost to this: dull forms leads to lower engagement with the questions which leads to lower quality answers; poorer data, in other words. So, like all areas which have got stuck, it is crying out for some innovation.

To help us understand what is coming next, we invited the market research specialists GMI in to talk about what they’re doing to refresh the online survey. Their view: survey writing is becoming a creative discipline, a specialist form of communication designed to get people to respond better – exactly as happened with the emergence of advertising as a discipline.

Their research suggests that respondents are happy to spend longer on questionnaires, and provide much richer and more considered results, and without being paid more, if you make the survey process more entertaining. Activating their imagination is crucial, to get respondents to think in more interesting ways about your subject. Instead of just asking ‘what is your opinion on…’, for example, GMI asks you to ‘imagine you are being interviewed by a journalist who asks…’, thereby creating an element of role play. Tests show it gives proven longer and more thoughtful responses.

They’ve also borrowed from games design – turning repetitive actions with little tangible benefit into a structured process that engages and entertains. This can make the survey more of a challenge. But the answer to the obvious question – won’t people just quit the survey? – is ‘no’. But it depends on the design of the challenge. Changing a question from  ‘describe yourself’ to ‘describe yourself in exactly 7 words’ means that people spend more time on it, leading to better responses and better data.

There’s a catch, of course: the cost of developing the questionnaire increases. The solution to that problem is finding clients who care about the quality of the research data they’re getting back. And engagement also opens up new types of response – relevant when you start to think about increasing open source innovation, and getting consumer feedback on new product development. All in all, something to start experimenting with.

The image at the top of the post comes from The Listening Post blog, where there is an interesting post on why respondents abandon surveys. The image is used with thanks.

5 April 2012 at 12:09 pm Leave a comment

The new normal is still here, and here to stay

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

“I’ve found the cost of living has gone up substantially and it has had a huge impact on my life. I am not buying luxuries as often and I will change the way I deal with my finances.”

This sobering quote comes from a Scottish man we spoke to as part of our fifth in-depth review of how UK consumers are responding to the current economic situation. In our breakfast briefing held in London last week to launch this review, we highlighted four themes which describe the current environment:

  1. The New Normal is firmly embedded: Reflecting the broader economic uncertainty, individuals feel the outlook is gloomy: 25% feel the UK economy is going very badly these days, an increase of 10% compared to when the survey was last carried out six months ago. People are even less optimistic about their personal financial situation with almost half thinking they will be worse off over the next 12 months. The message is clear: no one expects things to go back to how they were and we are learning how to cope.
  2. Rising prices are hurting:Though inflation has recently dropped a fraction, our data showed levels of anxiety about rising prices similar to those seen in 2008. Many of the people we spoke to were highly sensitive to these changes, whether this was about an increase in the cost of petrol or bell peppers.
  3. Savvy shopping matters to consumers: 43% of consumers have had to dip into savings to make ends meet and they are trying hard to make their money going further. Deals and special offers are still very much part of this, but consumers are doing more than that: they are giving serious thought to what they really need and what they really don’t. One lady in Staines realised she didn’t have to spend £70 every six weeks at the hairdresser and could use a £3.50 home dye kit instead. However, she wasn’t going to cut back on her expensive make-up and perfume.
  4. It’s a constant struggle to stay on top of things: In our last survey, we identified three groups who represent the various responses to the current financial downturn, and this time round, ‘All Hands on Deck’ were the only group which had increased in size. Though people in this group feel the struggle to make ends meet most acutely, making the most of your budget is relevant to everyone, even for the relatively unaffected ‘Plain Sailing’ group. All want to feel they can loosen their belt without losing it.

I’ll finish with a quote from a young woman in Sheffield which sums up the dilemma the New Normal presents for some:
“I could lose my job tomorrow, so I should plan to protect myself against that – but then again, I could lose my job tomorrow…so why not live for the moment?”.

There are limited places available for a repeat of this breakfast briefing on 12th May. To find out more please contact Karen Kidson.

20 April 2011 at 2:09 pm 1 comment

The World in 2020

Andrew Curry writes:

I’ve been working on a Futures Company report on The World in 2020 for the last couple of months, and since I’ve end up doing much of the work in the evening I’m delighted to say that we’ve just published the summary edition, and the full version has just gone into production. The summary edition can be downloaded from our website, although registration is required.

The World in 2020 is the first in a series of ‘Futures Perspectives’ reports which we’re publishing over the next few months.

It takes a high level view of the big drivers which are shaping the world, and looks at some of the innovation spaces which may emerge as a result. Here’s are a couple of extracts:

The financial crisis of 2008 represented an ending, but not a beginning. We are in a liminal moment, betwixt and between, when there are more questions than answers, but when, increasingly, our assumptions about how the world works are open to challenge and interrogation. … Liminal moments such as this one can last a decade or more, before opinion coalesces around a new set of operating assumptions about how the world works.

Over the next decade, we’ll see much tougher resource constraints – energy, food and water, and resources will all be under pressure – as well as the continuing long economic shift towards Asia. Issues involving technology and inequality will also be influential. It will be harder to make money in the coming decade. As a result, businesses will have to rethink their approach:

The changing economic environment creates the dilemma of new yet alternative prospects for different types of customers. The emerging middle class across much of Asia and Latin America will be very different from the debt constrained consumers of Europe and the United States. Globally, the
costs of basics such as food and energy are likely to rise over the next decade, so discretionary income will be lower than some project. In the richer countries, the experience of recession will create demands for more social behavior from businesses.

Business critic Umair Haque talks of the “meaning organization” that builds “authentic prosperity.” As he writes in a blog post, “An isolated notion of ’profit’ is obsolete: it’s an arid industrial-age conception of a currency-focused construct that’s built to trivialize everything but what a firm owes its ’owners’.

14 March 2011 at 9:16 am 3 comments

Winners and sinners in the Superbowl ads

Alex Steer writes:

I’ve been in the US a few months now, and still know nothing about American football. So when I watched the Superbowl last night, I watched the advertising. I was looking for ads that showed some insight into how consumers here are thinking and feeling in the recovery. There were some clear hits and some obvious mis-steps. Here’s my (personal) take on the most expensive 30-second slots in the advertising year.

Some winners

Everybody was talking about Volkswagen’s Passat commercial before the game, and with good reason. On the surface this endearing spot about a small child in a Darth Vader costume does no more than use some human interest to sell a minor product feature (remote engine start), it tapped into an insight about our desire for technology to fit around our lives in subtle, even ‘magical’ ways. Its gentle tone hit a sweet spot for consumers who are seeking more humanity in the marketplace.

The insight behind Best Buy’s ‘Buy Back’ offer was really smart. They recognized that if consumers are no longer in recessionary lock-down, they’re weighing up their spending (especially on big-ticket items) much more carefully. Best Buy is helping its consumers feel more futureproof, and that matters. The ad, with Ozzy Osbourne and Justin Bieber, was one of the most catchphrase-worthy of the night. (‘How many bloody Gs are there?’)

Verizon kicked off its ad with an almost-too-close parody of an iPhone 4 commercial – ultra close-up, heroing the product, a little overblown – before getting to the point: ‘Does your network work?’ Demand for utility is really strong in the US marketplace at the moment, and Verizon deftly exploited a gap between consumers’ opinions of the iPhone and the AT&T network, often criticized for poor call quality.

The real winner for me in terms of insight was Chrysler, with its ‘Imported from Detroit’ ad. It wasn’t the only car marque to run with a ‘made in the US’ message, but it was the only one to explore what that means in the United States now. More an ad about Detroit than Chrysler, it was one of the few spots of the night that showed foresight as well as insight, using Detroit (and the car) as shorthand for a recovering nation’s sense of injury, self-reliance and determination. There’s a lot of discussion – and divided opinions – about this ad in our US offices today.

Some sinners

We’re a bit divided, too, over the Motorola Xoom piece, which tried to do to Apple exactly what Apple did to Microsoft in its famous ‘1984’ ad. I don’t think it reflects a genuine insight into how people think about the iPad. For that reason it’s less strong than Windows Phone’s amazing ‘Season of the Witch’ and ‘Really’, which tapped into exactly how a lot of us feel about smartphones.

Like the VW spot, Chevy’s ‘Status’ commercial was a fairly human take on a minor product feature, but it the feature was baffling. A voice that reads your Facebook status updates as you drive feels like an awkward attempt by a car to borrow the brand halo of a social network, but just when enthusiasm for ‘always on, always sharing’ feels like it’s waning.

My worst offender, by far, was Groupon, whose campaign idea, ‘Save the Money’, is based on the idea of treating money like it’s a precious resource. The insight’s not bad, but their three ads badly misjudged US consumers. By making light of the threats to whales, Tibet and forestation, they seemed shallow and self-obsessed, and worse, prompted an immediate backlash online. Even if consumers find environmental concerns slipping down their list of immediate priorities, it doesn’t mean they want to mock them.

In all, it feels like the most-loved ads were those which had a powerful and durable insight behind them. The Superbowl’s the one night of the year when we pay real attention to the ads, but we expect those ads to be paying attention to us, too.

7 February 2011 at 9:26 pm 1 comment

Looking beyond price

Walker Smith writes:

A ‘new normal’ is emerging among consumers in the wake of the financial crisis and the recession:  ‘considered consumption’. This trend, which we noted last year, has now been reaffirmed by our latest Global MONITOR survey, which has just been released. One of the consequences is that the focus on price which was so strong immediately following the financial crisis has started to weaken.

Two data points stand out. The first is that 53% of consumers – taking a global average across all 20 countries – agree that ‘price is more important to me than brand names’ (down from 59% in 2009). The second is that 39% agree that ‘it’s best to buy famous brand names because you can rely on their quality’ (up from 34% in 2009).

Although these changes are small, they are notable. It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that consumers who are still tightening their belts also want the reassurance of name-brand quality.

And while there’s been a lot of talk about consumer frugality, what’s actually happening is that they’re practising prioritization. Consumers will stand up for the things that matter to them. But brands need to play their part as well. One of the other trends tracked by Global MONITOR is about interest in brands that practice social responsibility or deliver innovative wellness benefits. That’s been climbing, albeit slowly, over the past three years.

Global MONITOR is The Futures Company’s syndicated insights service. It encompasses an annual quantitative global survey of more than 27,000 consumers in 20 countries; the Global Energies, our consumer trends framework; and Global Streetscapes, our interactive database, continually refreshed, of consumer and brand behaviour. For more information, please contact Jennifer Childs in London or Simon Kaplan in the United States.

1 October 2010 at 4:12 pm Leave a comment

Launching Futureproof

Andrew Curry writes:

It’s been a while in the making, but I’m delighted to say that we’ve just launched the first edition of our new strategy and insight newsletter, Futureproof. It can be downloaded from our new website as a PDF, or accessed from the News and Events page.

Highlights from the launch edition are:

  • The impact of the Asian economies on European businesses – based on our recent report for HSBC
  • An article on sustainable consumption in the UK, based on our latest Greenprint research, written by Joe Clift of the advertising and marketing portal WARC
  • And a review of Sharon Iyengar’s book, The Art of Choosing.

Futureproof will be coming out quarterly, and you can sign up for it on the website. And credit to my colleagues Karen Kidson, who organised production, and to Tom Warren, who did the design work.

24 September 2010 at 6:10 pm Leave a comment

The rise of Wordle

We’ve been having a debate in the office about the merits of Wordle. These are Russ’ thoughts.

Russ Wilson writes:

Wordle, word clouds, Tagxedo:  all online apps for taking a load of data in the form of words and presenting it in a design friendly way.  As a lover of language I’m all for anything that encourages people to explore words, think about how and why they’ve been used and analyse their meanings. However I’m not really sure that any of these tools do this.

I have two main issues with Wordles, and they’re exemplified in the wordle above, based on David Cameron’s coalition speech. First, they remove the word from its immediate context.  Take the word interest, represented as one of the more frequently occurring words.  But it could equally indicate curiosity and engagement or interest payments. The Wordle doesn’t help; it only tells us the word occurred often in the speech. Similarly, coalition also figures prominently. But it doesn’t help with context. We can’t tell, for  example, whether they said ‘this is a coalition’ or ‘this is not a coalition’!

The second issue is that frequency is being proposed as an indicator of importance, but that’s not how we actually interpret speech. Imagine a Wordle which captures responses to a question such as ‘What do you think of the coalition?’ One person might say the new government is ‘absolutely the most important and exciting change in politics in living memory’; others might respond that it is ‘quite troubling’, ‘not very troubling’ or even ‘not troubling’?  The Wordle would look, well, troubling:

Frequency of use is simply that – frequency of use.

Wordles do look good. But they become dangerous when presented as meaningful analysis. They don’t tell the right story, and worse, they are also capable of telling a completely different story altogether. Yet the mainstream media are happy to present them as semi-serious analysis: The Guardian says that from its Wordles for Nick Clegg and David Cameron’s acceptance speeches ‘you can get a good idea of the two leaders’ use of language – and which words were important to them’.  As a linguist I know there are many ways to explore their language use, but I don’t think I would include a Wordle as a method of analysis or of display. Their visual appeal gives them more credence than they deserve.

As a final test, here is a Wordle of this post – do you think it reflects the views I’ve expressed above?

3 June 2010 at 9:02 am 8 comments

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