Simple, Scalable and in Shanghai: The future of research?

September 22, 2011

Allow me to blow my trumpet a little: David and I recently presented at the AMSRS conference in Sydney on automated facial imaging – the content must have been worthy, as it earned the ESOMAR-sponsored “Best Presented Paper” Award. But, truth be told, we felt the driver of the award was probably people’s excitement at seeing how much detailed information on emotional response to marketing stimuli can be delivered by a system that just ‘watches human faces over a webcam’. This is illustrated below:

Facial Imaging: From Faces to Reports, No Questions Asked!

The appeal of such systems also came up in a discussion I had recently with a senior colleague that was spurred by news of events at EmSense:  http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/r-i-p-emsense.htm. While things may yet turn out for the best, it did seem to us that selling a system based on sophisticated hardware to US customers, in these tough times, cannot have been easy. As we tossed around the issues, it seemed apparent that as clients become ever more cost-focused and have to deal with massive amounts of data from multiple sources they become increasingly obsessed with research services that are both scalable and simple to implement and interpret.

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Running a Market Research Company: What I Learned Over Lunch

May 16, 2011
Risata Overlooking Steelhead Trout

Image by atl10trader via Flickr

Many years ago now, I was taken out to a long ‘relaxing’ lunch (as was the custom of those days) by a senior industry player. I was just starting out on my managerial career, and I suspect his major motivation was to fish for competitive intelligence, or perhaps to see if I was wanting to jump ship. But, as he poured the second glass, he seemed to decide I was worthy of mentoring and so started to give advice on how to manage a market research company. One bit, in particular, stuck with me. Leaning over he intoned: “look Alastair, making money out of MR is a lot simpler than most realise: all you need to do is hire the best people in the industry, pay them 20% more than they’d get anywhere else, then work them twice as hard as anybody else would.

A little while later, I was about to head off for my first overseas assignment, and at a far more genteel lunch our company chairman also offered some advice. I’d been probing him for clues on cultural factors that might impact my work and he’d been politely indulging me with helpful tips. Then he said “But you know, Alastair, that while all these things are important, there are two more important things in running a research business” . The first he said, was to know enough of finance and accountancy so your finance director could not pull the wool over your eyes (he put it more politely than that!). The second thing was to “recruit a team that is not like you, that compensates for your weaknesses, and will argue with you in an intelligent, rational way. If your team are all like you, and always agree with you, then sooner or later the company will be in trouble“.

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A Market Research Dream – Or is it a Nightmare?

April 14, 2011
Rhizome awardophilia . .

Tomorrows MR Gurus? All Question Answered, No Need For Survey or FGD! (Image by jef safi via Flickr)

Market Researchers are perpetually speculating on the future of MR; at times it is said, as a defence mechanism to save thinking about what needs doing today. In my view, this speculation falls between two extremes – expecting too much change (generally we under-rate institutional inertia in ourselves and our clients), or not anticipating enough (there will be some developments we cannot even begin to imagine).

Yet, there are stirrings in our profession of some genuinely revolutionary changes that will transform the lives of research’s next generation. These are not so much based in the oft heard predictions on new ways to access people’s thoughts (neuroscience, social media research etc.), but on the application of theory and modelling to understand and make sense of such thoughts. What then, might the future look like? Read the rest of this entry »


The NGMR Top-5-Hot vs. Top-5-Not: Our Pick of The Top MR Trends

March 8, 2011
Talk Nerdy To Me #2

Yeah Right. What's The Really Hot Talk? Image by Constantine Belias via Flickr

Last year there seemed to be such a plethora of posts (including some of ours) about the top trends in the market research industry that we thought it was time for a break.

But when Tom Anderson of Next Gen Market Research came up with the idea of a whole lot of NGMR bloggers simultaneously blogging on the top 10 issues the MR industry has to consider in coming years it seemed too much fun to miss. Here’s our views then — to be fair we’ve dropped out a few of the more totally obvious “top 10” and maybe elevated some we think are important but often overlooked — but we’ll be interested in hearing what you think (and do look up the others posts via Tom’s blog or on Twitter at hashtags: #NGMR #5Hot5Not).

Let’s start with our 5 “Not Hot”.

  1. Reining in HR. After years of imposing restrictive salary structures and job description demarcations along with their depiction of creative staff as being ‘high maintenance’, senior management finally abandons the tedious tenants of HR orthodoxy and starts treating imaginative and innovative researchers in the same way the top advertising agencies treat their best art directors and copywriters. In some cases, they even get a place at the top table again!
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Skin in the Game – in Praise of Employee Equity

February 7, 2011

A recent Research blog by my ex-boss, Nick Sparrow, founder of ICM, extolled the virtues of offering equity to agency staff. In fact, it was Nick who taught me in the early 80’s how to sell research based on its benefits not its features (which given my statistician’s focus at the time was a revelation!)

Nick expounded his vision of a business “run solely for all the people employed” where a company is best run, and gives the best service to clients, when the people feel a sense of ownership. It’s interesting to note that two of the UK’s ‘thought’ leading agencies (both of whom have won Agency of the Year) Brainjuicer and Truth appear both to have embarked on similar ownership structures.

Although, ICM was owned by 10 shareholders before its sale, Nick was interested to see research businesses go further and make all employees shareholders. Here the clients benefited as their interests were best served and reinforced by the servicing team who in turn profited from satisfied, returning, regular clients. Read On..>


The Myth of Market Research’s Failure.

November 23, 2010
Head in Hands

Time To Get Over It - It's NOT that Bad! (Image by Alex E. Proimos via Flickr)

I am getting increasingly angry about the number of posts, books, You Tube Videos and articles – often by market researchers themselves – that imply “conventional Market Research” is a failure.

Here’s a good example, ‘futurist’ Patrick Dixon talking about why market research is “often wrong”: http://tinyurl.com/25kp34z .

These sorts of pronouncements tend to have several things in common:

  • Flashy style and grand pronouncements rather than reasoned argument,
  • Reliance on anecdote or case study (in Dixon’s case it’s his mother),
  • Lack of examples on the other side of the argument (when MR got it right),
  • A (false) assumption that the raison d’etre of MR is predicting “big” changes,
  • Failure to acknowledge that methods other than MR are not all that flash at predicting big changes or seismic shifts in behaviour either,
  • An assertion that “traditional MR” misses out on some extraordinarily key factor in understanding consumers, be it an inability to capture emotion, or failure to understand the role of Social Media or whatever uber-trend the author is fascinated by.

Let me counter this hyperbolic dismissal of the value of our traditional approaches with an equally strong counter claim. I strongly believe that good experienced, senior researchers can – in most markets – answer 70% of the key marketing questions of 70% of major research clients by means of a research programme consisting of not more than a few focus groups, a reasonable sized survey and access to some sales, retail or media trend data. There is an “if” of course – and this is sometimes a big if – they need to allocate enough time and thought to carefully design the study and analyse the results. This does not mean I am not a believer in many of the new MR methods, particularly some of the new neuroscience, customer panel and online qualitative approaches — let us ‘seniors’ incorporate some of those into the research programme and my success estimate goes up to 80 or 90%!   The core point I want to make though is that any systemic “failure” of market research is a failure to apply brainpower and thinking time – not primarily a failure of techniques. Read the rest of this entry »


NEWS: Alastair Gordon MRA Webinar: Re-valuing Ourselves

October 26, 2010

NEWS: Tomorrow (Oct 27th US) I’ll be conducing a Webinar for the (US) MRA on the topic of:

Re-Valuing Ourselves: Why it’s Urgent to Tackle the “Soft Stuff” in the Research Process

Details are below if you are interested (It will be download-able later from the MRA website, for a small fee which goes to the MRA). Also a “normal” blog post (long overdue) will come out in the next couple of days!

Overview of Webinar:

It is often claimed by market researchers that users of research simply don’t appreciate the value of what we provide. Sometimes we feel under-appreciated and, possibly worse, underpaid!  This Webinar presents the view that we’ll never get users to value us, until we start re-valuing ourselves, and we can only do this by putting more effort into examining what exactly it is that we do that creates value for clients.

The Webinar examines why recent industry efforts to drive staff cost-savings, operational reforms, and push short-term sales may be reaching the limits of their effectiveness.  Instead, it is argued, we have to tackle some of the “soft and mushy” aspects of how we work personally and as organizations, and what we deliver to our (internal and external) clients. The interactions between various “soft skill” aspects of the research process (between taking a brief and delivering a presentation for instance) represent both our greatest costs and bottlenecks, and yet also our best hope for improving research ROI and enhancing our personal career satisfaction.

A framework for thinking about how to tackle and some of these “hard but important” challenges is discussed. The emphasis is on practical ideas for thinking about how these issues impact researchers and their organizations, hopefully providing some ideas for “next steps” towards improvements.

Date: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 (USA)

Time: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EDT

Contact: http://www.mra-net.org/education/description.cfm?edid=373