Watching and Listening – An Alternative to Direct Questioning?

April 10, 2012

In the early 90’s, the ‘tagline’ of a leading Japanese agency’s brochure was ‘the key to understanding was to read between the lines of what was not said’. Two decades later, Shobha Prasad re-visited the issue focusing on the layering and subtleties of Asian languages in ‘Listening to the Sounds of Silence’ at ESOMAR’s APAC Conference.

As Asia grows more healthy, wealthy, and wired, superficially its consumers resemble their Western counterparts. Sometimes even, having leapfrogged technological lifecycles, they appear more advanced. Nevertheless, although these new trappings bring an almost ‘stateless’ vocabulary to the world’s languages, the fundamental challenges of interpreting local cultural nuance and international comparisons remain.

Direct questioning methods is felt to be (even) less effective in Asia due to language structure, cultural norms, and social convention. Asian consumers are often not so forthcoming with opinions than Western ones – although researchers in Mumbai or Manila may well disagree. The real issue, though, is the huge variety of expression, both verbally and visually. As well as vocabulary and sentence structure, different expressions also support communication. Cultures displaying emotion less conservatively usually have the mouth as the main focus; a culture that masks its feelings focuses more subtly on the eyes when determining emotion. So, visual cues can be equally important to gauge underlying sentiments. Read On..>

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The Landscape Of Emotion

February 22, 2012

Measuring emotion is increasingly straightforward – interpreting the results still requires some intellectual subtlety.

Emotion, and the research techniques that measure it, remain hot topics in market research. Many of you will have read of Brainjuicer’s Valentine’s day card to Millward Brown, celebrating the latter’s purported “embracing” of emotion as a key marketing driver. A lot of fun for those of us that are observers of course, but leaving aside the question of whether this unduly caricatures Millward-Brown’s approach to emotional analysis, I detect in the discussion, another caricature: the reduction of ‘emotion’ to something simplistic and monolithic. If only we can measure this emotion stuff, we will ‘have the answer’. Maybe, if we can find the right emotional measurement machine we researchers can all retire?

As some of you know, David and I are working (with nViso SA of Switzerland) with exactly that: an “emotional measurement machine” that directly measures people’s emotional response to stimuli via a method called 3D Facial Imaging. Here’s a chart based on 3D Facial Imaging data – I’ll explain it’s significance later in this post, for the moment just note we can directly measure specific types of emotive response with a standard computer and webcam.

Hills & Valleys in The Landscape of Emotion (See Below for Explanation)

This is, I would argue, much more accurate and granular than any questionnaire based method. Yet, despite being thrilled by the results we are obtaining, I would not argue that we have reached some sort of  “deus ex machinamoment, where researchers and subtle interpretation become redundant.

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


Time To Tune The Engine? 5 Tweaks For Market Research Businesses.

June 5, 2010

There seems to me to be something about market researchers that means we are forever fretting about the “big-stuff” impacting our business: big trends in market research methodology, the value of out-sourcing or the desirability of expanding into new geographies. (I have to confess to having been doing a bit of this myself lately, and if you are interested in my view on major trends here’s a link to my article with Duncan Stuart in May’s Research Magazine) .

Time For A Few Tweaks?

All good things to think about of course, and successful research companies will be constantly evaluating the impact of such issues. However, this shouldn’t blind us to the fact that ours is a business involving a lot of detail, and if you take your eye off the everyday processes that impact your business you will inevitably sacrifice quality and margin.

The Gordon & McCallum experience is that most MR businesses make less money than they should and could often achieve considerably better results with a bit of focus on making “tweaks” to everyday business and research practices. In this post I’m going to suggest 5 “tweaks” to our everyday work that could improve the performance of most research firms.

Read the rest of this entry »


Avoiding Extinction – Reinventing the Survey.

November 8, 2009

If panels and data-bases are getting better at telling us the “whats” of the world, and improved qualitative and new nuero-science techniques are getting better at the “whys” (see my last post), then what’s left for the old-school ad hoc survey? Well obviously it can be argued that where representative samples are needed to establish incidence or opinion, well-designed surveys will always be pre-eminent. There is some truth in this, but perhaps not enough of such studies to maintain a global MR industry! The real future of the survey is in recognising and playing to three key strengths: Read On..>


Are Surveys Heading For Extinction? The Approaching Storm.

October 26, 2009

In the next few years there will be a significant lift in the use of traditional “fact gathering”,  ad hoc surveys. This will be driven by demand for data in growth economies and in sectors where currency services and data-bases are still in their infancy. At the same time, in developed markets, as the recession recedes and firms start to generate cash they will realise a need to reacquaint themselves with consumers whose lives and values have been transformed by recent events. This Indian Summer of the traditional survey will not last, however, and firms that get fooled by the burst of prosperity and fail to prepare (by investing in R&D, software, and training) for a new world will ultimately fail.
Read On..>


Are Surveys Headed For Extinction?

October 8, 2009

Every year an increasing number of surveys are being carried out in more and more countries. Only a decade or so ago many people lived out their lives without a single interviewer asking their opinion on the government of the day or paper towel brands. In major cities at least, it’s a rare person who can say that today. Yet, these staples of our industry are increasingly under threat, partly by new alternatives, partly by social changes and possibly, in largest part, by our collective inattention as an industry. Time, in my view, to rethink what a survey is good for and reinvent what we do with them.
Read On..>