What can the trial of Italian Scientists teach market researchers?

The Economist has an interesting report about seven scientists in Italy who are on trial on charges of manslaughter. The prosecution follows their recommendation, on 31 March 2009, that the tremors felt around the Italian city of L’Aquila posed ‘no danger’. Six days later there was a series of geological events that resulted in 308 deaths.

The scientists say that when they said there was no danger, they meant that the danger was at its normal level for a city in an earthquake zone, not that there was NO danger. They are suggesting that the prosecution is invalid because people who live in an earthquake zone understand risk.

A second point that is being made is that the scientists were probably (or is that possibly) wrong in their comments. The Economist reports that other scientists have suggested that the background risk of a major earthquake in L’Aquila is about 1-in-200,000, but that after the minor tremors the risk had increased to 1-in-1000. Which raises the question whether a city should be evacuated every time it has a 1-in-1000 risk? If yes, then there will be losses, wasted time, and road deaths. If no, then 1-in-1000 times there will be a disaster.

Although this affair is more important and more tragic than market research, there are, nevertheless, two useful lessons for market researchers that arise from it.

1) People tend not to understand statistics. When I say people, I mean both experts and the public. Do not assume that your client has grasped the statistical interferences in your findings, make them tangible and test whether you have communicated the important knowledge (not just the facts).

2) Don’t appear more certain than you are. Clients do not want debriefs that just regurgitate statistics, they want insight and they want recommendations. But they do not want to be told they are safe when they are not! Rather than say “the data show”, tell the truth, such as “I believe this means …”, “We think it is likely that ….”, or “The most likely explanation is …”

This is not a new problem for market researchers. Back in 1987, Yankelovich Clancy was sued by Beecham because it forecast sales growth that did not materialise. Market research needs to convey its findings in a way that allows the client to make a better decisions, the research should not seek to replace the client’s responsibility for the decision. Without resorting to statistical devices, such as error margins and distributions, researchers need to ensure clients understand the degree of trust that they should put in the information they are being presented with.

Using your conference presentations to grow your LinkedIn connections

Speaking at a conference is a great way to grow your LinkedIn connections, you potential connections know who you are (provided they saw your session) and you will usually have a list of their names, countries, and companies. However, it is not all plain sailing, if you do not have their email address and if you are not both members of the same group, it can be slow process to connect.

Whenever I run a workshop or speak at a conference I create a new job in LinkedIn, usually starting and finishing during the same month. For example, last week I ran two workshops and was a keynote speaker at the AMSRS Conference in Sydney. So, today I creates a new job in my profile “Conference Speaker and Workshop Leader Sept 2011 at AMSRS”.

Now I can work my way through the list of attendees and invite them to connect with me on LinkedIn. In the box asking how I know them I can truthfully say we’ve done business together and select my Conference Speaker description. I find that this approach works best if done promptly after the conference, before people have had a chance to forget you.

By the way, if you want to find me on LinkedIn you can find me HERE.

How many young people did not riot in the UK this week?

As anybody who has seen the news will be aware, there have been a series of public disorder events in the UK this week. Some of these could be called riots, one of them seemed to be a protest, but most were about looting.

As is always the case, the media and politicians are looking for easy answers and remedies and one of the themes that seems to be emerging is to either a) blame young people or b) blame the alienation of young people. Both of these may have some truth, but the quant researcher in me was also drawn to the question of how many young people were involved in the disorder, as a proportion of young people – or to put it the other way round, how many young people were not involved in the problems?

From the news it was easy to see that a large part of the rioters (to use a simple term) were young, let’s say aged 14 to 21. But pulling all the news together, I would suspect that about 2000 young people were involved, perhaps more, so let’s consider the chance that maybe, across the whole country, across several nights the number was 10,000.
According to the Office of National Statistics there are about 6.25 million young people in the UK, i.e. aged 14 to 21. These numbers suggest that either 99.97% of young people were not involved in the disorders or 99.84% of young people were not involved. So, it would be a bit unfair to describe the problem as about ‘young people’.

What the riots in the UK do show is that a country that polices by consent (e.g. employing a small number of police force and where almost all police are unarmed) can be thrown off course by a very small number of people who choose to challenge the consensus.

I’m Joining Vision Critical

This is an unusual post as it all about me and my new role with Vision Critical, but hopefully it will be of some interest to readers.

I am excited to announce that I have been appointed by Vision Critical as Executive Vice President with responsibility for the UK, joining an established team in Vision Critical’s London office. Along with the current leadership team of Kris Hartvigsen and Mike Stevens, I will be working with clients and research partners to utilise community panels to bring the ‘magic of listening’ to more products and services.

Several people will probably be wondering why I have chosen to move from a consulting life-style to a corporate role and I think there are four main reasons:

  1. Advising businesses and thought leaders has been stimulating, but I feel it is time to roll up my sleeves and help create something tangible.
  2. I feel that brands in the UK, indeed across Europe, are missing a major chance by not adopting community panels more rapidly and more completely.
  3. Vision Critical are the global brand leader in community panels and I think they are well placed to help the European market move to the next level
  4. I like the Vision Critical people (both the senior people and the local people) and the position they have created for me.

I have been saying that community panels were shaping up to change the face of brand/customer research and relations, for some time. Indeed, one of the key interviews in the Handbook of Online and Social Media Research was with Angus Reid (CEO of Vision Critical), exploring the benefits of community panels. However, although community panels have expanded massively in North America and Australia, their growth in UK and Europe has been patchy. In my view this represents a missed opportunity for European clients, who could be benefiting from faster, cheaper, and more flexible research.

There is growing support for the idea that every brand needs a community to keep in touch with its customers and to help it co-create its future. Some people believe these communities could or should be small and qualitative, such as the MROCs of 200-300 members. However, I think the future is going to be dominated by the community panel, which can be configured to provide both qual and quant, intense communities and wider advocacy groups, ad hoc studies and longitudinal analysis, and most excitingly of all a link between the voice of the consumer and the growing petabytes of BI (Business Information) data.

If you have enjoyed my writings, webinars, workshops, and conference presentations, do not worry, I won’t be disappearing from view. Vision Critical were attracted to me because of my immersion in the discourse of new market research, they are not about to lose that insight now I am part of their team. Expect to see me at a wide variety of meetings, talking about a wide variety of topics, and taking polemical positions.

Over the next few weeks, my appearances in my new Vision Critical role include a keynote presentation and workshop for the Australian AMSRS, workshops for the UK’s MRS, a workshop and presentations at ESOMAR events (including the Congress in Amsterdam and the 3D Online Conference in Miami), and of course chairing the Festival of NewMR.

Plenty of changes!

This new role will result in several changes, including:

  1. I am going to be living in London, Monday to Friday.
  2. The Future Place is going to largely close down its consulting role and concentrate on supporting, running and facilitating NewMR.
  3. I will be standing down from The Future Place and Helen Bartlett has been promoted to Managing Director of The Future Place.
  4. I am standing down as the Organiser of NewMR and Sue York, one of the founders of NewMR, will be stepping into the role. I will be returning in the unpaid positions of Chair of the Festival of NewMR and co-host of Radio NewMR.

What Next?

For the next few weeks I will be tidying up loose ends, receiving some intensive training on Vision Critical’s systems, completing a 30 mile sponsored run (see http://thefutureplace.typepad.com/saints_way_2011/), taking a two-week holiday, and appearing at conferences and workshops in Sydney, London, and Amsterdam.

After that I will be visiting as many people as possible to share with them my vision of how community panels can give clients faster, cheaper, and more flexible research, and how partnering with Vision Critical can enable market research agencies to profitably provide global brand leader solutions to their clients.

If you would like to have a chat about community panels contact me and we’ll set up a chat.

As part of the changes I will be stopping blogging at The Future Place and will instead by blogging at:

  • Vision Critical’s website – watch out for my personal blog shortly
  • RayPoynter.com – for my extracurricular thoughts and comments
  • And as a guest blogger at sites like NewMR.org and GreenBook

It’s time for market research to join 21st Century

There are a large number of discussions and consultations going on at the moment about initiatives from ESOMAR, CASRO, the MRS and others to try to regulate how social media research should be conducted, especially social media monitoring. The general thrust of the new guidelines is to try and fit the new world into the traditional values and ideas of market research. I think this is the wrong way to go about the change.
I think we need to change the whole of commercial market research to match the 21st Century, rather than try to keep shoehorning the new world into the old constructs.
My feeling is that there will soon be a schism in market research, between those trying to hang onto the past and those embracing the new.
The benefits of traditional market research ethics were that they allowed some exemptions to laws (e.g. data protections laws, laws about multiple contacts, laws about phoning people who were on ‘no call’ lists), increased public trust, and allowed market research to get close to a scientific model – for example to use concepts such as random probability sampling and statistical significance. Complying with codes of ethics incurred extra costs, but they also brought commercial benefits. The ‘proper’ market research companies could do things the non-research companies could not- so there was a commercial argument in favour of self-regulation, codes of conduct, and professional conduct bodies.
However, in several areas, ‘new’ market research is at odds with the traditional guidelines. Examples of where NewMR is at odds with the traditional ethics includes: the brand-related incentives for members of communities, the brand advocacy of community members, the changes wrought by deliberative research, and most of social media monitoring research. Other areas where research is drifting away from the classic model of anonymity include a growing amount of customer satisfaction and most of enterprise feedback systems.
Traditional market research is based on a) anonymity and b) informed consent. Large parts of new market research cannot deliver anonymity and in the area of social media research (and behavioural data integration) informed consent cannot be reliably assumed either.
If market research companies abide by the old ethics, in particular anonymity and informed consent, they will not be able to compete for business in most areas where market research is growing. This is because there will be no commercial benefits that will accrue to sticking to rules and ideas that nobody else does. To stick to out-dated rules simply provides a worse service for clients. Rules have costs, they only work when they also confer benefits.
The view of people like the UK’s MRS is that all of the ‘stuff’ that does not match the traditional view of market research should be done as “NOT market research”. The problem with this solution is that it will soon classify the majority of market research as “NOT market research” which is clearly nonsense.
My remedy is that commercial market research should be split from genuine social research (by social research I mean the stuff that is not done principally for commercial reasons, such as some of the research by Governments, academics, and NGOs). Social research should keep the traditional values of ethics and commercial market research should fully embrace the new world. The ethics of NewMR should be based on:
  1. The law
  2. Not doing things likely to outrage the public
  3. Creating high standards (and that can include charter marks and ISOs for those interested)
  4. Emphasising the need to be open and honest
Note the case for charter marks and ISOs should not be based on theoretical arguments, but simply on whether they confer commercial benefits. If signing up to an ISO means that market research companies are able to win more work, then the ISO is s a good thing. If the ISO simply makes the industry feel better about itself, the ISO is a bad thing.
These four principles would, for example, mean that if a company told respondents that the study was anonymous and that they would not be contacted, then it would have to be anonymous and there would have to be no follow-up contact – that would be the law in many countries (because a contract has been entered into) and failing to stick to a promise would outrage the public.
Similarly, the four principles would outlaw using a false identity to access a closed community (for example PatientsLikeMe) and surreptitiously scraping comments to be sold to a third party – i.e. the Nielsen scrape-gate case. I suspect that not only would this outrage the public and damage the value of the company, but it could easily fall foul of civil suits, where members of the community could sue for damages.
This model of market research ethics changes the balance of who determines what can and should be done. In the traditional market research model the rules were set by the wise market researchers, to protect respondents and brands. My suggestion is that respondents should determine what can and should be done with their data, and that citizens should set the framework.
What do you think?

Running the Saints Way for Coppafeel

Saints Way

Saints Way

Every year I like to set myself a physical challenge and I like to utilise that challenge to raise money for charity. This year I am going to run the Saints Ways in Cornwall, from Padstow on the North coast of Cornwall to Fowey on the South Coast. We are still tweaking the route but it is likely to be just under 30 miles (about 48 KM).

The charity I will be running for is CoppaFeel, a breast cancer awareness charity organised by two friends of my daughter. Even if you do not follow my progress, even if you do not dontate, please read Kris’s story, read how she developed breast cance at 23 and the problems she had getting her GP to believe her. Kris and her sister Maren created CoppaFeel to raise awareness of breast cancer amongst younger people.

I am going to be running the Saints Way on 17 August, and I will be blogging and Tweeting about my progress, and hoping to persuade my longsuffering family to support me, again.

You can make a donation via my page on JustGiving