Author Archives: Will Poynter

Do we need another market research association?

The Merlien Qual360 Conference in Milan last week saw the launch of a new research association, the MMRA (Mobile Marketing Research Association). You can visit their website and you can read more about them at Research-Live.

I wish the association well, and I hold its two founders (Jasper Lim and Mark Michelson) in high regard. However, (could you hear the however coming?) I am not sure that research needs another association – indeed I wonder if there are already too many associations?

In these social and collaborative times, what is the role of a trade association? LinkedIn Groups, the initiatives of NewMR and GreenBook, impromptu events such as Research Club all seem to prosper without having the status of being ‘associations’.

My feeling is that the research industry needs a national or international body to ‘officially’ represent the profession to legislators and to liaise with other bodies of a similar status. But I doubt that research needs new ‘associations’ to tackle specific niches and topics. Do we need committees, membership categories and fees, a board elected by members, and its own view on standards and ethics?

My feeling is that the traditional association structure is too slow, too concerned with its own processes, and is typically too slow at realising that it is no longer necessary. My suggestion for the future is one based on a) informal and ad hoc groupings of researchers organised via social media and b) commercial organisations who attract subscribers on the basis of what they offer, without feeling the need to create an apparatus of committees, elections etc.

Ray Poynter, EVP Vision Critical

Free Online Course on Information Theory from Stanford University

Stanford University has a number of free online courses on offer, including one on Information Theory, which begins in March 2012. The course has been broken down into 8-12 minute chunks – amounting to about 2 hours per week. There will be quizzes and a QA forum.

The other courses available include Entrepreneurship, Natural Language Processing, and Game Theory – scroll to the bottom of the Information Theory page to see the other courses.

Conecta Create Great Event at ESOMAR 3D in Miami

Conecta, a company providing access panels in Latin America and USA created what was probably the best conference event of the year last night. Conecta provided a three-hour cruise in Miami, allowing the conference attendees to spend the evening mixing, drinking, eating, plus music and dancing.

Everyone who chose to go on the cruise, which seemed to me most of conference attendees, had a wonderful evening, mixing business and pleasure, with lots of new contacts being made.

Was it a savvy sponsorship move? I am not sure. Conecta were at the event and very pleasant, but the branding was weak and there was not a lot of brand specific information or associations. But, Conecta deserve a massive thank you for creating such a wonderful evening, and personally I would hope that people would at least visit their website to find out more about them.

NewMR launches a Training Day

Last year NewMR created a new approach to market research conferences by launching the Festival of NewMR. This year the Festival has been expanded in several ways, including for example an Innovation Challenge with a cash prize of $20,000. But perhaps the most needed addition was the Training Day, which will be on 31 October 2011.

The Training Day is targeted at newer researchers and researchers looking to expand their skills into new areas. The Training Day is also targeted at Asia, a region that has fewer resources for face-to-face training. In a virtual conference targeting means the time of day, and the Training day is going to run from 6:00am GMT to 9:40am GMT (in terms of other time zones the Training day starts at: Sydney 5pm, Singapore 2pm, New Delhi 11:30am, and Moscow 10:00am).

In order to maximise the number of people who can attend the event, the Training Day does not have a fixed charge. If you are a student, if you can’t persuade you employer to pay, or if you live in a country where PayPal does not work, just register and attend. If you can afford to pay we like to invite you to make a donation towards the costs of the event.

Speakers on the day include sessions on Mobile Research, Ethnography, Online Communities, Conjoint Analysis, Segmentation, Online Questionnaire Design, and the use of Storytelling in market research presentation.

If you would like to find out more visit the NewMR Training Day page.

If you would like to find out more about the Festival visit the Festival Website.

NewMR, a view of the next two years

Want to know what I think will be changing over the next two years, what the hits and misses will be? Tune in on November 3rd and catch my presentation on the Main Stage of the Festival of NewMR (it’s all virtual, so you can do it from your desk).

Topics I’ll be covering

  1. Gamification, are they just playing at it?
  2. Mobile, when will it ever get moving?
  3. MROCs, are they a strategy or a tactic?
  4. Why social media monitoring is at most only 10% of the answer
  5. Where are community panels going next?
  6. Has collaboration gone away?
  7. What are the limits of DIY?
  8. How some NewMR companies will get into Big Data

Between now and November 3rd, please shout our your questions and ideas, and I’ll work them into the presentation.

And, if you want to see the presentation, you’ll need to get yourself a ticket, from the NewMR website.

Communities in 2017

I have just submitted a synopsis for the MRS Conference (get yours in quick if you want a chance to be selected). In the synopsis I suggest that research communities are going to change and I would love to hear your thoughts.

Below is a copy of my synopsis.

Communities seem to be the most commercially successful of all new tools that have entered the research arena. From short-term ad-hoc MROCs which focus on qual, through to the large-scale, ongoing community panels that can offer quant and qual, communities have dominated conferences agendas and have been the subject of key company purchases (e.g. Communispace, GlobalPark, and Vovic). Most major brands have at least one community for research and many have multiple communities. It is fair to say that communities have become a mainstream research technique.

However, nothing stands still in the world of online research and I predict that by 2017 the landscape will be very different.

The drivers of change, in ascending order of importance will be:

  1. The need to be cheaper and faster.
  2. The need for clients to be able to ‘DIY’ more of the process, which will mean non-researchers on the client-side being able to run projects.
  3. The need to integrate communities (and other forms of research) with Big Data.

If we look at Big Data from the client’s view, we see CRM data, loyalty card data, web analytics, account information, social media activity, and much more. The community of the future (perhaps the near future) will be the entire customer base.

The future research community will not be based on a group of customers all doing some similar task. The future community will be an extension of the community panel model, where different sub-groups of customers participate in very different tasks, including auto-ethnography, ideation, online qual, face-to-face qual, quant surveys, and even MROCs. The difference is that, subject to appropriate permissions, all the interactions and information are fed back into the system and the learnings generalised to the wider customer base.

Although communities have become mainstream; my prediction is that they will become the dominant form of research, or rather the dominant environment for research. Before online research there was not a truly dominant method, there was a mixture of telephone, door-to-door, and central location, all supported by a myth of representivity. Online access panels changed all of that, the research industry moved over to ‘non-rep’ convenience samples. Online access panels are a sort of community, but they are not brand or client focused, so they will find it hard to integrate with Big Data. The extended community panel model, where the entire customer base is seen as the community, delivers the opportunity for Big Data integration and a better reason for respondents to participate, they are making their brand better, better for them.

Where does social media fit in the research mix?

One of the questions I am often asked is where does social media fit in the research mix and over the last couple of years I have developed the following four point response:

  1. What is market research? It is what you do when you can’t get customer/user information in a cheaper better way. This means that over time MR changes, some new things become possible, but some new alternatives are developed, making some aspects of MR redundant.
  2. Social Media gives us the chance to listen to real conversations, and sometimes that will replace market research, on other occasions it will add something. Listening to social media is now a necessary action for brands.
  3. However, people are not always talking about you, so the answers to your current questions may not exist in social media, so social media is necessary but not sufficient.
  4. If people are not talking about you, then you need to ask questions or create discussions. In the old days this meant surveys and focus groups, but now it includes creating ongoing discussion via communities (and I think it will also include creating conversations in social media).

The key point is that there is no single and permanent answer to the question about where social media fits in the research picture. In some ways it is as odd a question as where do pens fit in the research process, or words, or pictures. Sometimes, social media is the message (to misquote Marshall McLuhan) but for researchers social media is usually just the medium.

Is the MRS courting doom with its privacy proposals?

The MRS has been consulting on new guidelines for online privacy, particularly with a focus on the issues arising out of social media. Some of the ideas being floated by the MRS have caused a shocked and angry response from market researchers, some of which were reported by Research-Live.

Earlier this week I met a wide range of UK researchers at the ESOMAR Congress in Amsterdam and was amazed by the anger that many researchers expressed about the some of the ideas that the MRS appeared to be promoting. Indeed, several researchers said that if the ‘worst’ of the ideas in the consultation ended up in the code they would leave the MRS and they would encourage their employers to stop funding MRS membership.

If this convenience sample turns out to be representative (and there is no statistical reason why it should) the MRS could be in real trouble if it continues with its current direction.

My position is more nuanced. I think the ideas in the consultation are crazy in places and harmful to our industry without being good for anybody. However, I will still be in the MRS, even if they are adopted. But, I will be describing most of what I do as “not market research”, which is a shame.

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.