Marketing and Research Consulting for a Brave New World
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2009 was a year where the marketing research profession got six big wakeup calls.  For each challenge, I describe how marketing research must respond to remain relevant.

Online research panels proven to produce different results

The ARF foundations of quality research compared results from the exact same questionnaire across 17 online research panels (including all of the big ones) fielded at two different points in time (2 weeks apart).  We found that the test retest reliability of each panel was high but that results differed across panels by more than you would think based on sample sizes (n=2,000 per panel per wave).  This insight led to the ARF Quality Enhancement Process, a series of metrics, planning, and reporting templates intended to control for this effect.

Cell phones are primary for close to 40% of US households

The most recent CDC NHIS survey found that 23% of all US households are cell phone only (46% of those aged 25-29) and another 15% have landlines but are cell phone primary.  We are changing the way we connect.  Landlines have become less important than cell phones and for many, talk is becoming a less important method of communication than text and social media updates.

The Media Ratings council has said that media research must have a solution for this, implying that landline-only research can no longer be equated with probability sampling.  Nielsen, Arbitron, and Knowledge Networks have all switched to addressed-based sampling methods to restore probability sampling properties.

Listening becomes a source of insights and marketing intelligence that anyone can access

Listening is a way of hearing in real time what people WANT to talk about, rather than what marketing wants to talk about.  People express themselves in their own words rather than the interviewer’s vocabulary.  Google’s team of economists proved that what people are searching for predicts many things from the geographic spread of the flu to auto sales right down to the brand.

Marketing research is no longer a gatekeeper to rich consumer insights as marketing, customer care, corporate communications, agency of record planners can now can tap into Twitter, forums, etc. directly. Only by listening would J&J have known they needed to pull the Motrin campaign.  One of the Ogilvy Award winners, the NBA, needed listening to find the way fans’ express and share their passion.  The research team must embrace listening as well as asking (i.e. surveys) to remain relevant and get to the front-end of marketing innovation.

Marketing research still struggling to be recognized as having significant impact

The ARF research transformation initiative has brought many leaders together and conducted executive interviewing in 2009 among 20 research leaders.  The consensus is that the research team is often brought in too late in the process, viewed by many below the C-suite as an expense rather than an investment, and as an impediment rather than an enabler.  We must prove that research creates an indispensible runway between the consumer and the boardroom that leads to making the right calls on big, future-focused issues that result in business growth.

Media companies and advertisers form CIMM

The leading media companies and advertisers came together to create the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, making a clear statement to the industry that they intend to turbo-charge innovation in media measurement.  Why?  They believe existing media metrics are not keeping up with the fast-paced evolution towards the multi-tasking, multi-platform, long-tail way that people consume media.

Shopper research takes center stage at understanding the effects of the recession

Numerous studies about the effect of the recession focused on changes in shopping patterns and increases in buying store brands.  In other words, shopper research became as important as consumer research this year, especially on the big issue that was keeping marketers up at night.  Marc Pritchard (leading marketer at P&G) has been emphasizing “store back” marketing.  The ARF formed a shopper insights council to inform media planning and the new era of winning at retail.  We foresee a powerful convergence of mobile and shopper marketing.

Marketers have always been more focused on brand-building than what happens at retail.  Marketing research has always been more comfortable with consumer research than shopper insights.  This must change.

Six big wakeup calls in 2009 are doing our profession a favor; refocusing us on what it will take to conduct trustworthy research, find unexpected feedback, provide anticipatory insights, measure media in a way that people now choose to experience it, and properly rebalance our understanding of how people choose brands by placing more emphasis on understanding the shopper.

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8 Responses to “Six marketing research wake-up calls in 2009”

  1. Nice list. Do you think the ARF will ever drop the “A”? The “A” often seems to be a big distraction that prevents head-on tackling of more fundamental marketing issues.

    • Joel Rubinson

      Companies often get known by their initials, separated from the original words (3M, IBM, WPP, NPD) when a few words no longer can capture the company as it evolves. I think it is the same for the ARF. The issues we touch have necessarily become quite broad across advertising, research standards, engagement,shopper marketing, social media, 360 media,research transformation, to name a few top priorities. Having said that, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Ted Morris

    Joel, Nice summary. I think MR’s will be struggling to balance the need for improved operating margins against the risk inherent in shifting focus. Mind you, the only work around is to provide business insight that is seen as a valuable input to C-suite strategy – something that requires a shift in focus. Cheers, Ted

  3. It still puzzles me that people are surprised when different panels produce different results. Panels are so different from each other in terms of sources, incentives, styles, formatting, etc. I’m actually surprised when results ARE the same. We need to be more conscious about interpreting results carefully and logically, and remember that research isn’t an absolute statement of fact.

  4. Nice one Joel. Shopper marketing/ insights will be key going forward. A good starting point would be ensuring companies have a clear definition.

    Re: marketing research still struggling to be recognized as having significant impact

    I’m not surprised by these findings… put simply I think it is a ‘real’ issue as opposed to a perceptual issue… Most researchers focus on the wrong things and fail to make an impact…
    • Data not insight
    • Process not outcome
    • Treat research as a end in itself, not a means to an end
    • Use research data in a vacuum – e.g. forget to take into account outside information (e.g. financials, economic data, previous research etc)
    • Simply don’t think like a marketer – need to ask themselves the ‘so what’ when looking at data.

    The ‘market research’ brand is in dire need of a re-positioning, starting with recognition of the historical flaws.

  5. Karen Duchan

    Thanks Joel. Great overview of MR trends & topics.

    –Yay to the ARF for their test of online panel survey outcomes and attempting to address the issue. I’ve always felt that the panels are like sausages; no one really knows or wants to know what’s in there. Recognizing and taking steps to address will be wonderful if research users and practitioners are willing to pay for fixes.

    –Nice to see development of shared metrics to keep up with the complex media choices and usage of today. And tomorrow.

    –The sheer amount of effort required to insure data integrity, along with suppliers need to differentiate their products (“brand”), results in misplaced emphasis by MR on methods instead of delivering the goods on marketing questions.

    Yet, the push to do this comes in part from the very same dissatisfied research teams who insist that vendors “show me something different” to be considered for work.

    BTW, there is a lot of MR lip service about “providing insight”, but I find that the amount of time on a project spent developing recommendations based on results is about 5% max, as deadlines are approached.

    –Finally, the need to focus on the retail level is definitely as important as brand building. Strategic research has enjoyed more status, closer attention by C-level execs and way cooler analytics for a long time. Maybe now research on retail/tactical issues will gain attention (and cachet and user dollars.)

    One thing though. Will someone please explain the actual difference between Shoppers and Consumers, as in shopper research and consumer research. The distinction had always seemed a bit fatuous to me, but maybe it’s not.

    • Hi Karen,

      This is an exert from a recent post on my blog…at the very least it provides a point of view on the difference between consumer and shopper insights. Keep in mind that it is written from a very basic viewpoint and is very much a work in progress – hopefully it provokes thought and opens a discussion.

      Shopper insights are creating a lot of buzz at the moment, but not everyone is on the same page. For the purpose of this post, I have defined shopper insights as… “Insights informing strategies/ tactics aimed at increasing conversion of demand to sales during the act of shopping”. This is based on the premise that sales are driven by demand (preferences) and shopper activation (how this preference converts to behaviour).

      Demand (consumer insights, the study of preference) + shopper activation (shopper insights, the study of how these preference evolve during the act of shopping) = sales*

      *this is oversimplified, but illustrates the point I’m trying to make.

      It’s important to understand both sides, because they don’t always match perfectly. In fact, I like to look at strong preferences/ demand (brand equity) as a getting a head start in a race; it gives you a good chance of winning, but doesn’t guarantee success. And on the flip side, you might start from behind, but still win the race (e.g. lower preference, but you still get the sale).

      The fact of the matter is that most decisions are made while people are shopping.

      Another definition – ‘act of shopping’ – from need recognition through to post purchase

      copy link to see diagram

      Let’s take an example. I recently traveled to the US. I wanted to fly Virgin – I like what the brand stands for and I think they offer a good service. If you were to measure my brand equity, I would be a Virgin ‘lover’. However, when looking at hotels in San Francisco I noticed a United Airlines offer for Aus – US return flights. The end result, I purchased a ticket with United Airlines. Why? They did a better job of shopper activation; they reached me with a relevant offer while I was in the act of shopping. Admittedly the service was terrible, you couldn’t get more surly flight attendants if you tried, but this is another issue entirely and not something I won’t to go into now (experiece>loyalty>brand equity).

      You can see how this example fits with the framework presented in the diagram. I entered the shopping process with preference for Virgin, during the act of shopping I ignored preference and acted on an offer, I was disapointed with the consumption experience and therefore I’m now a rejector of United.

      An interesting article re P&G focus on shopper marketing

  6. Simon Chadwick

    You nailed it, Joel, as usual! To follow on from your thoughts: 2010 will be the year in which:

    – online sampling is redefined, for the better
    – research transformation in client companies begins really to take hold
    – we begin to understand listening and incorporate it into all research
    – researchers finally start to get that just because something has been done for 60 years does not mean it is sacrosanct!

    I was disturbed recently to read that clients are using listening in their projects at a far higher rate than are research companies. Are research agencies hiding their developments under their hats until they have something really useful to say or is there a real discrepancy here?

    Will this also be the year in which the distinction between market research and analytics fades into irrelevancy? If so, we are in for interesting times!