16 posts categorized "Research"


Charlie vs. Dead White Men

Charlie has been born out of web 2.0, in 2007. Ten years before Charlie, in 1997, Richard Barbrook says "that the rapid spread of personal computing and now the Net are the technological expressions of the desire of many people to escape from the petty controls of the shopfloor and the office". He continues: “Despite the insecurity of short-term contracts, they want to recover the independence of craft labour which was lost during the process of industrialisation. Because of rapid technological innovation, skilled workers within the hypermedia and computing industries are precisely those best able to assert this desire for autonomy”.

Ten years later Web 2.0 seemed to be the yellow brick road leading off from the path of the boredom of the shopfloor and the office. And not just for those working within the hypermedia and computing industries but for the many researchers, account people, planners working in agencies named after Dead White Men. These men may have originally had strong visions, but these visions aren't necessarily shared by people working in agencies today.

Let’s take the market research industry as an example. Many creative and entrepreneurial researchers began leaving big research agencies before Web 2.0.  After leaving they tried to establish smaller versions of big agencies, using the same hierarchies and structures but with fewer people. Eventually, they started to send their junior people to clients for presentations while sitting back and supervising and perhaps retiring all together. Structures and people – whether in the field department or the coding department – were needed to get jobs done.

Then along came Web 2.0 and the word is spreading that the emperor really is “naked:” the market research industry might not be much of an industry any more. Who needs a field department when there are global online research panels or even Facebook? Who needs the latest breakthrough research concept testing methodology when you can work with creative people, not on a concept test, but on developing a real product or service?

We (the clients) need creative people (complete with faces, talent and knowladge) not market research agencies. We are already following the good people, to their own agencies and we will continue to follow them even if they move from one big agency named after a dead guy to another agency named after two dead guys. This is the push. The pull is the desire for autonomy, the need to be free and fulfill one's own vision  – and the need for genuine collaboration with other people.

It is less lonely out there than it used to be. Web 2.0 connects the creative researchers online and builds connections that can be then taken off-line, whether to a café or a workshop. As it turns out, collaboration and friendship can replace structures and hierarchies. 


Online research panels vs. social networks

There is a lot of discussion these days in the research community about incentives (points, money, coupons, possibility to see the results of surveys etc.) for respondents participating in online research panels. I think that the most interesting alternative would be the possibility for a respondent to take her incentives, quit her participation in an online research panel and join a social network instead.

The transition from an online research panel to a social network is similar to the transtion from a totalitarian society to a true democracy - this is how I see it, with my Eastern European mindset. Online research panel are built top down. Respondents are neatly segmented and kept in their cells to emerge only to do the tedious tasks of checking boxes in research questionnaires. Then they collect their wages and go back to their isolated cells. Misbehaving, dissident respondents are thrown out of the panel.

Social networks are built from the bottom up by individuals with faces and personalities. People aren’t paid to join social networks – they do it because they want to participate.

Facebook, one of the largest and most successful social networks, has recently launched their own polls, enabling anyone to do her own research. At the moment, the design of the research is very narrow: it is possible to create one closed-ended question per poll with a maximum of five answers. The site charges for the research depending on how quickly the results are provided and how large the sample size.

The polls maybe simplistic, but it’s only the beginning... I also think that the best research on Facebook in the future probably won’t be polling but rather research done with groups, those small communities built around common passions and interests. There is no charge for the researcher to join, participate and listen. However, one has to ask what a researcher could charge a client for such work.

Let’s consider two scenarios for the future. In the first, online research panels become more important in the future as they offer a two-fold incentive to respondents – more money and the means to participate and see the results of the surveys. In the second, online panels will gradually disappear to be replaced by social networks which will offer research as an added product to generate revenues, similar to the way that advertising is now added to social networks.

If I had to bet money on one of these scenarios, I'd put my money on the side of the social networks

I tried to do my own poll on Facebook  yesterday, asking the Russians on Facebook question about major religion in Russia in 2100.

This is the intro screen.  You can then type in your question plus 5 answers and pay for the survey:




Once you have paid (this poll cost me $11), your poll goes live and you can start checking the progress:


I have received the results (100 completes) in about 8 hours:




Facebook and virtual networks

I used to believe that development of smart and new research methodologies was the way forward for market research. Since then I have worked on number of projects that required real insight into people, their lives and the lives of the things that people buy. The key insights for these projects came from individual people: Greg Rowland provided insights into culture; understanding of the interaction between people and things came from Richard Seymour; great insights came from Daniel Dumoulin, who conducted qualitative research and Matt Hart helped us to transform the observations and insights into ideas for products and communication. Yes, some of these guys have their own agencies but the agency name is a secondary tag; their individual skills are the real added value.

This is the age of endless possibilities for creative individuals in research, marketing, design and increasingly in advertising. Instead of losing their identity inside faceless agency, the individual can use some of the social networking sites, such as Facebook, and create their own global network, their own virtual agency - across regions and across specializations. The network can come together on a basis of common interest – the given project - and the individuals can disperse after the project is finished and form another, different network when needed.

It is easy to apply these rules to consumers and establish a community/network of consumers around common interest using existing sites (Facebook or a blog) as platforms for discussion and co-creation; or one can just look for existing community that consumers have established themselves, and listen. It is about people, not about methodologies.


Warm Vodka and Sweaty Women

Esomar held a conference on Consumer Insight in Milan last week. Greg Rowland and I have presented a paper called "Warm Vodka and Sweaty Women". The paper describes development of new communication strategy for Rexona in Russia.

We have picked up a nomination for award from Esomar (Esomar Award Nominations), which is great.  I think and hope that we got the nomination because of our focus on the end product - the communication itself. Consumer insight seems meaningless on its own, it is just a mean to an end -the end being new products and communication. I thought that too much time at the conference was given to discussion as to what consumer insight is and what it isn't...But that is the way of market research conferences, I guess.

It was good to see some old friends and colleagues and meet new and interesting people such as Virginia Valentine and Malcolm Evans who run the workshop on semiotics in Milan.   

Here is the presentation:

Download esomar_presentation_30_4_07_jc_gr_pdffin.pdf


Research factories

“Research factories” are those global market research agencies that produce packaged surveys in exactly the same way that manufactures produce soap or washing powder. The analogy ends there: while soap has a clear role in people’s lives, the role of fast-moving surveys in helping manufacturers to make better stuff for people is questionable.


Fortunately things are changing and as per usual, the Internet is at the heart of the change. Research factories have seemingly embraced the Web – they have killed pen and paper field work (in Western Europe, the US and increasingly in other places) but they have not embraced and built on the core values and nature of the medium: openness, interactivity and active participation.

What they’ve done instead is to use the Internet as a cheap substitute for their existing strategy of conducting surveys: they put up online ad tests, concept tests, simulated market test questionnaires and concentrate on developing benchmarks, sticking to the old research model that is driven by academic criticism, “scientific” methodologies, control and isolation of elements (elements of product concepts or advertising) out of a wider context. While a simple concept or ad test might be a helpful tool for a client or creative agency, research factories tend to add complexity to these simple tests and then claim that such complexity is added value. The client ends up with traffic lights, indices and profiles that seem sophisticated but are little more than straight jackets. This might not be an issue for a client who is happy to based her/his decision solely on an output from fast moving research.

Strong clients will ignore such attempts to put reality into a box. Complicated research methodologies distance the client from the real people out there who buy stuff. We need quantitative data to help with decision making but if we rely solely on this data and don’t combine it with getting out there and listening to people face-to-face in their own world and on their own terms, we’re doomed. Complexity has nothing to do with added value. Knowledge and the interpretation of brand and product performance in the wider context of people’s lives does. I’m not sure that such knowledge and depth can come from research factories. The best people in qualitative research have already left these factories and the best minds in quantitative research will surely follow soon. Online fieldwork has become a valuable commodity and the way forward for strong researchers is to team up with global panel providers like GMI, Ciao or Lightspeed. Data that independent researchers gather through global panels will be as robust as any data from the factories. They are bound to deliver real value for clients by thinking of new ways to get a glimpse of what is really going on, rather than trying to churn out new pack tests or ad tests.

Clients could also commission simple survey themselves, using global panel providers. We have partnered with one of these and conducted a very simple, multinational study in Hungary, the Czech Republic and the UK–five questions for 100 women in each market. It took a few days to complete and the total cost was around £650!  



The belly of a fat snake

Fat snake is a term coined by Richard Seymour for traditional market research; research that isolates people and products from the context in which they exist and interact.  Fat snake research pretends to offer a view into real life through the one-way mirror that separates a consumer focus group from the people who are watching it.                                                                                                

"If you want to study a river you don't take out a bucketful of water and stare at it on the shore. A river is not its water, and by taking the water out of the river, you lose the essential quality of river, which is its motion, its activity, its flow." - Alan Watts The Wisdom of Insecurity (I found the quote on Plannersphere)

When I watch a focus group commissioned to evaluate product concept or communication, when I see the eight tired women tortured by aging psychologist I couldn't feel more like the person sitting on the shore staring into bucketful of water.    

And still the business with evaluative focus groups  is thriving and so is the concept test & simulated market test business. I think that one of the key reasons why the fat snake is getting fatter is the game that some market researcher agencies and market researchers on the client side play with the marketing people.  Typical brand manager stays in his role less than 2 years. This brand manager cannot be evaluated on the real, in-market results of her work during the short time in the job.  She is evaluated on the results of tests that are supposed to predict the future performance of the product mixes she is working on. The research agencies sense their opportunities and they come knocking on the door selling nicely packaged, very sophisticated, evaluative tests. The results of the tests give the brand manager,  her team and her boss sense of certainty. In worst cases, products (especially product concepts) and communication are being optimized to succeed in market research tests rather than the real world.  Most of such products, upon leaving the belly of the fat snake, die in the outside world from an overdose of realness.   

Being able to accept uncertainty is the first step on the way out of the fat snake's belly.  Traditional market research is a product of 19th century, its positivism and objectivism, faith in human progress, certainty of scientific knowledge and control over nature and reality.  Being a child of 19th century, traditional research tries to reduce reality to a set of numbers. The number-set becomes a weapon used by the market researchers and marketeers to fight uncertainty in the middle of the innovation funnel.


The new and fresh research understands that we call reality is a subjective view of the world through given culture and language. The new research embraces subjectivity, uncertainty, emotions and intuition. The new research focuses on the early stages of innovation and communication development. The aim of the new research is to understand the context in which people buy, consume and live. And the ultimate goal of the new research is to translate the contextual understanding  into insights and ideas for great products and communication.

The new research cannot rely on the repetitive tool set of qualitative and quantitative methodologies: the ideas for new opportunities are not locked in the heads of respondents-people, no matter how deep we drill. We, people, are ourselves locked in our particular environment and culture; without knowing that we are trapped.

Ethnography and semiotics are the key tools of the new research, employed to understand the context and decipher the codes by which we lead our lives. 

Internet is at the heart of the new research. On a basic level, Internet is used for cheap and fast data gathering. More importantly, the new research uses Internet as a tool for an open dialog with people and a tool to engage people in the development of new ideas and the innovation process.