Shopper Insights from the Center Aisle - and Beyond

Shopper insights from the Supermarket Aisle What do furniture polish, toothpaste, books, crackers and spaghetti sauce all have in common?  They are all placed in the center aisles of the grocery store.  They also face a lot of competition for consumer attention (and dollars) – so each brand in these product categories is trying to connect with shoppers in ways that will resonate, and understand their path to purchase.

Today’s sales channels include grocery chains, specialty stores and online outlets, so it’s imperative to understand the entire decision process that consumers go through in order to deliver great products with great experiences.  There was a time when most brands clearly knew who the competition was, and what their competitors were capable of, in terms of products and programs.  Take spaghetti sauce as an example.  Ragú had the market fairly well-cornered as a familiar, reliable name.  Then came specialized brands like Newman’s Own, founded by Paul Newman, with a new “boutique” paradigm.  Now, micro-producers like Tortellini Originali can become major competitors in highly defined markets. 

Develop Blockbuster Products Without Market Research. Really???

Steve Jobs As a fan of all things Apple, I picked up the Steve Jobs biography this week to see what I could learn about its iconic founder.  As a market research professional, I was very interested in understanding more about Apple’s famous claim that they do no market research.

There was some hand-wringing, and definitely some indignation, among market researchers after a pre-launch press meeting for the iPad where Jobs was asked what consumer and market research Apple had done to guide the development of the new product.  “None,” said Mr. Jobs. “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.”  Was it possible that other organizations would take that message to heart and move away from the collection, analysis and development of consumer insights?  Did it mean that traditional market research was irrelevant?  Can everyone deliver blockbuster products now with no consumer insights?  Probably not.

Why Does Anyone Go to a Market Research Conference?

TMRE The upcoming TMRE (The Market Research Event 2011) is taking place in Orlando November 7th through 9th, and I am looking forward to attending as part of the MarketTools market research team.  I have to admit that prior to last year’s conference in San Diego, I didn’t put a lot of consideration into participating in this kind of event.  I had spent over 30 years on the client side and, other than when I was a speaker, conferences were rarely on my radar.  And with budget cutbacks hitting market research organizations from all sides in recent years, travel to an event often seemed like an extravagance anyway.

So, it was an eye-opener for me that during the course of last year’s TMRE conference, I found myself drawn into the event for a number of reasons:

Five Things Every Researcher Needs to Know about QR Codes

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts on Mobile Market Research from the MarketTools Market Research team.

MarketTools Blog QR Code QR codes are gaining popularity at breakneck speed, and there is no shortage of information out there on the endless possibilities they bring marketers.  We’ve all seen QR codes (an abbreviation for Quick Response code) on things like billboards, packages, TV advertisements, bus stops, business cards, etc. as part of creative marketing plans.  (Did you know they’re also being used as tattoos and on gravestones?)

There is a major shortage, however, of tips on ways market researchers can utilize QR codes to their advantage.  Pushing QR codes out to consumers is one thing, but using QR codes to pull insights back from consumers is a totally different animal.  Here are five things every researcher must know about QR codes:

Mobile Market Research: 5 Tips for Getting In-the-Moment Customer Feedback

This is a follow-up to the recent blog post on mobile market research titled "Getting Started On Your Mobile Market Research Journey".  Here we focus on the third cornerstone of the mobile research framework: Research Applications.

Mobile survey One of the great things about having kids is I get to go to amusement parks much more frequently. But one of the downsides is having to wait in line for the rides, usually for about 20 minutes or more. While standing in line on a recent trip, I was impressed by a sign inviting me to give my feedback about my experience in the park. This was a welcome distraction from the monotony of waiting, so I texted the number and within a few moments the first question arrived on my mobile phone.

My initial good impressions were quickly dispelled. After just one question, I was invited to give fuller feedback at a kiosk near the park's exit. Did they seriously expect me to remember to find this kiosk and spend 10 minutes at the end of the day, when the kids are inevitably tired and hungry, and we all just want to get home?

I had a similar experience with a coffee chain at a train station asking for feedback on their customer service. Once again, the ingredients were right: free wi-fi at the station, consumer downtime waiting for a train, a web-based survey, etc.  However, when I tried to access the survey via my smartphone, the page failed to load. Was it because the coffee chain didn’t design the survey for a smartphone – thinking that consumers would be willing to unpack their laptops?  Or maybe they considered it sufficient that their mobile survey only worked on certain models of phones. (I only tested the link on one of the more common Android handsets!)

Divergence and Convergence and the Use of Social Media in Research

Social Media & Market Research A comic strip I saw recently had a line that went something like “Any time my boss tells me about a trend, it’s probably too late.”  That’s not a putdown of bosses or management, but it does speak to the incredible buzz currently taking place around social media and the research opportunity to listen to “real people”.

We are now seeing all kinds of tools in the marketplace that allow us to make sense out of the gazillion conversations taking place in the social media sphere.  Many of these tools work and are wondrous to behold.

But let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: what can we expect to ascertain about these folks who are sharing their lives with us on a daily/hourly basis?  I go back to something I was taught years ago when I started to think it was possible to understand the collective human experience.  I was taught that there are two kinds of research:

Characteristics of “Good Surveys” and “Bad Surveys”

MarketTools research has shown that survey design parameters directly impact respondent engagement.  This essentially means that by modifying the survey design parameters, we can have an effect on engagement and, correspondingly, impact data quality – and turn a “bad survey” into a “good” one. 

A previous blog post from Brenton Wells talked about SurveyScore, an important component of the MarketTools TrueSample data quality process, and how it measures respondent engagement level to help researchers optimize the design of surveys (learn more about SurveyScore).  SurveyScore Predictor is a tool that gives researchers a means to adjust and improve design parameters in order to optimize the SurveyScore results for a survey.  When the SurveyScore is high, it’s more likely your survey respondents will complete your survey and give your questions the considered response you’re looking for, leading to higher-quality survey results.

Maintaining CPG Margins: How Can Market Research Models Help?

In my last blog post, Five Strategies for Maintaining CPG Profit Margins in a Tough Economy, we proposed some ideas about how CPG brands can weather tough economic times.  In order to ensure that consumers continue to put your products into their shopping carts, there are a variety of options for optimizing pricing and pack, as well as making the right product innovations to help you stand out from the competition. 

As you consider your options, your consumer insights partner can help you model what will happen, to inform the right decision for your product.  Experimental models have numerous theoretical and practical advantages over alternatives (which Russ Rubin discussed in his blog post Market Research Tackles Price Inflation in CPG-Land), and often at the heart of this approach is the Discrete Choice Model or DCMDCM models share of choice based on forcing consumers to choose between different options on a virtual shelf. The design of these market research experiments gives us the flexibility not only to adjust prices and pack sizes, but even to put new products on shelf in order to model the impact these changes would make.

Measuring the ROI of Market Research

ROI on Market Research After speaking at the recent ROI on MR conference in Chicago, I have been paying particular attention to the “results aspects” of our most recent client engagements.  While this is not the first time the market research industry has tackled the ROI question, there's a new urgency to the quest to prove the relationship of insights to outcomes. There are many research departments and groups that are still waiting for management to ask them about the Return on Investment for research – but some companies are already pushing suppliers to prove ROI on a per-project basis, and a few forward-thinking market research organizations are actively incorporating data about impact on business results as a part of their deliverables. 

One of the conference themes focused on ROI measurement.  Tactical market research – such as late stage concept tests, graphics tests, or messaging tests – is easily measured, and ROI can be readily calculated.  Strategic market research – such as A&U studies, segmentation, or migration analysis – is tremendously difficult to measure, and a focus on ROI can lead organizations to conduct fewer strategic research projects.  This is the critical industry dilemma:

The value of marketing research is highest when:
–    Large investments are at stake
–    Long time horizons are involved (strategy development)
–    Uncertainty of business success is high

ROI is easiest to measure when:
–    Results are focused on the short term
–    Baseline performance standards are known (uncertainty of business success is low)
–    Investments are small and easily changed

A Model for Calculating ROI on MR?
Because most research organizations are highly focused on data and analysis, it’s no surprise that ROI is thought of as a strict financial calculation.  But the data for traditional ROI calculation is not always easy to obtain.  Sales and operational metrics are often not shared with the insights department, and certainly not shared with research suppliers.  How then can we “prove” ROI with this dearth of information? 

I wasn’t the only person at the conference to bring up the PIMS (Profit Impact of Market Strategy) database as a possible model for an industry-wide dataset that could be used to calculate different ROI metrics for multiple research types.  PIMS started as a project to gather the variables which account for business success within General Electric in the 1960s and 70s, and has since grown to over 3,000 corporations over 40 years.  Participating organizations contribute detailed financial and operational metrics on their markets, strategies and products.  Subscribers are able to mine the data for specific scenarios, including ROI calculations of specific strategies in specific industries. 

Following the PIMS model, a third-party organization would be needed to manage the data for market research and insights organizations, allowing them to deliver ROI metrics that would stand up to financial scrutiny – not exactly a simple proposition.  In addition, the process for calculating ROI becomes more problematic given the speed of change, especially in product development.  Insights organizations need to determine if establishing a set model for calculating MR ROI is really the right approach to solve the problem at hand.

If ROI is the Solution, What’s the Question?
Market insights organizations are starting to find ways to evaluate how research investments relate to business decisions and prioritize efforts based on those relationships.  Yet the conference attendees agreed that less than one-third of research projects are devoted to strategic studies of business impact. 

In order for insights organizations to showcase the value of research, we need to strongly align research results with recommendations that directly impact business decisions.  Too much research sits on shelves because there is no actionable plan that was extracted from the data.

One way to look at “ROI” for market research would be as the Relevancy Of Insights and their impact on business outcomes, as some of the major client organizations attending the conference suggested.  This approach would elevate the strategic role of MR and Insights organizations, and highlight the benefit of exposing suppliers to the wide variety of business issues that prompt research projects.  By giving business decision-makers the opportunity to leverage their research suppliers’ knowledge, they’ll be better able to match research results and insights with unique business opportunities.  And by directly relating insights to alternative decision-making options, as well as correlating customer preferences to bottom line purchases, the value of research will be boosted.

Five Strategies for Maintaining CPG Profit Margins in a Tough Economy

Maintaining CPG Profits Consumer goods are under intense pressure: inflation is pushing commodity prices up, consumers need to make their dollars stretch further, competitors are promoting heavily to maintain rates of sale at the expense of margins, and retail partners have margin pressures of their own.

How can CPG brands maintain profits in this tight economic climate?  The key is to ensure that consumers continue to put your products into their shopping carts.  Here are five ideas for maintaining CPG profit margins, based on market research projects we have completed recently for some major CPG clients:

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The MarketTools Blog covers Market Research topics, with a focus on customer insight and research innovations.


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Blog Honors

MarketTools Blog Team

Alan Cutler
VP, Client Development, Market Research

Mark Glassberg
Regional Vice President, Market Research

Hank Khost
Senior Research Manager, Market Research

Laura Newton
Senior Manager, Marketing Communications / Blog Editor

Jay Pluhar
Vice President, Strategic Accounts, Market Research

Larry Praml
Director, All Channel Tracker, Market Research

Kathleen Relias
VP, Client Development, Market Research

Russ Rubin
SVP, Client Services, Market Research

April Turner
Senior Product Marketing Manager, Market Research