I appreciate that we are once again in the GRIT 50 Most Innovative Research Agencies. Innovation has always been important to me and so I am quite gratified when I see our efforts being recognized. What I don't know is how people are defining innovation.
I think as an industry we sometimes label things as innovative that are not while failing to recognize some things that are genuinely innovative. In my view, innovation requires that we provide something of value that wasn't available before. Anything short of that may be 'interesting' but not 'innovative'.
I would put things like neuroscience or most AI into the "interesting" category. There is a lot of potential but so far little so show in terms of tangible benefits. Over the years at TRC we've had many ideas that showed promise, but ultimately didn't prove out (my favorite being "Conjoint Poker"). Ultimately it is the nature of innovation that some things will never leave the drawing board or 'laboratory', but without them there would be no innovation.
On the other side, I think ideas that save time and money are often not viewed as innovative unless they involve something totally new. I disagree. If I can figure out a way to do the same process faster and/or cheaper then I'm innovating. It may not look flashy, but if it allows clients to do something they couldn't otherwise do it is innovation....
I work in a business that depends heavily on email. We use it to ask and answer questions, share work product, and engage our clients, vendors, co-workers and peers on a daily basis. When email goes down – and thankfully it doesn't happen that often – we feel anything from mildly annoyed to downright panic-stricken.
So business email is ubiquitous. But not everyone follows the same rules of engagement – which can make for some very frustrating exchanges.
We assembled a list of 21 "violations" we experienced (or committed) and set out to find out which ones are considered the most bothersome.
Research panelists who say they use email for business purposes were administered our Bracket™ prioritization exercise to determine which email scenario is the "most irritating"....
You are planning to take a trip to the city of brotherly love to visit the world famous Philadelphia Flower Show, and would like to book a hotel near the Convention Center venue. If you’re like most people, you go online, perhaps to TripAdvisor or Expedia and look for a hotel. In a few clicks you find a list of hotels with star ratings, prices, amenities, distance to destination – everything you need to make a decision. Quickly you narrow your choice down to two hotels within walking distance of the Flower Show, and conveniently located near the historic Reading Terminal Market.
But how to choose between the two that seem so evenly matched? Perhaps you can take a look at some review comments that might provide more depth? There are hundreds of comments which is more than you have time for, but you quickly read a few on the first page. You are about to close the browser when you notice something. One of the hotels has responses to some of the negative comments. Hmmm…interesting. You decide to read the responses, and see some apologies, a few explanations and general earnestness. No such response for the other hotel, which now begins to seem colder and more distant. What do you do?
In effect, that’s the question Davide Proserpio and Georgios Zervas seek to answer in a recent article in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science. And it’s not hard to see why it’s an important question. Online reviews can have significant impact on a business, and unlike word of mouth they tend to stick around for years (just take a look at the dates on some reviews). Companies can’t do much to stop reviews (especially negative), and so they often try to coopt them by providing responses to selected reviews. It is a manual task, but the idea seems sound. By responding, perhaps they can take the sting out of negative reviews, appear contrite, promise to do better, or just thank the reviewer for the time they took to write the feedback – all with the objective of getting prospective customers to give them a fair chance. The question then is whether such efforts are useful or just more online clutter.
It turns out that’s not an easy question to answer, and as Proserpio and Zervas document in the article, there are several factors that first need to be controlled. But their basic approach is easy enough to understand – they examine whether TripAdvisor ratings for hotels tend to go up after management responds to online reviews. An immediate problem to overcome, ironically enough, is management response. That is, in reaction to bad reviews a hotel may actually make changes that then increases future ratings. That’s great for the hotel, but not so much for the researcher who is trying to study if the response to the online review had an impact, not whether the hotel is willing to make changes in response to the review. So, that’s an important factor that needs to be controlled. How to do that?
Enter Expedia. As it happens, hotels frequently respond to TripAdvisor reviews while they almost never do so on Expedia. So, they use Expedia as a control cell and compare the before-after difference in ratings on TripAdvisor and Expedia (the difference-in-difference approach). Hence they are able to tease out if the improvement in ratings was because of responding to reviews or real changes. Another check they use is to compare the ratings of guests who left a review shortly before a hotel began responding with those who did so shortly after the hotel began responding. Much of the article is actually devoted to several more clever and increasingly complex maneuvers they use to finally tease out just the impact of management responses. What do they find?...
The Economist Magazine did an analysis of political book sales on Amazon to see if there were any patterns. Anyone who uses social media will not be surprised that readers tended to buy books from either the left or the right...not both. This follows an increasing pattern of people looking for validation rather than education and of course it adds to the growing divide in our country. A few books managed a good mix of readers from both sides, though often these were books where the author found fault with his or her own side (meaning a conservative trashing conservatives or a liberal trashing liberals).
I love this use of big data and hopefully it will lead some to seek out facts and opinions that differ from their own. These facts and opinions need not completely change an individual's own thinking, but at the very least they should give one a deeper understanding of the issue, including an understanding of what drives others' thinking.
In other words, hopefully the public will start thinking more like effective market researchers.
We could easily design research that validates the conventional wisdom of our clients.
• We can frame opinions by the way we ask questions or by the questions we asked before.
• We can omit ideas from a max-diff exercise simply because our "gut" tells us they are not viable.
• We can design a discrete choice study with features and levels that play to our client's strengths.
• We can focus exclusively on results that validate our hypothesis.
Do people buy green products? Yes, of course. The real question for green marketers is whether they buy enough. In other words, are green sales in line with pro-green attitudes? Not really, as huge majorities of consumers show at least some green tendencies while purchases lag far behind. Why is that? Economics tells us that consumers buy based on value (trading off cost and benefits). Since eco-friendly products are seen as being more expensive, higher prices can lower the value of a green product enough to make a conventional alternative more attractive.
While the cost trade-off is clear, it is not the only one. The benefit side has at least two major components. One is the environmental benefit, which may or may not seem tangible enough to make a difference. For instance, a dozen eggs at Acme goes for less than a dollar, while some cage-free varieties can run north of $4 at Whole Foods. So, an environmentally conscious consumer has to make a trade-off at the time of purchase – is the product worth the additional cost? For items like food, the benefits may seem small enough, and far enough out, that many may decide the value proposition does not work for them. In other product categories (say, green laundry detergent), the benefits may seem both long term and impersonal, making the trade-off even harder.
The second major component is the effectiveness of the product in performing its basic function. If consumers perceive green products as inherently inferior (in terms of conventional attributes like performance), they are less likely to buy them. So a green laundry detergent (that uses less harsh chemicals) could be seen as more expensive and less effective in cleaning clothes, further dropping its overall value. (A complicating issue is that the lack of effectiveness itself could be a perceptual rather than real problem). Unless the company is able to offset these disadvantages, the product is unlikely to succeed.
A direct way to increase demand is to offer higher performance on a compensatory attribute. In the case of LED TVs, for example, newer technology consumes less power and provides better picture quality. (Paradoxically, this can sometimes lead to the Rebound Effect, whereby greener technologies encourage higher use, thus clawing back some of the benefits). But in reality, most products are not in a position where green attributes offer performance boosts.
And of course, as it is with every other market, there are segments in this market as well. Consumers who are highly committed (dark green) are willing to buy, as the value they place on the longer term environmental benefits is high enough. And, often they are affluent enough to afford the price. But a product looking for mainstream success cannot succeed only with dark green consumers (who rarely account for more than 20% of the market). Other shades of green will also need to buy. Short of government subsidies and mandates, green marketers have to find ways to balance out the components of the value proposition for the bulk of the market....
TRC is celebrating 30 years in business…a milestone to be sure.
Being a numbers guy, I did a quick search to see how likely it is for a business to survive 30 years. Only about 1 in 5 make it to 15 years, but there isn’t much data beyond that. Extrapolation beyond the available data range is dangerous, but it seems likely that less than 10% of businesses ever get to where we are. To what do I owe this success then?
It goes without saying that building strong client relationships and having great employees are critical. But I think there are three things that are key to having both those things:
I’ve always felt that researchers need to be curious and I’d say the same for Entrepreneurs. Obviously being curious about your industry will bring value, but even curiosity about subjects that have no obvious tie in can lead to innovation. For example, by learning more about telemarketing I discovered digital recording technology and applied it to our business to improve quality....
So much has been written about conducting research for new product development. Not surprisingly, as this is an area of research almost every organization, new or old, has to face day in and day out. As market research consultants, we deal with it all the time and thought it would be beneficial to provide our audience with our own recommendations for some useful sources that explain conjoint analysis – a method most often used when researching new products and conducting pricing research.
This is a relatively brief article from Sawtooth Software, the makers of software used for conjoint, that provides an explanation of the basics of conjoint. The paper uses a specific example of golf balls to make it easy to understand.
I recently heard an old John Oliver comedy routine in which he talked about a product he'd stumbled upon...a floating barbeque grille. He hilariously makes the case that it is nearly impossible to find a rationale for such a product and I have to agree with him. Things like that can make one wonder if in fact we've pretty well invented everything that can be invented.
A famous quote attributed to Charles Holland Duell makes the same case: "Everything that can be invented has been invented". He headed up the Patent Office from 1898 to 1901 so it's not hard to see why he might have felt that way. It was an era of incredible invention which took the world that was largely driven by human and animal power into one in which engines and motors completely changed everything.
It is easy for us to laugh at such stupidity, but I suspect marketers of the future might laugh at the notion that we live in a particularly hard era for new product innovation. In fact, we have many advantages over our ancestors 100+ years ago. First, the range of possibilities is far broader. Not only do we have fields that didn't exist then (such as information technology), but we also have new challenges that they couldn't anticipate. For example, coming up with greener ways to deliver the same or better standard of living.
Second, we have tools at our disposal that they didn't have. Vast data streams provide insight into the consumer mind that Edison couldn't dream of. Of course I'd selfishly point out that tools like conjoint analysis or consumer driven innovation (using tools like our own Idea Mill) further make innovation easier.
The key is to use these tools to drive true innovation. Don't just settle for slight improvements to what already exists....great ideas are out there....