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higgs bosonI read an article about the discovery of the Higgs Boson at CERN. This is the so called "god particle" which explains why matter has mass. While the science generally is beyond me, I was intrigued by something one of the physicists said:

"Scientists always want to be wrong in their theories. They always want to be surprised."

He went on to explain that surprise is what leads to new discoveries whereas simply confirming a theory does not. I can certainly understand the sentiment, but it is not unusual for Market Research to confirm what a client already guessed at. Should the client be disappointed in such results?

I think not for several reasons.

First, certainty allows for bolder action. Sure there are examples of confident business people going all out with their gut and succeeding spectacularly, but I suspect there are far more examples of people failing to take bold action due to lingering uncertainty. I also suspect that far too often overconfident entrepreneurs make rash decisions that lead to failure.

Second, while we might confirm the big question (for example in product development pricing research we might confirm the price that will drive success) we always gather other data that help us understand the issue in a more nuanced way. For example, we might find that the expected price point is driven by a different feature than we thought (in research speak, that one feature in the discrete choice conjoint had a much higher utility score than the one we thought was most critical).

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Our utilities clients have raised the issue of infrastructure improvements on more than one occasion. These improvements are often expensive to implement, but the average customer sees no tangible benefit -- the water ran yesterday and it’s running again today.

Yet maintaining the pipes, lines and wires are critical to keeping water and power flowing to our homes and businesses. When it comes time to invest in these improvements, it’s hard to rally support when communities face other issues that can produce more visible outcomes when addressed.

Just how far apart are community leaders and residents about the importance of improving their communities’ infrastructure?

We decided to find out.

I’ll give you the simple answer. Surveys!

No, I don’t mean looking at whatever survey happens to catch your eye or tickles your (or your favorite network or blog’s) ideological fancy. I mean, using a system that is powered by old fashioned surveys and making very, very good explanations and predictions based off that. There is someone who has been doing exactly that for several years now and it makes sense for anyone interested in surveys to understand how he is doing that. I’m talking, of course, about Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com.

Interestingly, Silver does not actually do a single survey himself. Instead what he has done is build a database of surveys (that contains thousands) and used some simple and clear rules to analyze them. Based on these rules and the statistical models he has built, he is able to provide the best, unbiased view of the race. All this from survey data. How does he do it? Let’s take a look at some (and by no means all) of his rules.

The Olympics of Statistics

Posted by on in A Day in a (MR) Life

Watching sports provides a lot of great entertainment. The thrill of victory, agony of defeat and all that. It also provides many great opportunities for never ending arguments about just how great various sports achievements are. Often these arguments are bolstered by the misuse of statistics. One such example was the constant references to Michael Phelps as “the Greatest Olympian Ever” which was based on the fact that he’d won more medals than any other athlete in history.  

To be clear, I’m sure an argument can be made that he is the greatest ever, but the use of one number, medal count, to determine that really bothers me. As often happens in the media, the number is looked at in only one context (compared to the number of medals other athletes have won) rather than considering a great number of other factors:

buffet sign panel studyOn a trip to Las Vegas in November 2011 I was twice presented with an option to move to the head of the line – for a price. I could take advantage of “early check-in” by paying $25. And I could get my buffet breakfast right away without waiting in line, again for a small fee. The buffet sign struck me as peculiar, since the 4 people ahead of me didn’t really constitute much of a “line”. I snapped a photo.

The concept of express fees is nothing new – Universal Florida, for example, has offered its ExpressSM Plus Pass for years, affording visitors to skip the regular lines, and as a result experience more attractions during their visit. But the express fee is spreading beyond the domain of the theme park.  You can even pay to bypass the long security lines at the airport now, if you’re so inclined.

This got me thinking...who’s in such a rush?  And, even more important, who’s willing to fork over some cash so they won’t waste any more time waiting? We put that question to the test with a small web survey among members of TRC’s online panel.

Among the general population of adults, paying for speedy service is a somewhat polarizing notion. While about half of our survey takers are neutral on the concept, 1/3 are pro and 1/5 are anti. We asked about specific situations as well. Paying for early hotel check-in has nearly twice as many fans (23%) as paying for premium seating at a movie (12%) or paying to jump the line at a warehouse store (13%).

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