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Posts from March 2011

The Future of Research, and the Barriers and Enablers for Success

This week’s guest blog comes from Ian Lewis, Director, Research Impact Consulting at Cambiar.  Ian was an MREB member when he led the Consumer Research & Insights team at Time Inc.  To weigh in on the future of research, take the survey here.

Think back 10 years. No broad­band, no social media, no smartphones, no LED TVs or DVRs, no iPads. And who had heard of MROCs, neuroscience, consumer listening, crowdsourcing, or virtual shopping?

Now think ahead.  What will this decade bring?  Common predictions include the “digitization of everything” and a “river” of information.  There will be enormous innovation in research methods.  And the C-Suite is demanding that Market Research be a partner in driving growth, not just a risk reducer.  If that’s not enough, the global economic landscape will change fundamentally in the decade ahead as China approaches the US and Europe in GDP, and growth for US and European companies comes from beyond their borders.

Market Research is facing a strategic inflection point (with a nod to Andy Grove in Only the Paranoid Survive), and the need to get ahead of the changes has never been greater.

What’s needed for the industry to seize this as an opportunity, when ignoring it could lead to Market Research becoming disintermediated and irrelevant?  And what are the challenges and opportunities for today’s market research practitioners?

To address these questions, my partners at Cambiar and I are fielding a Future of Research Study to both client and agency researchers. We will address macro events driving change; the future of the research function; and enablers and barriers to success. The study design has been informed by online discussions, a brainstorming session with industry leaders, and MREB’s Business Impact Diagnostic.

Our insights will incorporate the perspective of thought leaders who have addressed the future of research and include a perspective from CMOs across a wide range of industries.  We will paint a picture of market research in 2020, together with the talent needs, enablers, and barriers to success.

We need your help to paint the picture as seen by market research practitioners in client organizations! Participants will receive an executive summary as our thank you.  The Board will be analyzing member-submitted data as part of its ongoing study of Market Research’s business impact, so your contribution will make those resources more relevant and valuable for you.   Click here to participate.  Thank you!

Becoming a Talent Champion

Senior executives who are effective at talent management generate up to 7% more revenue than their less dedicated peers.  Unfortunately, more than 80% of executives are either uncommitted to talent management, ineffective at it, or worse—both.

Talent management, though, is not a matter of skill (most executives have the business skills necessary) or time (effective executives and ineffective executives spend roughly the same amount of time on talent management): the issue is focus.  Executives should approach talent management strategically—managing key talent like a corporate asset that is developed and deployed in support of business objectives.

Becoming a Talent Champion outlines five key activities executives should focus on in place of day-to-day staff management, including building the high potential bench, holding the senior team accountable for talent outcomes, and owning the organization’s talent strategy.  To learn more, download a complimentary copy of this new publication or order the eBook.

MREB Members, check out our best talent management tools and insights in our Staff Management Topic Center, including:

Researchers Need Empathy

Posted on  30 March 11  by 

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Who wouldn’t want to know the steps to take to become more effective, no matter what they do for a living? The topic has obviously captivated millions of people: Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” has sold over 15 million copies since it was first published in 1989. Due to this popularity, the book has snagged a spot in Fast Company’s Leadership Hall of Fame series. The magazine chose to highlight one of the more unconventional pieces of advice in the book – the importance of empathic listening.

It could be argued that “seeking to understand first” is a key skill for market researchers, who spend their time looking for insights into consumer behavior. But what about other applications of listening? Do market researchers routinely apply this drive to understand to their relationships with internal business partners?

The MREB’s recent research on Closing the Researcher Influence Gap identified emotional influencing skills as a key category missing from most research teams’ skills portfolios. Empathy is one of those skills, along with conflict resolution, negotiation, and communication versatility. Heads of Research looking to increase their team’s impact would do well to round out insight skills (like analytical aptitude and creativity) and traditional consultative skills (like business acumen and problem framing) with emotional influencing skills like empathy.

MREB members, learn how to motivate researchers to learn emotional influencing skills and help them to sustain and refine skills over time.

Inside the Buying Brain

Brennan Kelly, a researcher with our sister program, the Marketing Leadership Council, discusses the innovative research in neuroscience.

New research in neuroscience is shedding light on how and why consumers buy. Consider: our senses are taking in about 11 million bits of information every second but our conscious brain can only process 40 bits per second – a small fraction of all that information. So how do marketers get into that tiny bit of consciously considered information?

Dr. A.K. Pradeep investigates this topic in his new book The Buying Brain where he examines the neurological effectiveness of various stimuli and how they predict purchase intent.  His three primary measures of neurological effectiveness are Attention, Emotional Engagement, and Memory. He finds that the second and third are extremely powerful predictors of purchase intent and marketplace success.

One important consumer laboratory where these ideas play out is in the local supermarket where consumers are confronted with an average of 30,000 products. In such an overwhelming sensory environment, the subconscious mind goes into overdrive to help organize and prioritize information.

How the mind approaches this ocean of choices lies at the intersection of neuroscience and shopper marketing. While this new discipline is still in its early days, some findings – particularly in packaging and in-store merchandising – are notable.

For example, in packaging: Read More »

Three Ways Research Helps Companies Take Advantage of Long-Term Opportunities

By Aaron Field

CEB data show that senior executives expect 37% of their entire corporate growth to come from noncore products and new business models in the next decade. (Click Here for More) What does it mean? It means that companies like Waste Management and Xerox are teaching customers to generate less waste and print fewer pages (don’t confuse the two!). See (Harvard Business Review, 10 February 2011) for more.

Today’s executives need to make some big bets on tomorrow’s markets. They know it. We know it. But somehow it rarely happens. The truth is that executives regularly fail to envision or act on nebulous “macrotrends.” The Board’sEmbracing Long-Term Market Changes: Driving Action on Market Changes by Shifting Research’s Focus from Megatrends to Opportunities describes how to get eyes on the issues and action on the agenda.

Three key lessons to embracing long-term change.

  • Don’t Overwhelm Harried Executives: The company needs us to talk about long-term changes but avoid the glassy-eyed expressions and early exits when leading the company through “boil the ocean” macro-planning.
  • Make the Future Real: Reliable estimates of the timing and impact of long-term change is the most effective spur to action.
  • Focus Executives On Decisions, Not Planning Processes: Executives are going to make very expensive trade-off decisions with tremendous impact on their careers and companies. The last thing they need is to worry about how to decide on top of what to decide. Research should establish the business criteria so that opportunity vetting is about the actual opportunities, not the vetting.

Win Over Your Audience

Posted on  18 March 11  by 


I’ve always hated the advice “just picture the audience in their underwear.”  It’s passed on as if it’s the magic panacea that can make anyone a great presenter.  As one who has tried this, I can assure you, “magic” it is not.  Yes, undoubtedly you need to get over initial hesitations to be able to stand in front of a group and speak… but the most fearless speaker can still give an awful presentation.  (Who hasn’t had the “pleasure” of listening to someone proudly and confidently give a horrible presentation?)

Perhaps the key to a great presentation is not the confidence to stand up and speak, but the ability to tell a story. A good story grabs and holds your attention, while potentially teaching you something.  A compelling story can deliver the same insight as a research presentation, but tends to be overlooked as a presentation tool.  Transforming your research presentations into active narrative makes for more memorable communication, and sets you up to have greater impact on the business.

Steve Tobak from believes in the power of a story, and in his article, “How to Be a Great Storyteller and Win Over Any Audience,” goes as far as saying “Your success in business is all about effective storytelling.”  Steve primarily addresses storytelling in a live presentation setting, but it certainly applies to written communication as well. Here are some of the things he highlights in his article (which apply to both in-person and written presentations):

  • First you need to determine who your audience is, and ensure that your story matches what they care about.
  • Evoke an emotional response to make it memorable.
  • Cliché as it may be, practice makes perfect.

In Research we find great insight on our consumers, industry, competitors, etc., but even the best information goes to waste if it is not taken in and used.  So the next time you fume over a colleague not listening to what you presented, take a look at how you presented it.   Maybe there are some things you can work on as well.  Some people are natural storytellers, and some of us have to work on it.  Hone these skills by starting a peer review group, or get a colleague to critique a report before sending it on.

Want to look more at developing your communication skills?  Check out our Communications Toolkit and join us at an upcoming Workshop.

Why Spend So Much Time on Social Media?

Posted on  14 March 11  by 

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Can Research use social media to generate insights?  The jury’s still out.  Social media continues to be one of the hottest topics among our members—with good reason.  Here’s some food for thought:

  • A recent article in Research Magazine noted that social networking accounts for one quarter of time spent online in the US.  That’s more than email, gaming, and instant messaging combined.
  • In 2010, more than 330 companies rated Listening as the most important element of their social media strategy according to our sister program, the Market Leadership Council.  And more is on the way…
  • The Harvard Business Review recently reported that 36% of companies plan to launch sentiment analysis of social media in the next 2 – 3 years, and 33% are planning to launch some form of social media monitoring.

But social media hasn’t unleashed a flood of new consumer insights.  In fact, no research function (based on an informal survey that we did)… can fully attribute any new insights to social media listening and monitoring.  One recent study found that only 5% of research professionals incorporate social media data into research projects.  That number sounds even lower when you realize that all of the study participants were recruited through social media platforms!

At this point you may be wondering—is it even worth putting time and resources against social media as a data source?

We think so, and others agree.  It may still be early days for most research functions (40% of researchers spend less than an hour a day using social media), but we think there are a few smart things you can do to take advantage of social media:

The MREB’s 3 social media commandments:

  • Look for Short-Term Opportunity, Not Long. The best social media marketers don’t focus on high level issues like brand health or consumer psychology. Instead they focus on short-term shifts that generate positive, shorter-term opportunities. The best monitoring focuses on sudden spikes. More traditional research techniques are still the gold-standard for long-term consumer psychology.
  • Fish Where The Fish Are. Measuring the broad internet suffers from all sorts of inaccuracies. But individual communities with well-known posters are reliable and useful. For instance, is a great predictor of how “road warrior” business travelers talk and react.
  • A Great Team Player, Not a Solo Contributor. Social media works best when triangulated with slower but more reliable research methods. By itself, social media is too unreliable.  A small change to search terms can generate entirely different “insights.”

Given that social media remains top-of-mind for our members, we recently hosted a Webinar on the topic with 3 smart panelists.  The replay and materials are available on our Web site.  Take a listen to hear perspectives from some of our members, your Marketing colleagues, and Iconoculture.

And let me ask all of you—who has seen good results from their social media efforts?

Finding Your Brand’s Signature Brain Moments

Brennan Kelly, a researcher with our sister program, the Marketing Leadership Council, talks about a recent conversation with NeuroFoucs.

In our recent research on the changing consumer purchase process, we’ve had the opportunity to speak with NeuroFocus, a neuromarketing research firm, to learn more about how they measure the brain’s response to brands, ads, products, packaging, and in-store stimuli.

While their research and methodology are fascinating, I found their work on advertising particularly interesting. Neurofocus has identified what they call “Neurological Iconic Signatures” (NIS); these are the unique moments in the consumption experience that generate the highest levels of brain engagement. They are critical to enjoyment of the product/ brand/ ad and to its retention in memory.

NIS are identified through Total Customer Experience testing (a proprietary system for analyzing a consumer’s interaction with a product) and can be used to verify how well the face and voice of the product are embedded through the length of the commercial. They have found that ads that embed NIS elements score higher among a variety of dimensions and generate significantly higher purchase intent than ads that do not.

To bring this concept to life, they described some recent work they have done for a CPG in which they watched consumers opening and eating a bag of chips. They used their sophisticated technology to understand how the brain reacts to the entire consumption experience. What were the iconic signature moments? It turns out opening the bag and licking one’s fingers after the snack were the two signature moments and they advised the company to emphasize these moments in all their marketing and advertising.

In another experiment, NeuroFocus tested the yogurt consumption process in its labs. While everyone guessed that eating the first bite would be the high point, they reached a surprising conclusion: the key part of the process (as far as consumer brains are concerned) is grasping and removing the foil covering over the top of the container. The lesson is powerful: don’t assume that the obvious product characteristics are the only important ones.

The implications for the supermarket aisle are also intriguing. As consumers, we’re faced with a huge number of stimuli in these stores and our brains desperately search for familiar images to guide us. Neurological Iconic Signatures could be those powerful guideposts. Neurofocus even suggests that the future of shopping could be a store that takes advantage of the power of sound, taste, touch, and smell, activating the billions of neurons firing in with recognition in our subconscious. For example, the pop of a wine cork could be the signpost we need to look for that bottle of cabernet. The brain is clearly wired to react strongly to these experiential high points. Understanding and leveraging them presents an intriguing new avenue for researchers and marketers alike.

MREB Members, our research brief, Revealing Hidden Purchase Drivers, gives an overview of these emotional, sensory, and natural observation techniques and provides some practical application of these methodologies. 

Is Your Research Supplier A Vendor Or Partner?

By Aaron Field

Insights functions and their research vendors often seem like two countries divided by the same language. We all speak confidence intervals and cross-tabs but do we want the same thing?

If not, it’s a shame. There’s a lot to benefit both sides when the relationship works well. As Rick said to his amused French companion; “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Myth: Money divides us.

Truth1: Our own, internal customers are not penny pinchers. Board research shows that cost-efficiency is the 17th ranked research skill (out of 24) according to internal partners. Even more revealing, cost-efficiency has no impact on our internal strategic impact. Check out more here.

T ruth2: Vendors aren’t trying to short-change us. For sure they care about profit but they also care about long-term relationships and satisfaction. Preferred vendor relationships – based on quality and satisfaction – are repeatedly welcome by vendors.

Myth: Secrets divides us.

Truth3: The best way to get more from vendors is deep sharing of brand and company strategy. Vendors who have this knowledge produce more relevant reports, collaborate more effectively on survey design, and sometimes even generate original insight. And simple non-disclosure agreements ensure that confidential information stays confidential. (See how Reckitt Benckiser builds this relationship.)

While we’re talking about Casablanca, here’s the most famous quotation straight from

Rick: You know what I want to hear.

Sam: [lying] No, I don’t.

Rick: You played it for her, you can play it for me!

Sam: [lying] Well, I don’t think I can remember…

Rick: If she can stand it, I can! Play it!

And for more on what suppliers think of us, MRS ran an interesting piece.

The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies

By Anthony Bell

According to Fast Company, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Nissan, Groupon, Google, Dawning, Netflix, Zynga, and Epocrates are this year’s 10 most innovative companies. The key to their innovative success: they are adaptable, willing to scrap safe ideas, and they know what they stand for. As companies emerge from the recession, innovation is rising to the top of the corporate agenda. Executives cite innovation-led growth as a top strategic priority, and they’re increasingly looking to Market Research to link corporate-level direction to the voice of the customer. I like to think of this as a two part process. First, make sure Research gets to what truly matters. Build a research agenda around key business unknowns to ensure you’re acting on the most important needs and align research projects to core business drivers to gain a cross-silo perspective. After Research develops a strategy-backed agenda, and there’s a common direction for business partners and Research, the fun happens! The beginning of the innovation process is Market Research’s best opportunity to identify and build out innovation opportunities, collaborate with specialist users, and pressure test concepts. This ensures that product development and innovation stakeholders are making decisions truly based on customer understanding.