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Overcoming the Need for Predictability

Posted on  15 May 12  by 


How common is this predicament: senior leaders have asked for more creativity, but then shoot down the novel suggestions they receive.  Organizations seek creativity to grow and improve, but simultaneously shun the groundbreaking results of their creative focus.  A recent article on outlines the bias against creativity:  the folly of seeking certainty.

Our ancestors learned to seek certainty and predictability to ensure our survival, and now our organizations’ needs to change and try new things is suffering.  The author of the CNN article postulates that we often believe that an idea can be either practical or creative, but usually not both at once, and that leaves people subconsciously categorizing creativity as a luxury.   

But, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.  To get through tough times, the tough need to get creative.   This means that researchers need to break through their own unconscious barriers to creativity to come up with true insight, and also the barriers put up by business partners to get the insight acted upon.  No sweat right?

Break through your own need for certainty

We need to foster comfort with uncertainty, which can be hard for those of us who find comfort in data.  But the best insights are created in departments that foster an open, creative culture:

Make Web Analytics Work for You

Posted on  14 May 12  by 


When Google launched their Google Analytics product in 2005, the free tool was so wildly popular that the company had to temporarily shut down new signups a week after introduction due to overcapacity. Ecstatic at the new ability to study their visitors’ every move, website owners couldn’t wait to unlock the powerful capabilities of web analytics.

Many of those website owners, however, went on to discover just how tricky it is to analyze behavioral data. It might appear impressive that your company’s website traffic increased by 25% last month, but look a little closer and it may not be clear why. Did search rankings change, allowing people to find you more easily through search engines? Is it because a misleading paragraph on the home page is attracting customers who immediately click away when they realize they’re looking for an entirely different product? Or is it because an offline marketing campaign for your company’s website is has been surprisingly successful?

We recently completed a study on using web analytics in market research and uncovered some of the more challenging issues our members face:

  • Challenge #1: Online segmentation is difficult without authentication information.
  • Challenge #2: Web analytics efforts can collect an enormous amount of data, but determining what is useful and what is not is more ambiguous than one might think.
  • Challenge #3: Web analytics is hard to explain to researchers and business partners alike.
  • Challenge #4: Web analytics teams are not always well structured to integrate with market research.

Despite these challenges, web analytics can become a powerful tool for market research, whether to perform online segmentation or to increase sales conversions and lead generation. And, with the skyrocketing number of consumer transactions occurring online, it’s no longer an option to ignore how people are using your website.

MREB members, read our latest whitepaper An Introduction to Web Analytics to learn more about these challenges and how to overcome them.

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The 4 Fs of Social Media Collaboration

Guest poster Kayleigh O’Keefe works with communications executives for our sister program the Communications Executive Council. This week she examines how to optimize internal social media collaboration across an organization.

As we’ve charted developments in the internal social media and collaboration space, we’ve seen many over-invest in the latest and greatest technology platforms. These efforts, such as implementing internal Facebook or Twitter-esque applications, met initial enthusiasm only then to see early adoption rates plummet and to struggle justifying value created for the business.

For the most part, these efforts failed because the platforms were non-intuitive and without an obvious purpose or benefit. Many companies wasted time and effort on employee sharing solutions that simply couldn’t compete with employees’ personal options. Before you begin experimenting with new social media options for employees, here’s what you need to beware of:

  • With significant investment and application of the right principles, companies can create tremendous value from tools that allow employees to connect with and learn from one another. (see how one pharmaceutical company launched a wiki-style site to facilitate easy consumption of organizational knowledge)
  • Companies should beware of efforts that require significant investment but feel unnatural for employees to use; these efforts will disappoint.
  • Consider leveraging existing live and virtual employee interactions to redirect energy towards strategies that encourage peer learning. (for example, Research at Texas Instruments and Sabre Holdings have used this technology to identify expert opinions and tacit information) Read More »

Simplify Customer Decision Making: Take the Quiz

Posted on  8 May 12  by 


The purchase funnel: that theory is so 1898.  Our friends at the Marketing Leadership Council recently blogged on HBR about changes in consumers’ purchase processes, and it looks like all of the information barraging consumers has caused them to adapt their shopping habits to cope with the noise.

For almost one-third of consumers the information is too much and rather than conducting a considered search they drop the work altogether and just zero in on a single brand.  And MLC research has found that decision simplicity in the purchase process is the #1 reason why consumers are likely to buy a product, do so repeatedly, and recommend it to others. 

In fact, brands that simplify customer decision making are:

  • 86% more likely to be purchased
  • 115% more likely to be recommended

The Council created a 15-question quiz to help you determine how simple—or complex—you’re making your customers’ purchase decisions.  And you can also access their HBR article on the new Decision Simplicity strategy.

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The Need for Speed in a Research World

Posted on  7 May 12  by 

Comment (2)

Across the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of you at one of our member meetings on Embedding Customer Knowledge into the Business.  These have been really great, interactive sessions with lively discussion and idea-sharing. 

One discussion point that has really been a hot topic at many of the meetings is how to get research results faster?  The speed of business is rapidly increasing and does not look to be slowing down any time soon.  In this “I need it now” world, how can Research adapt what we’re doing to better fit in?  Or, should we?

When a question in the forum asked what others do when colleagues request quick turnaround research, over half of the respondents said they would refer to a collected and synthesized repository of information (per below). 

We’ve seen one member, Motorola Mobility, do this particularly well, when they implemented a “quick-fire” synthesis process to be able to answer executives’ questions in as little as 24-48 hours.  Whose colleagues wouldn’t want that kind of a turnaround timeline?  In looking at the process, and how other research teams could imitate for like results, two parts stood out as key in making it a success:

  • Ready Resources – their core library of collected and synthesized information
  • Task Specialization – clearly defined roles aligned to the person who can make the best contribution in the fastest time

The other suggestion a number of Research Execs have brought up is to tap into online communities or panels for quick responses and feedback – whether managed internally or not, these can be a great option for quick information from a set of customers you already know you care about. 

Have you tried these ideas?  What have you found to be an effective way to get information into the hands of your business partners faster? 

Or, on the other hand, do you hold strong to the idea that we need to push back when business partners ask for results in a quick (/unreasonable?) timeframe?  When one of Research’s roles is to be a “risk-reducer,” it is certainly fair to argue that we should be looking for the best results and not compromise quality.  Poor quality research can lead to poor quality decisions – so maybe the question isn’t one of how to get information faster, but rather how to get research requests in a timelier manner?

So, I ask you, if your colleague asks for information that would be best answered with a survey that will take 8 weeks to field and get results, but they want results in 1 week, do you take that opportunity to educate them on the research process, and note it is not possible, or do you work to get them as much information as possible, while saying, “we can’t have a perfect answer”?

Is “good enough” good enough? 

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5 Tips to Improve Virtual Meetings

Posted on  4 May 12  by 


Last year we ran a quick poll and found that fewer than 30% of research teams work all in the same office.  And even for those who have the luxury of a single-location team, we still have to deal with far-flung vendors and business partners, which can only mean one thing: dependence on the teleconference.  Check out your calendar and tell me, how many planners include dial-in instructions?  For me, it’s almost all of them (“Welcome to Corporate Executive Board Conferencing; please enter your passcode…”)

On, consultant Keith Ferrazzi recently outlined the benefits of virtual meetings, noting that they have the potential to be more effective than in-person meetings.  To improve these multi-location meetings, the he offers a few tips:

  1. Video, don’t just tele-using video is the best way to ensure participants are engaged, and it helps participants read each other—always a benefit to making actual progress in a meeting.
  2. Formalize catch-up-reserving the first few minutes to talk about what’s going on in the participants’ lives will break the ice and make folks feel more connected to each other.
  3. Assign tasks-making sure you formalize a minutes-takers, Q&A manager, white board guru, etc., will ensure folks stay engaged.
  4. Banish “mute”-unless they’re on a train or airport, a little background noise proves that participants are paying attention and not multi-tasking during the meeting.
  5. Penalize multi-taskers-don’t just discourage folks from checking email or working on something else while in a meeting, institute a multi-tasking fine jar or chore wheel. 

Come to think of it, I’d like to institute this last rule for in-person meetings too.  Teri, if you check that phone while we’re in this meeting you’ll be on whiteboard wipe-down duty for a week!

MREB members, access more information on how to manage dispersed or virtual teams and offshore research teams.  And let us know, how do you make the most of virtual get-togethers?

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What to Call the Next Generation Research Function

Posted on  3 May 12  by 

Comment (3)

More than a few times a month, I find myself working with members to define what the next generation of Research looks like for their organization.  These conversations take all different forms, as you can imagine.  For some, they want to look at next-generation skills.  What skillsets should they emphasize as they work to transition their teams from data providers to insights professionals?  For others, it’s often a conversation around evolving their vision or mission as a function – or even renaming or rebranding the Research department. 

Like the function itself, we’re seeing many of our members evolve the name or brand that they use to describe their functions.  In fact, while our brand, the Market Research Executive Board®, has stayed consistent during our 10+ years of existence, many of our members no longer call themselves “Market Research.”  We did an informal poll late last year and estimate that about half of our members lead functions with the name “Market Research”.  Our membership now includes Insights, Intelligence, Analytics, and Customer Knowledge functions, and I’d invite you to leave a comment below to let us know what other names exist for Research within our membership.  While the names vary, the responsibilities and areas of focus tend to remain consistent, with a majority of our members working to position themselves as strategic partners. 

So what’s in a name anyway?

Some of our members rename their functions to more accurately describe the value they provide to the business.  Market Research, for example, can imply a focus on process and data instead of insights and decision making.  With most of our members aiming to be more than “data providers,” a rebranding often makes sense.

As part of our work on Embedding Customer Knowledge into the Business, we identified three different eras or phases for Research.  Fifteen to twenty years ago was the Era of Research as Methodology Expert.  The primary value that Research provided was around research innovation and project execution – and because information was scarce and Research was still perfecting methodologies, all customer information was new information.  Since then, the function has continued to evolve.  Approximately 10 years ago, we saw the advent of the second era – the Era of the Insight Consultant.  Sometimes I describe this as the “so what” era, where Research has transitioned from providing data and information to calling out the implications of that learning – and helping business partners plug that knowledge into business decisions. 

We don’t see the Era of the Insight Consultant disappearing anytime soon.  Having said that, becoming a trusted advisor requires most researchers to spend a lot of time with a limited number of decision makers.  As functions work to increase their impact and improve the company’s overall customer acumen, we’re seeing many functions focus on capabilities that include synthesis, socialization, and storytelling.  All of this is typically in an effort to share customer knowledge with a greater number of decision makers. It’s what we call the Knowledge Era, and it’s led a few of our members to brand themselves as Customer (or Consumer) Knowledge functions.

As you consider what the next-generation of Research looks like at your own company, here’s how we can help:

What Can Research Learn from Neonatal Incubator Design?

Posted on  1 May 12  by 


What does a neonatal incubator have to do with research? Read on.

In 2010, Design that Matters received widespread recognition for its innovative neonatal incubator. The innovation: the incubator ran off car parts.

Neonatal incubators are an effective tool against infant mortality, as about half of infant deaths worldwide (about 1.8 million infants total) can be attributed to a lack of a consistent heat until they have the body fat and metabolic rate to stay warm. The incubation challenge is extremely difficult in developing countries, where donated incubators fix the problem, until they break. Then they sit, unused, for lack of spare parts or repair know-how. But what did the design team see along with piles of broken, discarded medical devices? Countless old cars, trucks, and SUVs somehow coaxed into running smoothly. The lightbulb went off – if an incubator was built from car parts, mechanics could easily provide needed maintenance and repairs. The resulting incubator is pretty neat, with dashboard fans for circulation, signal lights and door chimes for alarms, a car battery to keep it running even in power outages, and headlights to provide heat.

This is a clever, and more importantly valuable, design. But again… market research? What’s the connection?

Design that Matters recognized a disconnect between the way incubators were built and the environment in which they were being used. MREB Research has shown a similar disconnect in the way that Research functions provide information to the business and the way that executives consume information.  The design team re-conceived the incubator to fit the constrains of its environment… how can Research re-conceive its information distribution processes to fit the new business environment?

We’ve seen companies doing just that – embedding customer knowledge in a way that fits executive decision-making processes: Read More »

Lead Users: Insightful on More than Just Product Development?

Posted on  1 May 12  by 


We have blogged in the past about engaging specialist users in research: engaging individuals whose lifestyle, usage requirement, or relationship to a category uniquely positions them to better inform research.  I’ve always thought of these lead users as most valuable for innovation.  But then I saw this article on how insurance provider Aviva has engaged its most influential customers to hone its product offerings AND its ads.

The company created an online community to better conduct quick-turnaround, lower-cost research, and used that opportunity to identify “expert consumers” who are knowledge and influential about the industry and scrub them in more specifically to the research process itself.  This process has turned Aviva’s community into a wonderful tool for relationship building and a source of quick and informed opinion on products and communications.

Aviva’s case profile seems to again confirm what many have found over the years: the more you know the source of information, the better that information can be.  For example, we’ve talked before about how social media’s anonymity undermines its ability to provide true customer insight.  But we have seen companies like Southwest Airlines and NASCAR unleash insights from social media by finding or building communities where they know the participants.

Identifying true lead users can be difficult; it’s hard to find lead users in nature, so defining a screener is imperative.  One appliance company we work with found success by leveraging external networks to generate a screener that would reveal truly leading consumers.  We have also seen companies like Visa and Charles Schwab engage consumers on a long-term basis through research by creating joint-benefit research projects or creating a shared agenda

Are you fostering long-term relationships with customers through research projects?  Do you see the benefit of identifying and engaging “expert consumers”?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

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How Doodling Makes You More Effective

Posted on  27 April 12  by 


A recent article in the Wall Street Journal observed that a recent trend in offices seems to an increasing use of whiteboard space, as well as visual props like sticky notes and construction paper during team meetings. Companies are pushing their employees to put down their smartphones and tablets, and instead draw out their thoughts the old-fashioned way.

With newly-popular products like IdeaPaint, which can be painted on most surfaces to create custom whiteboard space, practically every part of an office floor could be written on. And, if our always scribbled-on (often indecipherably so) whiteboards at the Corporate Executive Board are any indication, your colleagues will love the freedom to sketch out ideas wherever they please.

The theory is that allowing people to doodle freely has many beneficial effects. It not only fosters creativity by helping people get their ideas down right when they spark, but also eases communication between colleagues and conveys emotions to make ideas stick. As a universal language to fall back on during a meeting, doodling can help surpass barriers such as differences in language and technical familiarity.

Looking for other creative ways to achieve these same results? Take a look at some of the best practices we’ve uncovered:

  • P&G and Amway’s Gust-Busting Experiences: P&G and Amway each developed multi-sensory, realistic, and interactive sessions with business partners to create powerful learning moments that allow them to internalize new ideas.
  • H.J. Heinz Co.’s Interest-Provoking Tactics:  Heinz pulled together a series of engaging interview and pop culture videos in their presentations to easily communicate their insights and ensure that they will stick in executives’ minds.
  • Corning’s Hypothesis-Based Research Process: Corning fostered idea generation by creating a team of market researchers and R&D scientists, and encouraging them hypothesize novel ideas and insights as early and often as possible without waiting for data to come in.

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