By Marc Dresner, IIR USA

For those of you who arrived late yesterday or this morning welcome to beautiful San Diego, where the sun is shining on market research’

We’ve had an outstanding program so far today, with more to come, but I must admit I’m a bit skeptical that it will top yesterday’s symposia tracks. A happy problem to be sure!

I’ll first doff my hat to our terrific team of internal and guest bloggers, who have done a masterful job of capturing some key, granular details from a whirlwind of presentations and wrapping them in truly expert analysis.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll take this opportunity to recap yesterday from a more general perspective.

First of all, as I weaved in and out of sessions yesterday, some pretty strong themes emerged: 1) change is an accelerating constant, 2) instant isn’t fast enough and 3) complexity and simplicity are the new ying-yang research imperatives.

If you weren’t here or didn’t notice, the social media & community research track was far and away the big draw of the day. I would say most of these sessions were standing room only, but that’s not entirely accurate: people were even sitting on the floor.

As noted elsewhere, Dawn Lacallade from ComBlu opened the track with a primer on how to correctly deploy social media both for marketing/branding and market research purposes.

Two key takeaways for me: 1) the biggest mistake companies make when they attempt to create social media communities for research purposes, in particular, is that they forget to think about the audience. It’s great that your internal clients have a laundry list of questions they want you to answer, but you had better give your audience a reason to care and want to be there.


2) Not unrelated, consumers reach ‘community saturation’ after belonging to about three communities: 1. Recreational (e.g., Facebook), 2. Professional (e.g., LinkedIn or in our case one of the many online communities for researchers out there) and 3. A ‘life-life’ or personal interest group (e.g., something hobby related). So if you’re contemplating starting a community, you had better pay close attention to how you’ll fit into one of those three categories, because after that the consumer is maxed out on community memberships.

Lallacade was followed by Taco Bell’s senior consumer insights manager, Linda Ashbrook. For me, this was definitely the most eye-opening and controversial presentation of the day.

Ashbrook discussed how Taco Bell has developed a robust qual program using Facebook for small, temporary ‘mini-panels’ and labs designed around specific project needs.

They’ve conducted about 20 of these and have two dedicated internal moderators who specialize in these types of groups on their research team. The groups have become so popular among internal clients that TB has in some cases reluctantly had to bring in external Facebook-trained moderators to handle overflow.

According to Ashbrook, these Facebook panels yield incredibly deep, rich information; they’re more flexible and may be used for a much broader portfolio of research activities than traditional focus groups; and the medium not only nets their target respondents, but recruitment costs about half of what a terrestrial field recruiter costs (they’re trying to winnow that cost down to about 20% of traditional).

Moreover, compared to ‘traditional’ online communities ‘ that people are referring to online communities as ‘traditional’ these days speaks volumes ‘ TB’s Facebook mini-panels are significantly less expensive and less labor intensive. They’re short-term, so no need to refresh your panelists, and no need to struggle for ways to keep people engaged once you have what you need.

I know some of you reading this are probably chomping at the bit with counter arguments, but keep in mind: this is a big client, the initiative is being driven by the research team ‘ not by marketers as one might expect ‘ it’s providing the insight they want from the right demos, the process can be managed entirely internally, and it’s cheaper than some of the ‘traditional’ alternatives.

This is no time to bury your head in the sand and wish it away.

Oh, and one last thing: Taco Bell is eager to find a way to introduce a quantitative dimension to these Facebook mini-panels, which, if accomplished, could have implications for their use of ‘traditional’ online panels.

At this point, it was clear that the social media track was going to be well covered, so I shuffled over to the decidedly less sexy segmentation track. You know what? The folks in the social media track missed out on learning about some serious research innovation.

Christina Liao and Mike Mabey of CMI provided a fascinating window into how they’re segmenting consumers by decision pathways. So here we’re taking an approach that ‘traditionally’ focuses on demographics, psychographics and/or behavior, and flipping it to trace the decision-making process in order to get at that critical ‘why’ behind the choices we make. Heady stuff.

I had the opportunity to interview Christina and Mike later (the video will be available on this blog, so stay tuned) and here’s the kicker: I asked them what’s next as they refine this technique and they said they’re planning to weave in social media. I suppose we can’t escape this topic!

Next in the segmentation track, we were treated to the tale of how Ameriprise with its research partner Chadwick Martin Bailey undertook the daunting task of shifting the former’s segmentation focus from exclusively financial advisors to looking at consumers, too. Sounds simple enough, but this was a serious challenge.

The surprise here was that the presentation turned out to be less about the technical aspects of the segmentation ‘ although ample insights were provided ‘ and more about the process by which the research team was able to effect a major change in the way the organization thought about its business. Outstanding blueprint for how research can drive strategic thinking.

I capped the morning with a one-two punch from none other than PepsiCo’s Stan Turek and Target’s Mark Johnson on how the research and insights functions in both organizations have transformed and where they’re headed.

Both speakers made it abundantly clear that the background, skill set and responsibilities of tomorrow’s researcher will look radically different from those of today’s researcher. In fact, at both organizations, the journey is well underway and research is evolving from a consumer focus to a meld of shopper/consumer ‘ from user to chooser ‘ that is infinitely more complex, with enough moving parts to make your head spin.

In the afternoon, I relied on the mobile track to revive me from my midday food coma, and the first presentation by Katherine Ephlin and Greg Heist of Gongos definitely delivered. Via a series of case studies with clients like VISA, GM and Blue Bunny Ice Cream, the speakers shared smart phone research-on-research they’re conducting. Btw, smart phones will probably be ubiquitous sooner than most people realize.

Among other things, Gongos is finding that smart phone research respondents are actually more engaged than their counterparts in ‘traditional’ research communities and that, surprisingly, their text responses to open-ended questions are so rich that they’re almost indistinguishable from those of non-mobile respondents.

What really excited me was to see that some respondents didn’t even bother answering questions via keypad; they just turned the device on themselves, answered the question and uploaded the video response. It’s easier for the respondent, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision what a researcher could do with AV responses to a text question.

Next, I dropped in on the media measurement track to hear Unilever’s Tom Emmers, who talked about the challenges of conducting research in the digital age amidst continuous, rapid channel proliferation and also provided a good deal of information about how Unilever is coping.

A key research strategy has been to lead off with insights into the consumer’s mindset according to time/place (e.g., receptivity to advertising depending upon the context) and feed that knowledge into channel insights (e.g., creative testing, cross-channel media impact, etc.).

Emmers explained Unilever’s approach to marketing in this evolving mediascape also entails several layers, starting with immersing the organization in the target market, followed by campaign development and finally undertaking ‘dynamic optimization’ activities during the first few weeks of campaign launch. Unilever and its partners have become so proficient at this last step that banners, video and other web properties and online campaign collateral can now be optimized within a week.

While the research function has adapted remarkably to this constantly changing environment, their success is all the more astonishing when one considers that budget and headcount for digital research have not increased despite the fact that Unilever now executes a new digital campaign roughly every two days!

Emmers admitted he wonders whether or not this pace can be sustained. What will it take to measure an almost infinite number of touchpoints to achieve a holistic understanding (i.e., reality)? ‘How much more complex can it get before we just throw up our hands and say we simply can’t manage this’? Emmers asked. ‘Nobody has the answer, because there isn’t one’I will say this much, research has innovated more in the last two years than in the five to ten years prior, and I’ve had more fun in the last two years than ever before.’

The final symposium of the day proved to be one of the most practical and compelling sessions for me. I’ve heard Dr. Randall Brandt of Maritz speak several times over the years, and he never disappoints. The topic on this occasion was how to integrate and analyze multiple, disparate VOC data sources.

Brandt laid out a marvelous blueprint for creating a consistent, uniform set of customer experience categories that can ultimately facilitate convergence mapping. So for example, this approach could tell us whether or not inbound feedback ‘ say, complaints ‘ from a website jibes with issues identified via survey data.

Once these data are standardized, the sources and what they say may be plotted on a graph in four quadrants, the top right in this case indicating points where the data agree/converge; the bottom left quadrant indicating contradictions/divergence. A case can then be made that those items that converge constitute key drivers of customer satisfaction/loyalty and should be prioritized by the organization.

But what about those items that diverge? Well, Brandt said these cases should command the same attention because they also can be a valuable insight source. As an example, a complaint that surfaced in call centers but was not echoed in survey responses could well indicate an opportunity to adjust and prioritize how certain complaints are handled by the call center.

A fringe benefit to this approach, Brandt quipped, is that when a researcher is confronted with a skeptical client, they can’t exactly dismiss the results because they don’t ‘believe’ in surveys, since the data come from multiple sources.

Day One of TMRE concluded with a keynote to kick off the general conference program by Michael Tchong, trend analyst and founder of Ubercool, Inc.

In a spectacular presentation largely about technology, multitasking and our culture’s increasingly short attention span ‘ designed specifically for people with short attention spans who multitask ‘ Tchong flew through a litany of statistics and trends at breakneck speed with wit, acuity and exuberance.

In between fidgeting with my blackberry, I learned that we have more in common with computers than I realized: we both perform multiple functions simultaneously, we’re both prone to crashing and we both could use more memory’