Tag Archives: Interviews

Qualitative Research: If it ain’t science, it’s crap

Without a doubt, quantitative research is science. It involves systematic observation and experimentation to better understand consumer behaviour.

Surveys represent the bulk of our quantitative work, converting wide-ranging written and verbal, and positive and negative opinions into carefully coded numerical values that can range from -100 to 100. Neuroscience converts brain waves, skin responses, and eye-tracking behaviours into even finer grains allowing us to better understand the differences between men and women, buyers and browsers, high-income and low-income people, and so many other distinct groups of people. Big data has jumped on the science bandwagon with even more intensity. Billions and trillions of numbers can be categorized and re-categorized into untold numbers of groups and associated with untold numbers of perfectly coded, perfectly transcribed analyzable data points.

But qualitative research? That’s a completely different story. To be valid and reliable, as well as reputable and respected, marketing research needs to behave as a science. Does qualitative research meet the criteria to be considered a science?

First, science is systematic. Are any of these characteristics systematic?

Delineation of precise characteristics in the selection of individual interview participants, according to demographic, psychographics, and personality characteristics such as age, gender, income, education, region, language, sociability, product usage, product opinions, and more


Preparation of standardized discussion guides to ensure consistency across multiple focus groups and multiple interviews

Standardized training of group and session leaders to avoid introducing, creating, or encouraging bias due to group think, dominant group members, reluctant group members, hostile group members or any of the wide assortment of other potential problems


Detailed understanding and selection of the tool best suited to uncover the problem at hand from among hundreds of possibilities such as grounded theory, narratology, storytelling, ethnography, shadowing, participant observation, focus groups, interviews

Detailed methods for converting non-verbal and non-numerical results into standardized data points such as coding books used for both manual and computer-assisted coding

Second, science is experimental. Are these characteristics experimental?

Preparing products in a variety of colours, shapes, sizes, formats such that research participants can be exposed to some or all of them in pre-determined orders


Examining the reliability and consistency of opinions, across people, across groups, etc, by choosing complimentary and/or contradictory research tools and research leaders

I recently spoke with a qualitative researcher who insisted that qualitative research isn’t science. They insisted that qualitative researchers can’t talk about data and can’t use numbers except in nominal ways. Perhaps some qualitative researchers take pride in not partaking in science. Maybe it’s a nice topic of discussion when it comes to talking with clients about why they should go with one method or another. Maybe my friend is wrong.

Is qualitative research is a science? I have to say yes.

Annie Pettit, PhD is the Chief Research Officer at Peanut Labs, a company specializing in self-serve panel sample. Annie is a methodologist focused on data quality, listening research, and survey methods. She won Best Methodological Paper at Esomar 2013, and the 2011 AMA David K. Hardin Award. Annie tweets at @LoveStats and can be reached at annie@peanutlabs.com.

Lead-up to the IIR Technology Driven Market Research Event: Interview with John Dick, CEO of CivicScience


This post is co-posted with The Green Book.

For the next edition of our ongoing series of interviews with presenters at the IIR Technology Driven Market Research Event, (May 2-3, Chicago), we’re talking with John Dick, CEO of CivicScience.

Last year I had the great pleasure to be introduced to John and his company as part of another venture I was working on. I was immediately impressed by the innovative approach to data collection and truly unique business model that the firm had developed. I’ve mentioned them in several other blogs as examples of the type of disruptive innovation that will help define the future of market research and I continue to be impressed by their ever increasing creativity and the potential applications of their technology for market research.

John is a great guy and it’s always a pleasure to speak with him. After reading this interview, I think you’ll understand why.

LM: Hi John, thanks for making the time to talk with me today.

JD: Hi Lenny. It’s my pleasure.

LM: Thanks John. So, CivicScience seems to be making a big splash and generating a lot of interest within the market research space. Why do you think that is?

JD: We’re just a bunch of software engineers at our core, so we’re still outsiders in the space. That novelty may have something to do with it. Or maybe, as someone once told me, it’s because we’re making survey research cool again. So much attention has shifted to social media listening because it’s scalable and contemporary. But researchers still need to be able to ask direct questions, know the types of people they’re talking to, and build a structured, quantitative set of data. Hopefully, we’re helping researchers meet that challenge.

LM: What do you think are the major drivers of change in the market research space right now and how is CivicScience planning to take advantage of those trends?

JD: We see two big catalysts in the market: First, consumer opinions are changing faster than they ever have before. Quarterly or monthly research is stale by the time the report is printed. We need to find ways to measure consumer sentiment in real-time or we’ll just be guessing. This can only be solved by engaging people during their daily lives, on a website they visit, on their phones, when they ‘check-in’ at a retailer, over their TV remote, gaming console, or anywhere else in their digital footprint. Our engineers are building the technology to power this engagement.
Secondly, customer demands are changing. Research buyers expect more accountability. We’re even hearing about “pay-for-performance” models infiltrating the market. The winners in this new paradigm will be the companies that can best leverage crowd-sourcing, automation, and syndication to drive down costs while generating massive amounts of insights. Everything we do at CivicScience is geared toward these objectives.

LM: I agree with your assessment of the where the industry is headed, especially from an engagement standpoint. How does your technology help foster that new level of consumer engagement?

JD: One of our scientists likes to say that everyone time you add a question to a survey, you increase the level of bias in the people who will complete it. Lengthy surveys are a pain, which is why respondents often need payments or rewards. This is especially challenging with young consumers or busy professionals. So, our goal is to limit engagements to only one or two relevant questions at a time, delivered conveniently to people where they already travel online. Technology then allows us to connect all of those short answers, process millions of answers in seconds, and mine them for insights through automation.

LM: I think of your approach as being the quantitative equivalent to the social media firehose; can you explain your ‘macrosampling’ technique and why it’s a viable alternative to a traditional online survey?

JD: We engage consumers in very short one to three-question polls inside third-party polling applications all over the web. Our engine delivers professionally-designed questions to users from a syndicated question library we manage. Initially, we match questions to the content of a website and deliver them to respondents at random. Then, by identifying return respondents through a persistent cookie or other digital ID, we can personalize the questions they see, based on their response history and proxy-based demographics.
Over time, we’ve cataloged millions of respondents who’ve answered sometimes hundreds of questions across multiple sites. By mining these massive data, we can begin to predict unobserved attributes, deliver questions with high information-yield, and target custom questions to specific users for paying customers. Web publishers love us because we achieve significantly higher participation than homemade polls and we give them deep audience analytics that they can’t get from tools like ComScore or others…and we do it for free. In return, sites agree to let us aggregate their site data with others, from which we then sell custom and syndicated research products.
Because we don’t pay respondents or pay to deliver the questions, we start with a very low cost structure, which enables us to produce low-cost custom research and daily syndicated research with high margins. We pass these savings on to customers who can now get access to real-time information from millions of highly-profiled respondents.

LM: That is certainly a fairly radical view compared to ‘traditional’ research approaches; have you met with any resistance or skeptics? How do you handle the ‘classical’ researchers when explaining the benefits of your model?

JD: Of course we’ve met with skepticism – and even some downright animosity. And frankly, we’re not impervious to it. We have a long way to go to perfect our model. Right now we’re really strong in a few consumer segments, like Millennials and others, and so we can deliver value to specific types of customers. But we’ve only scratched the surface at this point.

As for ”classical’ researchers, we’re really trying to involve them in our development. As you know, we have a number of formal advisors, business partners, and mentors ranging from political pollsters to anthropologists to economists to marketing research executives. We want the research community to challenge us, which is why we talk so openly about our methodology and technology. We want to be a utility for researchers, not a competitor. The more industry experts are involved in guiding us, the better our end products will be.

LM: You are on a panel discussion regarding Ethics and Privacy at the IIR Technology Driven Market Research event. What is your take on the current state of the industry regarding privacy and, considering your thoughts on the future of MR and profiling methodology, what will this issue look like in the future?

JD: Obviously, the issues surrounding privacy, particularly when you’re dealing with digital types of data collection, are getting extremely complex. Companies like Facebook and Google have turned this world upside down. Our core philosophy is simple: First, people need to know what kind of information has been collected about them and what it’s being used for. Secondly, that information should be made available back to them so that they can learn from it and be empowered by it. Beyond that, people will have to tune into the IIR panel discussion to hear more!

LM: That is a great core value John, and one that I think will resonate well with our colleagues. I can’t wait to hear more at the TDMR! I know you have a lot going on, so we’ll end with that. Thanks again for taking the time to chat. See you in Chicago!

JD: Great Lenny, I’m looking forward to it. See you there!

About John:

John is the Founder and CEO of CivicScience, headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Prior to launching CivicScience in 2008, he was the Managing Partner of GSP Corp, a government relations and business development company he founded in 2001. Under John’s leadership, GSP grew to include 9 offices around the country before his successful exit from the company in 2007. John also serves on the board of numerous start-up companies and non-profit organizations, He is a frequent lecturer at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business and Donald Jones Center for Entrepreneurship.

Lead up to the IIR TDMR: Who Is Lenny Murphy?

This post is coposted with www.tomhcanderson.com and The Green Book.

Boomerang Market Research Industry Interviews (On behalf of IIR’s Technology Driven Market Research Event)

Leading up to IIR’s Technology Driven Market Research Event, (May 2-3, Chicago),Leonard Murphy asked to interview me as part of a series of interviews with speakers at the event (on behalf of IIR and Greenbook). I agreed and suggested I interview him at the same time.

Many of you may already know of Lenny as he’s quite visible in various market research related social media, most notably in marketing MRGA and Greenbook. While Lenny and I are both rather active on social media, our strategies and modus operandi are quite different. Lenny reached out to me several times about NGMR’s participation in various initiatives including the GRIT (Greenbook Industry Trends Study). Initially I was very apprehensive to say the least. NGMR is a hobby of mine, albeit with definite benefits for Anderson Analytics. Still, I like the fact that it is not ‘Pay for Play’ like most of the other initiatives out there, and is totally non-commercial/free and without ads (even the FTO).

Still Lenny is not only relentless, but also extremely likeable. The more you talk to him the more likely he is to convince you that somehow collaboration is a good thing. Lenny is also extremely passionate about the market research industry, probably more so than anyone else I know. As he eats, breathes and dreams about research, he is also rather knowledgeable about industry trends. Therefore it was a pleasure conducting this interview with Lenny.

In terms of background we conducted the interviews simultaneously via email in a back and forth ‘boomerang’ type volley. So while the questions he asked me were quite different than those I asked him, I think you’ll find they are also interestingly similar. [If you’re interested you can also read Lenny’s interview with me on Greenbook’s blog or on the TMRE blog here.

THCA: Lenny, you’re one of the more visible market researchers on various social media. Can you tell us a bit about what you do and why you do it?

LM: I guess that’s one way to put it! Really, I’ve somewhat fallen into this role.
In 2009 as I began to explore new business models based on what I saw happening within the market research industry and the transformation that social media and mobile has had on society and brand engagement I figured that I needed to explore those technologies more deeply myself. I quickly found LinkedIn Groups as an effective way to engage with colleagues to explore some of the ideas I was developing, and since I had been tracking the dominant trends in the industry for several years via the Research Industry Trends study it also became a natural way for me to share information that I found relevant.

Eventually the MRGA and the New York AMA/GreenBook both asked me to help them with their own social media efforts and out of that came the GreenBook Blog, which in turn created more opportunities like involvement with several events, and even a lively private consulting practice.
I’ve never been particularly shy about voicing my opinion, and although I am sometimes accused of being too visible, the reality is that lots of folks seem to find value in what I share across the MR-centric social ecosystem. As long as that stays true I guess I’ll keep doing it; if people get bored with me then I’ll stop!

THCA: I probably first became aware of you via Rockhopper research about six years ago. I remember seeing your ads, it was the same time Anderson Analytics started, and I liked your marketing and decided to add Rockhopper to the bunch of companies to keep an eye on. Can you tell us a bit about Rockhopper?

LM: Thanks Tom; it was a pretty cool brand concept, wasn’t it? That penguin logo alone opened more doors for us than just about anything else we ever did! So, the saga of Rockhopper goes like this: I had another company before Rockhopper called MDM Associates, which was primarily a research consultancy. I had developed a network of other small firms that I collaborated with on projects. Eventually some larger opportunities came along and we decided we needed to form a new company to handle it. At the time we wanted to be known as an insight consultancy focused on using cutting edge web-based methods, and I think we did very well in living up to that vision. We also lived up to our brand; the Rockhopper penguin is a very cool, scrappy little animal and we tried to be that type of company. We punched far beyond our weight class! We were early adopters of virtual focus groups, Flash-based surveys, dashboards, MROCs, etc… We even experimented with text analytics for a bit!
The rest of the story is a text-book case of growing too fast, lack of early senior leadership alignment, focusing on project execution vs. business management, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time!
We grew really quickly and that was sometimes challenging to manage, and there was an increasing amount of disagreement between myself and the CEO at the time about how to effectively manage the business. At the same time we took a few large financial hits in our first year due to clients not paying us and some very costly vendor-generated mistakes that had a severe impact on profitability. By late 2007 it became clear that we had a cash flow hole that was going to be challenging to deal with organically despite significant revenue growth, and the CEO became more interested in pursuing a different opportunity than in guiding the growth of the company. We decided to look for M&A options and had a few decent offers, but eventually decided that we wanted to plow forward as is. In early 2008 the CEO exited the company, I assumed that role, we negotiated a variety of deals to address the debt issue that had been dogging us and we started to grow again. The future looked very bright and our growth pains were behind us!
One of our strategies was to grow within a few key verticals and Financial Services had become our biggest segment from a revenue standpoint. We had grown to a $3.5M company by the end of 2008, with 2/3 of that coming from that space alone. Then the Great Recession hit and we took it on the chin hard and fast. Our core clients slashed all of their budgets and we began to see the commoditization of research happen in a big way. In 2009 we only generated $1M in revenue, but the awful thing was that it was based on the same number of projects as we had conducted in 2008!
So, suddenly we found ourselves in the unenviable position of our revenue having dropped by 2/3s, we couldn’t service the debt instruments we had negotiated as a result, we had the same volume of work at drastically reduced price points, and we were trying desperately to keep an incredible team of really wonderful folks employed. We tried everything from radical payroll cuts and non-essential staff layoffs to aggressively targeting new prospects and repositioning the company. But finally I had to accept that the business was just untenable under these circumstances.
I also began to realize that the model we had been using was flawed; any business that relies on labor-intensive ad hoc work with long sales cycles within a highly commoditized market is going to have serious growth and business sustainability issues. Eventually I and my entire team decided that the Rockhopper model just wouldn’t work anymore so last year we wound down the company. I began to look at new business models and opportunities based on everything we had learned and the paradigm shift that was happening both as a result of the Recession and due to the massive shift in consumer communications driven by social media and the mobile revolution. That has been my core focus for the past 18 months or so; creating a new business model that is radically different from Rockhopper and from most other companies in the market research space.
The good news is that Rockhopper was a tremendous learning experience for all involved and I’ve been able to put those learnings to practical use for my own new business ventures and in helping others with theirs.
Whew! Sorry for such a long answer, but you asked’.

THCA: Because of your affiliation with so many different groups (MRGA, Greenbook, BrandScan, Cambiar, TMRD … and most recently SurveyAnalytics), your frequent mention of many of these companies and your almost daily posts and tweets everywhere, some feel your social media style is a bit overly promotional. Also as it’s hard to understand the relationships you have with these different companies it’s also hard to understand what bias if any there is to what you say in your blog posts.
What do you say to these critics?

LM: Well, I wouldn’t call those affiliations, at least not any more than anyone else who serves on the Boards of multiple companies, trade orgs, or events is affiliated with them. As a matter of fact, I think you and I both are involved in about the same number of various organizations and in many cases we both are involved with the same things! Is that confusing for your contacts? And who ever said blogging is unbiased? I am not a journalist; my blogging is my opinion, thoughts, biases, likes, dislikes, blind spots, etc… All thrown out there for the world to see! I am incredibly gratified that others find value in my ramblings, but I have never claimed to have any special objectivity or position of neutrality.
I am the CEO of BrandScan 360; that is my primary role and I rarely discuss BrandScan 360 publicly or within my social networks. I may mention some of my ideas as they relate to that concept when it’s appropriate within the context of a specific interaction, but I never promote my company via my blogging.
I am also a consultant to the New York AMA/GreenBook and function as the Editor of the GreenBook blog. I have chosen that platform as my primary blogging channel for the same reason you developed NGMR; to create a place to express my views on what’s happening in the industry and hopefully engage others in the debate. That is also the core reason I post on multiple groups; to stimulate discussion on the topics I think are of importance to the research industry.
I accepted that role with the GreenBook because we shared a vision of what was needed to help the industry through this transition period, and I’ve been very lucky to have been given a platform through that relationship to do that. Every effort that I have undertaken with them has been designed to benefit the MR industry, while of course to also create a solid business model for GreenBook. I see no conflict between those goals. Of course my personal brand has benefited from the activity, as would anyone who has done the same thing. That is a very nice by-product that I try to be appreciative and protective of.
Because I try to stay abreast of everything that is happening within our industry and I tend to blog about my take on that, it often means that I write about companies that are doing things that I think are innovative, interesting, or impactful. That is NOT promotion; that is news with context. I guess I am the social media equivalent of an op-ed columnist for the MR industry! I admit that when I become a fan of a company I talk about them, but that is because I think they have something to teach the rest of us, not due to any conflict of interest or bias. Since I am a natural networker, I also try to align people and companies that I think have synergies or that I simply like. I am paying it forward when I do that, not looking for a payoff.
My LinkedIn and Blog bio are very clear about the various things I am involved with, but for the record I am the Executive Editor (and creator) of the GreenBook Market Research Industry Trends Report, I am on the Board of the MRGA, I am Chairing the IIR Tech Driven Market Research Conference and Merlien Institute’s 2nd International Conference on Market Research in the Mobile World, I am on the Board of Advisors for the MRGA and NewMR Virtual Festival. In the case of everything but GRIT, I was invited to participate due to my blogging activity and emergence as an influencer in the debate on the future of market research. Of course I advocate for those events when appropriate, but it’s because I believe in them, not because I am shilling for them.
I have no ‘affiliation’ with Cambiar other than profound respect for the experience of their team. They are also one of many contributors to the GreenBook Blog. I am pursuing some opportunities related to BrandScan 360 with Survey Analytics, but I’d be a fan even if that wasn’t the case because I think they are doing some very cool things, especially in the mobile realm. I have posted the results of a few of their pilots I’ve been involved with because I thought the project was interesting, not to promote their brand. If it had been another company doing the same stuff I would have been just as supportive.
Last but not least while I’m on a roll, I am utterly convinced that the model for engagement for business social media is identical to that of any other media; if you deliver a consistent stream of quality content, you will build a following. If that flow of content is inferior in quality, intermittent, or limited in some other way then it decreases engagement. The response to my social media activities has been consistent growth of followers/readers and a high level of engagement from them, so that means I am doing something that folks like. Also, since LinkedIn appears to be the platform that most of the industry has adopted for discussions, knowledge sharing, etc’ and we know that the 80/20 rule is a huge factor in LinkedIn, I am simply leveraging my position as a ‘core user’ in the same way that virtually every other core user is doing it, including you buddy!
OK, how about a question that I can give a short answer to next?

THCA: In regard to Rockhopper, would you do it again, why or why not? And if you were to do it again, what would you do differently?

LM: Cool, this one is short and sweet! Probably not. Launching a traditional boutique MR firm in this climate would be slow financial suicide. To be successful in the future MR firms must have some combination of either true strategic consulting bench strength, proprietary and cutting edge technology offerings or a unique use of existing technology, and recurring revenue streams via highly desired and critically useful products or services. Some firms may be stronger in one area than others and that will power their growth and guide their evolution; in some cases they may not even be what we think of as MR firms. Being a ‘me too’ company, regardless of how you spin it, won’t be a recipe for long term growth and success. The deck is being reshuffled now across the board, and we’ll see an awful lot of winnowing out, consolidation, and repositioning over the next few years in response to those trends. We already are, although it’s early still.

THCA: Fair enough, and couldn’t agree more. But indulge me in a somewhat silly question for a moment though. Knowing what you know now, if you had $1,000,000 and you had to start a market research consultancy, how would you spend it? What would your staff look like?

LM: Well, since I have been working to raise capital for a while now for BrandScan 360, it’s not that hypothetical! The majority would go towards technology infrastructure to support proprietary products and services, followed by developers, data analysts, and visualization engineers. Then comes marketing, sales, and support staff, preferably recruited from outside the MR space. I’d certainly want some heavy hitter consultants as well, but they would be doing double duty in business development and helping clients understand implications and outcomes. And by the way, we’d be focusing on emerging markets more than the U.S.; that is where the greatest opportunity lies, especially for emerging techniques like social media research and mobile.

THCA: Well you watch the industry rather closely, how exactly do you think it will look different say just 2 years from now? Which type of companies will be the first to disappear?

LM: I see the industry segmenting into Tech Providers (including DIY and field services), Insight Consultancies, and Niche Providers (Neuromarketing, Advanced Analytics & Modeling, etc..). The vast majority of the current MR supplier space is already working to reposition themselves as Insight Consultancies, and failing due to their commodity positioning with clients. I think this realignment of the MR industry will take 2-5 years, possibly less as the forces of social media and mobile migration speed up the pace of consumer cultural change and the concomitant demand from clients to engage with and understand global markets using insight generation methods that offer real ROI across the organization.
We may see the largest firms combat these trends by purchasing these new tech firms in order to replace their rapidly shrinking primary research revenue streams and having two different internal divisions: data collection technology services and strategic insight consulting. Many smaller MR firms will find it difficult or impossible to compete effectively under this scenario and will either:
1. Be absorbed into the corporate Goliaths
2. Refocus on niche market offerings
3. Develop their own innovative offerings that capitalize on the evolving needs of clients
4. Fold up shop

I suspect the fourth option will impact many of the current small to mid-size data collection-centric suppliers.

THCA: Also related to this, how do you see offshoring of market research affecting our industry?

LM: Offshoring is a business reality, an integral part of the global economy, and a viable model for many functions such as data processing, analysis, and IT services like programming, development, etc’ For me the issue is not whether we should outsource, but like you with FTO, being transparent about it. Especially if it is primary data collection or customer service functions. I actually expect the pace of outsourcing operational elements to increase and focus on BRIC countries as well as other emerging markets. That will create an opportunity for firms in established markets to focus more on innovation, developing consulting expertise, and integrating with broader marketing organizations. That said, mobile and social media are wild cards in emerging markets and we may see a whole slew of advances coming from those countries driven by those technologies that could change the ‘balance of power’ between established and emerging markets significantly. That will be interesting to watch unfold.

THCA: Honestly now, what do you think about the ISO thing ESOMAR and especially CASRO is now pushing? It’s so far removed from my business. Is this something that would have been useful to you at RockHopper? By the way, did RockHopper Offshore, and if so how did that work out for you?

LM: I’ve been very public in not supporting the ISO initiative; if you are doing big standardized web trackers its fine I suppose, but that is not what MR is about and it won’t be a key driver of our future evolution. There will always be that type of need and for those firms that focus on that business it may be useful. MR is not about production models anymore, so I think it’s about 10 years too late really. It would not have been useful to me at Rockhopper, it’s not meaningful to BrandScan 360 and I don’t imagine a scenario in the near future that would cause me to sign-up for it.

THCA: The collaborated media effort between you, MRGA and Greenbook, it’s quite different than NGMR which is completely not for profit. MR co. ad dollars these days are limited, so I’m wondering who do you view as the competition for content, advertising, directory listings etc.? Quirks, MRB, ESOMAR, MRA, ARF… or all of the above?

LM: Again, to be clear, I am simply a consultant to the GreenBook and an advisor to the MRGA. I do not play a direct role in their efforts; I just help them develop strategies based on my experience and insights. I do not directly promote their brands or products, although if I think they are doing good work that can benefit the industry I certainly will say that. I have done the same for lots of other organizations, even some that could be considered competitors for ad dollars.
For such a small industry, we have a high number of organizations, mostly trade orgs, that each offer targeted products and services for their members including directories and other publications, all of which are supported by ad sales. Honestly, I think it’s too much and I wish we would see some more consolidation (or at least cooperation!) between these organizations, but our industry is so fractured and politically motivated that it probably won’t happen. The GreenBook is somewhat uniquely positioned due to their connection with the NY AMA to work across all of these organizations from a content publication standpoint and that is what they are doing. They are choosing to focus on emerging technologies, new trends, and ‘next generation’ research models as the core of their content strategy, and I think that differentiates them from the crowd of other publications. Ultimately the success of any of these organizations will be based on how well they serve the evolving needs of their readers/members/advertisers. I am sure each of the other organizations will find their own niche area and will either thrive or not based on how well they meet the needs of their constituencies.

THCA: You certainly are big on “collaboration”, and I have to give you credit for your relentless efforts in this area. As you know, I can be relatively competitive, even in areas I don’t consider core to my business. That said, how realistic is it to expect collaboration in an industry as fractured and ultra competitive as this one? It seems obvious to me that there simply isn’t room for us all, curious, what specific issues if any do you think might actually encourage broad cooperation? It seems to me that every issue that comes up, is so quickly grabbed and tagged by the trade orgs, take “online privacy” (whatever that means) for instance. Do you agree with organizations creating their own committees to create rules for their members and hopefully the rest of the research community to follow? Do you feel an MR company be innovative and do what is necessary to compete in the future of research by signing onto various “We will not” clauses? It seems that’s certainly not a strategy any leading edge company would take, would they?

LM: Thanks! I do believe in collaboration as an effective strategy and I work hard to build alliances with like minded folks to achieve mutual goals when I can. Sometimes it works great, sometimes not so much. I can be competitive, although I agree that you have me beat Tom!
As I said earlier, I think our industry is too fractured; I’d love to see a smaller group of trade orgs that represent our interests, and I also think they need to have a wider purview to include many of the newer processes that fall into the broad ‘strategic business intelligence/insights’ function. In my opinion the AMA would be ideal since they have the widest perspective all of the components necessary for the successful reintegration of the research function into marketing organizations, and also have the largest client-side membership. In that scenario the MRA, CASRO, etc’ should merge with AMA and they could be special focus organizations within the AMA. I’m not sure what the corollary organizations would be internationally, but I would hope to see the same thing happen between a large international marketing body and ESOMAR as well as the smaller national organizations. I think until we get to the point of having just a few trade orgs globally that can truly represent the interests of our very diverse (and getting more so every day!) industry, it’s just going to be a confusing mess and leadership will come from individual companies charting a new course, not industry associations. As those companies are successful, the rest of the industry will have to follow or be left behind.
I do think it is necessary to self-regulate and industry associations are an ideal way to do that, but too often we fall into protectionism and limited thinking rather than developing best practices and supporting innovation for the good of the industry. During this time of unparalleled transformation for market research, I think hobbling creativity and inspiration is a bad idea, and that is what I think could happen if we’re not very careful. It’s the Wild West out there and I think it’s way too early to define standard approaches and rules since we’re making this up as we go along and the industry will look radically different in a few years anyway. We can certainly work on ethical boundaries, but even those may be different than we have traditionally thought of since the walls between ‘marketing’ and ‘research’ are becoming increasingly blurred by social media, MROCs, LBS-based mobile, gaming, etc’ It’s those trends that will force new types of collaboration between various stakeholders as successful companies push the boundaries of what market research does, is, and can contribute to business growth.

THCA: “One Trade org to rule them” all eh ?

LM: Yes! We need more hobbits running the show since they resist the corrupting influence of the trade orgs better than the other races of market research! And I don’t think I can take that analogy further without really stretching and also embarrassing myself terribly!

THCA: OK, last question, as so many of these interviews get boring when they’re too much about business and research. So I’m going to switch it up a bit. I believe sometimes you can tell a lot about a person from the simpler things, like what they like and don’t like. So, if you don’t mind we’ll end with: What’s your favorite movie? A good book you’ve read recently (business or leisure)? Two countries, one high on your list of places you’d like to visit and one low on the list.

LM: Well, based on the last question it should be no surprise that The Lord of the Rings would rank up there, but it would tie with The Empire Strikes Back, The Matrix, and Hellboy. Yes, I am a geek. The best book I’ve read recently was the latest Repairman Jack novel; it’s a great series by F. Paul Wilson, kind of a mash-up of crime/horror/thriller. Again, I am a geek a heart. I would love to visit India; I have a real affinity for that culture. I have no desire to visit any of the lawless nations in South America or Africa.

THCA: Thanks Lenny, look forward to seeing you and everyone else at the Tech Driven Market Research Event in Chicago

Follow Tom Anderson on twitter at@TomHCAnderson

Lead up to the IIR TDMR: Interview with Tom Anderson, CEO of Anderson Analytics

This post is co-posted with The Green Book.

In the fifth installment of our series of interviews with presenters at the IIR Technology Driven Market Research event (May 2-3, Chicago), I go head to head with renowned industry business leader, blogger, speaker, and founder of the ‘Next Generation Market Research’ social network: Tom Anderson.

Tom and I met via social media (of course!) as I began to explore various platforms and networks back in 2008. He stood out to me as someone who had obviously learned to leverage the power of multiple social media channels to grow his brand, and honestly was a bit of an inspiration to me in developing my own strategy.

As we began to interact I quickly learned that he was a passionate and outspoken advocate for change in our industry, and although perhaps he is a lightning rod for controversy, his wit, intellect, and integrity shine through. We’ve butted heads a few times and don’t always agree on things, but I’ve learned to value his perceptions, experience, and business acumen. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Tom on a few things now, and it is always interesting!

So, it’s with great pleasure that I get to share with you my interview with Tom. I hope you enjoy it!

LM: Tom, thanks so much for making the time to do this; I know you have a lot on your plate now.

TA: I’m happy to do it Lenny; it’s always fun and interesting talking with you.

LM: Well, the feelings mutual my friend! Let’s jump right into things. You have built quite the reputation for yourself as a thought leader and advocate for disruptive change in the market research industry, with many people paying attention to your blog and the activity on the Next Gen Market Research LinkedIn Group. Why do you think you’ve struck a chord with the research industry?

TA: I never expected anyone to read my blog or follow me on Twitter. Both of those were an internal ‘research on research’ thing. Because of all our work with text analytics, Anderson Analytics was being asked to do more and more with social media, including screen scraping and blog mining. I figured if we were going to be analyzing what bloggers and tweeters said it would be a good idea to understand how it works from the other side. The biggest revelation was how much traffic it generated. LinkedIn was a different story. I realized from the start the value of a large professional network.

So, in analyzing why the blog is so popular in retrospect, there are several reasons. I think perhaps foremost is that professionals in our industry who still bother reading anything related to market research are tired to death of reading about another study comparing Likert scales in different countries.

I’ve been in research in some role for more or less my entire working life, so I’m perfectly comfortable talking about any research methodology, including the most advanced. But most of us, especially clients, certainly aren’t interested in reading another article about an old research technique. Unless of course you’re new to research, in which case there are several good statistics books and training seminars available. No, they are interested in, and realize that to get ahead you need to gain, an information advantage. And you don’t get an information advantage by doing what everyone else has been doing forever.

LM: What do you think are the major drivers of change in the market research space right now and how are you guiding Anderson Analytics to take advantage of those trends?

TA: There is convergence between all marketing disciplines (MR, CI, PR, Advertising, CRM…) and even BI/IT. We’re all scrambling to become more quantitative, more automated, more powerful and social media because of the reach, engagement level and measurable nature seems to be one of the main targets for us all. I believe if you can discern the cute useless stuff from what really can generate actionable insights, and do it before others, that’s how to get ahead.

LM: So has social media (including blogs, groups, twitter, etc’) emerged as the home of thought leadership and innovation vs. traditional media channels? What does that mean for industry trade organizations, publications, events, etc’?

I don’t know about thought leadership. I guess that’s how some of the traditional channels would like to refer to those who are frequently featured at their events/articles. I have never tried to reach this ‘Good Ole Boys’ group, at least not purposefully, since they have not been our customers.

Since 2005 my firms’ key focus has been on reaching fortune 1000 client side market research buyers. Most of them don’t care about the ‘traditional channels’, wouldn’t attend an MR specific conference or read an MR specific journal/magazine. They will however Google a certain topic if they need info on something. So if they Google “market research and text analytics” or “segmentation textanalytics” for instance, I want Anderson Analytics to come up in the first page of the results. That usually means they’ll call us.

Now admittedly, I’ve been asked to speak at A LOT of conferences during the past few years, and early on I wrote a few articles and white papers. I think a certain amount of that is good for credibility. But to me the advantage of social media is closing the distance between you and your customers. It’s getting to know people virtually. I usually say what I want and say it honestly. This is rare these days, believe it or not. So I find most appreciate that, whether or not they agree with me.

The purpose of social media for me is not about thought leadership, it’s about creating relationships over time. And it’s self serving, because the reason I do it is so I won’t have to travel all over the place to conferences or in person new client calls!

LM: You’re considered an expert on Text Analytics and I know you are doing a lot of interesting things in that arena right now. First, what can you tell me about what you’re doing, and second, where does Text Analytics fit within the range of ‘traditional’ and ‘emerging’ tools? Is it best used as an adjunct to other methods to help, as you say, ‘discern the cute from the actionable’, especially within social media data sets, or is it a standalone method in itself?

TM: I’m afraid there is not a lot I’m allowed to tell you right now about the software we’re working on, though a lot of our early work on best practices in text analytics is available on our website or in journals/market research text books.

As for “Text Analytics” in general, while it’s certainly still emerging, and is now doing so faster than ever before, it’s not something I would place on a scale of methodologies. That would be sort of like asking “are the use of numbers a traditional or emerging tool of research?”. While the technology to leverage text is here now, few have done so intelligently.

What I am seeing though with both text analytics as well as social media analytics is a lot of amateurs claiming they have either built useful software or know how to leverage these tools properly.

In fact though, in some ways I think what we’re seeing is similar to what happened when HTML first became popular. A lot of amateurs came out claiming they could build your website for you. Do you remember how bad it was? Flashing buttons, bad content management, a lot of “under construction” images. Do you remember why that ended (Thank God)?

The younger generation picked it up, came out of college proficient at it. Those graphic designers who were tech savvy enough created best practices around its use. Eventually these skills were absorbed into companies across the board. That’s what will probably soon happen with these two areas of research. But for the moment we have to avert our eyes from all the blinking and cute poorly thought out software and consulting advice.

But don’t get me wrong, they’re definitely both here to stay!

LM: You’ve taken some pretty controversial public stances on issues like offshoring, ISOs, privacy, and the roles of trade bodies in supporting the industry. I can’t see where you’ve suffered any ill effects despite pressure from a few different sources; quite the contrary, your visibility seems to be increasing. First, can you explain why you’ve taken the positions that you have and second, how do you feel about being the ‘voice of dissent’ within our industry?

TA: Are they controversial stances if the majority of your peers agree with you?
FTO and ISO, while different things, are also closely related.

I’ll start with ISO though. Cute quality programs come and go. They are made popular by those who profit most from them, usually the consultants who push them (in this case two research trade orgs as well). During my career I’ve had to sit through training on “Quality Circles”, “TQM”, and “Six Sigma” to name a few. If any of these have a place anywhere in business, it’s in manufacturing, not in something as far up the value chain as market research.

As CEO of a market research company I certainly was going to voice my opinion on a proposed measure that would eat up a lot of time and money and create absolutely no advantage for my firm.

Now if you believe that rather than sophisticated research which relies as much on science as art, and is usually rather customized, you are in the business of making simple widgets, then ISO might make sense. Standardize the widget making process to reduce error, controlling to make sure each widget in the process is never off by more than +/- 1mm in size, well then great! You’ve successfully commoditized it so that you can look for the lowest cost country around to produce the widget without risking quality.

That’s, in my opinion, why these trade organizations thought the ISO process might take hold. The top ten research firms, who also are the largest revenue source for the trade orgs have invested a lot in captive offshore centers. The ISO process would then help legitimize this practice, which by the way is done very quietly.

The Foundation for Offshoring Transparency (FTO) on the other hand was seen as a threat by these organizations for this very reason. I’m a believer in transparency and doing what’s right. With the legal risk and protection related to both PII (personally identifiable information) and IP (intellectual property) varying so greatly from country to country, not being totally upfront with your clients about what you are offshoring and where was something I felt was totally irresponsible.

That’s why the FTO is more popular than ISO, and why the majority of the 855 market researchers on the supplier side and all on the client side we surveyed on the topic strongly supported the ideals of the FTO. Had there been similar research conducted on ISO, I’m sure we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

LM: At the Technology Driven Market Research event you’re part of a panel debate on the topic of Social Media: Scientific Technology or Business Practice. Now I think I know your answer as it relates to the analysis of social media data via text analytics (scientific technology, right?), but what is your overall take on the impact, and ultimate evolution of, social media in the research space?

TA: Social media is an awesome marketing and PR tool. Not only that, but for the first time it’s getting possible to measure ROI in a number of ways not possible before. This is the low hanging fruit for research now. Companies will only continue to increase their marketing spend in this area, and so there will be greater demand and pressure to prove ROI on this spend. Companies will want to know who they are reaching and how effective their campaigns are and how to improve them.

What I don’t understand or agree with on the other hand is trying to force every single research problem onto social media. Just plain silly to think you can, at least as it is currently.

Don’t get me wrong; we are not even close to leveraging social media for research at its full potential. But some of the amateurish Twitter based studies that are being touted as innovative research, well that’s what I was referring to earlier in my comparison to amateur website developers 10 years ago. That will be coming to a halt, thank God!

There are already so many ways we could technically leverage social media for exponential gains in insight that we never dreamed were possible. However, we’re not likely to see these anytime soon, at least not from traditional research. Traditional research is very risk averse, not just in terms of privacy, but also in investing dollars without a sure return. So these innovations will either come from client side or ad agencies, BI/IT, a major social network, or dare I say even from academia. I hope I’m wrong here, but from what I know about the MR industry we just don’t have the R&D budgets to truly test the possibilities.

LM: Last week it was released that Anderson Analytics was perceived to be one of the Top 10 Most Innovative companies in the industry, and in the multivariate analysis there were some surprising results for you regarding how your company is perceived in relation to some of the largest in the industry. What is your take on the results?

TA: I guess social media marketing really does work!

Seriously though, I was touched to see that so many voted for us. I really wasn’t surprised that there were just as many small companies mentioned as billion dollar companies, exactly five of each I believe. Large companies just haven’t been able to wrap their heads around this new marketing as well as small and medium sized players.

In terms of Anderson Analytics positioning on the chart next to Nielsen, well I kind of talked to that on my blog a little. While I’ve been a big proponent of new techniques, especially advanced analytics and data mining including text analytics, everything we’ve been doing is based on sound methodology. So I think it speaks to the fact that the work Anderson Analytics has done, whether for clients or presentations at conferences, white papers etc. is of high methodological caliber. We’re not about anything goes and pretty twitter word clouds.

So while at first it was a bit surprising to not be considered more “Disruptively Innovative”, I’m glad that almost the same type of customer who considers Nielsen will also considers Anderson Analytics. This is after all where I came from, and I value and respect these classically trained researchers immensely.

LM: So what’s next for Anderson Analytics, NGMR, FTO, etc..? What new tricks do you have up your sleeve for 2011 and beyond?

TA: That’s a great question and a tough one I’m struggling with right now. Our industry is changing fast. I see a lot of opportunities and my viewpoint on full service research has changed quite a bit since starting Anderson Analytics.

I think there’s a lot of opportunity for analytics right now. However I think the old way of growing a research firm by adding consultants in various sectors is coming to an end. You can’t fight the DIY trend. Data is everywhere, and clients want a hand in how it is analyzed. I believe the new frontier for us is in helping clients do just that.

LM: OK, last question Tom. I know you work like a madman, but tell me about your downtime. What do you like to do to relax? Any hobbies, interests, or passions? What’s an average Saturday night like at the Anderson household?

TA: The toughest questions for last huh? My wife and I were grew up in families that traveled a lot and lived abroad, so we were both exposed to a lot of different cultures in US, Europe and Asia. That has stuck with us and so we enjoy travel and food. If I speak at a conference somewhere interesting and she can get away from work we always try to mix business with pleasure.

But that’s where our similarities end. She’s a city girl so every chance she gets she’ll try to drag me into NYC to a restaurant, play or for shopping. I don’t mind too much, but to recharge I much prefer heading the opposite way, North to our family cabin and back to nature. Not her idea of excitement!

So on any given Saturday, the situation may be very different.

LM: Sounds like a good life Tom; thanks for sharing. And thanks for your time and openness; this has been great. I’ll look forward to seeing you in Chicago at the Tech Driven Market Research event!

TA: Thanks Lenny, this has been good and I’m always happy to chat with you! See you in Chicago.

About Tom Anderson:
Tom H. C. Anderson is the founder and managing partner of Anderson Analytics, a full-service market research consultancy that takes a ‘next generation’ approach to research by fusing advanced analytics and traditional methodologies with leading edge technologies like data and text mining.

Recently named one of the industry’s “Four under 40″ market research leaders by the American Marketing Association (2010), Tom has also been proclaimed the ‘Uncrowned Father of Web 3.0 Market Research’ (Research Business Report, 2009). In addition, Tom is a prominent blogger, recognized authority on social media, and the founder of Next Gen Market Research (NGMR), one of the most active networking groups for market researchers on the Web.

Tom is chairman of the Foundation for Transparency in Offshoring (FTO), a non-profit organization he founded in 2009 dedicated to educating buyers and suppliers of consumer research and analytics services on considerations related to offshoring, and to promoting disclosure standards.

Tom is a frequent lecturer at universities and industry conferences, and has been widely published in trade journals and decision science texts. He has previously held positions at global marketing research companies including TNS, NFO Worldwide, and ACNielsen BASES. Tom holds an MBA in Marketing, Finance and International Business from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Economics from Lund University, Sweden.

Market research in developing countries

When expanding to a new country, it’s important to get a grasp on the new culture your product is targeted to. With a new culture, market research could prove to be easier for several reasons: the response rates from door-to-door interviews could be as high as 90%, interviews are cheap and plentiful, and the structure of the culture often makes it easy to identify the sources for respondents. For more on effective market research in developing countries, read Quirks’ An insider’s guide to conducting effective research in developing countries.