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Today marks the start of Random Acts of Kindness Week (February 11 – 17). According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, RAK Week encourages people to go above and beyond to make others feel special.

Not sure how to get involved. Needs some ideas? Check out 29 pages worth of ideas here.

Needs some Inspirational Kindness Quotes to help motivate others? Find a great collection here.

Want to see how random acts of kindness can change lives? (Need a tear?) Check out this video highlighting last year’s Extreme Kindness Challenge winner: Peach’s Neet Feet.

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4906582_sEvery winter I get on a non-fiction reading kick. With the new(ish) year underway, now feels like a great time to think a bit about our industry and best practices, to catch up on methodologies and alternative approaches we should be thinking about, and to explore what other thought leaders are publishing.

Creativity and inspiration may not necessarily spark from dense textbook surveys of the market research landscape, but they’re a good place to start. There are two books I would recommend for anyone interested in what we do and how we do it:

  • Ray Poynter’s The Handbook of Online and Social Media Research is a helpful introduction to online research, how it’s evolved over the past ten years, and how researchers reach out into the world in different ways to consult with consumers and business constituents in various categories.  This book is a great place to start learning about marketing research and some of the newer and interesting ways in which consumer insights are being culled (social media, communities, etc.)
  • Naresh Malhotra’s Marketing Research: An Applied Orientation, now in it’s sixth edition, is an excellent textbook for in-depth understanding of how market research can provide businesses with strategic value – exploring how insights from market research studies can be applied toward bigger picture business questions, hypotheses, and problems. This text is comprehensive, providing an overview of how many diverse market research methodologies contribute to feed into the channel of consumer feedback.

In addition to these resources, the field of psychology continues to contribute meaningful “food-for-thought” to market researchers. For a fifth (!) year in a row, Dan Ariely’s name and works have come up in our conversations around rational and emotional drivers for consumer behavior. Start with the famous Predictably Irrational, if you haven’t already, and if you find it engaging, follow his thinking through the more recent The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, on the shelves in many bookstores now.

Here at W5 we recently completed a research project for a company testing a change in the way customers order one of their core products. To accurately gauge reaction to this change we interviewed people at locations where they purchase this product. The discovery process of diving down the rabbit hole of such unique and varied consumer interactions is one of the most fascinating parts of conducting consumer insights research in diverse industries. I mean, who knew that the way consumers think about and buy socks could be layered with so many levels of complexity?!

However, the real challenge I enjoy in conducting research is to frame the research question in a greater social and cultural context.  Decisions are not made, nor actions taken, in a vacuum. So while this research was very esoteric in focusing on the product itself and the ways in which customers think about how they purchase that product, the deeper issue this research raised was people’s resistance to change.

When companies decide to make big changes, for whatever reason, those decisions are not entered into lightly. The benefits of introducing change must be measured against the potential blowback that will occur as a result of those changes to any well established brand, product or process.  The classic example of such blowback being of course the New Coke debacle, which was more accurately speaking a blowback against the elimination of original Coke.

In more recent times we have seen negative reaction to change every time Facebook introduces changes to their user interface. The pattern is predictable with Facebook announcing the changes, Facebook users denouncing the changes and threatening to cancel their accounts, the changes being implemented and eventually frustration to the change dying down.

In purely rational terms it should be clear that fear of and resistance to change is irrational. Why must something that is new and different inherently be worse? I suppose that whatever the new thing is must be judged in comparison to whatever it is replacing. As the saying goes – don’t fix what ain’t broke. But on the flip side of that coin is belief that there is always room for improvement.

Change is the only constant

According to research (discussed here) that questioned the human aversion to that which is newer, or more accurately, a preference for that which is older, there is an inherent belief among humans that things that are older are better. Study participants who were told that a piece of European chocolate was first sold 73 years ago rated it as better tasting than those participants who were told it was first sold 3 years ago. Similarly, participants who were told that a painting was painted in 1905 found it more appealing than those who were told the painting was painted in 2005.

But why? What is it deep within the collective human psyche that drives us to believe that which is older is better and that change is threatening? This is a question that I don’t have the answer for, although it is something that I will continue to ponder and hopefully gain insight into through future conversations and observations.

As we well know, the only constant in life is change. The attempt to understand the unknown variable (the reaction to change) and encouraging people to embrace that change, is the real challenge.

Anyone with a Facebook or Twitter feed has most likely experienced FOMO (an acronym meaning “Fear Of Missing Out”) at least once in their life. For most, it’s a weekly or even daily occurrence. I first learned about the condition during a brief autumn vacation to the mountains of North Carolina. While basking in the warm sun splashing down into our hotel’s pool area, I flipped through a copy of Glamour magazine for a little mindless entertainment. An article about women’s relationship with social media caught my eye. According to the article, the constant connection provided by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is hurting women’s self-esteem. Turns out when women see others, particularly their peers, posting (a) awesome pics of last weekend’s amazing bar crawl, (b) updates about their adventures in Mommyland, (c) a video of themselves wind-sailing of the coast of Fiji, or (d) anything better than what they are doing at present, they turn a critical lens on their own lives. Yes, our ability to tap into everything about everyone else’s lives has left us feeling highly dissatisfied and depressed with our own.

Since reading this article I’ve watched for signs of FOMO in action all around me. I quickly discovered that FOMO is everywhere and it’s not just impacting the ladies. At the MTV Music Awards the underlying theme seemed to be “NOW.” A live Twitter feed spit out real-time updates of red carpet appearances while fans were encourage to connect/comment on video generated from the awards show on Facebook and MySpace. Then all the social buzz was reported on by the MTV hosts. It was a hodgepodge of action, reporting the action on social media, and then reporting people’s comments on social media. The sponsor of the MTV awards was Pepsi featuring their “Live For Now” advertising slogan. Social media hashtags like #YOLO were bandied (“You Only Live Once”) about without abandon. The heartbeat of the MTV nation seemed to pulse “now, now, now” with each update on Twitter.

As a culture, we’re so obsessed with “now” that we’ve forgotten the beauty and simplicity of the mundane. Constant planning of and reporting our experiences to the world around us is making us want to say yes to it all and then fretting when we can’t. We’re wringing our hands, constantly checking our Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feeds to see who is doing what, and attached to our smartphones so we don’t miss a thing. Brands and marketers have picked up on the potential power of encouraging consumers to do more by hitting that tender FOMO button. Recent marketing campaigns from AT&T and Smirnoff featured slogans like “Don’t Be Left Behind” and “Be There.”

This holiday season I encourage you to wake up and smell the FOMO in your life. Look at how much time you spend tracking your social media feeds and engaging in digital rudeness (checking social media and email while engaging in conversation or activities with others). Notice how pop stars, movie stars, advertisements, television shows, and major television networks are obsessed with the here and now. Then, take a deep breath and realize that what you’re doing this very moment is important too and forget the hype.

For more details on the FOMO phenomenon check out this in-depth analysis on the causes, effects, and implications of FOMO by the creative minds at JWT.

Merriam-Webster has released its list of new words being added to the 2012 update of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary. This years list includes 25 new words and their exact definition as defined by Webster. From “brain cramp,” “e-reader,” and “underwater” to “f-bomb” and “sexting,” the list provides a revealing look at American culture.

Who determines which words make the cut? Merriam-webster.com says their editors monitor the changing language and add new terms to the dictionary once those words come into widespread use across a variety of publications. Influences range from the global financial crisis to technologies to Oprah Winfrey and her signature phrase “aha moment” (a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension).

Curious as to what made the list in 2011? Here’s a nice recap:

One year ago, drones dominated the Paris Air Show. Manufactured by major defense contracts, these drones were positioned as the future of warfare (and had a price tag to match in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars). Last month, the Hobby Expo China in Beijing featured similar drone with the same capabilities as the military ones (minus being able to blow stuff up). The difference? Many of these drones came with a price tag of less than a $1000. It’s no wonder open source drones, like the ArduCopter Quad from 3D Robotics, now outnumber military drones in the U.S.

What do drones and market research have in common? Well, nothing…yet. But reading Noah Shachtman article, 5 Drones at Work, there seems to be a common thread or strength if you will, of observation depicted. Drones that inspect oil equipment, conduct police reconnaissance, check on crops, and survey wildlife. In a sense, one could argue this is a form of ethnographic research, as ethnography simply aims to describe the nature of that which is being observed or studied (whether it be consumers, crops or wildlife).

At W5, observational ethnography is used to evaluate consumer behavior in detail, identifying meaningful patterns and themes that emerge through sustained, structured observation of people engaging in activities such as browsing, buying and trying products, or using services. By recognizing such patterns and themes and finding their underlying meaning, W5 ethnographers highlight the points of inflection at which consumers are most susceptible to influence, as well as develop a holistic picture of the market environment. Now, imagine a drone the size of a butterfly doing the observing. Impossible? Impossible like conducting Focus Groups in a virtual, online room? Impossible like collected data via mobile devices? Possibly.

One of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) latest project – a butterfly-shaped drone weighing just 20 grams – the smallest in its range so far – can gather intelligence inside buildings.

There are, of course, existing rules and regulations that address a future where people, companies and police all command tiny aircrafts. (See Rules for Proper Droning for answers to questions like ‘Can I use a drone to spy on my sexy neighbor?’ or ‘Could a police drone look in my window for drugs?’) Chris Anderson, co-founder of 3D Robotics, reminds us “the military created the Internet, but the people colonized it and created the web for their own purposes. The amateur UAV community is hoping to do the same with drones—demilitarize and democratize them so they can find their full potential. There will be good uses and bad ones, but the same is true of any tool, from a crowbar to an ultrasound machine. Ultimately the way society best figures out how to think about a powerful new technology is to set it free and watch where it flies.”

I receive an iPad 2 as an early Christmas present this year. A lovely little gadget, my husband thought it would be an ideal present for a frequent traveler like myself. I would no longer need to dedicate space in my carry-on for the bulky novels, library books, and trashy magazines that accompany (and amuse) me on long plane rides. But what my husband intended as a considerate, thoughtful gift slowly began to put a wedge between us. The iPad 2 became a catch all for my “to do” and shopping lists. It tagged along with us on our weekly trips to Target and Whole Foods. Then it cozied up on the couch with us for our weekly episode of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” It sat with me in the kitchen while I cooked and it even came to bed with us one night. (I fell asleep playing “Plants Vs. Zombies.”) My lack of attention to daily chatter and life in general was first a frustration, then an annoyance, then an issue of jealousy for my husband. We turned the iPad 2 off and we talked. The iPad doesn’t come out to play as much now.

This year, as I’ve listened to folks from all walks of life, I’ve picked up on a theme about technology and relationships. Many of my girlfriends feel they can’t connect with their husbands because their husbands are so busy connecting with their phones. I’ve also heard rumors of banning cell phones and texting from the family dinner table. Focus group participants talk about feeling too connected to technology but not connected enough emotionally. It seems people struggle to use technology to build or even make better those intimate moments of human connection. So when Microsoft’s “Keep Shopping” commercial popped up on a DVR’d episode of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” I paid attention. The commercial features a dad shopping for grocery’s using Microsoft OneNote (an organizational tool that comes with Office 2010) to buy groceries. He’s accessing the program on his phone, his kids are accessing it from their home PC. After he picks up the usual eggs, milk, etc. more curious items pop up on the list like coconuts, candy, and soda. Dad realizes his kids are masterminding the list. Laughter ensues and then this messages flashes on the screen,”It’s a great time to be a family.”

Here, Microsoft is using warm fuzzies and funnies to illustrate how technology can connect families and even enhance their relationship through increased communication. But is this a reality or a marketing ploy? Turns out, Microsoft conducted research to add some proof to the pudding. According to a survey conducted through Impulse Research, 64% of surveyed parents age 22-40 said technology brings their families closer. It’s even more important to younger parents (age 22-30) with 74% reporting the same.

Microsoft takes its lead from this report and is now committed to a whole “how to” campaign for connecting families through technology. To look at their bullet list of how to connect over the holidays and get advice on”…how to take advantage of all technology has to offer and help ensure screens don’t become a barrier to connecting,” click here. To tell me what you think about Microsoft’s overall campaign, the “Keep Shopping” commercial, or whether you think technology is a tool for distraction or relationship enhancement, head to the comments.

So this morning, the new owners of the social bookmarking site Delicious launched their new, revamped version of the site. Gone are the Yahoo name and many features that long-time users are now complaining about on Twitter and other social networking sites. What they’ve offered is a new Beta site that is not without glitches. This, combined with a recent article in the Atlantic (The Cloud’s My-Mom-Cleaned-My-Room Problem) highlight the problems that many brands (especially online ones) face when they change a product or service.

It’s a clear reminder that users/customers/consumers whatever you want to call them, feel they have a stake in your brand.  Sometimes they feel their stake is as much as the actual owner’s. It’s yet to be seen if the new owners of Delicious can make enough changes to keep users attracted to their site, or if they’ll drive away existing users and do little to encourage growth. One thing is clear, they may have misjudged the passion and expectations that many of their customers have for their brand and service.