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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.

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Watch Neil DeGrasse Tyson educate Richard Dawkins on the importance of understanding context when “teaching” others. Tyson makes a wonderful point about the difference between information and persuasion.

As Marty mentioned in a previous post, the new Delicious design is a little wonky, and no longer pumps content to our blog and Twitter account. So here’s a roundup of articles I’ve stumbled across over the past month that you may find interesting:

The U.S. Census Bureau Center for Economic Studies has long supported (for the past ~5 years) an online system for pulling area-based employment and residence data using a visual map-based selection tool called OnTheMap.  This software is fairly intuitive and fun to use, but can also be quite useful in exploring a specific market or region to understand where workers live and work, and how that has changed over time.

OnTheMap is useful for more than work location, however.  It’s a multi-layered mapping tool, with companion data on demographics, earnings, industry characteristics.  We’ve also used it to identify exact metropolitan statistical areas and radius ranges, to find transportation routes, greenspace, and tribal and military lands, and to simply better understand a physical marketplace.

For years, organizations like the Census Bureau relied heavily on point-in-time estimates, tables of statistics and physical and static maps for data exploration like this. As new systems come online, are developed further, and improved over successive versions, our ability to access information from our desktops is not only facilitated but empowered.

Beautiful series of infographics by Peter Orntoft about how the Danish people feel about a number of pressing social issues. Though shortfalls of time, budget, and creativity force us to revert to PowerPoint Smart Art, it’s inspiring to see work that challenges what an infographic can be.

Jeff Ely, economics professor at Northwestern University and contributor to the Cheap Talk blog, recently wrote a great article about titles, or names.  His examples focus on bank names, and how they engender trust, and the names of legal documents, which could perhaps be simply skimmed to get a sense of utility or relevance. But the article is an interesting reminder and idea spark, for researchers and marketers.

There are varying degrees of scope and sophistication in our wildly different projects and initiatives. Our work is passed to our clients, to internal teams, to executive management, to various partners and outside parties. The names of studies, reports, presentations, tools used in the process, task force teams, strategic plans, products in development, etc. do matter.

Names should be clear and communicative – presenting the topic but also the considering the audience. Names should not be overly technical or detailed. Names should be intuitive, parsimonious, and should be readable (and intelligible) “out loud.” But names should also hold up over time, regardless of how related issues change or evolve. Future researchers should be able to refer back to your work, referencing a name that still communicates something to them. It’s somewhat a lofty challenge, if you think about the implication of the choice of title. The goal is to strike a balance between communication and brevity – if the name simply “fits” in these terms, it will likely carry and communicate as desire.

Okay, this one’s a little obtuse… 🙂  Check the article too, whew!

Wired: World’s Most Precise Clocks Could Reveal Universe is Hologram

I’ve recently come across several organizations and websites that aggregate and track facts.  The Long Now is a foundation that claims as its goal the fostering of long-term thinking (blog), and companies like Ambient Devices offer cool consumer electronic products that are designed to “datacast,” constantly streaming real-time facts that by their nature are always changing, like the weather, the stock market, oil prices, traffic congestion, etc. (They go well beyond kitchen-window digital thermometers, the “Orb” on the right is one of their products.)

But Samuel Arbesman, a research fellow at the Harvard Medical School and associated with the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, started a fascinating website and blog earlier this year that focus on “mesofacts,” facts that change slowly over time, but which are challenging to track. I’ve been checking the blog periodically to see the various charts and subjects they post.

“These slow-changing facts are what I term “mesofacts.” Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale. Often, we learn these in school when young and hold onto them, even after they change. For example, if, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school! While this might not affect your daily life, it is astonishing and a bit humbling.”Excerpt from Boston.com article by Arbesman

I’ve always felt a little challenged by retention of facts. So much of my personal approach to learning has been focused on comprehension and understanding, and pattern recognition, that the details sometimes seem to go, pardon the cliches, “in one ear and out the other,” or are “stuffed into the back of my mind somewhere.”  I can’t remember jokes to save a party, and I’m not even as good at music trivia as my friends expect me to be. I studied International Relations in undergrad, but learned about the UN of the 90s, and the political climate of the post-Cold War world; it’s been challenging keeping up with foreign affairs and the state of international communications over the past ten years.

You don’t have to be a trivia buff, a librarian, or a passionate scholar to appreciate tracking of mesofacts of some kind. We all have our interests and challenges in keeping up with the evolution of knowledge on those topics.  Your focus may be more academic, historic, entertainment, or even outright silly, but do remember to keep thinking and push yourself to keep up!

Note: We’re always seeking comments for our blog posts, but few people actually submit them!  Feel free to tell us about your fact-watching, and especially your sources for keeping up-to-date, in the thread below!