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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.


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.

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.

Heuristic psychologist, behavioral economist, and professor of marketing Dan Goldstein first published his article, “How to be a better improviser” in 1996 and updates the content on occasion, most recently in 2009.  The tips are customized for stage acting, but many of the essential messages can be applied to decision-making approaches and behaviors in the marketing world, the business world, and other interpersonal communications. Check it out for some creative inspiration.

Kadinsky "Improvisation 28 (Second Version)"

Kadinsky "Improvisation 28 (Second Version)"

I’ve watched my share of TED Talks, and I’m always amazed by the consistent quality of the presentations. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a dud. This may explain why…The TED Commandments.

I’ll be first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. I mean, I thought The Tipping Point was as interesting as the next guy. But with Blink and Outliers, I was overwhelmed by this sense that he was conducting years of exhaustive research and writing a few hundred pages to tell me something I kinda already knew.

That said, his New Yorker articles are top-notch, the most recent How David Beats Goliath, being no exception. Gladwell uses examples as disparate as elementary school basketball, T.E. Lawrence, and of course, the story of David and Goliath to make his point. In each case, the key to success is simply trusting your own skills, instincts, and limitations and using them to your advantage. Maybe I kinda already knew that, too, but the article serves as a great reminder.

In conducting quantitative marketing research, analysts have an arsenal of tools and methods that may be employed to develop insight. W5 consultants are constantly developing our analytical techniques [link], and a few of these methods, segmentation and conjoint for example, have become core

For these types of projects, smart study design is critical, but for the most part these analytical techniques are applied post hoc, in interpretation of trends and spikes that emerge across a large numerical data set. We love this type of work, but we only recommend such an approach if our client’s overall strategic and specific research objectives seem to call for it.

Sometimes, marketing research objectives are best addressed not so much through application of post hoc analytical techniques, but on the front end of the project – through development of a direct, customized, in-depth line of questioning.  Read the rest of this entry »

“Design is rapidly moving from posters and toasters to include processes, systems, and organizations. Design is the accelerator for the company car, the power train for sustainable profits. Design drives innovation, innovation powers brand, brand builds loyalty, and loyalty sustains profits. If you want long-term profits, don’t start with technology—start with design.”

Marty Neumeier