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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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I know that it seemed like last winter barely happened thanks to beautiful weather, but you might remember that in the recent past, winter storms generated hashtags on social media like #SNOMG and #Snowmageddon (a name actually picked by President Obama). Now, the Weather Channel has decided it wants to control the hashtags people use for winter storms. As such, it has decreed it will name all winter storms, claiming it will raise awareness of the storms with consumers (though I think it’s an attempt to raise awareness of its coverage).

So it sounds like an interesting way to engage consumers via social media, right? The problem is that it feels very forced and made up. When hashtags like #SNOMG showed up on Twitter it was because users were controlling the conversation and enjoying it. I suspect that no one will use the storm names, unless it is to mock the names themselves. 

That mocking, has already started rather spontaneously as the AV Club posted an article on it, noticed that one of the names was “KHAN” and the comments immediately filled with sarcastic references to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (among others). It’s a lesson many companies have a hard time learning, you can’t force social media. While you can wind it up, once you send it out into the world it will carve it’s own path. I suspect this attempt will be met with an old standard hashtag on social media: #fail.

If you’ve been within ten feet of a computer or any news source within the past week and a half, you must be aware of the Gap logo redesign saga. Well, the story has played out now and ends with Gap running back to its older but more favored logo and kicking its new short term love to the curb.

You can thank consumer criticism for the breakup. In a dramatic letter published on the Huffington Post website last week, Gap’s president, Marka Hansen, addressed the redesign, citing the natural evolution of brand and store as a key motivator for modifying the logo. But consumers revolted and filled Gap’s Facebook fan page with criticism. But after getting an ear full from consumers all weekend, Gap announced its decision to stick with their original logo early Monday morning. Although the design was created (and assumedly tested) by Laird+Partners, one wonders whether this debacle nods to increased company and consumer social media interactions in the future? Will new concepts and future redesigns be tested first in private and then on public networks?

Much like adding water to micro-ground beans to produce instant coffee, adding questions to quick-collection survey methods promises an immediate boost (of data), yet still involves its crashes. Snail mail surveys may be a thing of the past as a result of this new push for data gratification. These days, researchers and data collectors have the ability to meet survey participants right where they are, at home and on the go. Survey data can be collected and “analyzed” more quickly than ever due to technological and social improvements. The two most recent, popular methods of receiving immediate questionnaire feedback are (what I like to call) social media implantation surveys and mobile phone surveys.

Social media implantation surveys are a way of reaching potential survey participants while they are interacting with online sites and may have a few minutes to share an opinion. Given the foreknowledge of where to locate potentially millions of survey participants, social media sample collectors have crawled out of the woodwork after building up their databases. As a social media sample collector we recently met with explained, many internet gaming sites require gamers to pay with virtual money or points to play games online. Sample collectors realized this fact and have teamed up with gaming sites to offer virtual dollars for online surveys. The survey is seamlessly implanted into the participant’s page and can be accessed through a quick link. After completing the survey, participants get paid in virtual dollars and continue their gaming experience instantly.

The cost benefit – virtual world means virtual money, meaning costs in the real world are typically lower than in the average quantitative roll-out. The drawback here is simply this – these methods capture mostly general respondent types, meaning “a woman” or “an 18-year-old who uses Facebook”. The depth is lost when trying to reach buyers who may have more complex behavioral or psychographical reasoning for purchasing a product or service. Participants with more than one or two unique qualifications such as “moms who work at Wal-Mart and have two kids” will still have to be recruited intentionally by a skilled sample sourcer.


When it comes to mobile phone surveying, the benefits and pitfalls are split almost equally. The sample is usually gathered from a company database, eradicating the middle-man. This manner of cutting corners is a time saver to surveyors, but is going to be an issue for sample collectors who rely on old-fashioned methods to gather survey participants. Another downside to this type of survey is that, yet it is ideal for quick polls and opinion surveys, more logical or lengthy surveys are just not practical. So far the most advanced method of collecting and analyzing this data is by way of exportation to an Excel file. All in all, these two methods may make for a quick and dirty source of information, but ultimately they still serve as a companion to in-depth surveys that require hand-chosen participants. The last thing we researchers want to do is skimp on data quality even if it means getting results a little bit slower.

Men’s body wash is a subject that rarely bubbles to the surface on a typical girls night out. But last week that is exactly what three women were chatting about on a muggy summer’s eve in a downtown bar in Durham, NC. The conversation centered on Isaiah Mustafa, host of the new Old Spice body wash campaign created by Portland’s Wieden+Kennedy.
The conversation went something like this: “Have you seen the new Old Spice campaign?” “No, what’s so special about it?” “The guy in it is the perfect man. It is incredibly funny, he walks on water, bakes a cake and SWAN DIVES onto a motorcycle in a Jacuzzi.” “Ahh-mazing.”

Giggles ensued as each woman talked about her “ideal” man. All this before Mustafa and Iain Tait teamed up to do a perfect storm of viral marketing. The 48-hour weekend campaign featured the sultry-voiced, smooth-muscled Mustafa’s filmed responses to a slew of people who posted comments or questions to the Old Spice spokesman online (notable responses are to celebrities Ellen DeGeneres, Rose McGowan, and political correspondent George Stephanopoulous). Clearly, Wieden+Kennedy hit a home run with their extended campaign, pulling off the social media marketing event of the year. The original commercial was nominated for a Grand Prix award and the latest installment of YouTube videos should stick with the internet community for a long time and in many manifestations.

More importantly, Wieden+Kennedy may have found the secret to actually selling body wash to men through catering to the eyes and ears of women. For most dudes, body wash is not an inherently cool thing to purchase nor is it top of mind in the store. Guys are known to lather up with any bar, chunk, or semblance of soap hanging out in the shower, leaving appalled women everywhere to search for, long for, and even lust after a character like the Old Spice man played to perfection by the brawny Mustafa. While AXE commercials use bathroom humor and Playboy-style sex appeal to reach their target demographic, the sleepy Old Spice of your grandfather’s generation has wised up and reached out to the holder of the purse strings, the man, man’s woman. Only time will tell the result of Old Spice’s hot new man’s impact on overall sales, currently Red Zone body wash sales have dipped. But hey, it can take awhile to wake a septuagenarian up.

They’re still “seeking”:

  1. an oceanographer
  2. a chemist
  3. a marine engineer
  4. and at least one expert on the problem

(yeah, might need at least one of each of these…)

but a group of Dutch architects and engineers has started up a research project to explore the idea of creating a sustainable island nation out of the trash floating in the Pacific.  The project has been heralded “Recycled Island,” and the goal is a livable and scalable habitation the size of Hawaii’s big island.

The early mock-ups bring Venice,  Dubai,  and science fiction to mind, but the project is still very much in the early R&D stages and far from a reality.  People love Dutch design for architecture and urban planning, not to mention their credibility in environmental solutions, so despite the distance from the potential island, this idea has sparked in the Netherlands.  And why not beckon the world’s greatest minds through online publishing and networking? The project has been spreading across magazine websites,  blogs, and press releases this week (I saw it here), and the group networks through Facebook to various other sustainable design groups.

Some virtual ships, machines, and robots and things building Recycled Island in Waterworld, er, the Pacific

The people at ViralBlog.com talk about ‘7 solid social media marketing trends’, and it’s quite interesting. For example, according to them, things like Facebook Pages will take a brand nowhere. At the same time, an upcoming trend involves hiring specialized social media content managers that can push your game further and create content and interesting ways to infiltrate the social media scene.

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter (and others) can help brands integrate with their users, customers, etc., on a continual basis. It gives them the opportunity to combine websites and related audio/video content to their brands, connecting users to each other as well as to the brands. In return they’ll share your interests with their networks. It sounds logical and obvious, and it is.

Another idea brought up in the article is a push for more online stores on social networks (something that makes a lot of sense to me).  If people know exactly what they want and can get it online, they will. It saves them time and money.

I also believe that a brand (digital or not) must follow the social media scene in order to survive. If you’re not always engaging with your audience online through interesting and compelling stories, the risk will be that your competitor does. The social media geeks seem to get it while many brands don’t. What do you think? Read the full article, here.

In one week’s time I will be slurping Spanish wines and tuning in to the traditional sounds of Fado while traveling through Portugal and southern Spain on vacation. I will also be completely unplugged from news sources and constant updates from social media bugs posting on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t even plan to check my e-mail. My laptop and cell phone are staying at home and I will be media free for at least a few days. And as much as I am looking forward to experiencing another culture, landscape, and setting, the idea of consuming less mind-garbling information is what turns me on the most about my mid-spring getaway.

My temporary attempt at living with less connectivity is not spontaneous. For several months I’ve been pondering the “slow-media” movement. I first heard about this movement while listening to the radio on a lazy Saturday when a NPR marketplace segment featured a new adopter of the movement, New York journalism professor Jenny Rauch. Over the airwaves Rauch proclaimed she would eliminate digital media from her life by turning the clock back to 1985. So no e-mails, no texting, no DVR. A land-line, television, and a handful of records would inhabit her new digital free life. Sounds like bliss, right? Imagine the freedom of not feeling obliged to reach out and respond to every message, Twitter feed, or friend request. It’s this sense of unbridled abandon I’m seeking while overseas.

But if you are one who likes the taste of digital Kool-Aid connectivity and think this movement is lacking a fan base, it must be noted that the slow movement is gaining some steam in the business world as it stretches past the realm of personal liberation. In fact, it’s latest incarnation exists in the realm of journalism where it’s referred to as the “slow-word” movement. A Forbes article published at the cusp of 2010 suggests that journalism should take a hint and follow suite reaching out to consumers with less frequent installments of quality work. McSweeney’s has pulled together an excellent example of the ideal “slow-word” publication in it’s “San Francisco Panorama“.

As 2010 marches on it will be interesting to see how this new social attitude and movement not only impacts the world of journalism but also the consumer marketplace. Though the year is new, I’ve already heard many personal accounts of “information fatigue”, best described as an inability to locate or analyze accurate information thanks to the barrage of uncredited sources taking up road space on the internet superhighway. The new popularity of social media has also caused some consumers to question how to balance their virtual world responsibilities with real-world activities. Only time will tell how the marketplace and consumers will adapt to the hyper-connectivity of today’s media world. As for me, I’m going to unplug and take things slow for awhile. Signing off (for now).