Market Matters Blog

Commentary on the economy, public opinion, and marketing by company founder Randy Ellison


No Research Is Better Than Bad Market Research

For the past few days, news gossip site FTV Live has chronicled survey research being conducted by Cox owned WFTV in Orlando. From the screenshots posted in the stories, it appears WFTV is testing potential anchor changes with area viewers using an online survey with embedded video.

Potential leaks are always a possibility with online survey work since respondents can take screenshots of the questions or take a picture of the screen with a smart phone or tablet. That’s why you should test multiple topics or try to balance the questions to mask the sponsor or goals of the research.

Not only does it help protect your business strategies, it also improves the quality of the research.

For example, if I’m a loyal viewer of a competing station’s news programming and it is rather apparent that the sponsor of the research is WFTV, knowing the likely sponsor could impact how respond to the questions being posed in the survey.

FTV remarks that “Cox won't change the paint color in the men's room at the station without fully researching it first and having a focus group weigh in.”

First, let me say that Cox is a good and well respected operator among the current media companies left standing.

However, if the screenshots are any indication of the research being conducted, they should just save the time, money, and effort.

Without going into all of the issues I see in these questions, let me just say that trusting your gut and your experience is far better than basing a decision on bad research.

Not so long ago, I spent a few years working for another media company that is often accused of relying a little too heavily on research. I’ve seen work whose sole purpose is to offer cover, support, or opposition for a predetermined business decision that had already been put in place. If the decision (i.e. a new anchor pairing) flops, managers can then use the “it tested well” argument to deflect any criticism they may face down the road.

This creates the corporate researcher’s paradox. Do it right and have the results potentially conflict with management wishes, or go along to get along and live to see another day.

The latter course of action is better for career advancement, and the former is better for our profession. 

I know it’s difficult and counterintuitive, but if you are good researcher and the wrong tools or questions are going to end up being used, recommend against the research. Cite budget issues or the opportunity to deploy the funds elsewhere for things like promotion.

Do what you can to avoid taking the hit down the road if the project goals go south.

Corporate researchers in rapidly changing industries like broadcast media have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable battling more demands amid shrinking resources.

I feel your pain.

So please do what you can to stop a bad research project or call a consultant in to fight the battle for you if you can’t stop it on your own.

Our industry is facing enough issues right now. So please be honest with the limitations of what can or can’t be done using market research.

Your future career and our industry may depend on it.


Avoid Ivy League Schools. Think Oil League…

In years past, it was assumed that a graduate with an Ivy League degree was assured a lucrative job and a promising future where they would easily payoff any accrued student loans in short order.

Those days are past. Ivy League grads face a tough and uncertain job market, just like their state school peers.

If I had a child headed off to college and looking for a lucrative career, I would steer them toward the Oil or Mining schools instead of the Ivy League.

Shale operators are having a lot of trouble finding workers, particularly engineers and geologists, according to a workforce survey by the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Most of the respondents in the poll cited a need for more schools to offer four-year degree programs in petroleum technology and engineering.

So what schools are in the Oil League? (One hint, they are nowhere near Harvard.) Here are few noted schools offering petroleum engineering degrees and as you can see, most are in the west.

US Petroleum Engineering Programs




University of Texas at Austin



Texas A&M

College Station


Colorado School of Mines



Stanford University



New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology


New Mexico

University of Southern California

Los Angeles


University of Oklahoma



Texas Tech



University of Louisiana at Lafayette



University of Alaska



While the arms race among universities focuses on the addition of new programs in Law, Nursing, and Pharmacy, they might have more success by adding new petroleum related programs.

Instead of starting or expanding programs focused on alternative energy sources and environmental sciences, there are a lot of opportunities in fracking, geology, and other area of natural gas and oil drilling for young graduates.

Operators in the oil and gas industry are continually trying to fill positions in engineering and construction which represent a golden opportunity for young graduates looking for a promising career in a difficult employment market and for administrators looking for new degree programs.


Americans Support Fracking and the Keystone Pipeline

Keystone Pipeline

Gauging public opinion based on what you hear and see in the news or emanating from Hollywood is always a dicey proposition. Oil pipelines and fracking are just the latest examples of how the media are often out of sync with most consumers.

While the media and Hollywood oppose expansion of fracking and the Keystone pipeline, U.S. consumers solidly support both issues.

The Robert Morris University Polling Institute found that more than half (56%) of Americans favor hydraulic fracturing even in their own community. It’s one thing to support fracking in someone else’s backyard, it’s quite another when your support it in your own community.

The lingering sluggish of the economy has taken a toll on middle income Americans and fuel costs are as important to this group as food and shelter costs. The promise of cheaper oil and natural gas is a huge selling point to struggling consumers.

Most Americans also support building more pipelines.

In a survey commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, 8 in 10 Americans are in favor of building new pipelines and other energy infrastructure. The survey also found that 7 in 10 respondents back the Keystone XL pipeline proposal.

When it comes to pocketbook issues like fuel costs, most consumers will support initiatives that would put more of their money back into their pocket, especially in an economy this tight. Opposition to fracking and Keystone are both losing propositions.


Differences Between Online and Phone Survey Results 

Studies have found that compared with the general population, Internet users have higher levels of education and are more affluent. The application of demographic weighting to both sets of data does serve to close the gap between online and face-to-face results.

However, when comparing parallel online and telephone surveys, we have seen some other differences.

These differences appear to be method effects or mode effects rather than sampling effects.

One effect is related to the respondents’ reading questions rather than hearing them. This influences responses to scales and how many people give “not sure” or “don’t know” as an answer.

Interviewer effects can have a substantial impact on survey data especially where respondents are likely to be queried about racial attitudes, sensitive behaviors and other topics prone to socially desirable responding (i.e. the tendency of respondents to answer questions in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others.)

Hence, you will find a higher number of ‘Don’t know’ and ‘Neither/not sure’ responses in online surveys. This creates problems when you convert tracking surveys to online. One solution is conducting several parallel phone and online surveys to better understand how the change in methodologies will impact your results. This will give you the foundation to totally migrate your tracker to online.

For more advice on how to convert your survey from phone to online, contact us today.


Opposition To The Affordable Care (ACA) Holds Steady

Fifty-two percent of American adults polled by Gallup disapprove of the Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare). Forty-two percent believe their family would fare worse under the law.

Among the forty-four percent who support the law, 22% think it will help their family and 33% think it will have little effect. As you might guess, support was higher among Democrats and among people without health insurance.

Gallup’s findings mirror a CNN/ORC International survey conducted near the same time. In the ORC survey 43% of the public back the ACA, while 54% of the respondents say they are against it.

These findings mirror what we have seen in our own polls. A majority have opposed the bill since the law’s passage in 2010. The stability of these numbers has been rather remarkable over the past few years.


6 Tips for Writing More Effective Survey Questions

Writing solid and unbiased is a skill. While some may think that designing a questionnaire is easy, proper questionnaire construction is one of the most important steps in achieving a successful research project.

Well-designed surveys will aid in increasing the willingness of respondents to complete the survey, as well as improving the accuracy of data collected.

Here are some tips and items to look for when evaluating a survey questionnaire that will help you collect valid survey responses.

1. Avoid Leading Questions

Leading questions suggest the particular answer or contains the information the researcher is looking to have confirmed.

EXAMPLE: We have recently enhanced our menu to become a first class restaurant. What are your thoughts on our new first class menu?

REPLACE WITH: How would you rate the changes to our menu?


2. Avoid Loaded Questions

Loaded questions contain controversial or unjustified assumptions and suggest to the respondent that the researcher expects a certain answer.

EXAMPLE:  Don’t you agree that elementary school teachers should earn more money than they currently earn?

REPLACE WITH: Do you believe elementary school teachers’ salaries are a little lower than they should be, a little higher than they should be, or about right?


3. Avoid Built-in Assumptions

Do not assume the respondent is familiar with the specifications asked within the questions. Make sure you include details or additional information to give the respondent a frame of reference in answering the question.

EXAMPLE:  Are you satisfied with your current auto insurance? (Yes or No)

REPLACE WITH: Are you satisfied with your current auto insurance?

___ Yes

___ No

___ Don't have auto insurance


4. No jargon - Use Simple Language

Use words that are direct and familiar to the respondents. Do not assume that respondents are familiar with the topic that you are testing in the survey.

EXAMPLE:  Are you in favor of Proposition 13?

___ Yes

___ No

___ Undecided

REPLACE WITH: Proposition 13 would change the regulations governing casinos in Alabama and would allow casinos to expand the games allowed, size of bets, and hours of operation. If this proposal were being voted on in an election today, would you vote Yes or No?


5. Avoid Double Negatives or Double-Barreled Questions

A double-barreled question asks a question that touches upon more than one issue, yet allows only for one answer.

EXAMPLE: Please tell me whether you would vote for or against a candidate who supports reducing federal spending on education and welfare?


Q1: Please tell me whether you would vote for or against a candidate who supports reducing federal spending on education?

Q2: Please tell me whether you would vote for or against a candidate who supports reducing federal spending on welfare?


6.  Do Not Ask Respondents to Order or Rank a Series of More Than Five Items

It is difficult for respondents to order or rank a long list of items in a survey. This is particularly true for telephone surveys. Limiting the number of items to five will make it easier for the respondent to answer.

Finally, it’s best to keep surveys short and to the point. Respondents prefer closed-ended questions because these are faster and easier to complete and require less effort on their part.  A mass of unfocused open-ended answers are often less powerful than simple questions about what someone thinks about an issue, product, or service.  

If you need additional help on your project, please contact us and let us know how we can help.


How To Create Videos That Go Viral 

Viral content isn’t random or dumb luck. Research from the Journal of Marketing Research sheds light on why people share content and provides insight into designing effective viral marketing campaigns.

Video content that arouses strong emotions -- such as awe or anger -- in viewers is more likely to become viral than videos that induce sadness or relaxation. The study by Wharton professors Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, also found that positive content is more likely to be viral than negative, although negative content was also linked to virality in cases with exciting content, such as a high-speed car chase.


Repairing Damaged Brands… And Damaged Political Parties

Damaged brands can recover. So can damaged political parties. Companies and individuals ranging from Dell, Michael Vick, to Tylenol have made amends or reinvented themselves in such a manner that has rebuilt their trust with the public.

So how do you do it? How does a political party do it?

It’s the same prescription for both: Stop ignoring your customers’ needs and pretending that they don’t matter. Show some compassion and demonstrate that you are suffering the same maladies as your voters. Prove to them that you really care and that you are willing to make things right. Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” was incredibly effective for a reason.

Voters, like customers, are connected. If you lose one, you lose their friends, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc.

Every candidate is an extension of a brand and is acting on behalf of their party. It only takes one stupid/careless/ignorant statement by a down-ticket candidate to wreck every other candidate with an R by their name.

Voters never forget. But they might be persuaded to forgive you if given a reason to.

Welcome change and outside help. Reach out to voters and ask them to help you improve. Identify what voters need and want from you and try to deliver. Give them something to rally around, something that is relevant to their needs.

Don’t be desperate and don’t pander. Be genuine. Voters can smell a con job. They also can smell fear. They will not jump on the squishy crisis train. Be confident about who you are and why you can make a difference in their lives. You also have to show them how it will make a difference in a language they can understand.

Constantly ask voters for advice on how you’re doing and make them part of the rebranding effort.  Create a community online and offline who can be part of the process and keep them up to date with your progress, where you are headed, and how their contributions are part of the path. If they are involved with the process they will be committed to ensuring that their efforts will be successful.


Community Visioning Surveys Can Create a Strong Vision and Action Plan For Your Community 

Community leaders need a strong vision and clear plan to improve the areas they serve. Often communities conduct visioning surveys to gather ideas that can be used to develop a shared vision for its future and to create plans to achieve that vision over time.

Regular visioning surveys allow community leaders to respond to emerging trends and issues. They also allow planners to create a long-term vision with a focus on near-term action.

While visioning surveys take a variety of forms, most try to answer several fundamental questions for a community including:

  • What do citizens value most about living in your community?

  • What are the most important issues facing your community?

  • How important are these issues?

  • How well are community leaders addressing the issues?

  • Is the community headed in the right or wrong direction?

  • What changes would residents like to see the community address?

For city leaders seeking ideas for improving their communities, these types of surveys are an excellent tool to create a dialogue with the community and to develop the future that citizens want and the plans to achieve it.


What’s The Key Issue Facing Small Business? Access To Capital 

Cash-flow issues continue to plague America’s small businesses, according to a survey of 300 members of the National Small Business Association.

Forty-three percent of small-business owners reported being shut out of funding during the past four years and nearly one-third had to reduce payroll.

We have seen this pattern in survey after survey. While access to capital has always been a challenge for small businesses, the “great” recession has made it more difficult than ever for small businesses to gain access to the capital they need.

In our work, we have found that the small business community includes 6 million small employers with 43 million employees.

Small business owners want to create jobs, innovate and grow the economy. Improving their access to capital will be a key to increasing employment growth in the U.S.