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Market Matters Blog

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

Friday
Aug072015

New Online Voter Panel for Political Polling?

Research Now Group, Inc, headquartered in Plano, TX, just launched a new voter panel. This panel allows political pollsters and new tool to measure American voters’ perception about various issues. It provides insight on voters’ opinions of candidates, voter turnout, key campaign issues, and insights into the perceptions of millennials.

This panel gives researchers access to more than 600,000 deeply profiled, verified voters from every state. Researchers can pick constituents based on party affiliation, historical election turnout, and congressional district among other variables. Panelists can participate in surveys via varying platforms (mobile, tablet, or PC), so all voter populations will be represented.

Research Now has identified hundreds of thousands of voters who are historically hard-to-reach. This includes 70,000 millennials and other voters with no publicly available phone numbers. This panel is the largest of its kind and marks a new step forward in polling. In recent years, polls have faced a lot of challenges. This is largely due to changes in phone use, caller ID, etc.. Many voters, especially millennials, do not use landline telephones, so it is difficult to get accurate data. This new panel from Research Now provides a way to access this hard-to-reach population.

While this new panel is a step forward in polling, it is not necessarily the end point for polling improvement. In a previous blog post, I stated that the future of public opinion research lies in a variety of new methods. Social media analysis is one way to gain access to millennials and see their voting preferences, but it is also complicated and not always reliable. Biometrics technology can better understand voters’ tendencies and opinions. A combination of methods while using panels like the new Research Now panel will be key parts of the toolkit for public opinion researchers, and it will be interesting to see what other technology emerges as the 2016 presidential race continues.    

Thursday
Jul302015

How to Make Customers More Comfortable with Data Collection

Gigya, a customer identity management firm in Mountain View California, has just released a report about consumers and privacy. This report shows that customers are increasingly concerned about their privacy. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially after customers were outraged over Samsung’s Smart TVs.  These TVs have the capability to listen to voice commands and then change the channel or turn up the volume automatically, but there is a catch. For this to work, these televisions were listening to everything that customers were saying and then sending that information to a third party to have it translated and turned into a command. To be expected, people weren’t so happy that their conversations were being recorded and sent to a different company for analysis. In the wake of this incident, Gigya proposes two ways to keep customers satisfied with customized content, but still comfortable with data collection.

First, Gigya suggests a focus on collecting first-party data. This means that you should only use information that customers actually provide you. Instead of using information from data brokers, getting information directly from the consumer allows your customers to feel more comfortable with your brand. First-party data is not only more accurate, but it respects your customers’ privacy. Some companies, like McCormick, are taking first-party data collection a step further and allowing customers to go in and customize their tastes specifically so they can have their own “flavor print.” McCormick then uses this information to suggest recipes and spices to try, which leaves the customers with a positive and customized experience.

Secondly, Gigya suggests being completely transparent about how you will use the customer’s data. Almost half (45%) of customers say they are more willing to give their information if a company makes it clear how they will use the data. What’s more, 80% of respondents reported leaving sites or closing registrations because they were concerned about the type of information requested. Clearly, telling the customer exactly what the data is for and asking only for data that you need is important to make customers feel comfortable and trust your brand.

Customers’ concern for privacy is certainly not going to disappear anytime soon. It is likely that customers will become even more guarded and less trusting towards data collection as the age of digital technology continues to evolve. It is important, then, to establish a trusting relationship between your company and your customers now. Show your customers what you need their data for, collect it directly from them, and then use it in a way to give them a customized, uniquely-curated experience. That should help you make customized products or services that customers will feel comfortable using again and again.  

Thursday
Jul162015

TV Streaming: Netflix vs Hulu vs Amazon Prime

Do you find yourself watching Netflix often these days? What about Hulu or Amazon Prime Instant Video? According to our Reading Pulse data, people who regularly watch television programs on online streaming like Netflix and Hulu platforms have increased 98% from December 2010 to April 2015. Unsurprisingly, millennials are the most likely to regularly watch television programs on this platform. This begs the question, are all streaming platforms the same?

According to a new study by iModerate, customers prefer Netflix over both Hulu and Amazon Prime Instant Video, so no, not all platforms are equal. Consumers view Netflix as a cable replacement whereas both Amazon and Hulu face “delivery and brand challenges.” It seems that customers like the wide array of content and uninterrupted viewing on Netflix. Netflix is also becoming part of the social scene for many customers, and having a “Netflix night” is the new normal. People like to compare what shows they have binge-watched with their friends as well as talk about movies and shows together. Netflix is now engrained in popular culture.

Consumers dislike Hulu’s commercials that are compulsory even with the paid service. According to iModerate’s data, people are eager to try Hulu, but mostly watch a specific TV show. Once they watch their show, viewers are not very inclined to search for additional or original Hulu content. Hulu, though, does offer shows that are not offered on Netflix and Hulu has brand recognition.

Amazon Prime Instant Videos gets overlooked because customers feel Amazon does not distinguish instant videos from their prime service. Consumers forget or are unaware that Amazon offers a streaming option. The iModerate data shows that many consumers feel as though Amazon videos lack value or defining characteristics. Those customers who were aware of Amazon Prime Instant Videos reported that it was slow, short on value, and not something that they would use if they had to pay for it.

Overall, video streaming has increased dramatically in the past five years. This trend is expected to continue and as of now, it seems as though Netflix will be the main beneficiary. Perhaps Hulu can give Netflix a run for their money if it can solve the commercial dilemma and introduce a first-time user friendly interface. Amazon Prime Instant Video should perhaps work on branding as well as improving content and speeds. Netflix is “King of the Hill” for now, but we will keep you in the loop if anything further develops. 

Friday
Jul102015

Did Apple Change the Music Game Yet Again?

Last week Apple launched it’s new all-in-one music service, Apple Music. The reviews are in, and it seems like Apple might be onto something, if they can clean up a few problems. While Apple has the upper hand on in-house playlist creation and recommending music, they currently have too many problems to give the other streaming services a run for their money.

Reports have shown that there are issues with the social component, the user interface, playlist length, and system bugs among other things. However, the real genius from Apple Music is in Apple’s ability to predict what songs, artists, and playlists to recommend for you. Apple Music is now the place to go to discover new music. How does Apple excel at giving users exposure to their new favorite songs, artists, and playlists?

Mostly, Apple uses Beats Music interface and curated playlists to provide users with this experience. Apple acquired Beats Music in 2014 and is heavily relying on the Beats Music streaming service. When users first set up Apple Music, they tap genres and artists that they like on large bubbles, as shown in the image to the left.  After picking their favorite artists and genres, new music is generated for users’ specific tastes.

The algorithm that Apple Music uses can generate songs, artists, and playlists for specific tastes much more accurately than Spotify, Pandora, or Google Music.

Apple Music also has specially curated playlists that, again, come from the Beats service. These playlists are customized by editors, artists, and people called “curators.” Each playlist is targeted specifically towards a user’s tastes. These playlists and Apple’s ability to recognize what songs or artists users will like are what make Apple Music stand out in the streaming world.

It looks as though Apple’s ability to recommend music sets it apart, but will that be enough to convince users to switch over? Will finding my new favorite band, song, or playlist be enough to deal with a bad user interface, bugs, and a hard to use product? Time will tell, but I predict that Apple Music will improve drastically over the next three months, and it may have the potential to compete with the leading music providers.

Friday
Jun262015

Ditto Finds New Way to Observe Customer-Brand Interactions

“Ditto” is a way to quickly show support and agreement for something that someone has said. Well, I say “ditto” to what the company Ditto Labs, Inc. is saying and doing. Ditto Labs is a startup that was built on technology from MIT-trained computer scientists. Ditto’s photo-analytic software scans public photos on social media platforms and recognizes facial expressions, products, clothing, logos, brands, and scenes.

This data can help companies see how customers are actually using their products, when they are using the products, and what other products are being used in conjunction with their product. This will help marketers get a better feel for how to market the product or brand. Ditto can also give ideas about sponsorships or partnerships with companies that are mentioned alongside the target product or brand.

Ditto can be used to engage directly with those who post photos of your brand. This is an easy way to find and communicate with people who are passionate about your product or service. Further, you can ask these consumers if you can use the best photos in galleries and marketing campaigns. Ditto also provides an easy way to ad-target. Many customers do not follow brands on social media even if they use the brand’s products. Ditto can give your company a list of people who share photos with your brand, and then you can target those customers specifically to engage them on social media. Here is a video to demonstrate more of what Ditto can do.

Ditto recently made a presentation at the Innovations Insights eXchange (IIeX) conference in Atlanta that showcased which brands were connected to other brands. Unsurprisingly, Coke was the most often and most connected brand. Car brands are not highly connected to each other, but are often found in pictures with beverage brands, perhaps due to sponsorships. Alcohol and soda brands are often mentioned together, specifically whiskey and coke. These key insights are part of why Ditto can be influential in the marketing world. To look closer at their presentation, you can view their slideshare here. Always on the lookout for new ways to research and gain information for clients, I think Ditto might be an innovative way to glean insights from consumers’ everyday lives.

Tuesday
Jun232015

VoxPopMe Launches Theme Explorer

Video is becoming more and more popular on social media platforms, but how about incorporating video into market research? VoxPopMe is the company from Birmingham, England that is the leading platform for video responses in market research. There are a couple of different ways firms can use VoxPopMe services.

Companies can embed a link from VoxPopMe straight into a survey that will allow respondents to record a 15 – 60 second video of themselves answering a question. The idea is that this response can take the place of a traditional blank text box and will lead to more thoughtful and insightful responses. With the VoxPopMe video in your survey, respondents will not have to go to another site or open a new window, the video can be recorded right on a laptop or smartphone within the original survey.

Additionally, companies can pose questions on the VoxPopMe app and reach more than 10 million global respondents. To check it out, I downloaded the app and answered some of the questions. The app is very easy to use and shows you a prompt as well as follow up questions for your video response. Your response must be at least 15 seconds and no more than 60 seconds, and the app will prompt you if you need to get brighter lighting or speak louder. For different questions, respondents can be paid for their answers. This incentive is thought to make for more thoughtful and meaningful answers. The incentives, however, are not high with each question valued at about $0.75 per video. I think VoxPopMe has a bright future especially in regards to brand reviews and opinions about ads.

VoxPopMe just unveiled a new and very exciting feature, “theme explorer.” I spoke with Dean Macko, the managing director of the North American branch of VoxPopMe to hear more about this new feature. Essentially, this technology can analyze all responses on a specific question and then tell you which themes and key insights are important and reoccurring. It can show the key themes from all of the responses so that you have an idea of what to look for before watching some or all of the videos. Instead of having people go through all the responses and code them, theme explorer will do all the leg work in much less time.  VoxPopMe also analyzes responses based on sentiment so that you can see if a respondent is positive, neutral, or negative at first glance. There is also a system set in place to take the best videos to the top of the pack. When I asked Mr. Macko what makes a video the “best,” he emphasized that video and audio quality is the most important part. The best videos also answer all of the questions, including prompt questions, and uses most of the time.

All in all, VoxPopMe can embed video responses into your survey and then analyze the responses, show you overarching themes, bring the best videos to the top, and show you the sentiment of responders at first glance. I think that VoxPopMe is in a position to make video research approachable and affordable in the market research industry.

Contact us to learn more about VoxPopMe and how we can help you with your research.

Thursday
Jun112015

Wearables and Market Research

Google and long-time clothing producer Levi Strauss Co. have just partnered up to produce a whole new kind of fabric – a “smart cloth.” Called Project Jacquard, after the inventor of the loom, this new interactive fabric can be embedded into any fabric by way of an industrial loom. This means the new fabric is easy to use and can be wide-spread. These interactive threads currently function like a touchscreen on a phone. They can detect someone swiping or moving their fingers and can connect with other technology, like a smartphone. This means we might soon have another way to answer our phones or snooze our alarms.

Google and Levi are not the first brands to come out with “smart” fabric. Clothing brand Athos has embedded wearable sensors for heartrate, breathing rate, electrical activity generated by muscles (EMG), and more into workout clothes. The idea is that all of this information can be displayed for the user so they can better maximize their workout.

Recently, Researchers at University of California in San Diego were granted $2.6 million to develop smart clothes that help regulate body temperature. By using polymers that expand and shrink, their idea is to make a lightweight, washable, easy to use shirt that can thicken if the room gets colder or thin out if the room gets warmer. This will cut down on electricity and heating and cooling costs. The technology is still in the very early stages, but if it is developed as they hope, it could considerably help with natural disasters like the heat wave recently seen in India.

While Google is certainly not the first company to bring technology into fabrics, they are entering the market with new boundaries to push. As shown, other “smart clothes” use sensors or polymers in their fabrics. Google is working with threads that have microchips in them. These fabrics will be able to be programmed to do almost anything. While Google is designing the software and will be available for support, other designers will be in charge of the actual products. Levi’s, for one, will get their chance to use this new software in an exciting way. Perhaps they will embed a game onto the sleeve of a shirt, or maybe embed a TV remote to the arm of a sofa. Google will remain an interested partner, but the designing is left to other companies who may have a better sense of what the market is ready for and what customers want. We will see if this new wearable tech leads to a touch screen integrated into a shirt, new remotes that are embedded into a sofa, or even quicker doctor visits due to shirts that measure all vital signs.

In terms of the market research industry, this new technology could work hand-in-hand with biometrics to better measure responses to a myriad of things. Responses to commercials, brand messages, and advertisement campaigns could be tested more efficiently with this new technology. Wearable technology will be able to measure heart rate, breathing rate, and potentially other factors that are important physiological changes that come along with someone either liking or disliking a message. If we could use this wearable technology in conjunction with biometric measures like facial expression analysis, we will be able to get a better feeling for how customers actually react to a commercial, product, or branding message. Time will tell, but I think the combination of “smart clothes” with biometrics will soon become commonplace for market researchers.

Friday
May222015

Instant Articles: Facebook's Publishing Platform

Facebook has now launched a new feature called “instant articles.” These articles are provided by sources like BBC, National Geographic, or Buzzfeed and are more immersive and interactive than what is currently on your newsfeed. Not only does this new platform allow for content to load “instantly,” well maybe not instantly but it is much faster, but it also allows for zooming in on a picture, hearing the author narrate the caption, and auto-play videos. Facebook hopes that Instant articles are going to change the way we interact with content. Instead of clicking on a link, going to the National Geographic article, and only seeing a large picture without much detail, instant articles gives readers the ability to immerse themselves in the article in a more interactive way. By using auto-play videos, zoomed in pictures, and narrated captions, readers will experience the content in a new approach. Facebook has enabled their nine current partners (The New York Times, National Geographic, Buzzfeed, NBC News, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel Online, and Bild) to keep track of audience metrics and to keep their current advertisements on the articles. Thus, instant articles could be good news for the publishers. The content will likely have more engagement while still maintaining audience metrics and their own advertisements. To see the first instant article from the New York Times, follow this link.

Instant articles is not the only new innovation coming from Facebook. Recently, Facebook announced they’re going to ‘up the ante’ with their buying and selling pages. Currently, people that are part of these buy and sell pages are able to post a location, description, price, and photos about the item for sale. Now, Facebook is moving to the next level. Facebook is introducing a new “all sales groups” option for users. A user belonging to multiple buying and selling groups can now see items for sale from all groups in one convenient place. This new page also hosts a search bar so that you can easily see who has a “sofa” or “coffee table” available. This page is putting Facebook in direct competition with companies like eBay and Craigslist. It will be interesting to see how consumers feel about purchasing goods via Facebook and if this innovation will drive consumers away from eBay or Craigslist. According to The Next Web, Facebook will be testing this new page soon. 

Facebook has always been an innovative company, so these new advances are no surprise. It will be interesting to see where Facebook goes in the future – whether it’s faster video content, additional service pages, more partners for instant articles, or virtual reality, we will be waiting to see what Facebook does next.

Friday
May152015

Polling: What Can We Learn From the UK?

 While I do not normally follow British politics, I am interested in the opinion polling around their May elections. Polling is heavily relied on during campaigns so candidates know where they stand with the public and where they could improve. It also provides content for desperate reporters and news agencies looking to fill time and column inches.

The accuracy of the pre-election polls are important not only for people who want to know who is currently in the lead, but also for political campaigns searching for an edge for their candidate.

The opinion polls leading up to this year’s UK elections were particularly inaccurate. Nearly every popular poll had the conservative and labour parties placed within one percent of each other. The polls indicated that this election would likely be “hung” and that no party would have majority seating in the UK’s parliamentary system.

What actually happened is that the conservative party won the, albeit slight, majority of seats. The conservatives, led by David Cameron, secured 331 seats, which puts them in the majority (majority is considered 326 seats). Labour secured 232 seats, Scottish National Party (SNP) secured 56 seats, the Liberal Democrats retained 8 seats, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) now has 1 seat, and other parties make up 22 seats.

Clearly, what actually happened is very different from the neck-and-neck dead heat that the polls predicted.

So, what happened? What went wrong with the polling?

Multiple sources (FiveThirtyEight, Telegraph, and The Conversation) have ascribed the misses to a failure of sufficiently accounting for the documented late swing towards the incumbent party (the Conservatives). This swing is something that traditionally happens in UK elections. According to Leighton Vaughan Williams’s article on The Conversation, another problem involved an overestimation of the amount of people that would be voting. The Conversation also points to the methodology of pollsters. Pollsters in most of these polls only supplied party names (conservative, labour, etc) instead of actual candidate names, which tends to “miss a lot of late tactical vote switching.” The late swing of votes, inaccuracies in voter turnout, and issues with the pollsters’ methodology account for possibilities of why the pollsters were so inaccurate. 

Granted, polling UK voters is a historically difficult task. Polls in the 1992 election were more inaccurate than this election and history repeated itself in 2015.

So, what does this mean for the future? Is this a harbinger for our elections in 2016?

It’s no secret that traditional polling methods are quickly becoming outdated. According to MPR news, political polling is evolving to monitor social media usage along with social media analytics. Another type of emerging technology in campaigns is biometrics.

While some countries have started to use biometrics at polling stations to help with voter identification, biometrics has the potential to be more. Using biometrics for polling purposes can help the system be more effective since it measures how much a specific person agrees with a statement, question, or wants to vote for a candidate. Even though this technology is new and still in development stages, I think it will change the accuracy and landscape of campaign research. The US presidential race of 2016 is sure to demonstrate some new polling methods, and it will be a good opportunity to observe what does and does not work in a rapidly changing industry. 

Tuesday
Dec092014

Businesses Overestimate Their Customer Service Prowess

Most businesses and C-Suite occupants think they truly understand their customers. We typically find that many of these business leaders also believe they provide an optimal experience for their consumers.

This is rarely the case, and it appears we are not alone in encountering this issue. 

In a survey of customers and businesses, Millward Brown Digital discovered a significant gap between how businesses believe they care for customers and how valued consumers actually feel.

While three out of four businesses believe they provide an optimal experience for consumers, just 36 percent of customers in the survey say they feel cared for.

This is pretty common, especially among larger organizations. We find the greater the distance between management and the customer, the greater the discrepancy in understanding consumer needs, experience, and loyalty.

If you are doing employee surveys, we recommend you test perceptions among employees from all levels of authority on how consumers view your customer service and product/service value. Once you have these numbers, compare these results with your customer loyalty surveys and see how closely management is in alignment with the consumer.

Strong and successful organizations are usually in alignment with their customers.  Firms on the cusp of trouble typically think they provide an optimal customer experience, while their consumers rate their experiences very differently.

Millward Brown surveyed 1,650 mobile phone users over age 18 in the U.S., U.K. and Australia in September 2014 for Mblox. To see their results, you can get the information from Mblox here.