Behind the Numbers: Market Research Isn’t a Tightrope Walk

Unlike tightrope walking, this post will dispel the suspense right away: market research differs from tightrope walking in that it’s actually a good idea to look down.


Not brave enough to conduct market research

As I’ve said previously, I enjoy reading the eMarketer newsletter every morning because it usually has an interesting chart or two.  Usually, the headline summarizes the charts like so:

Most Mobile Banking Users Check Balances, Statements

Indeed, according to the survey, 85% check balances and/or statements.  End of story.

Except that’s not where the story ends.  Enter the tyranny of the top two box.

Many marketers, myself included, learned about “top two box” early on in our careers.  “Top two box” typically refers to the total score of the top two choices on a five-point scale (e.g. dislike a lot, dislike somewhat, neutral, like somewhat, like at lot).  So you’d report, for instance, that the top two box score for an ad concept was 73% meaning that 73% of people liked it somewhat (say 49%) or a lot (say 24%).

Top two box thinking pervaded questions other than simple ratings.  For example, we used to look only at the top few answers to a question about what respondents liked or disliked from a list of disparate responses.  So if 40% of people said they liked chocolate and 35% said they liked peanut butter and the other choices fell below 25%, we’d concentrate on the top two.

This top two box approach made a lot of sense in the pre-digital era, when most marketers concentrated on as big a chunk of an audience as possible.  Why spend additional money to create a strawberry or cinnamon flavor that only 15% of the population would buy when we could just make chocolate and peanut butter and get 75% of them?

Digital channels–and the attendant segmentation–changed that equation.  Let’s revisit that eMarketer chart.  In addition to the 85% of people who use mobile apps to check balances, 58% use them to transfer funds between accounts and 52% use them to pay bills.  After that, all responses fall below 50%.

So what?

At 47%, the segment of people who deposit checks via an app still represents a large number of people.  Ditto the 30% who use account alerts and even the 26% who send money to others.  Moreover, tools like programmatic buying and ye olde email make it possible to speak to these subsegments either directly (via marketing databases) or indirectly (via basic modeling).

You should continue to read down a list of responses because you can still market to these groups successfully.

You could target the 47% of mobile check depositors with offers to try other technology (“you like depositing checks on your mobile, why not try settling up with friends?”).  Conversely, you could target the other 53% to try it.  Campaigns get more complex and more tightly-targeted from there.

So, to review, looking down while walking on air between two very tall buildings is bad.  Looking down while perusing a list of things your audience likes and dislikes is good.

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