Tag Archives: market research

Who Cares if Email Marketing Pays for Itself?

Let me suggest a modest proposal: run your email marketing program at a loss.  As in, if you’re a retailer, stop worrying how much each email nets in incremental sales.  As in, if you’re a B2B marketer, stop worrying about how many leads each email generates.  As in, if you’re some other kind of marketer, double your email marketing budget and hang the cost.

After 10 years of articles about email marketing’s superior ROI, throwing fiscal caution to the wind seems like the worst idea since rolling coal.  Naturally, I don’t suggest taking this step for its own sake.  Rather, I suggest adjusting the way we evaluate email marketing to serve a purpose that serves the broader enterprise: research.


Go ahead. Rip it up.

OK, I’ve exaggerated my point of view in a shameless attempt to get your attention.  However, I strongly endorse using email as an inexpensive, flexible and fast research tool.  Let’s look at what you could achieve by integrating research into your email marketing.

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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.

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Friday Fun (from “Building a Better BS Detector”)

As part of a promotion for my two new ebooks, I’m sharing selections from “Building a Better BS Detector” parts 1 & 2 about market research.  Interested in reading more? Email me at ben@plannerben.com.  It’s been a long week, so here’s something just for fun.

One last story

Years ago, I took a cab ride somewhere and started talking to the cabbie.  He told me that he served as an interrogator with the Marine Corps in the First Gulf War (aka Desert Storm), since he was a native Farsi speaker.  Having my research hat on, I asked him how he got information out of an obviously hostile source.  Without skipping a beat, he told me “Well, if you go by the rules of the Geneva Convention, you won’t get anything.”

All’s fair in love, war and market research.

Get your copies of “Building a Better BS Detector” by emailing me at ben@plannerben.com.

4 Keys of Research Methodologies (from “Building a Better BS Detector”)

As part of a promotion for my two new ebooks, I’m sharing selections from “Building a Better BS Detector” parts 1 & 2 about market research.  Interested in reading more? Email me at ben@plannerben.com.

Methodology Means a Lot

Confession time: I don’t really know what a “standard deviation” is.  For that matter, I have never met a standard deviate (thank you, ladies and germs).  However, I know enough about research methodologies to know when I can trust conclusions.  Every marketer needs to know some basics.

  1. Sample size.  For qualitative research (focus groups, ethnographies, etc.), sample sizes mean relatively little since insight comes from depth, not breadth.  For quantitative research, they mean the difference between relevance and irrelevance.By way of example, I once reviewed a survey conducted by a respected research organization among pharmaceutical manufacturers.  In the notes, they mentioned that they spoke to respondents from seven (7) companies.  Then I noticed that each of the percentages for each answer was a multiple of one-seventh (1/7).  I concluded that the researcher only spoke to seven (7) actual individuals and didn’t use any results from that survey.That said, no hard-and-fast rules exist for minimum sample sizes.  Or, rather, a blizzard of rules exist.  If you have the inclination, you can learn all the factors that make up a viable sample.  Since you probably don’t, here are some rules of thumb:
    • Any sample of under 100 strains credibility, unless the population described is very small (e.g. professional skiers in Florida).  Use 100 as a bare minimum.
    • For general consumer studies, e.g. “adults 18-49,” use a larger base size, 500 or ideally 1,000.  A larger sample reduces the risk of anomalies (e.g. the odds that 100 out of 150 respondents to a survey about fast food choices were vegans).
    • Professional and specific consumer studies can vary in base size between 100 and 1000.  In general, more = better.Protip: samples are often listed in charts as “n=[x].”  So “n=736” means a sample size of 736 individuals.
  2. Margin of error.  While it may seem like minutia, the margin of error can make or break survey results.  The margin of error represents the amount of doubt around a survey’s results based mostly on sample size.  So a margin of error of +/-4% means that if 35% of a population made choice X, the real number is between 31% and 39%.Thus, if the top two choices to a question were 41% for A and 40% for B and the margin of error is +/-3%, we may not conclude that A beat B.  Professional researchers will supply a margin of error.  As a rule of thumb, I use +/-4-5% as a margin of error if a survey does not supply one.
  3. Recruitment.  If possible, learn how the researcher recruited respondents.  Professionals use tactics such as random digit dialing with phone surveys to get a good cross-section of respondents.  Others often put up a survey online (e.g. SurveyMonkey) and email links to friends or post the links on social networks.As a result, marketers need to take the latter approach with a grain of salt.  The friends-and-family approach means that respondents may over-represent a certain age or social group and under-represent others.
  4. Selective reporting.  Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research does not always lend itself to simple reporting.  We can easily grasp what “74% of respondents preferred skinny jeans” means.  We can have less certainty around what “respondents evaluated fit by shopping with friends” means.  Do they make appointments to shop with friends?  Do they simply grab a friend from the office and shop over lunch?  Do they email friends links from websites with pictures of jeans?By nature, qualitative reporting synthesizes input from a variety of respondents.  It helps, then, to know more precisely what these respondents said.  Look for complete videos, transcripts or even extended verbatims to get a fuller sense of what respondents said and what they meant.

Get your copies of “Building a Better BS Detector” by emailing me at ben@plannerben.com.

It’s Not Me, It’s My, Um, Friend (from “Building a Better BS Detector”)

As part of a promotion for my two new ebooks, I’m sharing selections from “Building a Better BS Detector” parts 1 & 2 about market research.  Interested in reading more? Email me at ben@plannerben.com.

Respondents fail to tell the truth in market research to prevent misconceptions of others about themselves

This issue can wreck any research project, qualitative or quantitative, online or person-to-person.  Very often, the first person to sound off about a given topic in groups will set the agenda for the rest of the group, since sometimes people prefer to be polite and not disagree (also known as the dominant respondent problem).  Moreover, many participants feel pressure to look acceptable in the eyes of the other respondents.

Even in something as anonymous as an online survey, people feel judged or at least tracked in this era of NSA wiretapping and Google omniscience.  So it’s crucial for the moderator or the research instrument to give people permission to look misinformed or unglamorous or whatever.  Some common tactics:

  • Put yourself in their shoes.  In person-to-person interviews and focus groups, you can put respondents at ease by saying “I sometimes do that myself.”  For instance, instead of saying, “Does anyone have trouble finding the right app on a phone?” you can ask “I don’t know about you, but I fumble with phone when I need to find an app.  What about you?”
  • Gently encourage disagreement.  Sometimes you can read someone’s body language well enough to know that they don’t agree with something that someone else has said.  Other times, you can take a shot in the dark.  In either case, you can get mileage out of asking a respondent “Joe, can you think of a reason to disagree with what John just said?”  Alternately, you can do your all of your groups in New York City, where people rarely feel constrained to agree about anything.
  • Hell is other people.  Remember the old sitcom gag about someone whose “friend” is in trouble?  This ruse works in focus groups.  Maybe respondents won’t give their honest opinion, but they might say what they think other people think.  So ask something along the lines of “what might other people say about…”

    Note, however, that you as the researcher need to keep an eye on the line between what the respondent thinks and what the respondent thinks other people think.  Make sure you know when the respondent is really talking about himself.

  • Confront them with evidence.  You can sometimes get people to be a little more honest with you by giving them a chance to look smart.  Or you can also play bad cop with them.  For instance, you can say to a respondent “67% of women in their 30s watch reality shows.  You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
  • This same evidence-focused approach works in quantitative research as well.  Merely by prefacing a question with a fact can give respondents a sense of not being alone.

    Naturally, marketers can abuse this use of facts.  Political candidates employ this approach in push polling, a tactic designed not to understand constituents’ feelings about an issue, but rather to cast their opponent in a negative light (“would you agree with the 89% of the electorate that Candidate A is wrong when he says…”).  Use with caution.

  • While surveys allow respondents a certain license to speak negatively of other people and brands, they still run the risk of making respondents themselves feel scrutinized.  As a result, respondents may feel reluctant to indicate honest information about themselves.  One way to counteract that reluctance entails leaving personal questions (gender, age, family composition) to the end.  Think of it this way: if the first question someone asked you was “how old are you?” how might that color your perceptions of subsequent questions?

Get your copies of “Building a Better BS Detector” by emailing me at ben@plannerben.com.

When Google is Your Research Assistant (from “Building a Better BS Detector”)

As part of a promotion for my two new ebooks, I’m sharing selections from “Building a Better BS Detector” parts 1 & 2 about market research.  Interested in reading more? Email me at ben@plannerben.com.

How to Tame the Wild Google

Google (or Bing, if that’s how you roll) will probably serve as your main gateway to third-party information.  We all know Google’s abilities: Google knows all.  Google sees all.  Google can almost read your mind.  However, Google works on hidden biases and trends that require vigilance by the researcher.

  • Ask pointed questions.  Yes, you can type ANYTHING into Google and get an answer.  However, the more specific your questions, the closer you’ll get to the answers you want.  So, don’t type in “laundry soap” or “laundry soap buyers,” but something more specific like “heavy users of laundry soap.”  Google even has rudimentary natural-language capabilities, so feel free to enter a question such as “who uses the most laundry soap?”
  • First isn’t always best.  Most notoriously, Google tends to return the most-visited or cited page for any given query.  While PageRank helps employ the wisdom of the crowds, it helps to remember what Gen. William T. Sherman said about journalists: “vox populi, vox humbug.”  Look down the page and even (gulp!) onto the subsequent pages to find the most complete and credible answer to your question.
  • Be creative.  While search engines work logically, people don’t, at least not always.  So do some free-association brainstorming to come up with other ways at getting to the information you want.
  • For instance, on a B2B financial services project, I wanted to understand the differences among roles in the industry.  So I typed “a day in the life of” plus the different titles (investment banker, commodities trader, etc.) and found a mountain of relevant first-person articles.
    • In another example, I wanted to get perspectives on home remodeling.  So after looking up terms like “home remodeling” and “home renovation,” I searched on the adage “a man’s home is his castle.”  I found several home remodeling websites with a more creative focus than the usual contractor’s site.

Remember, Google can’t be any smarter than the questions you ask it.

Get your copies of “Building a Better BS Detector” by emailing me at ben@plannerben.com.

Preview: New eBooks on market research

Good news, true believers!  This week, I have not one, but two new ebooks for you!  I’ve decided to share my experience in developing, executing and interpreting both primary and secondary market research.

Now, here’s the bad news.  The ebooks are, well, full of it.

BS1     BS2

(special thanks to Jamie Leo, human extraordinaire, for the illustration)

Great marketing always begins with great audience insight.  Unfortunately, people don’t always say exactly what they mean.  Nor do research reports and published articles that you find online always mean what you think.  To separate the good information from the bad, every good marketer also needs to have a good BS detector, and I’ll help you fine-tune yours.

For the next two weeks, I’ll share the juiciest bits from my ebooks to give you a peek inside.  Please share and enjoy.

Here’s an excerpt from the primary research ebook (part 1) on one of the reasons respondents don’t always tell the whole truth in focus groups and surveys:

We fail to tell the truth to spare others’ feelings

If you’ve ever watched focus groups, you’ve heard the moderator say at the beginning that he or she doesn’t work for the company under discussion.  This preamble allows respondents to bad-mouth the company without making them feel like they’re costing someone a job.   Continue reading