Thursday, 31 January 2008

Graphing the impossible: Data Visualisation

Hans Donkers of the Dutch market research company Stratus shared his view on the future of market research at an SPSS Seminar today. It was good to hear how he and I agree on some of the mayor trends today that undoubtedly will reshape the future of our industry. After defining the term Research 2.0, he addressed the five new technologies that may reshape our industry. He distinguished analysing structured data and ways to analyse unstructured data. Obviously the industry needs to find its way to be able to consistently analyse blogs, tags, social networks, and instant messages. In fact, my post below addresses analysis of tags. In another post last year, I addressed our industry's shift away from measuring claimed behaviour to measuring actual behaviour. Today, Donkers was underpinning the fact that more and more data will become available (at notionally no costs). His example of google having 2.7 billion hits a month on average in 2007 was striking. I was pleasantly surprised to see how he than shared current examples visualising the impossible: How to graphically visualise 2.5 million consumer ratings of 9276 music artists? It seems I've been missing the entire trend. Was I too busy preparing ordinary PowerPoint slides to present to my clients? There's a whole world out there that will undoubtedly change the way we'll present our data to clients. I am most impressed by a platform that was introduced a year ago: IBM's Many Eyes. Users can upload any data set, and the tools for visualizing and graphing the data are incredibly richer. The visualisation options include country maps, line, stack, pie, and bar charts, block histograms, bubble diagrams, scatter plots, network diagrams, a lot! Another great example is one by the Stanford University. Together with Yahoo! Research Labs, and MIT. The paper is here. The authors developed a set of interactive visualisation tools and used them on 2.5 million Yahoo! user ratings of 9,276 music artists. The computes layout below shows the grouping of artists and helps for browsing large music collections. How else could we ever conclude that Mel C = Britney Spears = Nick Carter?

Isn't it great to be in Market Research? For now, all of you who are reporting quantitative data to your clients can, and should start exploring these graphic possibilities. From today, consider me a "Many Eyes Junky"....

Monday, 28 January 2008

Tagging as a new online research tool

As you would know by now, this blog is all about new methods to do research. It's about how to get rich data from your consumers in a digital world. Only recently I cae across a pilot presented by Ruigrok Netpanel in late 2007. This Dutch research firm is running an interesting pilot where participants can tag products. According to Ruigrok, tagging is not only a way to organise information, it can also be a powerful tool to get feedback from consumers on products. A first demo of a ‘tagging research tool’ was presented early November 2007 at the Dutch Marketing Information Event. This could be a new way of measuring web-site effectiveness or new product concepts. Online panel research today mostly is a static one-way method of asking questions in a survey that most of the times originated from a face-to-face questionnaire. Web 2.0 is all about sharing of information and one way of doing so is by tagging.

Inspired by 2.0 application Fleck, Ruigrok decided to do a pilot with tagging. When the company conducts tagging research, panellists receive an invitation to make leave digital notes. These notes can have a positive or negative emotion. The idea is simple, participants can tag for example websites by placing colored tags and comment on it. This can be done alone or in a group process, moderated by a researcher.

Using heatmaps ('tagclouds') the tool will show what elements of tested concepts trigger the most attention.

A first pilot showed that the data was comparable with their more traditional quantative and qualitative methods. The new research tool showed that this method could get open response, quick feedback, easy to analyze, visual attractive and fun for the participants. But above all, it seems to be an interesting new tool that is fun to do: an experience itself.

Friday, 25 January 2008

To outsource or not to outsource scripting?

In a recent post on GMI's blog the five main reasons to off-shore of data-collection and processing and even project servicing are mentioned. According to ESOMAR’s 2007 Global Market Research Report, outsourcing has become wide spread among the world’s 25 largest market research firms in the search to stay competitive by lowering costs. The Top 5 reasons mentioned in the article are: 1) more time to spend on insights, 2) Economies of scale, 3) alleviate skill shortage, 4) Save on technology costs and 5) quicker response to customers. I guess the real underlying reason for the industry to outsource is the assumption that the cost savings gained by this practice will simply flow back into the company coffers. And indeed: many companies now use outsource services, especially for questionnaire programming (scripting). But I can think of plenty of reasons why outsourcing of scripting is not the best strategy for our market research industry. Here the most important ones that come to ming: When does outsourcing of questionnaire programming not make sense?
  1. When it involves a lot of non-standardized research projects If your research firm is in the business of ad-hoc customized market research, every survey will be more or less different, which makes outsourcing them risky. Communication with local programmers is difficult enough, won’t it be impossible with a non-native English speaker living half-way around the world in another time-zone? These scripts are best handeled in house by researchers who have first hand knowledge of the research objectives.
  2. When the questionnaire is the core-source of success for your research project If it is critical to the success of your project, outsourcing is probably not the best solution. A lot of back-and-forth between the scripter and researcher will take place and again time zone differences impede the relationship when frequent discussion is needed to communicate requirements and last-minute changes.
  3. When experience is required (know-how) If a manual can replace the briefing to the programming or DP department than send the job abroad. If expertise is needed from the scripter, if scripting is another quality check in the process of getting the best suited online survey programmed, think twice before you decide to do it abroad. How can they perform a task the way I want it done without asking a lot of questions…the questions will drive me nuts? I remember hard it was to convince an Indian programmer that chocolate sprinklers in Holland are used for sandwich filling (nice: with lot's of butter!) and it really did not belong to the Cake / Pastry category!

An additional concer has always been retention of employees at the vendor. And now it's a widespread one: Staff churn is absolutely increasing. At first it looked as if it was just the programmers which college kids. These kids get a few months of experience and move on to greener pastures in their country. But we're seeing it across all staff levels now. It's a big issue.

Once a MR firm starts to outsource, it will take months (if not a couple of years) to realize that outsourcing may not be the best approach for efficient and seamless scripting. By the time the company realized this, the people who had the knowledge of doing it in-home would already have been laid off. And it will cost double the effort to obtain this business critical knowledge back in the company.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

2008 Technologies reshaping Market Research

On January 1st, the BBC News website gives its prediction for 5 technologies that could become big in 2008.
  1. Web-to-go
  2. Ultra mobile PCs
  3. IPTV
  4. Wimax
  5. Mobile VoIP
While browsing through their predictions, I asked myself:

How will these technologies be able to contribute to the Market Research industry?

1. Web-to-go One of the biggest drawbacks of online survey is that most of them can only be used when there is an internet connection. But according to the BBC there are tools that are beginning to blur the online and offline worlds. Three new technologies were introduced in 2007: Google Gears, Adobe's Air and Microsoft's Silverlight.

These applications will influence how we use the Internet: these three applications enable us to use web content offline. For example Adobe has shown off an Ebay desktop application built using Air that would allow users to do much of the legwork required in setting up auctions offline. The next time the user connects to the internet the listing would be posted to the website.

Could the same apply to online surveys?

2. Ultra mobile PCs Various devices have tried to fill the role between a PDA and a full-blown laptop over the years, but none has taken off. But 2008 could be the year when the Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs) finally have their day.

The first devices were launched in 2006, but they have never gone mass market - partly because of a combination of high prices and poor battery life.

But towards the end of 2007 a series of new products started to hit shelves. The Asus EEE may be able to close the gap with its relatively cheap notebook (~300 Euro). It's about the size of a hard-covered book. Apple is supposed to launch an ultra-thin Macbook later this year.

Will these ulta mobile PCs close the gap between "cheap" paper-and-pencil and "expensive" CAPI research?

3. IPTV Internet TV has been hampered in the past and so have questionnaires based on ITV technologies. But with the increasing popularity of IPTV services as Joost (or for Holland Mine tv what will these bring to our industry?

4. WIMAX Wimax is a wireless technology that can deliver high speed broadband over long distances. It is already big in the US with companies such as Sprint and Intel backing the technology. The BBC predicts that Europe is next (they probably refer to UK only, I assume). Not sure what the relevance for our industry may be...

5. Mobile VoIP VoIP is a technology that allows users to make cheap phone calls over the internet. Skipe is probably the best known provider. Although some firms such as Jajah and Truphone have offered VoIP on mobiles the technology is still relatively nascent.

However, 2008 could be the year the technology takes off. Towards the end of 2007, network operator 3 launched a Skype phone that allows users to make calls using the service, already popular for making calls from PCs. Handset-maker Nokia also offers four phones with the ability to use the technology. Mobile VoIP is still at a very early stage but how may this reshape the way we organise CATI telephone interviewing? How may it decrease costs? How will we be able to connect to the increasing population of those who are not having a land-line telephone?

I am sure that in 2008 in the research industry we will have our usual mix of heartbreak and triumph but it makes for an interesting job! I look forward to 2008 and I hope so are you. I wish you all my very best for the New Year!