Revolutionary Developments in Research Best Practices: Insights from IIeX 2018

From the desk of Carole Schmidt 

Well, all y’all, IIEX-NA in Atlanta last week made me happy as a pig in mud!

 This was no southern drawl of a conference. IIEX, held recently in Atlanta, was packed with revolutionary developments in research best practices, scores of technological advancements in quant and qual tools, and a buzzing hornets’ nest of collaborative energy.

 Here are my thoughts on five hot topics that emerged over the course of the event.

What the heck is blockchain, the “right to be forgotten,” and the advanced-thinking new Vermont law? And why should I care? As technologies advance, consumers are increasingly able to lock up their personal data warehouse and throw away (or more specifically, encode) the key. The future of market research lies in consumer control: “I decide what to share, when to share, and how much to share.” Facilitating the transfer and decentralization of control is blockchain. What’s great about this? As researchers, we will soon gain a 360-degree view of the consumer—via a channel by which we can directly access the consumer’s knowledge warehouse. 

Brokers and panel companies who collect and sell consumer data for advertisers are facing a particularly stringent new set of regulations in Vermont. The new law is aimed at cracking down on those who make a living tracking users’ personal information. Data brokers must report information about their data collection activities publicly and have opt-out policies for consumers. They must also disclose security breaches that happened in the prior year—including the total known number of consumers affected. Vermont acted over concerns about online privacy. Brokers are usually invisible because they don’t directly interact with consumers who share data, knowingly or not, on platforms like Facebook, airline booking reservation sites and other sites. From my perspective as a consumer, cheers to the people out there protecting me when I might not know fully how to protect my data myself. 

Improving the respondent experience starts with “We need to stop asking questions that consumers can’t answer!”  It’s time to uncomplicate the survey, the journal assignments, the discussion guide.  Let’s get critical of HOW we ask questions! Are we using casual, human language? Are we keeping our questions simple? Are we editing to ensure we’re only asking what we really need to know to minimize the time commitment on the respondents’ part?

 How else can we engage respondents more effectively?  More productively?  Use videos to welcome, inform and instruct respondents on surveys and assignments.  Embrace the use of avatars, colors, icons, and/or code names for respondents to encourage more candor from online participants. Use photos/images, or emoticons for responses instead of always relying on numeric scales. A memorable point from Misty Flantroy at J. M. Smucker Company: “Turn to the person to your right. Start a conversation and have them respond only with a number from 1 to 5!” Point taken.

 Get creative and utilize digital and product bonuses (tied to deadlines) to instill the urgency to complete surveys; e.g., “the first 50 to complete this survey or assignment are automatically entered to win an iPad!” Yes, these efforts lead to richer insights, and ultimately, smarter business decisions.

 “When people feel they’re being heard, they’ll tell you anything.” One-on-one, face-to-face conversations were cited by many presenters as being ever more essential for savvy marketers in this behind-the-screen, digital age.  Though described by a few as “old school,” face-to-face research is anything but, because customers and consumers are hungry for human-to-human connection. 80% of communication is non-verbal. Follow up large-scale surveys with a select number of webcam interviews or small group discussions. Visit your customer on site, or your consumer in home, wherever consideration and purchase decisions are being made. Walk in their shoes and listen. Querying the behaviors, exploring the attitudes, influences, influencers, and drivers behind those behaviors gets us on the other side of the screens, where real decisions are made. 

 Force “quiet reflection” into research practices. Say what? Up-end how we observe and ingest the research we do, to get more bang for the buck. More than one roundtable discussion at IIEX-NA revolved around getting teams to put away the laptops, the phones, and the often self-important, “I’ve gotta step out to take this call” behaviors. You’re spending good money and allocating time to listen to the voice of the customer, so listen, damnit! Get out of the office and meet your customer where they work and live. Take notes in notebooks—gasp!—by hand, with a pen! Draw pictures, ask questions, challenge each other, build in work sessions—and never put the project fully to bed until everyone on the product or brand team has played an active part of the research. As one client mentioned, “we bring research to the executive table as a valued voice of the team.”

 Deliverables should inspire stakeholders to feel somethingShift our report writing approach and see ourselves as “Insight Journalists.” What’s the storyline? What’s real news? What’s important and relevant? Explore the “opening argument” approach, like that of a trial. Research learning should strive to create movement within the organization.  Consider using other media formats to deliver or reinforce insights and action: wall posters, composites/personas, podcasts, documentaries. Incorporate “points of reflection” or “challenge the learning” or “how do we take action” slides as dividers in our insights decks—that is, make time to stop along the way and talk about: What have we learned? What do we do about what we learned?