Category Archives: research

Would you have a few minutes for a brain map?

A few weeks ago, publications like The Economist and Discovery Channel reported the results of research linking price and perception of quality in wine. It was essentially a blind taste with different bottles of wine priced differently.

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However, unknown to the study participants, researchers included some of the same wines twice, presenting them as different wines with different price tags. Wine enjoyment was directly and strongly related to the perceived price tag, more so than to the actual content of the glass.

This has direct implications for marketers of luxury and premium products. Take note, Starbucks! It also means that “trading up” should not be considered just a passing fad, even if the trend is likely to be affected by an economic downturn.

The striking part is the tools that were used for this research. It was yet another example of using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) for marketing and consumer research purposes.

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Neuroscience technologies have their original roots in the medical world: as the price and the size of the equipment is decreasing, brain mapping usage is becoming widespread … from evaluating soda formulas to cars and (of course) US presidential candidates.

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In my opinion, there are at least three reasons that make MRI technology so attractive for market research.

First, unlike other research tools, it promises to reveal the real nature of audience reactions, not just what they claim to think. It also helps capturing an overall brain response to multiple sensory stimuli, which brings the results closer to real life. Finally, this type of technology brings a flavor of precision and exactness to a marketing discipline that still resembles more art than science.

There are obviously clear limits to mention: brain maps deliver fairly basic information, allowing to only read simple reactions such as pleasure and displeasure. Furthermore even if the brain response that MRI captures is more holistic in nature, the complex installation process does not bode well for spontaneity and the resulting environment will remain a far-from-perfect recreation of real life situations. Having said that, the observer effect applies to other market research techniques as well.

Implementation remains complex and limits sample sizes. I think this has an impact on the way the technology is being used: there is a clear focus on highlighting universal patterns, rather than identifying clusters and differences. Let me explain that in simpler terms ūüôā

For example, if researchers could repeat their experiment on wine price and taste with a larger sample, they could start investigate a lot of other questions on the “price enjoyment factor”: Is it roughly the same for everyone or does it vary by age or sex? Does the impact vary depending on people’s disposable income? If people were to receive “bargains” on premium product, how does the size of the bargain impact their enjoyment of the product?

Even if the technology is still in its infancy, we are probably witnessing the dawn of a new era in market research. One day, brain maps may well replace surveys. In fact, here is a tell tale sign: research giant Nielsen just invested in a company called Neurofocus.

I would also expect some interesting developments coming from the videogame industry, as they have tried for years to develop control systems directly linked to brainwaves – and they would surely be interested in making two-way devices that can read how much a player is enjoying its gaming experience.

If anything, this will create a brand new field of investigation for privacy advocates!

2008 Trend Blend

Just came across the latest trend map published a few weeks ago by futurologists Nowandnext.com.

They borrowed from the Shanghai subway map and chose to elevate 5 key trends: Anxiety, Ageing, Globalisation, Digitalisation, Virtual Worlds.

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On a similar topic and with more focus on the here and now than the future, I would recommend Mark Penn’s book “Microtrends”. Since Mark Penn is one of the main advisers behind the Hillary Clinton campaign you can definitely see how that sort of targeted thinking has become increasingly important in marketing aspiring U.S. presidential candidates.

And for the Tufte fans amongst you, more on subway / underground maps!

Is advertising effective?

The answer is… at least sometimes!

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I am in France for business this week. I attended last night the French Effie Award ceremony that crowns every year the most effective advertising campaigns in several categories.

One of my international clients won this much coveted award and needless to say, I am very proud to be an integral part of this success from New York.

I moved out of France quite a while ago which made it kind of eerie to bump into former colleagues who also attended the event. Congratulations again to Pierre D. and Philippe D. from Rapp Collins and to Francois B. from Eurodisney, if you read these lines!

Since¬†today’s post is about Effies, I would like to share the link to¬†their US case study database. Lots of amazing success stories there… They speak for themselves.

Another one of my favorite Effie story is from the UK and illustrates the work Wieden + Kennedy did for Honda. Truly interesting how they examine the impact (or lack thereof) of potential other factors. 

Talking of Honda… I cannot resist the temptation of including the 2002 Accord commercial nicknamed “Cog”. I’m not sure if the debate is settled on whether this was a painstakingly precise real life domino effect or whether it was just the result of some computer graphics wizardy.

Whatever – the resulting visual feast is what matters!

How much can you trust online research?

Last year Procter & Gamble created some controversy in the online research world. They explained that they got very different results with two identical surveys conducted by the same online research vendor… just a few days apart. This cast some doubt on the credibility of online research, especially given the influence clout of the CPG marketing giant.

In my personal experience, it is definitely possible to have robust online samples that are not too biased. But this comes at an extra price, and will often slightly extend the duration of the data collection phase. This may come in the way of the attractiveness of online market research solutions, whose two main advantages are low cost and fast turnaround.

Many research executives agree that one major issue with online panels are the so-called deceptive or professional respondents. In other words, people who take surveys to earn a few bucks and are giving incorrect or random answers.

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As I was working on an online survey last week, I came across an interesting initiative called PureSample that is worth mentioning.

It is easy to detect deceptive respondents, based on inconsistencies or short survey completion times. Puresample identifies their email addresses and allow panel managers to identify and isolate the people who are likely to make a survey inaccurate.

Kind of feels like a spam filter for surveys, doesn’t it?

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On a related note about the growing importance of reliable samples, Dynamic Logic – probably the most prominent online advertising research company – launched in August 2007 a separate company called Safecount. They focus exclusively on the recruitment for online advertising surveys.