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Archive for January, 2008

It’s A Brave New Virtual World…The Next Frontier Of Market Research? By Kelly Heatly, Guest Writer

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Have you– your avatar, that is–stepped into a virtual world lately? Are you familiar with Second Life?

If you are a marketer or market researcher who hasn’t yet experienced this "other" thriving world out there, where avatars buy homes, shop for clothes, and even open businesses–check it out. You may be amazed to see the potential of the avatar-based market.

Is this the next frontier of market research? I think yes.

At the recent QRCA Conference, Jim Bryson of 20/20 Research delivered an intriguing presentation, "The Second Life Phenomenon," where he presented the magnitude and growth of virtual worlds like Second Life. Following his presentation, my curiosity sent me soaring into virtual world mania to dig deeper on the subject. It’s truly fascinating–the implications for marketing AND marketing research are significant. And I believe we are only on the threshold.

(For a list of the top virtual world sites, visit www.VirtualWorldsReview.com.)

First, virtual worlds are growing. Subscriptions are on the rise, and it seems these sites are attracting a broader audience as we round the early adopter curve (currently half are under 30 and heavy male).

Second, advertising and marketing spending is increasing, expected to reach $150 million by 2012, up from $15 million in 2006 (Parks Associates, VirtualWorldNews.com 2007). Some companies have developed their own virtual worlds (i.e., CokeStudios.com), while others use existing sites as a communication medium. Example: New Second Life subscribers can join the Ben & Jerry’s Community, outfit their avatars in a Cherry Garcia t-shirt, and teleport themselves to the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. (It’s fun, try it.)

While a virtual world is a powerfully engaging environment for a brand, do avatars represent actual consumers? Does that matter? Avatars don’t always physically or behaviorally represent their creators. Jim shared data from Global Market Insite (March 2007) about self-created avatars: 45% are better looking, 37% are younger, and 23% are a different gender. Hmmm…

Some experts argue that, as a creative self-expression, an avatar represents the "real" uninhibited consumer, displaying his or her psyche via the avatar. Market researchers can use avatars to uncover "true" perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of the consumers who created them. I tend to agree, and I see two broad applications for virtual world market research:

  1. In-World Brand Research: As brand presence in virtual worlds becomes prevalent, especially as consumers at large become comfortable with them, I predict we’ll see more "in world" research supporting virtual world marketing. So, avatars (subscribers) residing in virtual world(s) of interest will become respondents for research conducted at in-world field locations (i.e., virtual focus group facility, mall location, in-home). Cool stuff.
  2. Virtual World Research Platform: Aside from specific virtual world sites, avatars will become more commonplace across many applications. I envision online research platforms to soon include avatars in lieu of one-dimensional text chat. Online focus groups could eventually evolve into virtual (avatar) focus groups.

Sure enough, such research already exists. I discovered some fascinating research conducted by Thomas Kohler, a PhD student at Innsbruck University School of Management, Austria. For his dissertation, he studied "using virtual worlds for real world innovation" and conducted virtual focus groups in Second Life to support his research. His concept is brilliant: using avatars for product innovation. The "media rich environment" facilitates collaboration and "creative and highly involved users innovate in an anonymous and unconstrained setting." Indeed, it’s a brave new virtual world.

Do you think virtual reality is the next frontier of market research?

What do you think about avatar-based research?

What are your predictions?

I look forward to your comments.


Kelly Heatly is an independent Qualitative Research Consultant, providing full service qualitative research to suppliers and client-side corporations across a wide range of industries. Her services include research design, moderating, analysis, and reporting, working with clients in an immersive and collaborative style of partnership.

With more than 13 years of marketing research experience, Kelly has conducted qualitative research focused on new product development, brand essence, advertising, communications, brand positioning, website usability, and customer satisfaction. She specializes in focus group moderating and individual depth interviewing with expertise in eye-tracking studies, projective techniques, needs elicitation, idea generation, and concept testing. Her experience encompasses consumer and business-to-business studies for a wide variety of industries including CPG, consumer electronics, apparel, healthcare, financial, retail, travel & leisure, homebuilding, energy & utility, and industrial.

Kelly earned a BS in Marketing with an emphasis in communications from Louisiana State University and an MS in Marketing Research from The University of Texas at Arlington. She leads the UTA MSMR Alumni Association’s student mentoring program.

Which Advertisement Do You Like?

Friday, January 4th, 2008

I really enjoy advertising these days. Don’t laugh…but in my opinion, creative directors are being very creative these days–much more creative than they have been in the past. Here are 5 different creative advertisements.

Life-size images were stuck on glass doors at shops and airports in South Africa for the advertisement of I.C.U. glass and window cleaner. The expression on the face is priceless.

This one is a very cost-effective advertisement for a yoga school in Hong Kong. It showcases the prowess of a yoga practitioner on the flexible stems of drink straws. A surge of enquiries and enrollment went up after this promotional stunt.

Here’s a creative idea by The Fitness Company. Heavy-looking weights were placed at various subways in New York City. This creates an illusion that the person holding the safety bar is lifting weights.

The likeness of a cup of Folgers coffee was placed on top of manhole covers in New York City. Holes on the print allow the steam to come out. Wording around the cup reads ‘Hey, City That Never Sleeps. Wake up." from Folgers.

Here is an advertisement by Jung von Matt/Alster for watchmaker IWC. Bus straps have been fashioned from images of IWC’s Big Pilot’s Watch to allow bus travelers near the airport in Berlin to "try before they buy."

I really like all of the ads — starting with the I.C.U. glass cleaner. This one made me laugh and reminded me of so many times of guests going face first into our doors at our house in Cape Cod. The Yoga School is very clever, but I think because I don’t take yoga regularly it didn’t have the impact on me as it would on others. The Fitness Company is great but probably wouldn’t make me join. The Folgers Coffee is fantastic. I like how it integrates the steam from the manhole covers. The IWC watchmaker ad is a cut above the rest. Not only is it really the only product that you are sort of testing — it is also a product that other people can see on your arm while you are holding onto the strap — for me that is the most creative ad.

Which one is your favorite?

Which one had the most impact on you?

Was it the:

  • I.C.U Glass Cleaner
  • Yoga School
  • Fitness Company
  • Folgers Coffee
  • IWC Watchmaker

Get Your Picks Ready For The 2nd Annual Merrill Dubrow Blog Stock Contest. Yes There Is Money Involved And We Increased The First Prize! (Closed to new entries)

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

First of all, congratulations to Stacey Weber whose stock pick ONXX went from $10.58 to $55.62 — a whooping INCREASE of 426%! Stacey I am sure I am not the only one who wishes they had bought thousands of shares. For winning the contest, Stacey will receive $250.00. And there will be $100.00 for G-Man, the lucky loser whose stock RFNS.PK went down the highest percentage in 2007.

To participate in the 2008 contest, here is what you need to do:

  • Respond to the blog with your stock name and if possible symbol
  • State the reason why you picked the stock you did

It’s as simple as that.

We’ll do the rest.

A few things to remember:

  • You need to respond by January 15, 2008
  • You can only have one entry
  • The stock price needs to be at least $1.00 – anything less will not be accepted into the contest.
  • Only one person can have a particular stock, so the person who responds first gets the pick and we will notify anyone who has a duplicate stock (we had at least 10 duplicates last year and I am sure there will be more this year).
  • If a stock splits, we will make the necessary calculation and adjustment
  • If the company you pick gets acquired during the year and their company doesn’t have their own stock price, you won’t be counted in the contest
  • We will use the stock prices as they were at the time the market closed the last trading day of 2007.

Like last year we will post a leader board.

First prize will be increased to $300.00 for the person whose stock goes up the highest percentage in 2008.

In 2007, we included a few surprises, and who knows…maybe there will be a few surprises in 2008 as well. Last year (in the name of conducting research for fun) we sent an online survey to those who picked a stock and were part of the challenge. The survey participants voted Apple Computer (AAPL), Google (Goog), and China Mobile Limited (CHL) as the best candidates for the highest increases in 2007. To make the research even more interesting, I purchased $500 of those three stocks with my own money with the intention of splitting the profits (less commission) with those who selected the stocks in the original contest. I assumed the risk for any losses. Not a bad deal at all.

And the results are in! Congratulations to Stephenie Gordon, Elyse Gammer and RAMA. You will be contacted shortly with an update of your stocks and a check with your winnings since all these stocks went up last year.

I will get the ball rolling with my choice for the 2008 contest: American Apparel Inc. (APP – AMEX) This apparel company is in a position to have a strong 2008!

Take the stock challenge of 2008!

Get your entries in today! Again, the deadline is January 15th.