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The Marketing Research Ghost Town By Guest Writer Marshall Toplansky

Friday, March 25th, 2011

In the past 8 weeks, I have visited with more than 3 dozen marketing research departments across the United States. Every one of them has the same story. “2 years ago, there were 10 people in this department. Today, there are only two of us.”

When I ask them what areas of marketing are getting incremental funding, the answer is almost always this: “Data and analytics. Those departments have seen a lot of growth in people, data sources and technology spending.” When I probe on why this is, the typical response is, “Well, the business needs have changed. We are now focused on things that have a much faster rhythm to them than the old days. We can no longer afford to sit back and think about things that have happened in the past, and track long-term trends. We are now dealing with a “real time” world.”

What does this mean for the marketing research industry? These are the 2 important takeaways, from my perspective:

  • Research is perceived as being “old and slow”, operating at a different pace than the business itself. As such, it is perceived as being “disconnected” to the operating rhythm of the core business.
    • Here’s an interesting sidebar –- One of our marketing research partners was presenting a fabulous model they had created for forecasting the future penetration rate of new products. Years of work had gone into the model, and it was clearly a sound methodology. The prospective client responded by saying, “You look at the growth of a product over a 5 year life cycle. In OUR business, we are lucky if we get an 18 month life out of a new product concept. Your approach simply won’t work in today’s compressed time frames.”
  • Research is no longer thought of as being “strategic”. It may be necessary, but it is “outsourceable” to suppliers. Marketing research has been “downgraded” in importance within companies. By contrast, if companies are increasing their analytics staffs in an era of overall downsizing, they consider analysis of data to be more strategic to them. Not something they would want to outsource to the same degree.

This is a potentially fatal problem for the marketing research industry. There is an obvious answer: Redefine ourselves to INCLUDE the analytics function. Sounds simple, right?

Wrong. The problem is that marketing researchers are generally unwilling to redefine their own existence. They look at data-driven analytics as having to conform to the conceptual framework of research. They apply the same evaluative criteria to the methods used by the real-time analytics world as they do for traditional marketing research. Think of it this way. Imagine you were alive at the dawn of the automobile. Would you hire a veterinarian to analyze whether a car is operating correctly? The vet was the expert in understanding transportation methods (the horse) of the day. But, does he really “get” cars? The only touch point between the two worlds was the metric of “horsepower”, to measure relative power. Nothing else was the same.

We are our own worst enemy. We have generally been in denial that companies are being forced, by competition and the technology environment to operate at a near-real-time pace. We long for the “good old days” when we could take our time to analyze the longer-term trends.

What is required here is a major attitude adjustment on OUR part. We need to learn an entirely new set of concepts . . . not just add a few new tricks to our current magic show. We need to do our own ethnographies and live inside of the shoes of the top management of our client companies, and grow beyond the marketing research department.

  • Are you noticing the same trend?
  • Are you hearing the same thing from your clients?
  • What do think of my opinion?

I really look forward to reading your comments.

Marshall Toplansky is President of WiseWindow

How Is Your Freshness Index? By Guest Blogger Tom Harrison

Friday, March 18th, 2011

So, I had a recent client meeting with a few very senior level marketing directors. It is a CPG client. It is a client for whom we’ve done an Imagine Session that has resulted in business and a full AOR assignment. I clearly wish to keep this relationship fresh. I’ll get back to “fresh”.

Yes…I asked how we are doing and I got the answer I had hoped to get; all our agencies are doing fine. They are happy, will most likely reward our AOR agency more business, and that’s a good thing.

Then came a message. Your agencies are really good, they seem to collaborate on certain levels, but “we can’t help but think that greater collaboration like you showed in our Imagine Session would allow your people to bring us EVEN BIGGER IDEAS”. They went on to say that they’d prefer paying more for the bigger idea than for the execution of the idea. Implementation is commoditized in their world, and why can’t we consolidate our back end delivery so they are not paying for 5 creative directors, 5 digital leads, 5 of this and 5 of that. The answer is they are right! In a new world where simplification is king, where larger ideas based upon clear vision and insights into consumer wants and behaviors are stepping stones to differentiation, why can’t we move toward doing this. Now, we need not go all the way to start, but back-of-office consolidation or just choosing which team will implement might go a long way to satisfying this client’s – and others I’m certain – needs. After all, it is our client’s needs that need to be recognized and addressed. So, I urge us all to look at this with great attention where we enjoy shared client responsibilities.

Now, back to “freshness”. What do I mean?

You just need to look at client relationships like a marriage…if you don’t keep them fresh, they’ll end in separation! What are we doing to bring new, fresh ideas to our clients proactively? Before they ask and BEFORE they EXPECT them? If we’re doing nothing, then there’s another suitor who’s just around the corner or uptown who will steal our client. We need to start thinking everyday in terms of our “Freshness Index”. What new ideas are we offering today or this week that’s relevant, new, breakthrough (as opposed to innovative which has now become a trite word just like integration), and unexpected. You know, like taking your spouse out to dinner just for the fun of it–not because it’s an obligation.

Why is it that great new ideas come only at the pitch and then the re-pitch to keep the business?  They should come routinely.

So I ask you:

  • How is your Freshness Index?
  • What are you doing to keep your client relationships fresh?
  • Have you given any training to your client facing teams regarding this subject?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tom Harrison, LH. D. is Chairman & CEO of Diversified Agency Services, an Omnicom Group company. He is the author of Instinct: Tapping Your Entrepreneurial DNA to Achieve Your Business Goals and his own blog entitled “Entrepreneurial Insight”

To Me These People Are Very Important In My Life – What Do You Think? By Guest Writer Ed Sugar

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

In past postings on this blog there have been discussions regarding the importance of having a personal mentor, that one person you can turn to for help and advice regarding your professional career. There have also been posts about developing your own “Board of Directors” so that you have a diverse number of mentors to solicit advice and guidance from. And most recently a discussion about maintaining a professional relationship with a person in their 20’s so that you can view the changing world through their eyes. The underlining theme is that in order to succeed professionally you need to reply on the advice and perspective of people who have a different set of skills, talents and ideas in the business world.

One of my mentors, Bruce B. has always insisted that successful people need to build a team of highly skilled professionals who they can rely on for their survival and well-being. Bruce’s “Dream Team” consists of the following:

  1. A primary care physician, who knows you by name and knows your personal medical history
  2. A lawyer you trust and you will provide some free advice over a dinner conversation as well as represent your best interests in court.
  3. A qualified CPA to handle your taxes
  4. A money manager to oversee your investments and advise you on matters relating to insurance
  5. A member of the clergy for advice on personal and moral issues.


Years ago I took Bruce’s advice and have five wonderful people (Laarni, David, Liz, Alfred and Henry) who fill those roles in my life.  They have made my life easier to deal with during those stressful times we all have to endure.

Recently I got thinking about Bruce’s team and decided that it could be expanded. Why not add a few more people, who not only make my life less stressful, but add many more intangible contributions.  Here are some of the people whose services I rely on that make my life a lot more fun and enjoyable.

  • House keeper — For the last ten years my wife and I have been fortunate to have a fantastic housekeeper in Maribel C. Every Thursday our “White Tornado” cleans up after us and our four cats. We still do the laundry and dishes, but the hours we gain from Maribel’s cleaning talents are immeasurable
  • Handyman — When it comes to D.I.Y. around our house I have “two left thumbs”. Since 2006 we have been blessed to have the services of Richard W. Three to four times a year he spends his time drilling, sawing, wiring, hammering and keeping our house in great repair. I cannot even begin to imagine the state of our abode without his services.
  • Mechanic — I am the same with auto repair as home improvements, so every 3,000 miles my car goes to Mats K. and his boys. The last thing I want is an automotive surprise on one of Los Angeles’ famous freeways.
  • House sitter — Both my wife and I frequently travel for business and leisure. On many occasions both of us will be out of town for weeks at a time. While we are out, we have Andy B. come in to collect the mail, look after the cats, water plants and give our house the “someone is living in there” look. True peace of mind when we are on the road.

There are many people who play important roles in our lives that help us succeed and prosper. I would like to know:

  • Do you agree with Bruce’s list?
  • Do you think mine are as important?
  • Who is missing from our lists?

I really look forward to hearing from you.

Music & Sports They Seem To Go Hand In Hand — By Guest Writer Ed Sugar

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

It is a custom of mine to always check the Major League Baseball schedule whenever I have an out of town business trip during baseball season. So when the 2010 schedule was released last November I made a quick check to see if Merrill’s beloved Red Sox were going to be in town during June’s Marketing Research Association’s Annual Conference. Well sure enough they were coming home the last day of the conference to play the Phillies. Thanks to my good friend JM, I was able to get two tickets for Friday night’s game and took my friend GB. GB is a big baseball fan, but this was her first visit to Fenway Park. We got there early enough to walk around Fenway twice, soaking up the pre-game buzz, sample some of the local Italian sausages and spent time in Twin 47. The game was over by the 2nd inning as the Red Sox clobbered Jamie Moyer with 9 runs, but we still had a great time enjoying the views and listening to the crowds carry on with their hard “R’s”.

Then came the middle of the 8th and I realized I had not mentioned anything to GB about Boston and “Sweet Caroline”. For those of you who do not know, at every Red Sox home game, Neil Diamond’s classic Sweet Caroline is played on the ballpark’s PA system before the bottom of the 8th inning and all the loyal Red Sox fans engage in one of the most fascinating sing-alongs known to mankind. Sensing something special, GB whipped out her camera and recorded most of the audio for her family back home.

This incidence got me thinking of the different ways music and sports are connected. As many regular readers of this blog know I have a passion for both.

At first I thought of those classic team fight songs such as “The Notre Dame Victory March” or University of Oklahoma’s “Boomer Sooner”.

Then there are walk out or entrance songs like “Enter Sandman” by Metallica which is played as Yankee ace reliever Mariano Rivera heads out to the mound or Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey”) which many athletes, like pro wrestler Ric Flair, have adopted as their entrance music.

And of course there are songs about the athletes themselves such as Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs Robinson” with its classic line “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?”, Bob Dylan’s ballad “Hurricane” or The Marroons “Lester Hayes”

I gave this some thought and came up with my three favorite sport related songs.

“Ole Ola” by Rod Stewart. Now you have to be a very big fan of “Rod the Mod” or lived in Scotland during the late 1970’s to know of this song. Though he was born in England, Rod Stewart has been one of Scotland’s biggest supporters. In 1978 before the Scots made their run for the World Cup, the shaggy–haired one released this gem. Definitely up there with his classics “Mandolin Wind”, “Maggie May” and “Gasoline Alley” in my book. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4bqACNrVqs

“D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song (Oh, Really? No, O’Malley)” by Danny Kaye. Pure genius is all I can say. This whimsical song captures Kaye’s love of the Dodgers, details the classic Koufax/Drysdale Dodger teams of the 60’s and their epic battles with their dreaded rivals from San Francisco. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7qYcyUjDPU

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” started out as a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel. In England, the song’s most successful performance was recorded in 1963 by the Liverpool natives Gerry & The Pacemakers. It quickly became the anthem of Liverpool Football Club and is invariably sung by its supporters moments before the start of each game. In fact, the words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” are included in the club’s crest! I have not attended a game at Liverpool’s home, Anfield, but in 1981 I did see them play in Brighton and was just floored as their fans sang this song in unison without any formal direction. Click here and see for yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1I_crD6Oqsw
So now it is your turn.
Do you have a favorite song associated with sports or athletes?
Are you a fan of:

  1. The Chicago Bears “Super Bowl Shuffle”
  2. “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III
  3. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”
  4. “Rock and Roll parts 1 & 2” by Gary Glitter

Do you have an old college fight song that touches your soul?

Or have a heavy metal favorite that is played as your favorite player enters the game?

I look forward to hearing what is on your hit parade.

Attention Frequent Travelers: “What Do You Think About This Flight?” By Guest Writer Janet Savoie

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010
Janet Savoie
Vice President, OSS

I have to travel a lot for work and one of my regular stops is Atlanta.  Since I am in Nashville, I can drive it, but because I do not read, write, text, dial, answer emails while driving (Merrill), I prefer to fly so I am not away from work too long during productive hours.  The problem is that one airline controls the skies between Nashville and Atlanta and the fares are beyond ridiculous for a 45 minute flight.  We are talking about as much as $600-$1000.  I always check the fares and to my surprise last time another airline popped up that was just over $200 . . . Kentucky Skies.

I checked them out on the Internet and they seemed okay.  I figured it was going to be a small plane and I wasn’t disappointed.  It was quite an experience, not bad but definitely different.  The terminal for this airline was not at the Nashville airport but just outside it in a separate building.  The good news was that there was free parking right outside the front door.  When I went in I was told to go into an office where I would be checked in.  The person checking me in, who turned out to be one of the pilots, asked me to grab my carry on and step on the scale.   I was a bit shocked but apparently on small planes they have to balance the weight.  The pilot loaded all our bags onto the plane and then we were ready to board.  There were no boarding passes or security and when we were ready the pilot called out our seat assignments . . . I was in row 2 on the right.  There were only 8 of us on the plane and the pilots were right in front of us . . . no locked cockpit and certainly no flight attendants handing out peanuts and Cokes.

The flight itself was very uneventful.  We left on time and landed on time even though it was a cloudy and rainy day.  I have to admit looking out the front windows of the plane kind of freaked me out.  There was no visibility and we flew in the middle of a big cloud the whole way.  Upon arrival at a small terminal outside the Hartsfield airport, the pilots unloaded our bags and drove us in a shuttle to Hartsfield so we could pick up our rental cars.  We followed the same procedures for the return flight.  This time however it was nighttime and very clear.  I hadn’t realized how low we were flying.  I could see lights on the ground all the way home.

Would I do it again? Not if my kids have anything to do with it.  They were horrified.  I however might consider it because of the price certainly, but more so because of how much easier it was, how nice all the people were and how calm I was after the first few minutes.  I really felt for once I was flying "the friendly skies".

  • What do you think of my experience?
  • Have you had a similar experience to mine?
  • What is the smallest plane you have ever been on?

I look forward to reading your comments.

He Is Back . . . Guest Writer Ed Sugar Has Something To Say . . .

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Last night’s game went into overtime, so Merrill asked me to cover for him today.

As I have mentioned on previous posts, I have many passions in life (baseball, English soccer, food, travel) and high on the list is music.  Growing up I was always listening to and purchasing music. 

Sometime ago, my friend (JH), who teaches elementary school and has a seventeen year old daughter, commented to me that kids today, due to the popularity of downloading individual songs (MP3 files) often have no concept of what a music album is. This statement resonated with me as I have always been one who has had a greater appreciation for a full album of recorded work and the sequence of the songs, rather than just the individual single hit song. 

I thought:

"Are we truly seeing the demise of the recorded album?"

"Will the future of music consist of nothing but a series of unrelated individual MP3 files?"

"Are we witnessing another seismic shift in the decline of western civilization?"

I am happy to report that in the past year, there has been a new trend that has eased this concern of mine. Some noted bands and performers have started playing full length albums, from beginning to end in the proper song order/sequence.  I was first aware of this in 2008, when a reunited Fairport Convention played their 1973 classic album "Leige And Lief" from beginning to end.  Early in 2009, Van Morrison toured performing his acclaimed 1971 "Astral Weeks" album.  This summer Steely Dan’s tour consisted of every night playing, from beginning to end, one of their classic albums.  I went to one their shows in Los Angeles and saw them perform the entire "Gaucho" album from 1980. 

With the demise of the album has being put on "the back burner", this trend of devoting an entire concert to one classic album got me day dreaming:

"If I could see any singer or group (past or present), what album would I like them to perform from start to finish? And what unique concert venue would this concert take place?"

I easily thought of a dozen of acts and albums that I would like to see and topping my list was:

Brian Eno and John Cale, at the Roxy Theatre (West Hollywood) performing their 1990 album "Wrong Way Up" .  This is probably my all time favorite album and seeing/hearing it performed live at the Roxy circa 1976 (when the joint had tables and seats) would be a dream come true for me. 

My runners-up were:

The Jam, at the Marquee Club (London) playing "All Mod Cons" from 1978.

Dave Edmunds and Rockpile, at a county fair, performing "Repeat When Necessary" on a flat bed truck — that would be classic.

Lee Morgan at Dante’s (LA jazz club) performing his 1963 album "The Sidewinder"

Bob Dylan and the Band, at the Santa Monica Civic, playing "Blood On The Tracks". 

So now it is your turn.  Pick a singer or band, past or present.  Put them in your favorite concert hall, club or arena. 

What album would you like to see them perform from start to finish in the exact order as they appeared on the initial release? 

  • Are you a Sinatra fan who would love to see "Ol’ Blue Eyes" perform "Songs For Swingin’ Lovers" at the Sands in Vegas?
  • How about the Beatles playing "Sgt. Peppers" at the Royal Albert Hall?
  • Or Luciano Pavarotti performing Puccini’s "La Bohème" at La Scala?
  • Would you like to see Bruce and the E Street Band play "Born To Run" at the Stone Pony (Asbury, NJ)?
  • Or Miles Davis and his classic "Birth of The Cool" at Birdland?

I look forward to reading your picks and hearing if you agree with me about the importance of music albums versus individual songs.

~ Guest Blogger Ed Sugar ~

Superstitions, OCD or Rituals by Guest Writer, Jason Miller

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Spence Bilkiss, Gene Filipi, Lance Hoffman, Drew Judge, Marisa Pope, Brad Solomon, Ted Watson and countless others have all witnessed OCD at its best, DINNER at my house with my wife, Angela Miller, as the hostess. I must admit, I am truly amazed each and every time we have dinner guests and the rituals that she has. Angela will prepare dinner, dessert (usually soufflés), all while she is vacuuming, doing dishes, washing under the feet of our guests, eating, while bathing the kids and everyone’s favorite — shaking out the rug.

She simply just can’t sit still; OCD in some form has taken over her life. Don’t get me wrong, living in the cleanest most organized house on the planet is fantastic. It is definitely better that the alternative. However, she takes it to a different level all together. Here is a list of the other "rituals" she has……

  • Cleaning the kitchen floor as the family leaves for the day — let me explain, she is on her hands and knees with a Clorox wipe cleaning her way OUT THE DOOR!
  • Stainless Steel Magic, this product is her life — when ANYONE opens the fridge, puts something into the trash can, she is right behind them with this wonder spray eliminating the finger prints
  • The refrigerator can NOT have an item missing (see picture). When a bottle of water is taken from its perfectly positioned location in its line-up it is immediately replaced with a fresh bottle from the reserve we have (approximately 3 cases on deck AT ALL TIMES) and rotated into the mix. All items in the fridge look like soldiers, all standing front facing in perfect order
  • Paper towels, now this might just be a sign of craziness. If we do not have at least 15 rolls on standby, I am ordered to the wholesale club store to stock up. You never know when you will need 5,000 feet of paper towels.
  • NOW MY FAVORITE — Shaking out of the kitchen rug. WOW, this is funny. You can ask anyone who has been to my house. Angela shakes that rug out so much that I have purchased 3 more to put in its place when it gets totally worn out. (each rug lasts about 30 days)

These are just a few examples of OCDs / Rituals that Angela has. I too have my "issues"; mine might be more superstitions or "good luck" habits. Here are a just a few………

  • Walking under ladders, I don’t do it — bad luck, superstition
  • I put cash into my wallet all facing the same direction in order of denomination, low in the front, high toward the back — I believe just an OCD
  • I say "rabbit, rabbit" as the first words out of my mouth on the first day of each month – good luck for the month (if I forget and say something else first, I am pissed at myself) , superstition
  • I never leave my keys on a table, if one does superstition says you will not have money – luck, superstition
  • When pouring a liquid out of a bottle (wine bottle, soda bottle, water pitcher, etc.) never ever ever do I pour underhanded into my glass.  Actually, if I am at a restaurant or out anywhere and someone pours into my glass and they start to pour underhanded, I stop them and have them pour over handed — bad luck, superstition
  • I am a big proponent of coins that face up. For example:
    • All of the change in my car’s change holder is heads-up. Guaranteed – definite OCD
    • When I see a coin on the ground, if I choose to pick it up, it must be heads-up. If it’s not, I’ll flip it over first to make it head’s up — good luck and OCD all in one
  • When watching the Red Sox in regular season at home, I always sit in the same seat, right in the middle of the couch. Now, when I watch them in the post season from home, always far left in the first spot. — superstition, thanks to my father

Now that I have shared some of our superstitions, OCDs and rituals — I would love to hear some of yours.

  • Do you have any superstitions that I can add to my life,
  • Any good luck rituals that can take over my daily routines?

I look forward to hearing your comments.

Thanks for reading!
Jason R. Miller


Jason R. Miller, PRC (Vice President, Performance Plus – GroupNet Boston)

Jason has been with Performance Plus since September of 1992. Jason went to Framingham State College seeking a degree in English when he took a part time job as a telephone recruiter and like many others in Market Research fell into this field. Since taking that job, he has moved up the ranks from phone recruiter to interviewer to assistant front desk then off to an assistant project manager. Jason then worked as a Project Manager until 2000 when he moved into his current role.

Performance Plus has been a member of GroupNet for 15 years and Jason has been actively been involved with the network of 20 independent focus group facilities for the past 8 years. Currently sitting on the Board of Directors for GroupNet as a Director-at-large (the first non owner to do such) and is the Chairperson of Marketing Events.

Jason will be married 10 years this January to his "High-School Sweetheart" Angela Miller, who is featured in this article. They have two beautiful girls, Zoe 8 and Bella (Isabella) who is 6.

Attention To Detail By Guest Writer Lisa Goin

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Lisa GoinWhen I was asked to be a guest blogger, I was torn on the subject of my entry:

Should it be related to:

  • What I do as a creative director
  • My experience as a working mother with 2 1/2-year-old twin girls.
  • What I’ve done to combat the effects of the economy on my families grocery bill. My quest for coupons and the satisfaction felt in saving $108.00 in one grocery-shopping trip.
  • My self-admitted obsession with reality TV. I have no shame in indulging in hours of Project Runway, Shear Genius or Biggest Loser and American Idol.

Even with all these, true inspiration still eluded me. As each day went by, none of these topics were inspiring me to run to the computer to tap finger to key.

And then it happened. The 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies. I know what you are thinking: Not another discussion about politics and the Olympics. Nope. It wasn’t the amazing history of the Olympics either. Or the incredible athleticism and dedication of all the athletes. It was the creativity that got me off the couch, leaving my family, still watching in awe.

Zhang Yimou considers one detail, then manyIt was the unbelievable attention to detail when it came to the vision and creativity that went into the conception, planning, and execution of this massive production. I was captivated by the details in the story it told and how it all unfolded and the transitions it made between all artistic forms: performance art, choreography, costume, colors/lighting, timing, music, illustration, technology, martial arts etc. It was awe-inspiring, and just the thing that made me jump up off the couch and run to the computer to blog about it.

Attention to detail is something I’m familiar with in my day-to-day passion for the work that I do. I feel it is one thing to be creative, but it is a whole other thing to be creative and also put the crucial, and in some cases tiny, details and thoughts into an already solid creative concept. This, is where the magic happens. And in the case of the production in Beijing, it was inspiring.

My favorite part was when the dancers started to draw on that big screen as they performed, and how that drawing then was enhanced when the children added their emotion to it. I particularly enjoyed how the athletes walked across enormous sized ink pads and their footsteps added color and motion to the entire piece of art… it involved many, in creating this piece of art. The thought and detail in that one snippet alone of the production was a really amazing work of art. One that the entire world witnessed being created — in real time. This is what I think art is all about.

  • What do you think of this production from a creative perspective?
  • What "detail" was your favorite part?
  • What "detail" was your least favorite part?
  • Do you have any secrets or best practices that you use to be detail oriented?

I look forward to reading your comments.

Chime in.


About Lisa Goin, Creative Director at AvreaFoster

As Creative Director, Lisa draws on nearly 20 years of advertising/design experience to help continually raise the bar on the creative work produced for her clients. Lisa works on many accounts, in industries ranging from technology to healthcare. This wife and proud mother of twins enjoys “jumping in and problem-solving.” She holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from Kansas City Art Institute.

Bird's Nest

Attention Researchers: Let’s Make Research Fun — By Guest Writer Peter Van Brunt

Monday, July 21st, 2008

[Note: While this article focuses primarily on quantitative research, the basic points also apply to qualitative research]

Whenever anyone talks to me about Respondent Cooperation, I invariably tell them that we should place more emphasis on Respondent Satisfaction. I say this because I believe that if we continue to focus on the former and ignore the latter, we risk losing our audience (our respondents).

Let’s face it: completing the average survey is about as exciting as filling out a loan application. Most surveys are visually unappealing and unexciting.

Respondent Cooperation rates have dropped for a number of reasons, but a major one is that completing a survey is too much like taking a test… not an experience most enjoy. Sure, there are other factors affecting Respondent Cooperation, but we tend to ignore that participating in most surveys is just not much fun.

This is primarily the result of a lack of imagination and creativity.

The lack of imagination and creativity in the research process is the result of numerous factors. I will pinpoint a few:

  1. Most researchers are nerds. After all, who but a nerd enjoys studying human opinions and behavior? The clinical approach we take in our work may get us the answers we are looking for, but uses a process and techniques that simply aren’t very entertaining.
  2. We write/ask questions in an unbiased manner which will get the answers required, not in ways which will amuse or engage the respondents.
  3. We tend to hire only researchers–not creative people–to assist us.
  4. We are too often restricted by budgets and timelines which prevent us from doing something “different.”
  5. We are creatures of habit. Most research companies have a style, and have developed a catalog of standard questions. It is very easy to throw together a survey from an inventory of questions which aren’t very interesting.

Let’s look at some methodologies.

Phone. Telephone research is effectively on its deathbed. Participating in a survey over the phone is as exciting as listening to a talk radio show in a language you don’t understand. Interviewers ask questions in an unbiased manner and don’t emphasize words or use intonation which will bias a response. Phone surveys are thus not very engaging, which in turn contributes to low cooperation rates.

Phone surveys are also frequently way too long. We live in the age of sound bites and text messaging (limited to 160 characters), not in an age of 20-30 minute questionnaires. As a result, phone research is dying , and will probably never work again as a great method for research.

Paper. Paper surveys all too often are really like a test with all the baggage and negative feeling attached. Paper surveys are, for the most part, badly designed, poorly laid out, and are usually printed in black ink on white paper. Talk about DULL! What’s the problem with using color or incorporating graphics? We should at least attempt to engage people.

Online. This is the medium with the most potential to engage respondents. Unfortunately most online surveys are too much like paper. They simply are not very engaging. This is because the tools used to program the surveys were developed to meet the needs of the researchers not amuse the respondents. What we have to keep in mind is that while we don’t currently have tools that let us design entertaining and fun surveys, these features certainly can be incorporated into existing software. All we have to do is ask for it. Any technique that you see being used on a Web page or an online advertisement could be incorporated into a Web survey. We need to make better use of movement, sound and color. It is time to start thinking of an online survey more like a good Powerpoint presentation.

The Bottom Line.

Researchers need to hire some/more creative people to assist them, and we need to start to make surveys more fun. Otherwise, we stand the risk of having no participants.

Those are a few of my thoughts.

  • Do you agree with me?
  • What are your thoughts?

I look forward to hearing from you!


Peter Van Brunt, PRC

Mr. Van Brunt has been involved with doing quantitative marketing research since 1974. In 1982 he started his own research company, ReData, Inc. Over the years, Mr. Van Brunt has been an active volunteer in the Marketing Research Association. He was one of the founding members of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the MRA, served as the second Chapter President, and remained active on the Chapter Board for a number of years. At the National level, he has served on numerous Councils, Committees, and Task Forces. He served on the National Board of Directors as a Director at Large, and was elected national President of the Marketing Research Association for the year 2002-2003. He was instrumental in MRA starting Professional Research Certification, and he currently chairs the Review Committee for Researcher Certification. He is PRC certified at the Expert Level. In 2006 he was presented with MRA’s Honorary Lifetime Membership Award.

He holds a BS in Mathematics from Bucknell University.

Guest Writer Steve Schlesinger…The Time For Giving Something Back Might Be Right Now

Monday, July 7th, 2008

I can still remember the dinner conversations growing up and my father instilling the message into our heads. You need to give back to your community. It is not only about your money, it is also about your time and your commitment. Devote at least 10% of your yearly income and more important, devote at least that amount or more of your time. He lived these thoughts and truly believed in acts of charity and kindness. I can still hear his message echoing in my head.

A little over a month ago, I had my first experience in a charity race. Although I have participated in many charity events, this was my first actual race to raise money for a charity. It was a regional 5K Race for the Cure for Susan G. Komen. I have to tell you that it was one of the most moving charitable opportunities that I have been a part of. To be in a pack with over 7,000 people, who all shared the same goal of raising money for a very worthy cause was very powerful. To see the energy and commitment that went into organizing this event was incredible. To see the camaraderie of the survivors and hear their stories was unbelievably moving. To add to this, I was able to share this event with my 2 kids, who ran with me.

Here are some of the details of the race. Yes, I finished it and just under 30 minutes. I ran a good portion of the race shoulder to shoulder with Governor Jon Corzine (NJ), passing him with about 1 mile to go. I did beat my two kids — barely. The event rose over $1,000,000 — incredible indeed. I was really touched by all the friends and family who donated on my behalf. The amazing thing was the number of people who donated, not so much the amount they donated. I so appreciated this support.

As a family, we have done many charitable events together — Relay for Life (American Cancer Society), working in soup kitchens, park clean-ups, etc. As they become adults, I hope my two kids have that same message echoing in their heads just like I do. And with a little luck they will instill that same feeling to their children.

As I continue to instill this message to my kids, I am looking for other types of charitable experiences.

  • Please share some of your experiences and what they have meant to you.
  • Should we in the marketing research industry, specifically MRA, find a worthy charitable cause to raise money for?
  • Corporate charitable giving is also a passion of mine — are there any interesting corporate charity events that you have participated in and what were those experiences like for those that participated?

Merrill, thanks for allowing me to guest blog and I look forward to the comments.


Steve Schlesinger is CEO of Schlesinger Associates, a global data collection company specializing in qualitative research, with 14 offices in the US and 2 in the UK. He has also served for the past 7 years on the board of the MRA, currently serving as the secretary. He is an active member of AMA, CASRO, CMOR, ESOMAR and PMRG. He also serves on the board of trustees of the Overlook Hospital Foundation.