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Do You Love A Good Cigar? I Do! — By Lynn Stalone, Guest Writer

Monday, May 12th, 2008

One of my favorite things as a kid was to sit out with the "dads" while they smoked cigars and pipes, talked politics and sports, and drank whatever it was at the time. Sure, there was a lot of bluster, competition and boasting, but that’s part of the charm of the guys and, frankly, I was in awe of them with their European cars, high-powered careers and wry senses of humor. It was fascinating to listen to and cigars just solidified the mystique.

So, I’ve always loved the smell of a great cigar and the great memories associated with it. And, after all these years, I still sit out with my dad and the guys and soak up the cigar smoke, although now I get to partake in some great grappa, scotch, or whatever is on the agenda.

About a year ago, I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a long-time news writer for USA Today, Bill Welsh. Bill joined my husband’s band of merry men on their pilgrimage to Sturgis, South Dakota for the annual Harley Davidson week, and he’s become a great friend since then. Bill is a man of the world. He’s seen it all and written about it, often on the front page. He loves southern blues music, any and every bar, and can wring an interesting story out of just about anyone — he’s a true master at work. But, more than anything, Bill loves his cigars. And, he always has great ones — Davidoff, Padron and numerous others.

At a recent dinner party, the guys headed outside to smoke (with me tagging along) and Bill turned to me and said, "You know, it’s a shame more women don’t smoke cigars." I’d always been tempted, but I just wasn’t sure (being someone who had never even smoked a cigarette). I felt I was satisfied to live vicariously through the guys, but I figured what the heck. I was in.

As with anything, there is a dramatically different camaraderie when you’re actually participating versus just observing. And, I have to say, it was great. I have a truly new appreciation for cigars and, I suppose, a new vice.

So, here’s my question…

  • What’s your favorite cigar and your beverage of choice to smoke it with?
  • Do you prefer something more robust, or smoother and more subtle?
  • Do you have an occasion where you had a truly incredible, one-of-a-kind cigar?

I look forward to hearing from you and your reading your comments.


Lynn Stalone is a partner with IHR Research Group and Restaurant Research Associates. Prior to being named partner in 1989, she was a senior analyst with the firm. She has extensive research experience in all facets of the foodservice and hospitality industries, though currently focuses her efforts on the company’s phone center operations.

Lynn attended California State University, Fullerton under a double major of Biology and Marketing. She is currently involved with National Charity League and strongly committed to charitable causes supported by this group. Lynn is also involved in several committees for MRA and is immediate past president of the Southern California Chapter of MRA.

Attention Researchers: Would You Touch this Election with a 10 Foot Poll? by Steve Runfeldt, Guest Writer

Friday, February 15th, 2008

"If enough of us refuse to answer, the polling data will become so unrepresentative and unreliable even the media would have to admit it was useless." — Ariana Huffington on her blog, The Huffington Post shortly after the New Hampshire Democratic Primary.

On January 8, Hillary Clinton won that race by 2 points, a 10 point shift from what most polls had predicted. Watch any news program today and you are likely to hear a political pundit deriding the validity and reliability of political polls, and by extension, surveys.

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, wrote a column in the NY Times, titled "Getting It Wrong", saying, "All the published polls, including those that surveyed through Monday, had Senator Barack Obama comfortably ahead with an average margin of more than 8 percent." To his credit, Kohut defends the overall reliability of polling methodology and suggests factors for further study.

Some of the factors that have been suggested include:

Sampling problems — Some have suggested that certain demographic segments of the voting population are underrepresented because they do not cooperate with pollsters, suggesting that these people tend to be lower income, less well educated and more racially biased.

Media interpretation and bias — Some have suggested that the poll results were in fact accurate, but that the media is poorly educated in how to read and interpret poll results.

Racial bias — Some have suggested that many white voters are more liberal when speaking to pollsters than they are when alone in the voting booth. Would online polls be more representative?

Gender bias — Some have suggested that women would not want to seem biased toward Hillary Clinton, or men might be embarrassed to admit that they were going to vote for a woman, so their actual votes would be underrepresented.

Voting machine error — Some bloggers believe that the polls were correct, but that the voting machines were in error.

Bias in political polling — Much of the public opinion simply does not trust political polls. Certainly push polling and other disreputable practices further this distrust. I once was asked to help a local campaign with a poll when one activist suggested, "Why don’t we just tell them we took a poll. Who would know?" I had to tell her, "I would know."

So, what do you think was going on in New Hampshire?

And what do you do in commercial market research, when the actual results differ significantly from what you or the client expected? Do you challenge your results, or the expectations? Have you ever encountered a client who just did not trust surveys?

Looking forward to your responses.


P.S. The CNN/ UNH poll (http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/05/top10.pdf ) predicted a tie +/- 5%. The actual difference was 2 points. Maybe not all of the polls were entirely wrong.


Steve Runfeldt (Senior Account Executive for Quantitative Research) came to Schwartz Consulting Partners in September 2007 with a total of 27 years of research experience. His expertise is in innovative research design, statistics and analysis. He has a BA degree in Psychology and Anthropology from Brandeis University, graduate work in Behavioral Sciences, Genetics and Neurobiology at The Rockefeller University and Comparative Psychology at Georgia State University. Steve has worked as project manager, statistician and director of Internet research at Elrick & Lavidge (now TNS), principal and VP of Research at Customer Sat.com and founder and CEO of Justaskthem.com.

Steve is recognized as a pioneer and innovator in the field of Internet survey research, having introduced some of the first methods for online sample control, real time online reporting and customer relationship management. As head of justASKthem.com he designed and managed one of the first online customer satisfaction management systems which enabled AT&T WorldNet to become the industry leader in customer service satisfaction. Other clients with whom Steve has worked include AMD, American Century, Cover Girl, Pac Bell, Price Waterhouse, Procter and Gamble, Roper Starch, SBC, Siemens, the U.S. Navy, the World Bank, and others.

In 2005 Steve developed a new method using Flash technology that allows websites to collect consumer feedback through a short 3 question inline feedback application. When installed on a web shopping cart this method has achieved as high as a 70% response rate.

As a member of the Marketing Research Association Internet Ethics Task Force, Steve helped to write the association’s Internet market research survey guidelines. He has been a keynote speaker, panel moderator and workshop presenter for groups such as the Marketing Research Association, Emory School of Business, University of Georgia Marketing Research Program, the Institute for International Research and the International Quality and Productivity Center.

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.

Attention Music Lovers: Who Is The Greatest Guitarist Of All Time…….Written By Guest Writer Ed Sugar

Friday, November 9th, 2007

Guitar Heroes

Merrill got stuck in an airport last night and asked me to cover for him today.

Today’s subject is one that is near and dear to me and one that the Merrill Dubrow Blog has not touched enough on: music.

I love music; all kinds; classical, country, jazz, rock, blues, punk, house, gospel, blue grass, rap, reggae and opera. Before my career in marketing research, I spent two fast and furious years in the retail music industry. My wife, Marion, and I have close to 2,000 CDS in our house and I never leave home without my MP3 player or the car CD player loaded with discs. A day does not pass without music in my life.

I have been asked numerous times what my favorite instrument is. Hands down it is the guitar (piano, saxophone and Hammond organ follow in order). In the proper hands, a guitar can produce sounds ranging from a butterfly fluttering in the wind to that of two high-speed trains crashing head on. The guitar has been the weapon of revolutions, the flame that ignites romances and recently the inspiration for a popular computer game. In any genre of music, when it is the guitarist’s turn for a solo, the audience/listener senses that a leader, a rebel, a genius and a master is taking over.

So who’s the greatest guitarist ever?

  1. Duane Allman
  2. Chet Akins
  3. Eric Clapton
  4. Paco De Lucia
  5. Jerry Garcia
  6. David Gilmour
  7. Kirk Hammett
  8. Jimi Hendrix
  9. B.B. King
  10. Wes Montgomery
  11. Jimmy Page
  12. Joe Pass
  13. Andres Segovia
  14. Slash
  15. Pete Townshend
  16. Eddie Van Halen
  17. Stevie Ray Vaughn

I would have to say Jimi Hendrix. In a brief period (1967-1970), no musician has had such a profound impact on both a genre of music and the instrument he played. No one before him had played the guitar like he did and everyone after him has interpreted, copied and improvised his style and techniques.

Here is short list of other favorites of mine:

Rory Gallagher – Irish rock/blues guitarist, whose talents for bending metal produced a great raw sound.

John McLaughlin – Whether it is rock (the Mahavishnu Orchestra) straight ahead jazz or traditional Indian music (Shakti), there is no one faster running his fingers up and down the frets.

Tal Farlow – My favorite jazz guitarist. One of the best cool/bop jazz guitarist ever. The amazing thing is he did not take up the guitar until he was 21!

Ry Cooder – Best known for the CD and movie “Buena Vista Social Club”, Ry is considered by many to be the best bottleneck guitarist around. I especially like his early recordings that cover an incredible eclectic range of North American musical styles, including rock & roll, blues, reggae, Tex-Mex, Hawaiian, Dixieland jazz, country, folk, R&B, gospel, and vaudeville.

Richard Thompson – For years I thought of him as just a great singer and songwriter, until I saw him at UCLA in 2005. Just like John McLaughlin, he is a master of both the acoustic and electric guitar.

Duane Allman
Eric Clapton
Jimi Hendrix
Andres Segovia
B.B. King
Ry Cooder
  • Who are your favorite guitarists?
  • Who is the best ever?
  • Who have I not mentioned or slighted?

I look forward to your comments.


About Ed Sugar:

Ed Sugar Vice President, On-Line Communication

Ed brings over 15 years of experience and knowledge within the market research industry. His expertise includes data collection (mail, telephone and on-line studies) and data processing (coding, tabulations and customized reporting tools) for consumer, business to business, healthcare, entertainment, travel and tourism, automotive and customer satisfaction studies.

Ed is currently the Vice Chair of the Marketing Research Association’s Business Services Workgroup and Director Program/Events for the Southern California Chapter of the MRA. In recent years, he has served as Chair of the MRA’s Program Committee, Chairman of the American Marketing Association‘s Ethics Committee, President of the Southern California Chapter of the AMA and on the Board of Directors for the Travel and Tourism Research Association. In 1994 he was the recipient of the AMA Special Merit Award and the Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter of the AMA’s “12th Man Award”. In 2000 he received TTRA’s President’s Award and in 2003 was presented the MRA’s Award of Excellence. As a part of the MRA’s 50th Anniversary, he was honored as one of the association’s 22 “Industry Leaders.” He has previously presented at MRA’s Annual and Fall Conferences, as well as regional programs for the MRA Florida, Mid-Atlantic, Southern California Chapters, the Southern California Chapter of the AMA and the TTRA Annual Conference.

Ed lives in Sylmar, California where he enjoys baseball (big Dodger fan), jogging, dinning, collecting CDs and spending time with his wife, Marion, and their four cats.