Client Point of View--With Bill Tanner

September 28, 2007

What is your most memorable research project you have ever worked on?

I was in Hangzhou China, in January, many years ago, doing parent- child dyads in a school with a TV monitor set up. A window was broken in the observation room, a cold winter wind blowing into the room. We were bundled up as best we could but it was impossible to stay warm. The monitor flickered and there was a military training event going on outside making it hard to hear. I asked that we move to the hotel the next day where we set up in an empty dining room. Unfortunately, the next day's sessions at the hotel were stilted. Parents did not open up as much as they had in earlier sessions. It turned out that the hotel once was a major Communist Party Leadership hangout and still a place often visited by the hierarchy, so the next day, it was back to school. Fortunately, the window and monitor were repaired.

How would you categorize the state of online research?

We may kill the golden goose. The ability to do a wide variety of online research quickly at low cost is a tremendous advantage. However, I and many others are concerned that progress has been made at the expense of respondent quality and co-operation. The number, quality and style [repetitive, uninteresting, etc.] of online surveys is creating a growing problem. Alas, I am just as guilty as the next researcher but am on the 10 step program to better, shorter studies.

Is Ethnography playing a bigger role in your research plans? If so, how?

We have done ethnographic studies and learned a great deal from them. A study we did several years ago showed that young adults were forming social networks using the technology available at the time. It helped us realize the potential for online social networking tools.

Whether we use ethnography more depends on the business problems we need to solve. That said, basic observation of consumer behavior is something we will continue.

What do you think is the greatest need in the market research industry?

Researchers on an aggressive personal growth trajectory. Researchers that are committed to professional development have genuine intellectual curiosity, the desire to lead and who are dissatisfied with the status quo. There is as much opportunity to raise research ROI by including an understanding of business issues, creative solutions that go beyond the research at the project back end as there is by smart design at the front end. Researchers add value when they develop better solutions than clients can develop for themselves.

What type of research are you most frustrated with regarding it's ROI?

If a method fits the problem, it can deliver good ROI. My frustration is with weak research application and execution e.g. questions people cannot answer or that include an inherent bias [e.g. "What type of advertising first made you aware of this product?", etc.], research that is so tedious or cognitively overwhelming that it begs respondents to check any box or quit, 'lazy' analysis of results which contribute facts but no insight or solutions, use of inappropriate techniques, etc.

How would you characterize the quality of the deliverables in 2007 vs. previous years?

New plateau. In my business, quality has generally improved but it is still not where it should be.

From your standpoint what is the hottest trend in market research?

Neuroscience, hot but useful? There is a great deal of new learning about how people think and why they think that way. Some of it obvious and accessible at lower cost through other methods but some of it revealing. Some good sources: Any book by Robert M. Sapolsky of Stanford and the blog Neuromarketing [ ]

Other interesting trends include advances in data mining, new developments in tradeoff analysis, more interesting ways of asking questions online, and hopefully a return to getting the basics right. We live in exciting times.

What research conferences do you think you will you be attending in 2008?

None. While I value research conferences, I have been attending conferences that leverage research but are not labeled research such as OMMA [Online Media & Marketing Association.] It is a good way to learn something different.

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