Best Market Research Articles of 2013: Third in a Series of 10

[Research Rockstar interns have written synopses of 2013’s best market research articles, as selected by Kathryn Korostoff. This is the third in our series. This synopsis was written by Research Rockstar intern, Audra Kohler.]

Article: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Originally published in: research.

July 30, 2013

Rob Egerton and Jeanette Kaye

Have you ever bought something because all of your friends had it?  While we may be loath to admit it, our actions are swayed by friends, groups, and the public. Perhaps even more so than what we realize.  Because of this reality, the authors of “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” argue that market researchers need to go beyond the individual to truly understand consumer behaviors.  The authors state that two particular theories should be used more in research to explore the dynamics of influence.

Wisdom of Crowds for Market Research

The author’s first cited theory, wisdom of crowds, was the theme of a popular 2004 book of the same title by James Surowiecki.  The basic premise is that group decision-making or estimation is more accurate than individual decision making.  An example: a group would be more accurate at estimating the number of candy corn in a jar at your annual Halloween get-together, rather than each individual guesstimating separately.  Another researcher, Martin Boon, took this conclusion one step further.

This is where the meat and potatoes lie in this article.  Boon reworks this theory to predict elections.  Based on his research with actual election results, he concludes that averaging a randomly selected sample’s guesses is more accurate than traditional polling methods.  The use of the wisdom of crowd’s theory had two clear distinctions:

  • Individuals were not asked how they were going to vote.  The sample was asked how they thought others would vote.
  • Previous election results were provided to each respondent, which provided a useful context.

Overall, this method proved to be more accurate than traditional polling.

The Theory of Group Behavior for Market Research

In his book “I’ll have What She’s Having,” Mark Earls makes the claim that in determining decisions, the influence of other people is more significant than the actual individual decision maker.  But if you think about it, as market researchers, we are great at knowing the individual and their thought process.  Rarely do we research how individuals behave in a group and how they are influenced by that group.

According to Egerton and Kaye, “…recent behaviors to which we can all relate point to how individuals can be encouraged into actions not by their own assessment of what they should do next, but by the actions of those around them.”  In Earls’ book, he cites the London riots of 2012, laying flowers at traffic accidents or at significant events as examples of group dynamics.

A Powerful Combination for Market Research

By integrating lessons from these two powerful theories, the authors create key market research lessons:

  • Acknowledge.  Realize that there are limitations to looking at only an individual’s behavior.  Behavior of the individual is influenced by group dynamics, the authors argue.
  • Explore.  Although this is difficult, the authors encourage beginning to map out how others influence an individual.
  • Categorize.  Egerton and Kaye cite a TED talk by Dereck Sivers, which gave a high importance to breaking down the behavior of early adopters versus followers. This is one way to start categorizing consumer behaviors by group.



Best Market Research Articles of 2013: Second in a Series of 10

Rateocracy[Research Rockstar interns have written synopses of 2013’s best market research articles, as selected by Kathryn Korostoff. This is the second in our series. This synopsis was written by Research Rockstar intern Audra Kohler. Yes, technically this is a 2012 article, but we confess—we missed it until 2013!]


Rateocracy and its Impact on Market Research
RW Connect November 1, 2012
Robert Moran

Welcome to rateocracy, a world of public and nonstop rate-streams.  In this article, Robert Moran discusses the transition from traditional customer satisfaction as “proprietary and periodic” to the notion of rateocracy.

Think about eBay, Amazon, and Angie’s List—all public, continuous sources of ratings.  Moran cites a survey conducted by FTI Consulting which found that over 50% of respondents give a “great deal of consideration to online reviews from other consumers on sites…”  While such self-perception data is never perfect, it is safe to say that a high amount of people rely on ratings in order to help with purchase decisions.

The author describes three factors that will lead to an increase usage in rateocracy.  He describes an increase in the ratings culture, a “middleware” system, and the creation of an open and universal ratings system will drive society to rateocracy.

No matter how our society develops rateocracy, there are major implications for market research:

  • Rateocracy will speed the rate of the consumer feedback cycle.  This will happen both after an initial product launch and over the course of a product’s life cycle.
  • Quarterly tracking studies will become archaic.  On the other hand, the demand for analytics will skyrocket.
  • It will also increase demand on ad hoc research.  This is in part due to the increase in real-time information.
  • The focus will be on the “elite purchase influencers.”  This segment holds strong online reputations with the widest reach.  These market mavens are critical to any analytical study.
  • Platforms may change due to the increase in ratings.  Platforms such as eBay, Amazon and Angie’s List may offer a free level of analytics now, but continue to charge for advanced analytical tools.

Moran sums it up best, “rateocracy will accelerate the existing trends in market research toward tighter feedback loops, social media listening and big data.”

Buckle up.

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Market Research Strategies: Summertime Activity for Survey Writers

With the summer season upon us, along comes a most welcomed relief for many market research project managers. The workload slows and creates a great opportunity to take care of some market research housekeeping. For survey writers, one of the best uses of slow time is to spend it creating (or updating) standard survey templates for use year-round.

Without the normal crush of deadlines, market researchers can create templates with these goals in mind:

  1. Set standards.  Use this time to think carefully about how you want to standardize specific question types, along with formatting and scaling options.
  2. Get approvals. Get approval from those colleagues or managers who will be involved in year-round research efforts. Explain you are constructing standard templates and want their input during the slow season—this will help everyone come crunch time.

For those newer to research, you will find that there are three common survey templates that come in handy.  A few examples of question types are included below, but there are many options—so be sure to look at several examples before you craft your templates.

Survey Template #1: Customer Satisfaction Research

A simple satisfaction survey would consist of four or five questions to gauge satisfaction and loyalty. Of course, the type of customer satisfaction and loyalty questions depends on whether you’re selling business-to-business or business-to-consumer, whether you’re selling services or products and so forth. In general, you’re going to want an overall gauge of satisfaction, which commonly uses a five-or seven-point Likert scale question. Add a few follow-up questions about satisfaction relating to the specific aspects of your products or services, as relevant, such as customer service, product’s ease of use, and possibly aesthetics.

As an example of how this might need to be modified for different product categories, let’s consider a snack product company. For this case, satisfaction measures might focus on the variety of flavors offered, response to specific flavors, and package size.

Survey Template #2: Website Feedback

If your organization interacts with customers on its website, it’s good to have a standard template for collecting website feedback. This could be used on either a transaction or a rotation basis (so that customers see it on every 10 or 20 visits), or maybe it’s something you will use once a quarter.

Common questions collect feedback on overall attractiveness, distinctiveness, and ease of use. So answer options might use a scale of “very mundane” to “very exciting”; or maybe a range from “amateurish” to “very professional”; or perhaps, “not at all easy to use” to “very easy to use”.

Other key questions may include:

  • “Were you able to find the information you were looking for on our website?”
  • “How likely are you to visit this web site again in the next 30 days?” (or whatever timeframe would make sense for your particular category).

Survey Template #3: Customer Service Transaction

You may want to have a survey that’s triggered every time someone completes a support call or other type of customer service transaction with your organization. This could be done through a call center, email, or even through a social media interaction such as on a Facebook fan page or via Twitter.

Typical questions ask about:

  • How quickly they got a response, which gives you an objective assessment of whether or not it was timely
  • Their satisfaction with the timeliness of the response
  • Their satisfaction with the quality of the response

Moreover, also use it as an opportunity to make sure that the matter was completed successfully so that you can create a red flag if necessary

Market Research Planning

In my town, the Department of Public Works knows that we’re going to get a lot of snow each winter, and you can be sure that for the couple of months before winter comes, they’re stockpiling salt and sand for the roads. They’re using that relatively slow period before crunch time hits to make sure they’re prepared.

Well, it’s the same thing for survey writing. Let’s take advantage of this slow time to make sure that we have everything we’re going to need before the next crunch time hits — as it inevitably does.


Click here to check out Research Rockstar’s full line of Online Market Research Training Classes.


Customer Satisfaction Survey Results: Jumping To Conclusions

Satisfied or Not???

If you are tracking customer satisfaction at regular intervals, say quarterly or monthly, you may have found that your colleagues want explanations for every increase or decrease in scores—even minor ones. Do the latest results show slight customer satisfaction improvement? If so, they want to know why. If the latest results show a down trend, they want to know why.

In some organizations, I find that people are quick to congratulate themselves on improvements, but willing to dismiss declines as possible “blips.” In other organizations, the culture seems to predisposition people to just the opposite: caution regarding positive news, and anguish to bad.

If you are new to managing such projects, here are some ways to handle those prone to such extremes:

  • Remind them that you are tracking a trend. Especially during the first few measurement periods, we have to be cautious about drawing any hard conclusions. It may take a few measurements before you know what kind of “blip” is noise, versus a true increase or decrease.
  • Be sure you are aware of contextual phenomenon. Minor fluctuations are often found to be due to things such as awareness of recent stock price performance changes, temporary events (recent marketing campaign halo effect), competitor news, and organizational changes. In some organizations, satisfaction scores can even be seasonal!
  • Offer follow-up interviews. In-depth interviews (IDIs) with a subset of survey participants can be a great way to explore hypotheses you and your colleagues may have about certain results.


Customer Satisfaction Surveys That Don’t Satisfy

Ultimately, if you find it hard to manage how colleagues interpret customer satisfaction research results, it may be a clue that the survey design needs improvement. Does it include one or two open-ended questions to capture unscripted customer feedback? Does it capture specific types of customer experiences so you can see how they predict satisfaction levels? Are you capturing both satisfaction attitudes and loyalty behaviors?

We know that customer satisfaction is important, but we also know there is no one-size-fits-all approach.   Different researchers approach it differently which is appropriate—companies in different industries, with different types of client bases, do need different approaches.


Is That a Blip In Our Data, Or Are They Really Happy to See Us?

If you are new to measuring customer satisfaction, it is important to design the survey with an eye towards what types of data your internal audience will find most useful—and to be prepared to address the inevitable questions about upward or downward shifts. Whenever possible, do work with a market research professional experienced in measuring satisfaction in different industries—they will be able to advise you on how to design the survey and interpret the results.


Planning to hire a market research agency? Check out our online class on how to do it.


Online Survey Design: No Free Dinner

Imagine it’s Friday evening. You’ve been scrambling all week, and you’ve decided to unwind with a nice dinner out. The fellow at the desk next to yours has been raving about this new bistro in town—the best steak, perfect wine, and dessert to die for. So you decide to treat yourself, and…

The hostess is rude, the salad limp, the wine warm and the steak unrecognizable. What are the chances you’ll be going back there again? How likely are you to take future restaurant tips from the guy who set you up? Might you even tell a few friends about your horrid experience?

Yes, this has something to do with market research. Or, to be precise, surveys. When bad surveys are circulated, the company that sent them out becomes less trusted. The “consumer” becomes an unhappy customer, and may even tell others about their bad experience—with surveys in general or with the specific company.


Anybody who’s had a bad survey experience is likely to have a tainted perception of the process, and that can come out in a number of ways:

  1. Participation: They may be less likely to take surveys in the future.
  2. Attitude: They might spread negative word of mouth about the company that sent the survey or about market research as a whole.
  3. Skepticism: They may be skeptical the next time they see market research results.
  4. Investment. If they are business professionals, they may be less supportive of their organization’s investments in market research because they just don’t trust the process.


As good citizens of the market research community, we have an obligation to make sure the questionnaires our organizations are distributing are impeccable. Even those coming from the well-intentioned but usually untrained DIYers. The challenge for many managers is the huge number of colleagues now using low-cost tools for creating surveys. An opportunity, yes. But without proper training and oversight, the chance of creating a bad survey is greater than ever. Here are some low-cost options to help avoid that:

  • Examples – Provide a template library of commonly used, approved questions. Demographic questions at minimum, so that your colleagues will be collecting consistent profiling information but avoiding questions that may be too intrusive, or too vague to be useful.
  • References – There are some great books out there. The “Handbook of Marketing Scales” by Bearden, Netemeyer and Haws (Sage Publications, 2011) is one favorite. A little technical, but absolutely readable to anyone willing to make an effort.
  • Quality Assurance – Appoint one or two people as the Survey Q&A Reviewers, and give them the responsibility (and authority) of sanity-checking any surveys before going live (especially those being sent to your valued customers). Make sure this role is publicized and endorsed by managers.
  • Keep it simple – There are a lot of tools out there, and while it might seem counterintuitive, sometimes you’re better off limiting the choices. Instead of many different question types, limit it to a handful (say, multiple and single choice, and Likert scales) to keep the surveys manageable, and therefore less prone to design abuse.
  • Training – Basic skills are important. Start with new employee orientation materials and train your workforce. I’m a little biased here since Research Rockstar is an online training company, but there are also others that offer seminars and webinars, including the MRA, Burke Institute and ESOMAR.


Survey quality is important to those who create them, those who take them and those who depend on their results. It’s in everyone’s best interest to assure that what the public sees reflects the quality and professionalism of the market research industry. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, having a few good policies is a great place to start. And it might just earn you a nice dinner out come Friday, too.

[Planning to write a questionnaire? Check out a preview of Research Rockstar's questionnaire design process class.]