Archive for February, 2014

3 Keys to Balancing Technology With Traditional Qualitative Research

February 28th, 2014 Comments off

qual-onlineThe use of technology and social media in qualitative research over the past few years has undoubtedly been a welcome addition to the researcher’s toolbox.  Indeed, we’re a huge proponent and regularly incorporate such methods into our projects. However, it’s crucial to not let the buzz over technology and social media overshadow the need for solid research design, or to diminish the value that can be gained through more traditional qualitative approaches.  Indeed, in spite of all the hype over the use of technology, the 2014 GreenBook Research Industry Trends Report indicates that the most widely used qualitative methods continue to be in-person focus groups, in-person IDI’s and telephone IDIs; with no significant change in use noted among any type of qualitative method from the previous year.  So we are not advocating the use of one approach over the other, but rather stating the case that there is a place for all of these tools, as long as they are being used for the right reasons.

1)     Rather than pitting technology against traditional methods, or viewing these varied approaches as an either/or proposition, consider all approaches as viable and complementary

  • An increasing amount of qualitative consists of a hybrid of methods vs. a singular approach
  • We encourage experimenting with new methods in order to better understand the value they offer
  • There’s always room for new tools, it’s a matter of knowing how and when to use them

2)     Make certain that the research objectives and requirements are driving the methodology… not the other way around

  • Remember, garbage in-garbage out
  • Fairly weigh the pros and cons of each approach, and determine which will best suite the research, as opposed to force fitting a method for no other reason than its novelty or newness

3)     Above all, don’t overlook the skill set required of the qualitative consultants conducting the research, regardless of the chosen method

  • The need for a solid foundation and understanding of qualitative design
  • The mindset that, “anyone can conduct focus groups,” is as false for technology-based methods as it is for traditional approaches
  • The importance of asking the right questions and knowing how to listen
  • The ability to extract valuable insights is where the true value lies
  • Working with researchers who understand people more than technology

Following are a few examples which illustrate how technology and traditional methods can co-exist, and when one approach may offer advantages over the other:

qual-mobileMobile Ethnography:  Mobile technology allows participants to self-report “in the moment,” communicating via any combination of text, audio and video from whatever environment the research calls for.  While this method may offer the benefit of capturing a person’s feelings and experiences in-situ, there may be other behaviors or actions that the respondent is not capturing or reporting, or possibly not even aware of, that a trained ethnographer would notice.  Thus, immediacy and speed may be gained at the loss of small, but very telling details; as what people don’t tell and don’t do can be some of the most valuable information gained in an ethnographic project.

We might suggest that a combination of shopping trips with and without a researcher present may provide balance, as learning gained on the assisted trips may help explain behaviors noted on the self-reported ones.  Or, self-reported trips followed by either in-person or webcam interviews allowing for further probing and exploration might also be considered.

qual-groupFocus Groups/IDI’s:  Both face-to-face and online interviews (real time or bulletin board) have their pros and cons.  Deciding which route to follow may be dependent on a number of factors–such as the ease/difficulty of recruiting qualified respondents, budget and time constraints, geography—but the key determinant should be the objectives of the research.

A relatively simple, straightforward concept screen or evaluation can easily be handled by any number of online platforms offering markup tools, which allow participants to view, critique and comment on concepts without being influenced by others, and then allow for discussion.  However, a project more exploratory in nature, where the sharing and building of ideas is important, or having people with different views challenge each other and engage in more natural flowing conversation is critical, would better lend itself to face-to-face groups.

While both of these scenarios could be handled through either method, for the latter example the benefit of being able to read non-verbal cues such as facial expressions or body language, and hear voice intonation would favor a more traditional group approach.

qual-social-mediaSocial Media:  Social media is too big to be ignored as a source of real-time information for companies and researchers, but caution needs to be taken in terms of how it is used as a qualitative tool and its influence on decision making.  One of the primary concerns is not knowing enough about the people providing commentary, or having the opinions of few speak for many.  Some research conducted on social media shows that the majority of people use it for consumption without being active contributors in sharing content or interacting with others, and while there may still be valid learning gained from those who do participate, researchers need to be aware of the bias that exists.  And while there are numerous text aggregation and analytic tools that troll popular social sites, is there one that can truly interpret language nuances and understand the context in which comments are made–incomplete and grammatically incorrect sentences, sarcasm, humor, anger, irony?

As this early stage, social media content may be most valuable in providing fodder for further qualitative exploration… through either tech or traditional methods:  developing hypotheses, identifying language used around brands or categories, bringing potential problems with products or services to light, and raising other questions that may prompt meaningful discussion on key issues.  However, at this early stage, we advise caution in viewing social media research as a stand-alone qualitative tool.

MSW●ARS recognizes the value technology offers, and is continually experimenting with new methods and tools, without losing sight of the value brought by tried and true qualitative approaches.  Please give us a call to discuss your qualitative needs, and allow us to recommend an approach that utilizes the best of both worlds.


Categories: Brand Plannning, Qualitative Tags:

Are illuminated User Generated Product Review Videos… The Ultimate Testimonial Format?

February 18th, 2014 Comments off

Not since the advent of the television ad in 1941 has the potential for new ad formats been so great. The emergence of digital platforms is enabling marketers to experiment with a number of new ad formats, each of which could revolutionize marketing as we know it. Throughout 2014 we will be highlighting the most effective of the techniques being broadly adopted.

Part I: Illuminated User Generated Content

Aristotle noted that “man is by nature a social animal”, a concept which has been reinforced over time by findings in psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience. Simply put, humans have an innate desire to share their experiences and learn from each other. But as marketers it has always been a challenge to draw upon this truth in the creation of advertising. Even well-crafted testimonial ads can fall short of the sincerity, authenticity, and believability that organic conversation produces.

Enter the internet. From its first killer app, email, to the sophisticated social media website s of today the internet has expanded the ways in which people share information about the brands they use. And marketers are tapping into this dialogue.

At first, this primarily consisted of fostering creation of content. Like, share, and review buttons made it easy for ‘browsers’ to become ‘brand advocates’. The growing penetration of webcams and smart phones made it possible for these new brand advocates to transition from the world of text into the world of video. Here is an example of a user generated product review video submitted to the EXPO social media website:

Example of Typical User Generated Product Review Video

With content like this being created by product users, marketers and their social media partners turned to the task of curating this content. Systems were put into place to house and review the content to find those which could be leveraged in marketing campaigns. And most recently EXPO upped the ante by automating this process with a dashboard that not only algorithmically quantifies production quality but also draws in scores from MSW.ARS to help locate the reviews with the greatest probability of being memorable and persuasive. This makes choosing content for distribution onto e-commerce, owned, and earned media channels a breeze.


Screen Capture of ExpoTV Dashboard


But the most recent evolutionary step is perhaps the most important. Techniques gleaned from television advertising are now being applied to enhance their messaging and emotional power. Music is being used to set mood and tone. Screen cuts are being used to manage pace and draw in scenes from multiple reviews. This new breed of illuminated content retains the sincerity, authenticity, and believability of the original reviews while increasing breakthrough and engagement.

Example of Illuminated User Generated Product Review Video

Exactly how powerful is this format? To answer this question we’ve begun actively testing these illuminated user generated product videos in our Touchpoint Plus copytesting system. We’ve seen Brand name recall over fifty percent higher and persuasion twice as high as a typical 30 second television ad for the brand! This suggests that illuminated user generated product review videos may be the most powerful testimonial ad format to date.

Categories: Digital Practice, User Gen Tags:

Engaging the Autopilot

February 3rd, 2014 Comments off

At MSW●ARS Research we talk a lot about our non-conscious “autopilot” and the role it plays in influencing brand choice.  Our autopilot is that 90%+ of cognitive capacity that operates below the level of consciousness, like keeping our car on track as we drive to work while our conscious self thinks about the day ahead.  It is that enormously talented part of us that tirelessly executes seemingly trivial yet complex tasks and in so doing renders a wide variety of essential judgments about the immediate world around us.   Not only is our autopilot capable of physically guiding our vehicle down the highway with astonishing precision, but in doing so it is also capable of detecting often subtle social cues such as whether the driver in the next lane over is angry and unstable or just listening to Megadeth at full volume.

It’s amazing when you stop to think about all the autopilot does.  It is the source of our perceptions and intuition.  It immediately identifies that slow moving blur in our peripheral vision as a “deer”.  It develops our initial impression of what is going on around us and it connects these impressions with past experience to anticipate what might happen next.  Will that deer jump out into the road?  It can match events with our metal map of the world and quickly identify something as new or not “normal”.  It makes rapid and for the most part accurate judgments about safe or unsafe, good or bad, approach or avoid, and it alerts our conscious “self” when more deliberate thinking is required to deal with a situation.

Compared to our plodding conscious thought process our autopilot is running at the speed of light while processing a far greater volume of information.

Yet given the enormous influence our autopilot has over our choices and behaviors it’s surprising how little it has been studied by marketing researchers.  Most market research comes from survey-based questionnaires or focus groups which by their very nature, reflect a dialog with only the conscious self, that place where our feelings, impulses, and behaviors have already been rationalized, reflected upon, put into words, and expressed within the given social context.

We know that most “low involvement” brand choices are made on autopilot.  And we know that the autopilot lies at the core of attitude formation precisely because it is constantly making snap, emotional judgments about people and objects around us.

MSW●ARS has long known the value of tapping directly into the autopilot via direct observation of respondent behavior at the moment they engage with a TV, print, or digital ad, or with a product or package design.  We have drawn from neuroscience to build an extensive set of tools to capture the in-the-moment physiological response to marketing stimuli:

  • Facial Expressions are recorded and coded as a standard part of our TouchPoint*Plus multi-media testing system, for pre-testing TV, print, and digital ads.


  • EEG and GSR provide a window on the autopilot making snap judgments as they happen, in-the-moment.



  • Eye-tracking is used to know which elements of a complex stimulus such as a store shelf, package label, or print ad are causing the responses we observe.



  • We also observe Rapid Response Times to understand implicit associations that the autopilot relies upon when making snap judgments.



All of these neurometrics are available as add-ons within our TouchPoint line of multimedia copy tests, our Identify product naming studies, Filter package tests, as well as custom designed projects.  Contact your MSW●ARS representative to learn about how adding these techniques to your next project can help your brand engage consumers’ autopilot.


Categories: Ad Pre-Testing, Neuroscience Tags: