Jan 31, 2007

Lost in the supermarket - a transcultural perspective on retailing

We live in times when individuals and organizations seamlessly move across borders.

We also live in times when choice is aplenty - bordering on excessive and sometimes needless

The interplay of these two trends creates a complex marketing environment.

When we move we carry a bit of our culture and habits with us. We try to fit - a new reality into an existing mould, while at the same time grappling with a deluge of products / brands.

Christine and Katia initiated a discussion with a view to understand how a transcultural reality - affects consumers and marketers. What consumers do and what marketers can do. I joined in.

What emerged as a result is a collection of posts on the subject:

A Transcultural Perspective On The Retail Experience - By Katia Adams
Musings on Choice, Culture and the Retail Experience - By Christine Whittemore
Too much NOISE! - By Laurence Borel
Lost in the Supermarket - By Reshma Anand

Enjoy !

Jan 25, 2007

Mining blogs: pertinent chat

The article originally appeared in AQR's In Brief Jan 2007 issue.


Listening, conversing and communicating, three aspects of qualitative research, were examined by speakers from AQR at this year’s QRCA conference***. If our work involves listening to consumer reality, interpreting it and communicating it to the marketer ­ is there an emerging part of this reality that we as researchers are not tuned into?

Historically, communication between marketers and consumers has been a closed end loop. On the one hand, marketers have sent out messages to consumers. On the other, they’ve sought feedback from them through traditional research. This modus operandi was effective until the ‘Internet juggernaut’ appeared.

Now, consumers can not only speak their mind but also broadcast their opinions. The deluge of marketing messages ­ combined with low consumer trust ­ has led to people relying on one another’s opinions to make sense of the muddle, prompting conversations between them. These chats are to be found on blogs/consumer sites and have so far escaped the information loop.

- Not being privy to these conversations is to remain oblivious to a vital part of the consumer’s world. But that is not the only reason to tap into blogs.
- Opinions on blogs are unsolicited and, therefore, likely to result from experience or strong beliefs. Anonymity only adds to the authenticity.
- Blogs are updated frequently, almost as soon as bloggers have something to say, making them an immensely valuable medium for tracking trends, buzzwords and initial reactions to a launch.
- Blog conversations leave behind a trail of links, useful for understanding how information flows and how opinions are shaped and influenced.
- Blogs help in exploratory research to understand consumer language, develop working hypotheses and fine tune information needs.
-Tracking blogs over time can help acquire a deeper understanding of a target segment since a blogger shares his opinions on many issues and that gives ‘context’ to the information gathered.

Blog mining as a technique is evolving so there is no definitive approach to be prescribed. Here, however, are a few pointers for those embarking on research involving blogs:

- Shortlist a sample of bloggers based on their authority on your subject using blog search engines like Google Blog Search and Technorati.
- Define the time frame: while looking for post-launch reactions allow for a lag of 5-7 days for consumers to explore product features/form opinions.
- Bloggers don’t always post unique opinions. Some just link to one another. Allow for a buffer in your sample for data duplication.
- Blogs are living evolving thoughts. Sometimes issues that are simple to start with acquire dimensions as readers comment. Remember to follow the thread and budget for a bit of time since some trails can lead you on a long trek.

Consumers are opening up a bit more of their world to us. It’s time we took notice.


*** The webcast and many others can be heard on the QRCA website.
The AQR library has an excellent collection of articles on qualitative research

Blog Mining,Blogs and qualitative research,online qualitative research,

Jan 21, 2007

iPod v/s Zune - wear the music v/s where's the music

No, those are not the official taglines to the Zune or the iPod campaign though for me, those lines summed up where the two brands stood and what they created for consumers - at a given point in time. The contrast could not be better timed.

The Zune and iPod shuffle were launched approximately 10 days from each other. The 'generation gap' between the products was apparent yet comparing the brands was a foregone conclusion.

While the iPod comes out...
The iPod has long enjoyed an iconic status. The white ear phones have over time became ubiquitous. A tell-tale sign of the popularity of the device and the brand. I read about kids (less fortunate than the ones who could afford an iPod) who'd paint their black ear phones white, to feel like a part of the cult of the cool. Then there was someone who just bought a pair of white earphones from eBay without ever owning an iPod. Its not difficult to guess why. It is no longer a device sported by music aficionados. It has acquired the status of a fashion accessory that people feel they must have. The conspicuous presence only fuels its popularity and sales further.

The iPod shuffle takes the whole idea of the iPod being a fashion accessory to the next level. While earlier generation iPods stayed ensconced within pockets and let the ear phones do the talking, the new generation shuffle is smugly perched outside.

The Zune goes in...
Contrast this with the close to 5 ounce Zune know for its bulk amongst other things. Its no surprise that the Zune would have stay content indoors (inside bags and pockets) for a while.
Visibility signals popularity and to that extent Zune takes a beating on account of its bulk. However the story does not end there. It only just begins. Since related to the issue of visibility is a feature that is touted as the product's raisons d'ĂȘtre - the wifi capability which makes the 'social' happen so to say. Now the problem is that though Zune did welcome people to the social, it expected consumers to create a social by themselves. Early adopters have been looking high and low for fellow Zuners to experience music transfer through wifi , though only very few have been lucky. Why? A combination of factors - visibility being one of them.

Its not difficult to imagine, that if people are on the go, it is highly likely that that even if they were carrying their Zunes with them the device in its current avataar is not conducive to being sported outside. I suppose the ear phones are not distinguishable either. With the lack of visibility the probability of tracing a zune user to wifi with becomes slim. Overlay this situation with the fact that keeping the wifi turned on all the time is a tremendous drain on battery - and what have you. Far fewer Zunes that are wifi enabled and a bunch of early adopters not getting enough chances to test the single most differentiating feature of the product. The subliminal message that consumers get as a result is that the product has not really take off in the market since they can't find people with it.

Notwithstanding the contrasts, what is common to both these brands is how - in both cases visibility has become a surrogate measure for popularity which in turn will influence sales - only consolidating the positions further.

iPod Shuffle,iPod v/s Zune,Zune,

Jan 12, 2007

Using Hypnosis in Qualitative Research

Hypnosis has come a long way from being perceived as a manipulative tool. It finds mention in the world of psychiatry, medicine and forensic sciences. However, snooping on the consumer’s subconscious - just to sell tea or soap is thought to be unusual and unethical by most of us.

Hypnosis – a window to the consumer’s subconscious

Marketers have long felt the need to go beyond the consumer’s conscious and rational thoughts. The application of projective techniques in research has partially fulfilled that need. Albeit indirectly, these techniques allow us access to the consumer’s subconscious. Instead of articulating their experiences directly, consumers project their feelings on to other people / objects thereby circumvent some of their rational defenses. This indirect approach still leaves a gap in understanding which a segment of marketers, is attempting to bridge by directly accessing the consumer’s subconscious - through hypnosis.

Hypnosis involves creating ‘an artificially induced state in which the layer of the conscious controlling apparatus in the individual is cleared away, which opens up the subconscious world of the person’. Imagine a see-saw - with the two planks representing the two streams of consciousness. When the conscious stream is lying low, the subconscious stream comes to the fore.

Contrary to what people believe, hypnosis is a natural and safe experience that we often encounter without awareness. For instance, a person walking on the road, listening to his iPod may not be aware of the time / distance he has covered, yet he would be conscious of road safety, traffic rules and his destination. The difference between that and the hypnotic trance is – that the former is a natural trance, whereas the latter is induced deliberately - by deep relaxation and focusing that dilutes the attention of the conscious mind.

How does hypnosis add value to consumer research?

A woman in her early 40s recalls her first memory around a brand of tea. Tea is the first thing she learnt to make and on this occasion is serving it to her guests. The sense of pride she felt 30 years ago is visible on her face as she relives the experience. Praise for her effort translates into a trust and connection she makes with this brand. Such narrations bring a whole new dimension to responses otherwise expressed in research as ‘I cannot change the brand of tea that I have used for the past 20 years since I’m used to it’. Probe further and the conversation takes a familiar turn where taste, strength and flavour dominate the discussion! Through hypnosis, it is possible for consumers to be age-regressed in time, to recall their first encounters with brands and the associated emotions which help marketers get cues on the drivers for brand loyalty.

Since the conscious mind is dormant, while in hypnosis consumers are less inhibited and talk about personal experiences such as shaving, bathing, and oral care without embarrassment or hesitation. This does not mean they will unknowingly reveal details they don’t intend to. Even while in hypnosis one cannot be forced to say or do anything that goes against their morals or sensibilities.

In a conscious state an individual recalls an incident, whereas in hypnosis he relives the moment. Consumers have reported experiencing the same emotions they had once felt. I felt I was actually there is what one would hear after such an interview. This feeling of ‘being there’ also means that the amount of detail recalled or sensory perceptions felt during such interviews is unmatched. This is particularly useful while researching activities such as grocery shopping, brushing teeth, washing clothes which are low on involvement and monotonous or categories such as food or shampoos where sensorial cues matter and are otherwise difficult to verbalize.

Besides bringing new dimensions to the content gathered, hypnosis aids the research process. Since the focus is driven inwards, a person under hypnosis is not distracted by external stimuli and not consciously aware of the time elapsed. Thus the quality of responses does not deteriorate with lengthy conversations. Moreover, it helps consumers understand their own thought process better and therefore can be an enriching experience for the consumer as well.

A few caveats

Hypnosis is a powerful tool in the hands of a researcher and the need for training cannot be overemphasized. Abreaction i.e. the involuntary release of a repressed negative emotion is a possibility that the hypnotist ought to handle discreetly. Also a person under hypnosis is highly suggestible and this implies that the hypnotist use the tool ethically - only to understand the consumer’s thoughts and not plant suggestions in his mind for commercial gain.

Featured in - ManagementNext, Jan 2007

Hypnosis,Hypnosis and Qualitative Research,Consumer and Subconscious,

Jan 5, 2007

On using Mind-Maps in Qualitative Research

Linear discussion guides made to exacting specifications

I dislike voluminous discussion guides. What I dislike even more is that a researcher is expected to revise discussions guides repeatedly to set the tone just as the client expects it to be. In my early days, I came across some researchers actually memorising the guides, and i don't blame them. The structure of a guide (linear, flowing from page-to-page) does not lend itself to easy adaptation especially for a rookie with a client sitting in a back room, looking for a skipped question rather than intently listening to the discussion .

The futility of the effort is magnified since these guides don't serve the purpose in the first place. We are not programmed to think in a linear fashion. Our mental associations do not always follow patterns such as
1. xxxxxx
1.a yyyyyyyy
1.b zzzzzzzzz

Which is why you hear consumers jumping from one topic to another in their responses, and find a researcher frantically turning pages trying to mentally tick off points covered. Worse still trying to force the discussion back to a linear format. Instead of delving into mental associations, we focus on the discussion structure. Talk about missing the forest for the trees !

The Byzantine web of thoughts

The picture represents our neural structure. Our thoughts are organized and stored as a web of associations in the brain. One thought could trigger multiple thoughts along one or more dimensions. Besides, the development of these thoughts does not follow any pre-determined order or sequence. Sometimes even the very mention of a category / brand, could evoke a spring of thoughts in the consumer's mind. There is a divergence between the actual and the assumed process of cognition leading to a loss of information.

Mind-maps mirror our thought process

Mind maps like the one illustrated at the top can be constructed using any mind-mapping software. These are intuitive since these are a representation of our natural flow of thoughts.

  • The mind map in lieu of a conventional discussion guide allows the researcher to scan the fluid pathways of information as the conversation evolves rather than jump back and forth between pages to keep pace.
  • Its application and use in research does not stop there. In my limited exposure to mind-mapping i have found that it aids the mental process of capturing the 'information' areas before conducting research.
  • While listening to consumer conversations, one can visualise some of the mental associations consumers make and their flights of thought as these happen.
  • Visualising those flights of thought has also been useful, while analysing & drawing inferences from the data, since it eases the process of finding patterns to an extent.
Wishful thinking: If only one could convince the 'client' to have a mind-map instead of a DG, it would save some fruitless effort. And while we are at it, how about another mind-map instead of the de-briefing document ! :)

Reference: You can find the link to download the mind-mapping software on this page To my mind it is easy to get used to !

Mind Map,Mind Map and Qualitative Research,Discussion Guide,Discussion Guide and Mind Map,