Productivity is an economic concept (Figure 1). It represents the ratio of economic output: input. Practically, productivity assesses the competitiveness of an economy, and the health or otherwise of constituent businesses. It also indicates a country’s ability to improve raise wages over costs as this depends largely on raising output per worker. Thus understanding productivity is key to determining how to improve the economy and businesses.
Since 2008, UK productivity failed to follow the previous 10 years plus trend line (Figure 2). Overall output fell by 6% yet employment by just 2%. As a result, productivity fell by 4%. Exactly why UK productivity failed to grow is hotly debated by economists (1). The decline is similar to other major OECD countries (with exceptions such as the USA and Ireland (2)).
Marketing a product to an individual consumer rather than to a business is often a very different proposition. Or is it? The growth of digital media means that there is an increasing number of channels and methods from which to chose. So how should marketers approach the task of engaging and winning customers? It’s a bit like learning a dance.
The B2C marketing challenge is to build product awareness and convert browsers into buyers. As it’s usually a ‘low involvement’ purchase, say to buy a confectionery bar, marketing campaigns must capture the consumer’s interest immediately. Thus, typically mass promotion activities like tv and press advertising are employed. In addition, special offers such as discounts or vouchers help ‘activate’ the purchase. The challenge is therefore to establish an effective one-step routine.
In the online world, an email or search marketing campaign encourages consumers to click and buy. The email or advertisement encourages consumers to a website landing page designed to sell the product. The purchasing process must be simple and easy, for example, by integrating the shopping basket and checkout page. Requiring more than a couple of clicks risks the customer going to another shop.
The goal of B2B marketing is also to convert prospects into customers but the purchase is usually more considered. More decision makers are also usually involved and the challenge is to engage and educate the target audience and build relationships. To succeed a B2B company must generate and nurture leads over a longer time period. A careless or quick step could mean a lost partner (or customer). The challenge is to therefore also to establish an effective multi-step relationship building routine.
In the online world, an email campaign or online advertising campaign again typically drives prospects to a website. However it is less likely to achieve an immediate sale. A more realistic goal is to secure a meeting with a sales representative in order to discuss the customer’s business requirements in more detail and also influence him, her or them to buy (i.e. complete a sale). By providing information about the products and services, benefits, features, possibly pricing, and contact information, reassures customers and wins his or her trust. Conceiving marketing activity as one of several steps in a longer, integrated, multi-step campaign that includes awareness and relationship building via direct mail, newsletters, video promotion, webinars, virtual exhibitions, conferences or live events and social media such as Twitter or Linked In is more likely to persuade.
While there are differences in B2B vs. B2C marketing, the principles about engaging and building customer relationships remain the same. At the outset understand the customer journey from the customer’s point of view. Understand the sources of information and the selection criteria that the customer uses. Understand the triggers and barriers to building awareness and relationships, through to the sale. At each step along the journey, consider how the experience that your brand delivers is different to or better than your competitors. And if it is no different, consider what improvements to make.
If you are a B2B marketer learn how to dance the marketing 2 or 3 step. If you are a B2C marketer while you may have mastered a 1 step routine, a 2 or 3 step routine may help you to build stronger customer relationships. Determine the appropriate messages, media and timing to attract and engage customers at each step on the journey. In so doing you will be better able to invest your resources where they really make a difference.
1. 10 winning digital marketing strategies – why it helps to think like a gamekeeper, The Marketing Directors
2. How B2B customers search for tech solutions, Tenfold.com
Even Apple, one of the world’s most successful companies, visionary, secretive, allegedly antipathetic to research, fails occasionally. Witness poor iphone battery performance, speedily reversed software changes and easy-break charging cables. While following the ‘gut’ sometimes leads to product development success, success is far from guaranteed.
Equally, following ‘sacred’ product development ‘gate’ processes sometimes fails to guarantee success. This is because gate processes are just that – processes. And processes are ‘a series of actions or steps’ to help management manage risks. Also to prioritise opportunities and avoid wheel reinvention. Thus processes tend to be rigid, inflexible, and less suited to some circumstances, such as rapidly changing markets.
In the 1990s Reader’s Digest was a multi-billion dollar business. Its’ mailings were legendary. Their magazines and books sold in the millions, and if the sales data were published, most products would appear in the best-seller lists. The products and promotions were based on extensive testing, and response rates commonly in double digits. Then in the UK, along came the National Lottery. Almost at a stroke response rates fell, as the attraction of Tom Champagne’s £50,000 Free Prize Draw declined in comparison with the opportunity to win millions on Lotto.
The fact that a substantial proportion of products and services fail rather than succeed suggests there is more to do (1). While failures are set-backs, there is also lots to learn from failure. It helps improve the odds of innovation success.
How to anticipate and overcome failure? It is easier to observe and comment with the benefit of hindsight.
While there is much good in health-care, there are also many stories of unfortunate casualties and accidents. In the UK alone, there are nearly 1m reported patient incidents (fatal and non-fatal). In the US, preventable medical error in hospitals is the 3rd biggest killer. Problems occur mostly when clinicians work diligently and with good intentions. Problems include complexity (WHO lists 12.4k diseases and disorders each requiring different medical protocols), stretched resources and decision making pressures. There are also other reasons, for example, cultural, where communication, assessment and reporting is less than open and honest. Errors occur where practitioners are so focused on a task at hand that true perspective is lost. Thus compounding issues. Early remedy is sometimes frustrated through fear to speak-out or failure to accept reality – evidenced in a blame or a cover-up mentality (2). So called cognitive dissonance.
Conversely, where the mindset to is to ‘fess up’, document and investigate the reasons for failure, heath-care outcomes rise.
The air industry has the lowest fatality rates of all forms of transport. How is this? Through systematic recording of the reasons for failure and then learning from them. As a result, installation of black-box flight recorders in aircraft is a globally agreed practice. This allows full investigation of the reasons behind any air accident. In turn, black box flight recorders, have inspired protocols covering landing, takeoff, cockpit safety and more.
A conventional approach to product development is to identify a pain point, or unfulfilled customer need, and then design a better product or service or fill a gap. When faced with nozzles that ‘clogged’ and halted the washing powder manufacturing process, Unilever put their top mathematicians and fluid experts on the case. After a long study period they came up with a new design. However, the powder produced still blocked the nozzles. Almost in desperation, a team of biologists, with no knowledge of fluid dynamics, were then tasked with solving the problem. They took a very different approach. First to manufacture and then test ten different variants of the nozzle. The winning nozzle was then copied and revised ten times and each retested. Through 45 generations and nearly 450 failures, an outstanding nozzle emerged. In other words, through rapid evolution, scientists learned how to make a better nozzle (2).
What about the online world? Take the ubiquitous and multibillion behemoth, Google. Google tests and releases hundreds of millions of lines of code daily. Billions of builds prompt millions of automated tests to run across hundreds of thousands of browser instances daily. Testing is Google’s ‘secret sauce’ and it takes pride in both its development speed and failing on a daily basis.
Google’s approach may have shortcomings, but they are willing to publish it and open it to the scrutiny of the international testing community so that it continues to evolve. Everyone who writes code at Google is a tester and responsible for quality. The mantra is “you built it and you break it” i.e. code a little and then test the build. Then code more and test more. However, while product development and testing go hand in hand, different responsibilities lie with different groups. Beyond development or coding, Google has created roles for engineers (Engineering Productivity) to make other engineers more productive and more quality-minded. Their mission is to avoid re-work and redundant code due to sloppy development.
A development aim is to build a core product and release it once deemed useful to as large a crowd as feasible. And then seek feedback and iterate, rather than ship a large number of features at once. Gmail is a good example; remaining in beta mode for four years to signal that the product was still under-development.
Instead of distinguishing between code, integration, and system testing, Google runs small, medium, and large tests emphasising scope over form. If a problem doesn’t require human cleverness and intuition, and suits automated testing, then it is. Again during early Google Mail development, 40 user groups of 2.5% experienced different colour shades. Tracking determined the best shade to optimise engagement.
(1) According to the Product Development and Management Association (www.pdma.org), 2004, 42% of new products failed between 1990 and 2004.
(2) Syed. Matthew, Black Box Thinking – Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance, 2015
(3) Whittaker. James. A, Arbon. Jason, Carolla. Jeff, How Google Tests Software, 2012
In highly competitive markets, both strategy and execution can make a big difference to the results. For example, a misplaced or poorly articulated word in a strategy can lead to misinterpretation, cause confusion and errors. From the customer stand-point, it also risks inhibiting response and potentially wasting money. This is particularly the case in markets where companies follow similar strategies or offer similar benefits. Conversely, a well-placed or well-chosen word cuts-through and connects, thereby boosting demand. So set up processes, tools and techniques to make sure that both strategic and executional decisions are of the highest order.
Master and use analytical tools and techniques to help marshal and present your arguments in a simple and easy-to-understand way. Not only can these distil complexity into simple messages but also give added rigor and impact to your arguments.
Simple spreadsheet models or more complex econometric modelling also help to prove the ROI.
Your own motivation, drive and rigor in checking and enforcing marketing excellence will also mitigate any negative attitudes to marketing among your colleagues.
Another way to deliver excellence is to use new technology. However, as new technology shortens planning cycles, clever anticipation and pre-planning is important. For example, digital technology cuts promotion origination and reproduction time and costs, though database management requires extra time and attention to keep data up-to-date.
Storytelling predates writing; the earliest forms were spoken, combined with gestures and expressions. They include fairy tales, myths, legends and many of religious origin. There is much to learn from stories and with brand storytelling it is possible to transform a brand from a frog to a prince, prolong brand life and even slay a competitor or two in the process.
Saint George (AD 280 to 23 April 303), for example, is immortalised in the myth of Saint George and the Dragon. A soldier in the Roman army, he later became venerated as a Christian martyr and adopted as patron saint of many countries, cities and organisations. The story about George and the Dragon returned from the Crusades (11th Century). In the legend, the dragon lives at a water hole and requires a gift of a sheep or maiden to allow the locals to reach the water. When it is a maiden, they draw lots. One day a princess is chosen. She begs for her life but to no avail. Then George comes along, slays the dragon and saves the day.
Great stories touch and move us. Particularly when seen in a cinema, and increasingly through mini movies – as some television advertising has become. Not only do great stories engage, but they merit retelling and sharing. In this rich digital media world (1), we are all writers, photographers, producer/directors and editors. Only the best stories grab attention, are ‘liked’ and shared.
It is the same for brands. Only the best impress journalists, trade buyers and of course, consumers. Some brands have become great by telling great stories. Some are born of reality, many of accident or serendipity and some invention.
Figure 1 shows a typical cinematic story structure. This is useful for brand storytelling. Act 1 involves setting the scene, introducing the characters, conflict and setting. It concludes with a climax or set-back (turning point 1 (TP1)). Act 2 develops the story, with rising action and tension, and concluding with another climax or set-back (turning point 2 (TP2)). In the last act, the dénouement, the story reaches a final climax, and the story resolved.
For example, that good always triumphs over evil. That every cloud has a silver lining – i.e. that you can derive some benefit from every bad thing that happens to you. Or that fortune favours the brave – that drive and determination is essential to success. Christopher Booker’s Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning, espoused seven basic plots (2). Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson highlight eighteen, eight guides or gifts and ten warnings (3). Figure 2 shows eight familiar stories mapped to Mark and Pearson’s need-states.
‘Transformations’ deal with significant change in attitude, behaviour or personal growth. ‘Overcoming the Monster’ stories are crime and adventure staples. They feature archetypal heroes (and villains). Including George and the Dragon. Also James Bond vs. Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun). And Harry Potter, growing from boy to man, while battling Voldemort.
The typical story-line is baddie does bad thing (set-up), goodie fights baddie and loses (story development, set-back) and then goodie digs deeper, fights back and wins the day (dénouement). In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he kills a young maiden and then goes after Harker, the hero’s fiancée. Harker and friends then hunt and eventually kill Dracula thus saving Harker’s fiancée (and allowing them to live happily ever after).
Brand archetypes can play different roles in narratives, and inspire brand storytelling. In a typical ‘overcoming the monster’ story-line, archetypal heroes, such as James Bond and Harry Potter are protagonists (leading players). Equally the brand could still be the hero, but not the protagonist but instead a bit player – perhaps the protagonist’s assistant or ‘weapon’.
Consider a utilitarian hero archetype, cleaning brand Mr. Muscle. In a typical 3 act story, we see the housewife battling the dirt, getting tired and frustrated at her inability to clean the house etc. until along comes the hero, to clean away the dirt and save the day. The protagonist is the brand user or housewife and the adversary, simply dirt.
Nike is a more inspiring, hero(ine) archetype (4). The protagonists in Nike advertisements are usually athletes or ordinary people, and adversaries, fellow competitors. In a typical 3 act story, we see the athlete competing against another, wearing Nike clothing or using Nike equipment, suffering set-backs yet eventually winning, and winning applause.
The Nike advert (below) features a tennis playing protagonist vilified for being a pretty face. Here the antagonist is not just a fellow competitor but public dismissal, or disdain. All questions confidence in the athlete’s skills. Will she, won’t she succumb to the pressure? Watch the advert to see the dénouement. Feel how the rising tension strengthens the brand story.
Now work through these simple brand storytelling steps to finesse and execute your brand strategy.
1. Understand your brand truth, archetype and positioning
Great brands like great stories are based on great truths. Great truths include customer and brand truths. Look inside and outside your business to find them. Consider what do customers’ really think, believe or need? Is there anything meaningful and true but unknown or disbelieved about your brand? What is your brand founder’s tale? What’s special about where or how it was invented? Perhaps a ‘secret’ production or delivery process or ‘magical’ ingredient? And what’s special about the brand look, livery or the people who make or deliver the brand.
2. Create/shape/select stories to engage and dramatise the brand benefits.
Consider characters, the role of the brand, and how your brand could transform customers’ lives. How can you create rising tension, and a dénouement that fits the brand? Also involve disparate people in the creative process and allow time to nurture the ideas. Figure 3 shows a start-point brand storytelling concept.
3. Express the story idea through multiple media.
While great stories and great brands touch people in different ways, they express a consistent message. Consider how the story could unfold or be presented through different media. Involve media experts in early brand storytelling. Choose media to enhance the message and enable sharing.
(1) According to http://www.internetlivestats.com there are now over 1.1 billion websites including a burgeoning range of social media including Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat and many more.
(2) Booker, Christopher The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.
(3) Mark, Margaret and Pearson, Carol S. The Hero & the Outlaw. Building Extraordinary Brands through the Power of Archetypes.
(4) Named after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
On June 23rd 2016 the UK decided to leave the EU. So what does this mean for UK businesses and marketers? The consensus is to expect a period of uncertainty as everyone digests the facts, and devises strategies to manage the risks of Brexit and plan a way forward.
The trade barriers erected around the EU protect EU businesses from global competitive pressures. As a result they cause ‘flabby’ rather than ‘fit’ competitors. The UK has a proud history as a free trading nation and being ‘open for business’. Thus UK business should be materially ‘fit’ to compete in unfettered markets. Also to attract inward investment.
In 2015 the world economy was worth $73.2 billion with the EU accounting for $16.2bn (22%) (Figure 1). Thus the rest of the world accounts for the larger proportion (78%), with the USA, China and Japan, being the largest markets.
Moreover, emerging markets are forecast to grow faster than the developed markets, and China and India will both reach the top 3 by 2030 (Figure 2). There are many opportunities to grasp.
As marketers we know that the most successful businesses are those that understand and meet the needs of their customers. As global citizens, speaking the world’s languages, investing in research and marketing to continue to understand and meet current and future customers’ needs, and build relationships and commercial value makes sense.
1. To address short-term economic turbulence from Brexit, businesses should take every opportunity to strengthen relationships with overseas suppliers and customers. Make clear that you are open for business as usual, and value your relationships. There is reassurance and value in relationships.
2. Keep searching for win-win opportunities to sell, invest and buy. Also acquire knowledge to gain competitive advantage. Use research to uncover new insights and opportunities.
3. Have no fear. The fittest or most able will be the most successful. So stay true to good business and marketing principles; understand customer needs, and demonstrate and deliver value in meeting needs.
4. For any sector of the economy or business that considers themselves unfit, start working out how to get fit now. So use time wisely to maximise the value of your offer.
Standing out from the crowd is tough! It is common to find products, services and brands making the same claims. In other words, occupying the same brand positioning spaces. For example, almost every business service claims to improve business efficiency. In consumer goods, almost every washing powder washes clean. Most food also tastes good, and nearly every feature film entertains. These are examples of ‘basic’ or ‘generic’ category benefits – they match the most basic or prevalent consumer needs.
This is where the idea of brand personality has a role to play. Brand personality can transform your brand into a super brand. Thus as well as selecting distinctive benefits, communication of benefits should also be distinctive. All needs distilling into an idea that is clear and compelling.
Brand personality confers human characteristics on a brand; physical characteristics, beliefs and behaviours – these guide how the brand looks, speaks, what it thinks, believes and how it behaves.
While there are usually few benefits to express, there are almost limitless ways to express the benefits. For example, with candour, authority or through humour.
A great deal of psychological literature suggests that people have a tendency to perceive those they like as more similar than those they dislike. People also have a tendency to perceive themselves in a positive light and seek congruence (1).
Thus a brand personality helps attract and engage. Consider the criteria involved in selecting a mate. Other than physical attributes it mostly comes down to personality and the consequential benefits of a personality. Beyond the obvious, “And Mrs. Ecclestone, what attracted you to the multi-millionaire Bernie?” other potential benefits include reinforcing self-knowledge, self-consistency and self-esteem (2).
Brand personality also enriches differences and helps attract and cement relationships. There are three main strategic applications or benefits of a brand personality (Figure 1) (3). To:
Considering and applying archetypes to brands helps distil and define a brand’s personality. Archetypes came to popular consciousness through the work of Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Carl Jung – the founder of modern psychology. An archetype is collectively inherited unconscious idea, a pattern of thought, behaviour, image, etc., that is universally present myths, legends, literature and art. Archetypes are neither good nor bad, they simply exist. Although the number of archetypes is limitless, there are a few notable, recurring archetypes, “the chief among them being” (according to Jung) “the shadow, the wise old man, the child, the mother … and her counterpart, the maiden, and lastly the anima in men (the feminine side in a man’s psyche) and the animus in women (the masculine side in a woman’s psyche)” (5).
Humans automatically inherit archetypes and enrich them based on our own experiences. These archetypal images call people to fulfil their basic human needs and motivations. Mark and Pearson (6) summarised these needs along two axes: belonging/enjoyment versus independence/fulfilment and stability/control versus risk/mastery.
Though it is likely that few were deliberately designed with archetypes in mind! Figure 2 shows the twelve main archetypes mapped on two axes, together with examples of well-known brands that fit each archetype. Some will be readily understood and others may trigger subliminal thoughts. Virgin will be familiar to many as an Outlaw brand. Think Robin Hood. A challenger to authority, taking from the rich and ‘evil’ (as they have variously portrayed established national airlines, banks and railway companies) and giving to the ‘poor’. Think also Zorro and Rebel without a Cause. This is a useful positioning for pioneering brands and those taking on the establishment.
Archetypes add meaning and convey messages that verbal and written information cannot. They help bring brands alive. They are powerful in revealing new ideas to help brands challenge category conventions, stand-out and reconnect with consumers. Understanding the archetypal nature and power of a brand is the first step to realising the strategic benefits outlined in Figure 1. Archetypes can also help explain brand successes and failures; brand marketing activity that correlates most strongly with archetypes tends to be more successful and value enhancing (and vice versa) (6). Once you name your archetype and understand how it works, the more you can express it, use it and avoid career-limiting mistakes!
The right positioning, personality and archetype for your brand will depend on the market in which you compete, your customer segments and their needs, the positioning spaces occupied by competitor brands, as well as your own strengths and weaknesses.
Now read how brand storytelling helps too.
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Batman vs. Superman 2016.
Digitalisation and 24/7 global connectivity increases customer power and supply-side reach. As a result, markets become increasingly competitive over time and not less. Search and algorithms also reduce brands to keywords. These therefore all create pressure for change. And dealing with change requires foresight, new business and brand management skills and processes.
We often get asked to help businesses get closer to customers and to develop new marketing or brand strategies. Yet businesses plan, organise and manage in different ways. Further, marketing has not always been viewed as a management discipline. It only emerged formally as such in the 1950s (1). Marketing functions evolved from sales, and brand functions, from communications. Digital functions evolved from the need to master new information and communication technologies. Yet customers and brands are the only constant in a fast-moving digital world.
So at the outset recognise that marketing and branding are often misunderstood concepts. Customer marketing and consumer marketing are different to brand marketing. Some businesses have dedicated ‘marketing’ and ‘branding’ teams and some do not. Even when dedicated teams are in place, the functions and skill-sets tend to be very different. Marketers are rarely empowered to think strategically. While some businesses employ rigorous strategic planning processes others encourage entrepreneurship. The pattern of evolution tends to follow from the past, with the pace of change, depending on the knowledge and perceptions of senior management. While, there is no ‘one-size’ solution for all there is a useful strategic planning process to work out the right solution (2) (Figure 1 – Infographic).
Only by understanding where a business or brand is now and where a business wants to be in the future allows route-map development.
So understand current business, marketing and brand strengths and weaknesses, business drivers, and create clear, challenging, and inspiring goals.
The marketing discipline uniquely looks through the lens of customers and customer segments to assess issues, size market opportunities and influence demand.
By clarifying where you are now and want to be, the size of the gap, potential route-maps or strategies to bridge gaps will become clear. Potential roadblocks or issues should also become clear. So opportunities and solutions can then be developed to address key issues. If this is not possible, then new goals need setting.
Work with colleagues and have confidence in human imagination to generate and build ideas (2). While some organisations may prefer an analytical approach to strategy development, and others a more creative approach, there is merit in dual ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ thinking. Left brain thinking involves assessing the pros and cons of each opportunity. Right brain thinking requires stepping away from the detail, and taking inspiration from the world around, to imagine new opportunities and strategies. In our experience no-one has a monopoly on good ideas, and employing different brains hastens progress.
Planning from the customer, market and brand point of view can inspire those more familiar with technology-push, creative-push or financially targeted methods.
Engaging colleagues is important to fact-find, ensure understanding and reassure. It will help reveal hopes and fears and add colour to issues and opportunities. It will also help clarify what’s understood or misunderstood, and agreed or disagreed. This helps focus attention on what’s required.
By agreeing goals and collaborating, the best ideas should naturally surface to the top, and win support. Though the best solution is not necessarily the one that is 100% technically correct, especially if only 20% of stakeholders agree with it. A better solution is one that is 90% technically correct where most stakeholders agree with it. Only then will there be a mandate for change.
The journey to create truly customer-focused businesses and powerful brands is a long one. Therefore be pragmatic about what benefits are achievable, at what cost, and by when. Also understand the barriers to change to devise more effective strategies and plans and mitigate any risks. Figure 2 shows a product-brand continuum with benefits delivered at each stage (3).
For product, service or sales-led organisations, there are benefits in simply understanding and meeting the needs of customers. This needs structures, skills and processes to put the customer and his or her needs at the centre of thinking.
For organisations in markets where brands are emerging as a differentiator, there are benefits in understanding customer awareness and perceptions. Also using these insights to influence choice and increase purchasing. This requires structures, skills, planning and management processes to design, promote and manage brand(s), and drive demand and sales.
For digital and service organisations delivering through people, and for larger product brands, there are benefits in understanding and influencing perceptions through all brand encounters. This needs structures, skills and processes to create distinctive communications, align people activities and behaviour. Also to ensure consistent delivery through those multiple encounters.
The very largest organisations and those contemplating expansion into multiple geographic markets and categories, require more developed relationship building strategies. In addition, brand personality, structures, skills and processes to invest and manage wisely across countries and markets.
With just 20 per cent of buying decisions based on pure logic, the psychology of marketing requires understanding. Psychology is the science of the mind and behaviour. Emotions and biases frequently influence our buying decisions. Whether we realise it or not, around eight out of 10 buying decisions are based on emotion (1).
This ‘Psychology of Marketing’ infographic (2) summarises common biases that influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. These include the status quo bias, the loss aversion bias, and the in-group bias.
1. Marketers should take account of cognitive biases to boost sales. A brand name, special offer, and immediate gratification all enhance sales.
2. The most successful brands comprise rational and emotional dimensions – so build both into your proposition.
3. Use consumer research to uncover exactly what emotional dimensions will best influence and persuade.
(1) Damasio, Anthony Descartes’ Error:Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (2005)
(2) Infographic courtesy Salesforce.com
Recent OFCOM Research (1) highlighting that 71% of the UK receive 9 nuisance calls a month, and that telephone is the #4 culprit, questions whether this mode has had its day? But while online has grown in share, is this top dog? We’ve been looking closely at the merits of online, telephone (random direct dialling) and face-to-face (ftf). Several insights emerged. So if you are about to brief in a quantitative research survey, this article summarises some of our findings and spotlights some considerations to help you make the most of your research investment.
Costs vary by sample size, ease of reaching an audience or ‘incidence’, the length of survey, mode and complexity of fieldwork and analysis. Some costs such as coding for online research, computer aided telephone interviewing and computer assisted personal interviewing are similar. Compared with online (index =100) fieldwork costs are typically higher for face-to-face (index 250-300) than telephone (index 250-300) due to the greater human time involved.
Online presently reaches 82% of the UK though many online surveys run via panels which cover just 5% of the population. Thus sample carefully to cover geographic gaps and bear in mind that respondents are also usually more ‘Internet experienced’. Conversely, nearly all homes have access to at least one phone though telephone databases cover just 60% UK (and we suspect even fewer are opted-in to research). Within this fixed line telephone reaches 82% (with greater penetration among older respondents) and mobiles reach 81% (with greater penetration of younger respondents) (1). Face-to-face can reach most places (though at a cost).
Online response depends on the nature of the panel, and how responsive and interested respondents are. Expect between 5-30%. Response from links on websites or emails will similarly depend on the nature of the source. Telephone responses have fallen over the last decade and responses are now around 10-15%. Face-to-face response is also around 15-20%.
The self-selection nature of online means there is a greater risk of respondents opting-in to surveys that interest them. This is called avidy bias. Typically online respondents are younger, more familiar with the online world and spend more time on it. They are also more informed, more opinionated and more politically activist. (2) Panels also contain more early technology adopters though it remains possible to discern other types on the diffusion of innovation spectrum.
Research (3, 4) has observed that those responding by telephone present more socially desirable responses more often than face-to-face. This is particularly the case with those with lower intellectual ability/fewer years of formal education (i.e. C2DEs). Research has also shown that respondents are more comfortable discussing sensitive subjects face-to-face as they can see, and thus have greater trust in, the interviewer. Conversely, ftf interviews conducted in the respondent’s home eliminate anonymity, making socially desirable responses more pronounced. Overall however, interpersonal trust between the interviewer and the respondent has a greater influence resulting in more honest responses. FTF shows similar results to online (where there is no interviewer effect) though some research (5) has observed directionally higher valuation responses to some ‘willingness to pay’ questions (for example, when there is a perceived ‘civic virtue’ in being seen to contribute to a common good).
Satisficing (combining the words satisfy and sacrifice) involves short-cutting the response process, settling on a solution that is ‘good enough’ but could be ‘optimised’.
Telephone poses an increased cognitive burden. The increased difficulty to fully comprehend questions, reduces the effort to cooperate, search the memory and process information. Perceived time pressure also fatigues and demotivates. This results in questions being less considered, giving rise to higher acquiescence (answering affirmatively regardless of the question), having no opinions, choosing mid-points or only extremes in rating scales, easier to defend answers and reduced disclosure. Again this is more clear with those with lower intellectual ability. Research (3,4,5) suggests FTF researchers are better able to judge confusion, waning motivation, distraction (via watching a tv, eating etc.) and be able motivate and make it easier for the respondent to understand the questionnaire and improve cooperation on complex tasks. With online respondents go at their own pace.
(1) Great research starts with a great brief. Decide your target and what’s most important. Beyond feasibility and answers to questions, what’s the relative importance of cost, speed, precision etc.
(2) There are many pitfalls in conducting quantitative research. Even more if you would like to repeat a survey or set up a tracker. Larger samples give greater reliability. A sample in excess of 1000 will give more reliability than a sample of 500. This means that repeating a survey 100 times means that in 95 instances, responses (confidence interval) will be within +/- 1%. Make sure data is comparable from wave to wave. Prefer shorter surveys to cut the risk of satisficing.
(3) Take care to make sure samples are not biased and give reliable findings. Nationally representative samples are essential to measure awareness, usage and market share. Anything else has in-built bias and risks misleading. Ensure your sample eliminates any demographic, subject affinity, usage or other bias.
(4) Buyer beware. Remember the Whiskas advert that famously told us that ‘8 out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas’. This was eventually changed to ‘8 out of 10 owners that expressed a preference said their cats preferred Whiskas’. What we still don’t know is the sample size, how many said ‘don’t know’, and how many expressed a preference. Whatever the survey mode, be clear what is statistically significant or merely directional, and make the context clear. This will help you avoid being duped and make better decisions! Meoww, yum!
(1) OFCOM (2014).
(2) Duffy Bobby, Smith Kate, Terhanian George, Bremer John. Comparing Data from Online and Face-to-face Surveys. International Journal of Market Research Vol 47 Issue 6. (2005)
(3) Holbrook Allyson L, Green Melanie C, Krosnick Jon A. Telephone versus Face-to-face interviewing of National Probability Samples with Long Questionnaires. Public Opinion Quarterly, Volume 67:79–125 (2003).
(4) Szolnoki G, Hoffman D. Online, face-to-face and telephone surveys – Comparing different sampling methods in wine consumer research. Wine Economics and Policy 2 (2013) 57-66.
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