Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is America Breaking Up with Thanksgiving?

Several major retailers made a splash in the news this year with their plans to kick off the Holiday shopping season early – by opening for business on Thanksgiving Day.  Many of the pundits reacted by insisting that retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, JCPenney and Macy’s are “stealing” Thanksgiving by opening as early as 6 p.m.  However, we’ve got evidence that the idea of Thanksgiving – at least as a sacred 12-hour stretch of family, carbs and football – is waning among key consumer groups.

This initiative on the part of retailers can be seen in one light as just one more facet of the changing cultural landscape.  Thanksgiving was historically a combination of religious feelings (giving thanks), extended family gatherings; and major multicourse meals.  As a society, we’ve become more secular, our family size has shrunk, and we are much more likely to be eating our meals on the fly. All of these forces of social change diminish the fit of the Thanksgiving holiday with the way that we live today.

To find out more about how people actually feel about Thanksgiving in general as well as their reactions to retailers’ new plans to open their doors on the holiday, we conducted research and found some surprising results.

First, our findings suggests that Americans do feel differently about Thanksgiving, compared to years past.  We found a significant decrease in the number of people who expect to feel a sense of nurturance and connection to others over the holiday. When people focused on how they expect to feel this Thanksgiving, the strength of expectations for these emotions was reduced by as much as 20% compared to past Thanksgivings   We also saw a very marked increase in people who expected that they might feel somewhat isolated and disengaged on Thanksgiving.

I suspect it’s not that Americans don’t have the same emotional yearnings to feel connected to their loved ones and to enjoy family time.  It’s just that the secularization of our lifestyles, the atomization of our household structures, and the mobilization of our eating styles all militate against this holiday.

The Risk Retailers Take

So what about doing business on Thanksgiving?  We also asked consumers how they felt about stores opening so much earlier on Thanksgiving, and their perception of stores who might adopt this practice.  Here the results are strikingly polarized.

About 15 percent of the respondents don’t just like the idea of stores opening earlier, they love it, and they definitely plan to go shopping. These respondents were generally avid shoppers, most of whom (82 percent) say they were already committed to shopping on Black Friday, and three quarters of these consumers say they plan to show up at stores before they open.  The prospect of stores opening on Thanksgiving makes these people feel good. They get a sense that the stores understand and care about their needs as harried bargain hunters, and they feel empowered by these new store policies. Finally, they are thinking, a retail brand understands how important it is for me to save money and finish my holiday shopping effectively.     

On the other hand, two thirds of respondents appear to loathe the idea of early openings. They state that they “definitely will not shop” on Thanksgiving.  
It makes them feel unhappy and disengaged, even defeated. They feel as if these stores and the culture are working against them, thwarting their desire to make the holiday special and meaningful for themselves and their families.

So -- retailers are rolling the dice. Are they better off opening early? Will they increase sales to those who would have already shopped on Black Friday?  Will the intensified emotional connection among these shopping enthusiasts translate to better brand connection throughout the holidays – or will retailers simply spread the early spending of this group over two days? Only the sales records of the season will tell.

The potential downside is that retailers may sour their brand connection with the much larger audience. And that’s a big risk: These people didn’t just have no emotion about Thanksgiving openings, they had very strong negative emotions. Will it be enough to turn them against certain store brands? Some stores seem to think so: Both Nordstrom and Costco, for example, have held fast to their refusal to open on Thursday.

Most likely, stores will make the call based on their own assumptions about core customers.

In the end, however our culture is changing, it’s important to realize that we love our families as much as we ever did, whether we are inclined or capable of gathering the clan together in one large group. Thanks to the scattering of American families, that reunion moment seems to be getting harder and harder to pull off.

We fulfill our need for connectedness in other ways. Chalk some of it up to Facebook and other social media, which allows us to connect to distant relations in ways we hadn’t before. Getting together has new forms. Who knows? Maybe we are closer to finding a virtual Thanksgiving.

Whether you head off to Wal-Mart or not, have a great Thanksgiving holiday!

David Forbes holds a Ph.D. in clinical and cognitive psychology from Clark University, and was a member of the faculties of Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry and the Harvard Laboratory of Human Development before beginning his career as a business consultant. Dr. Forbes founded Forbes Consulting over 20 years ago as a strategic market research consultancy dedicated to creating business advantage through deep psychological consumer insights. Since that time, he has built Forbes into a major resource for scores of major corporations in the CPG, Financial Services, and Pharmaceuticals industries, domestically and internationally.

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10 Ways to Improve Your Digital Customer Experiences

Whenever customer experience professionals are asked how important it is to improve their digital experiences, they affirm that it is absolutely critical. But, there is still an ongoing struggle to identify what digital experience improvements they need to make. 

Customers today need to have great experiences when they interact with an organization's digital presence, but what can businesses do to improve digital experiences? A new report from Forrester Research, “Top 10 Ways to Improve Digital Experiences,” shares 10 pieces of advice:

10. Flex Your Analytics. A factual basis can be established for understanding where visitors go inside a website or app as well as what they do.

9. Conduct Expert Reviews of Digital Touchpoints. There’s user data and then there are “heuristic reviews,” where experts — who can either be users meeting the characteristics of targeted users or usability experts — try to accomplish specific customer goals.

8. Reach Out to Customers.Get feedback from the people who are encountering the digital experience, with data is derived from surveys, customer feedback forms, emails, support calls, chat sessions and social media posts.

7. Adopt User-Centered Design Process. This involves customer research, idea-generation and iterative prototyping.

6. Take Advantage of the Inherent Characteristics of Digital Touchpoints. This provides the sane advice to use the features — and the size of the screen — of your targeted device. These can include interfaces that are optimized for a touch tablet screen or real-time data in a mobile app that changes content or offers based on location.

5. Get Outside Help When and Where You Need It. This includes tech help as well as specialists for, say, researching customers in their native environments.

4. Plan for the Post-Launch. This is often overlooked for how those great features and customer feedback are going to be maintained over time.

3. Bolster Your Brand. This is a common focus of companies looking to enhance the digital experience. But this distills the wisdom down to understanding your company’s positioning or supporting brand attributes in what is seen and done.

2. Measure Digital Touchpoint Performance Against Business Metrics. This offers the advice to figure out business objectives, ways to get there, how to measure customer response from all digital and non-digital channels and ROI.

1. Unify the Overall Customer Experience. This is a hot topic, as companies and their agencies try to present a unified experience across channels, which means a data consistency about the customer’s interactions and a consistency of feelings about the brand.

About the Author: Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist of the Marketing Division at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR’s blogs including Next Big DesignCustomers 1st, and ProjectWorld and World Congress for Business Analysts, and a regular contributor to Front End of Innovation and The Market Research Event,. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She can be reached at aciccatelli@iirusa.com. Follow her at @AmandaCic
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Lessons Learned from The Market Research Event, Part 1

Why Researchers Must Invest In Adaptability

By Marc Dresner, IIR

With The Market Research Event 2013 a few weeks behind us and the Thanksgiving holiday approaching here in the States, this seemed a good time to offer some food for thought from this year’s conference.

For those who were unable to attend, TMRE 2013 in Nashville October 21-23 was loaded with more content than anyone could possibly consume in three short days—world-class keynotes, workshops, nine concurrent tracks…

Between my session notes, off-the-record discussions with friends in the industry and my on-camera interviews for TMRE’s annual series, The Research Insighter (stay tuned!) I’ve had plenty to stew on.

I just can’t escape an obvious theme that you’ve all heard over and over but which nonetheless bears repeating: Change.

I was initially reluctant to address it here, because the topic frequently elicits a roll of the eyes, but hear me out.

I’m not talking about the hyped kind of change.

You'll find no preachy rant, no breathless call to action, no hyperbolic lament about the industry’s fate here.

It’s just a quiet truth you can take to the bank: Constant change at a rapidly accelerating pace is upon us.

No news there, right? Stay with me.

I guess I’m writing about it because when I add up everything I heard at TMRE this year, there’s a nuance, a contour to “change” that feels somehow different. Not more urgent, but maybe a little more tangible? Like, “Huh. This stuff all the futurists and assorted gurus have been talking about for years is actually coming to pass.”

The seed was planted during a private luncheon for research clients I attended at TMRE hosted by youth and family research firm Smarty Pants, whose founder and president, Wynne Tyree, informed us that among teens “Facebook is dead.”

I wasn’t shocked by this revelation. My mother—a grandmother of two—is an avid Facebook user. Nuf said.

Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat—that’s where the action is now. But only for now. I’ve a hunch that Snapchat’s CEO may rue the day he turned down Facebook’s $3 billion offer, because made-to-last is contracting fast.

Futurist Jared Weiner of Weiner, Edrich, Brown in his TMRE keynote dubbed the phenomenon “templosion”—the implosion of really big things into short bursts of time.

“Big companies used to take a long time to build; today they’re born and they die in record time,” said Weiner, who punctuated his point with a boneyard of brands.

And not to pick on Facebook, but it exemplifies this trend. Not even 10 years old and already its innovation strategy now appears to be the same as that of any venerable corporation today: acquire. Snapchat isn’t its first foray; Facebook bought Instagram last year.

So what does this have to do with research?

Well, first of all, it's clear that whether you're a research provider or a client-sider, you don’t want to get hung up on a platform, because it may not matter tomorrow.

What if, say, your bailiwick is ratings? Now there's a scary proposition.

Nielsen in October launched Twitter TV ratings, but Twitter is seven years old! That’s like #ancient!!!

And now that Twitter has IPO’d, it's a safe bet the folks in charge there will soon adopt the same innovation strategy as their peers at Facebook.

Bottom line: I trust we're all prepared to move quickly when Twitter falls from favor, because the people at Twitter are most likely already planning for that inevitability.

So I would humbly suggest that researchers maintain nimble investment strategies.
In an environment of flux, flexibility and speed are important. And let's face it, neither attribute comes particularly naturally to research. I still remember all the flak Gordon Black took over his weighting schemes in Harris Interactive's early days.

How you, as a research company or a client-sider, plan to allocate your time and money in order to keep up with the pace of change is becoming an increasingly tricky equation.

We need to be prepared to make some quick compromises in order not to fall behind.

Please check back tomorrow for part two. We'll look at Malcolm Gladwell’s inverted U and why it may matter to researchers who want to invest in adaptability.

Thanks for reading!

Marc Dresner is IIR USA’s sr. editor and special communication project lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at mdresner@iirusa.com. Follow him @mdrezz.

Infographic: 2013 marks the first year U.S. adults spent more time viewing media on digital devices

"2013 marks the first year U.S. adults spent more time viewing media on digital devices – more than any other form. It appears that print, radio and even television have officially become unseated as dominate sources of media." via visual.ly & kissmetrics.com

Crossing the Digital Divide
by KISSmetrics.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Consumers Use Social Media to Make Shopping Decisions

Empathica Consumer Insights Panel surveyed more than  6,500 U.S. consumers. The findings show that mobile and social customer experience strategies are becoming more important than ever for brands, with retail and restaurant consumers using these channels to make decisions – even while in-store.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How Social Has Revolutionized the Media Industry from Twitter, Facebook, CBS, NBC & More

It's no secret, we're all trying to figure out where, when and how people are spending their time. In a socially interconnected world, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube competing for attention, being a part of it requires a more empathetic understanding of your customers at a deeper level.

Join us in January at  The Media Insights & Engagement Conference and get access to industry leaders, first hand, to help you better understand your consumers social media consumption habits and how to engage with them across screens.

Twitter's Jeffrey Graham takes the stage discussing how people use Twitter, and how companies are using the social platform to connect and engage with Twitter users.

Facebook's Fred Leach, Head of Measurement Research, Development & Partnerships, as he shares the secrets that show how reach and frequency of different media types drive return on advertising spend, and the measurement tools and standards necessary to measure and optimize advertising return.

Cross Industry Panel on The Future of Social Media and TV Measurement
Find out if there is a correlation between social media and TV viewership and if an era of complementing measurements will be a reality.
•             David Poltrack, Chief Research Officer, CBS Corporation (NEW PANELIST JUST ANNOUNCED!)
•             Daniel Slotwiner, Head of Ecosystem Measurement Team, Facebook (NEW PANELIST JUST ANNOUNCED!)
•             Dave Kaplan, VP, Bravo Ad Sales & Digital Research, NBCUniversal
•             Andrew Somosi, CEO, SocialGuide
•             Beth Rockwood, SVP Market Resources and Advertising Sales Research, Discovery Communications

And that's not all. The Media Insights & Engagement Conference has a breakout track devoted to The Role of Social, Digital, Video & LinTV, with presentations from Viacom, Participant Media, HBO, HUB Entertainment Research, Time, Inc., and more, covering the use of second screens to build show and advertising engagement,  safer digital practices, cross-platform media insights and the use of mobile. Download the brochure for full details.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Virgin America’s Safety Video Gives Customer Experience a New Song and Dance

Thanks to the digital revolution, customers are in control - they want what they want, when they want it. Customers have access to virtually all the information they need before you know they’re interested, and prospects are similarly informed before you even know they exist. Such access to information is disrupting the way you market to and connect with your customers. So, listen up.

In a world no longer able to compete by having the best product or price alone, today’s CMOs need to find new ways to reach and customers. Traditional marketing like print and broadcast are still relevant, but in order to reach today’s consumer, they need to do more. CMOs must own the customer experience (CX), both within marketing and across the enterprise.

CX is the primary reason Virgin America developed a following whose passion rivals that of Apple fans. A loyal fan base is a rarity for the airline industry, which tends to be hated for a flying experience. And it’s an experience that usually kicks off boringly with the safety demonstration.

How many times have you been on a plane where nobody is watching the safety demonstration?  This no longer happens on Virgin America. The airline has found a way to hark back to what the flying experience was all about – entertainment. It has created a unique in-flight safety video, presented with a catchy tune, dance moves, performers and humor, the airline makes one seriously engaging video. In fact, Virgin America released it on its social channels and within a couple of weeks it reached over six million views on YouTube.

The bottom line is that CX is essential for brand success.  Organizations looking to use the customer experience as a differentiator would be better served finding synergies between the CMO and CXO to create that awesome customer experience – and a competitive edge. By finding synergies that amplify the skills the CMO brings to the organization, companies can remain competitive in a rapidly evolving and complex business environment. The CEO too must embrace customer experience and it must become part of the corporate culture of an organization. It “belongs” to everyone – from the people who answer the phones to the people who create, develop the products.

About the Author: Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist of the Marketing Division at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR’s blogs including Next Big DesignCustomers 1st, and ProjectWorld and World Congress for Business Analysts, and a regular contributor to Front End of Innovation and The Market Research Event,. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She can be reached at aciccatelli@iirusa.com. Follow her at @AmandaCicc

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Infographic: The Future of TV

"The future of television is about solving consumer and media & entertainment business challenges with amazing user experiences and disruptive business models." via visual.ly and userexperience.jux.com

The Future of TV
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

From the Vault: 3 Approaches to Cross Media Data via Ogilvy

The inundation of consumer data thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and social media has inspired the term ‘Big Data.’ The majority of data out there is unstructured and non-actionable causing many companies across industries to be overwhelmed by the volume.

Luckily, cross-media marketing or communications is a solution as it establishes an interaction between the different media elements. Cross media opens a line of communication with an existing or potential customer produces results that are measurable. Cross-media communications are structured to move the audience or prospect across the different media using strong "calls-to-action." Each touch point builds on the experience and the "narrative bridge" teases you to investigate. 

Since the inception of mass communication, marketers have been issuing the same message on multiple channels. Coordinated TV, radio, and print ads are nothing new. What makes a campaign become cross media is how the responses are funneled into a single data collection point to generate a dialogue. Marketers need to gather information from their clients and use that information to generate the follow on communications – regardless of channel.

These days, marketers have to deal with the overflowing amount of data that businesses are having trouble keeping track of. They are being bombarded with information about their customers via television, print, digital, social, and mobile. As a result, there is an issue of understanding the level of awareness, favorability and purchase intent amidst all of this data.

Jorge Ruiz, partner and director of Media Analytics at Ogilvy, knows effective methods that help businesses utilize this valuable information. He sat down with IIR’s Marc Dresner at last year’s TMRE to discuss key approaches to media data in order to go beyond purchase intent. “There are effective methods for executing brand studies with research partners. But, I have to go beyond that because I have another component to look at, which is ‘how is it selling or how is it moving acquisition numbers?’” Ruiz told Dresner.

According to Ruiz, here are 3 approaches to cross media data:

Survey-Only Data
This works great for time-sensitive purchases. If you do cross media studies and are able to send out the surveys and tag all your media to recognize it the day after the event, you can ask purchase questions to sample people who purchased it in the last 24 hours. It is important because you want to be able to translate that number into an estimate ROI within the survey data.

Cross Media Study Data
According to Ruiz, this works when you have the ability to match to a sales panel. This is very scalable in the consumer packaged goods world. It’s a matter of combining digital exposure data with sales panel data and finding ways to create a probability model for your offline exposure data.

Google Search Data
Using data and long-term trends discovered from it, you can use search as an indirect variable. As you are building consideration you are actually seeing changes in search and it makes sense for certain categories. As long as you know people are going to search for product line, it makes perfect sense.

“There are a lot of different approaches and methodologies, but I love every single one of them,” said Ruiz. “I worry less about which approach has the best methodology, and worry about there is not enough scale.”

To watch the full interview, click here: http://bit.ly/12QG68P

Media Insights & Engagement

The trends and changes in media consumption habits binge viewing, companion devices, social TV, cord cutting, the new watercooler - are challenges you face every day. Not only do you need to understand how media is being consumed, but also how to better engage with consumers on all screens wherever they are watching. We invite you to join us at the Media Insights & Engagement Conference taking place on Jan.29-31, 2014, in Miami to collaborate with all the key players in the media industry, including Cable, Broadband, OTT, Satellite, and Telecommunications, navigate content and explore new opportunities with insights-rich decision making.

* Republished with permission from original here.

Is Your Customer Experience Holiday-Ready?

There are only 43 days until Christmas. Are you ready? Is your company’s customer experience ready?

You better be. This year, the first full night of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving coincide for the first time since 1888. Now, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, holiday shopping can be done from a variety of sources — in-store, mobile and desktop. No matter where customers are, most expect to have the experience stay the same.

It the past, stores didn't start to prepare for the holiday season until after Thanksgiving, and there was an expectation that you shopped when the stores were open and if you missed out. As shopping online became popular, retailers needed not only to maintain an active in-store presence, but also manage inventory online. Some stores stay open 24-hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making it easier than ever to find the perfect gift any time of day or night.

If you're not focused on turning customers from browsers into buyers, you can bet that they will go elsewhere to make their purchases. So, how can retailers prepare to handle omnichannel marketing and help customers find the best products at the right prices?  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Day in the Life…

Today's post comes from TMRE Guest Blogger, Katie Clark. She is also known as @InsightsGal on Twitter and is a client-side market researcher, project manager, and social media maven.  

I would venture a guess that most of you are at least peripherally familiar with “Day in the Life of a Customer” (DITLOC) studies.  If your customers are looking for a deep-dive into their customers' lives, looking for new product opportunities, better knowledge about how their products or services are being used, or simply wanting to learn more about their customer base, a DITLOC study could be the way to go. 

However, what I've found interesting lately is when I mention “day in the life” studies in my conversations with other researchers, what comes up more often than DITLOC studies with customers is the desire to hear more about the day in the life (and/or the productivity and workflow tips) of a researcher

Why? If you’re a corporate researcher like I am, it’s always fascinating to get out of your bubble and hear how other corporate researchers are faring within their companies. Are there better ways to do things? Ways to gain efficiencies? Inspiration to be had? 

One of benefits of attending TMRE is to meet your peers. In my case that's client-side researchers in small-to-medium size organizations. It's a chance to commiserate and accomplish the above - to do some brain picking as to each other's processes in the hopes we can find some efficiencies to bring back to our offices and teams. 

Sessions at #TMRE13 that focused on the stories, processes, and triumphs of corporate researchers such as Marisa Paruch of Wolverine Worldwide and Susan Topel of Centene were fantastic for corporate researchers like me - to give us a "day in the life" per se.  

Outside of attending TMRE there are some but not many resources that cover this for researchers.  There are a few videos out there that cover this such as this overview of Steve Murphy's day as Managing Director at Ipsos, and this oldie but goodie about the day in the life of a Research Analyst. Are there some great researcher day-in-the-life resources that I’m missing? 

Outside of research, there are great ongoing profile series such as Inc.'s The Way I Work and Lifehacker's This Is How I Work.  

Is this a topic that resonates with you? Are you interested in how different researchers work? What questions would you want to know, and who would you like to hear from?  

If so, let me know in the comments below if this is a feature you'd be interested in reading, I’m happy to do some interviewing.

More about Katie: Based in Portland, Maine, Katie is the Senior Research Manager at Diversified Business Communications, managing a team of skilled researchers busy gleaning insights for products around the globe. She has worked with companies large and small in industries such as software, seafood, fragrance and entertainment to help companies move their business forward supported by actionable insights derived from market research. She loves to find the story in the numbers and is passionate about bringing the “Voice of the Customer” inside the organization. Active on social media as @InsightsGal, Katie actively tweets and blogs about the market research industry. The opinions expressed here are her own and not those of her employer.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Businesses Reimagine Customer Experience with Microsoft Dynamics

Software giant Microsoft is helping businesses differentiate themselves in the market with its Microsoft Dynamics technology. According to Microsoft Business Solutions executive vice president Kirill Tatarinov and Microsoft International president Jean-Philippe Courtois, people and businesses can reimagine the way they engage with customers, build brand relevance, and collaborate to stay ahead of the ever-changing market and business environments.

"This is truly the era of the customer where people are more informed and better connected than ever. Businesses urgently need solutions to unite and empower their people so they can best serve and nurture their customers," Tatarinov said. "Microsoft is positioned to deliver agile, integrated business solutions that will help organizations in this new era by delivering amazing customer experiences."

Microsoft Dynamics designs modern business solutions that empower individuals with intuitive tools that allow them to do their best work. Our proactive, easy-to-use business applications adapt to the way people and systems work, enabling businesses to rapidly deploy and be forward-looking in an ever-changing world.
The company also recently unveiled 18 new predefined and configurable process templates that include sports management, healthcare, government and nonprofit, and more. Delivering on the promise of giving customers access to their CRM information on any device, Microsoft confirmed the availability of new touch-optimized experiences on Windows Phones, iPhones and Android phones that give customers powerful functionality and analytics on the go, without a separate license fee.

To make it easy for businesses to buy Microsoft Dynamics CRM to use with Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft is introducing a global pricing promotion that lets eligible existing and new Microsoft Office 365 customers purchase professional licenses of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and get up to a 40 percent discount on the price of the CRM license, giving them significant value for their technology investment.
In fact, Metro Bank, Great Britain's first new high street bank in more than a century and an early adopter of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, is using the new solution as the foundation of its customer-first strategy.

"Metro Bank is driving a revolution in banking. We aim to create fans, not customers, and we have a culture that is all about surprise and delight," said Paul Marriott-Clarke, commercial director, Metro Bank, in a statement. "Microsoft Dynamics CRM is our platform to engage with customers and along with Yammer, SharePoint, Office 365 and Lync is helping us to deliver our promise to offer customers the very best in service and convenience."

About the Author: Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist of the Marketing Division at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR’s blogs including Next Big DesignCustomers 1st, and ProjectWorld and World Congress for Business Analysts, and a regular contributor to Front End of Innovation and The Market Research Event,. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She can be reached at aciccatelli@iirusa.com. Follow her at @AmandaCicc. 

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Beware the Brain-Science Backlash

It’s official: After decades of watching neuroscience move from being a strange stepsister of psychology to cutting-edge medical research, the inevitable backlash is in full swing.

The year’s just half over, and already, such books as Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience; A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, and Brain Imaging: What it Can (and Cannot) Tell Us About Consciousness have hit the shelves. There are cheeky blogs debunking neuropsuedoscience, like NeuroBollocks. And in the ultimate proof that skepticism is top of mind, The New Yorker says it’s so. Check out Gary Marcus’ recent The Problem With The Neuroscience Backlash.

The reason there is such an onslaught of accusations about neuroscience overreaching itself is because so many people have, in fact, overreached. As this approach to thinking about people and human behavior grew increasingly popular, practitioners of neuroscience felt that natural urge to “run with the ball” – making increasingly expansive and provocative claims about the powers of the science . Most famously, neuromarketers informed Frito Lay that women looking at their snack packages felt “guilty” – based on observed activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulated cortex. Frito Lay reacted to this information by making major changes in its snack packaging. The problem was that academic neuroscientists will tell you that there is no area of the brain that can be associated with guilt – and that the anterior cingulate cortex has been associated with error detection – fairly different from the concept of guilt. Using “reverse inference” to translate FMRI patterns into psychological concepts such as guilt or desire can only lead to marketing conclusions that are neither certain nor credible. Brain scans don’t yet offer the insights we need to formulate marketing strategies. We are doubtless many years away – if it will ever be possible – from knowing which neurons govern such psychological phenomena as guilt or generosity or ambition.

Meanwhile, other practitioners of business research recognized that the neuroscience idea was “hot”, and soon it seemed that everyone has some type of “neuroscience” in their product mix. All of this naturally winds up with trouble. As legitimate practitioners of FMRI research stretched the science beyond its current limits, and as faux “neuroscientists” with no basis for their claim crowd onto the stage, it is only natural that the term would begin to be attached to shaky or even completely bogus science. This activity is a natural target for a public backlash.

The customers of neuroscience have also played a role in creating the backlash against neuroscience. Many new technologies in science are initially greeted with over-strong levels of enthusiasm, as people hope that “finally” some of the frustrating inadequacies of current methods might be overcome – including the current heavy reliance on some form of self report to measure emotional enthusiasm. The business community pounced on brain research with delight as soon as it appeared: after all those years of parsing what consumers told us in subjective focus group results, there was suddenly science. This made for a very welcoming audience to those who might exaggerate the powers of the new scientific technology, and a potentially gullible audience for those attempting to masquerade as practitioners of the new. Overly enthusiastic individuals who climbed uncritically onto the “next new thing” were bound to get disappointed – and hence the fuel for the backlash.

The backlash raises important issues, and hopefully sends signals to practitioners and would-be customers alike about the importance of reasonable conservatism in making claims for a new science, and about the need for customers to exercise critical judgment in evaluating any new scientific technology as a possible solution to research challenges. Going forward it is critical that researchers eliminate any suggestion of smoke-and-mirrors from our claims, and resist the urge to hyperbolize in the face of public enthusiasm.
The brain is a wondrous organ, and the study of neurophysiology and neuropsychology represents a huge forefront in psychological science today. But right now, we don’t have a perfect map of what happens in the human brain. We barely have a map at all. President Barack Obama’s $100 million funding for the Brain Initiative earlier this year is great news for all of us who are interested in the brain. The more we know, the more inferences we will be able to make about human emotion, thought and behavior.

At this point, we need to move carefully so as to benefit from the promise of this new science without creating overpromise. For example, Sands Research uses EEG to measure increased attention and arousal. They found that ads that both build and sustain attention and arousal are more effective than those that fail to maintain this activity. In one famous study, this technique was used to evaluate a series of Super Bowl ads finding one ad in particular that was associated with stronger EEG responses than any previously had ever tested. This ad subsequently generated over 6.8 billion worldwide impressions, 50 million views online, massively increased traffic to the brand website, and directly contributed to North American sales. Using simple and straightforward neuroscience measures, and drawing conservative claims, Sands effectively used neuroscience to help the client.

Only with this kind of careful and conservative application of neuroscience in market research will we be able to ensure that marketers do not heave the baby out with the bathwater, as they react to disappointing results from claims that were wildly premature.

I believe the focus should be primarily on developing measures and methods that leverage the basic empirical findings of neuroscience (such as the neuropsychology of image processing) to craft emotional research tools that get beyond the problems of simple self-report. Attempting to stretch our understanding of functional neuroanatomy beyond the bounds of current scientific consensus will only lead to accusations of chicanery from the core of the scientific community.  Specific emotional phenomena that marketers seek to create in their audiences emerge from interactions among a massive web of neurons, with vast numbers of potential connections that are currently well outside our functional neuroanatomical understanding. (The latest count, in case you were wondering, is that the typical adult brain contains 86 billion neurons, and then about the same number of glial cells helping connect these neurons.) If we are ever able to point to the neurology of feeling the drive for achievement, or of experiencing the urge to nurture one’s family, that will be a very long way off.
So as with all science, we must temper enthusiasm with caution, we must push the envelope of our methods without tearing it wide open. Neuroscience will surely point the way to greater self-knowledge for the human race, and greater opportunities for the whole of human culture – including business and marketing. I close with somewhat famous watchwords that are appropriate for those who would practice (or purchase) neuroscience: “If your mind is too open, your brain may fall out.”

About the Author: David Forbes holds a Ph.D. in clinical and cognitive psychology from Clark University, and was a member of the faculties of Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry and the Harvard Laboratory of Human Development before beginning his career as a business consultant. He founded Forbes Consulting over 20 years ago as a strategic market research consultancy dedicated to creating business advantage through psychological consumer insights. He has since built Forbes into a major resource for scores of major corporations in the CPG, Financial Services, and Pharmaceuticals industries, domestically and internationally. David is the creator of the MindSight® emotional assessment technologies, a suite of applied neuropsychological methods for understanding consumer emotion and motivation, without the distortions of conscious editing and self-presentation.  
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Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Earn a Free Pass to Foresight & Trends 2013: Call for Bloggers

Earn a complimentary all-access pass to Foresight & Trends 2013 by serving as a Guest Blogger at the event. As a Guest Blogger, you’ll have access to FT’s comprehensive agenda focusing on translating experience into a strategic action plan for capturing future opportunities.

You'll get a pass to the annual FT'13 event plus exclusive access to a networking community and on-demand webinars, to help you grow and learn throughout the year.

Guest Blogger responsibilities will include submitting at least one post per week to the World Future Trends Tumblr between now and the conference and attending specifically assigned sessions at the event and blogging live or same day.

By participating as a Guest Blogger leading up to and at the event, you’ll receive an all-access pass for the entire event, taking place November 13-15, in Los Angeles.  * Guest Bloggers are responsible for their own travel and lodging.

Apply today by sending your name, title, company, short biography and links to your blog or writing samples, along with a few sentences about why we should choose you to be our 2013 FT Guest Blogger to vrusso@iirusa.com. We will review your submission and contact the chosen Guest Bloggers directly with more details.