Thursday, December 29, 2016

Our New Year’s Resolution: Focusing on Your Future

We want you to continue to be successful in 2017. In order to do that, when it comes to business, you need to think about the future beyond next year.  

We know you are under pressure from your managers to stay ahead of the curve and always be thinking of the future in your industries. So, that’s why it’s more important than ever to attend live conferences and events to hear what the future holds directly from industry leaders.

Here are the events that will keep you thinking ahead in 2017:

·         The Media Insights & Engagement Conference
January 31 - February 2, 2017
The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Use code MEDIA17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

·         Marketing Analytics & Data Science
April 3 – 5, 2017
JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square, San Francisco, CA
Use code MADS17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

·         FUSE Miami
April 4-6, 2017
Nobu Hotel – Eden Roc, Miami, FL
Use code FUSE17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

·         FEI: Front End of Innovation
May 8-11, 2017
Seaport World Trade Center Boston, MA
Use code FEI17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

·         OmniShopper
June 20-22, 2017
Hyatt, Minneapolis, MN
Use code SHOPPER17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

·         TMRE: The Market Research Event
October 23-25, 2017
Rosen Shingle Creek, Orlando, FL
Use code TMRE17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

·         TMRE Digital
With TMRE Digital you can access 27 Sessions from the World's Leading Insights Event TMRE from the comfort of your own home or office.
Learn more and download:

Don’t get stuck in the past. Look forward to the future!  

We hope to see you at our 2017 events!


The Knect365 Team

Friday, December 16, 2016

Image Recognition and the Future of Digital Analytics

This post was originally published on the Kelton Global Blog.

The days of text-centric social feeds are officially long gone. A whopping 1.8 billion images are uploaded to the Internet daily and of those, 350 million are shared on Facebook. Instagram recently surpassed 500 million active users, and Snapchat now has more active users than Twitter. The content that flows into our social feeds is more heavily optimized than ever to deliver more of what people want—less text and more visuals.

Brands have adapted their social content strategies accordingly by delivering more visually immersive experiences. And while we’re seeing significant shifts in branded content, this influx of visual content has yet to herald a commensurate change in social analytics. Accordingly, few gains have been made to measure and derive insights from the contents of images or video. Social listening has historically focused on the challenges of text-based analysis–specifically, the challenge of determining the context and meaning behind posts. But as social media habits evolve, it’s clear that deriving insights from pictures is an increasingly important aspect of understanding consumers. That’s where image recognition comes into play.

Brands have adapted their social content strategies accordingly by delivering more visually immersive experiences.

Simply put, image recognition is the process of translating images to data. Photos and images can reveal a wealth of data points–demographics, purchases, personalities, and behaviors (just to name a few). Through next generation image recognition, a mere selfie may reveal a person’s gender, approximate age, location disposition, and even the clothing brands that the person is wearing. As text-centric media takes a backseat to image and video, the opportunity to understand the contents of these formats grows. These insights represent a veritable treasure trove of actionable data for brands.
Tools that analyze image and video-based content are still in development, but increased investment in research is already impacting commercial products and how they’re advertised. One example is brand logo recognition–scanning images for brand logos, and flagging them with the corresponding brand names. This tool is especially powerful considering that 80% of photos shared online depict a brand logo but don’t explicitly call out the brand’s name. This fact points to a sizable opportunity for companies to measure and understand the impact of these formerly inaccessible data points.

Photos and images can reveal a wealth of data points–demographics, purchases, personalities, and behaviors (just to name a few).

As an example of how this applies to brands, Kelton’s Digital Analytics team took a look at the scores of backyard BBQ photos that flooded public forums, blogs, and social feeds over the recent 4th of July holiday. We experimented to see which of two quintessentially American beverage brands–Coca-Cola and Budweiser–netted more published images of patriotically-themed bottles and cans (as well as other forms of branding) on social media.

In the end, Coca-Cola branding was twice as prominent as Budweiser’s. We found that Coke bottles and cans popped up in more diverse settings such as public parks and inside motor vehicles, whereas Budweiser was predominantly found in bars and house parties. Coke also aroused greater sentiment around the theme of Americana, as many consumers photographed vintage Coca-Cola gear and opted for bottles over cans. This might explain why Coke captured a significantly greater share of social mentions than Budweiser.
This example illustrates several ways that brands can leverage image recognition technology to build actionable insights:

·         Ethnographic data – Identify where, when and how often brands are showing up in people’s lives.
·         Updated brand health analysis – We now have a more comprehensive point of view of brands’ online footprint.
·         Sponsorship and Branding ROI – Extend the value of branding and sponsorships shared via online news, blogs and social media through a multiplier effect.
·         Influencer identification – Find authentic brand advocates who consume and spotlight your merchandise.
·         Misuse use of brand iconography – Surface content that depicts improper usage of brand’s logo or other creative assets.

In today’s ever-shifting social media landscape, it’s never been more important for brands and their partners to stay aware of the new and emerging capabilities that can help better understand consumers’ behavior online. Image recognition is just the beginning. From AI startups to instant objection recognition devices, the mobilization and fusion of research, tech, and capital is quickly reshaping the way we think about analytics. These new tools will add even more contextual understanding to sentiment on social platforms, empowering brands to understand consumers like never before.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

7 Ways Technology is Changing the Way Consumers Behave In-Store

By: Phillip Adcock

The retail landscape is constantly changing and the only way that stores can keep up is by constantly evolving. But how?

Modern day consumers use technology in a way that is completely different to consumers earlier in the decade. These changes have altered the way shoppers navigate stores and shop. So how should shops be following these changes — or even anticipating them?

 1) Shoppers Are Using Their Phones to Research and Buy Products In-Store

You might think that a customer browsing in your store is giving your products their full attention —  but you may be wrong. Many shoppers are combining trips to the store with trips online, comparing and contrasting price and quality. While you can’t always compete with online stores, it’s worth seeing which products are competing with yours.

2) Amazon Dash Has Given Consumers the Ability to Buy with the Push of a Button. How Are You Competing?

Amazon is trying to corner the market in next-day consumables with its new Dash button. A Dash button automatically orders a set product for next-day delivery when pressed, with products ranging from toilet paper to lemonade.

Amazon knows that one of the key things retailers need to do to compete in the current market is to make shopping as quick and easy as possible — and make the process so simple, a child could do it (which is potentially why one of the Dash buttons available orders a round of Play-Doh).

3) Overseas Importers Offer Prices That Are Nearly Impossible to Beat. So What Other Advantages Can You Offer?

One of the main types of retailers you’ll find online in stores such as eBay and Amazon are importers. Importing products from China allows them to source vast quantities of a product extremely cheaply, allowing them to sell at a very low price, with many items at 99p. How can you be expected to compete with those prices?

Answer: you can’t. Rather than cutting your profit margins to try and match importers, make sure your business outshines theirs in ways they can’t hope to compete. Instead, provide services that they cannot, such as fast delivery and great customer service.

4) Modern Shoppers Want to Speak Directly to You as a Company. Are You Easy to Reach?

One of the ways you can offer the level of customer service that modern customers expect is to communicate with them directly on the platforms they use. Consumers now expect to be able to do everything online, so to provide strong customer service, you need to make yourself available to them. Facebook and Twitter make it easy to interact with your customers, but beware: companies can easily fall into traps on social media.

5) Every Store Needs to Have a Mobile and App Equivalent. How Functional Is Yours?

As customers have evolved to be fully phone-reliant, the market for mobile apps and mobile sites has increased. These days, having a website without a mobile equivalent is a foolish move and may lose you sales. A mobile site should be as functional as your regular site and an app should function on a similar level.

6) Virtual Reality Is Growing in Popularity. Are You Ready to Make It Work for You?

IKEA recently launched a new Virtual Reality feature, allowing users of the HTC Vive to explore a kitchen (and throw meatballs into open spaces). Although this particular application is fairly low-function, virtual reality has revived and is well on its way to being the big sales tool of 2017 and beyond. Do you have the ability to allow your customers to use VR to interact with your store in a meaningful way? Whether it’s navigating a virtual store or trying out new furniture in an existing space, virtual reality is set to become a staple.

7) Free Delivery: A New Standard

One thing that stores forget is that yesterday’s exception becomes today’s norm and tomorrow’s rule. As consumers become more and more used to convenience, what would have seemed exceptional when online shopping began — for example, free next-day shipping — becomes expected. Shoppers will now potentially abandon a sale because of a lack of next-day shipping and will frequently choose a deal containing free shipping, even if it works out to be more expensive.

It’s worth remembering that consumers love the word “free”. Whether it’s “free shipping” or “buy one get one free”, shoppers will always gravitate towards those deals.

It’s hard sometimes to keep up with new retail developments. If you’re concerned about being left behind, remember: what consumers want, and have always wanted, are high-quality products for prices that are good value. Although it is beneficial to follow the latest technological trends, providing value for money is, and always will be, the best way to appeal to your customers.

About the Author: Phillip Adcock is the founder and Managing Director of the shopper research agency Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd — an organisation using consumer insight to explain and predict retail shopper behaviour. SBXL operates in seventeen countries for hundreds of clients including Mars, Tesco and B&Q.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Key Insights from Omnishopper International 2016

By: Derya Lawrence, Senior Analyst – Services and Payments at Euromonitor International

Omnishopper International took place in London in late November 2016, and addressed the issues impacting the rapidly evolving retailing landscape from the perspectives of consumers, manufacturers and retailers. This three day event brought together some of the largest manufacturers in packaged food, electronics and personal care, alongside grocery and non-grocery retailers and market research providers, discussing primarily the ways in which commerce is evolving, and providing practical examples of new methods of information collection that is made possible through technological developments required to stay ahead of the curve.

Here are four key insights from Omnishopper International 2016:

Strategising for the omnishoppers
Commerce is no longer restricted to a physical outlet. There are now a plethora of commerce facilitators, from computers to smartphones to consumer appliances to connected cars, all enabling new ways of shopping and paying. It is important to continuously track and monitor shopping patterns across the online/offline split to understand how, holistically, both channels are two sides of the same coin: Shoppers routinely search online and buy in-store. If they see a better offer at a competitor, or find a unique proposition at a different banner, they will take their money there. Because of this dynamic interaction, one of the largest problems for retailers today is the increase in consumers’ switching between channels and banners. Thus, in order to acquire new clients, the omnichannel strategy has to be built around fostering loyalty, through providing a new and better shopping experience both in store and online.

Embracing technology
In this mobile-first world, the possibilities in terms of connecting with the consumer before, during and after a purchase are endless, though few retailers and manufacturers do it in a seamless manner. Merchants of all types express a desire to better connect those dots in order to further other initiatives, such as providing more meaningful consumer engagement. One highlight in this respect is the arrival of Virtual Reality technology. VR can not only drive marketing strategies, but can be used as a tool for consumer engagement for market research purposes.
Traditional research techniques, such as consumer panels and surveys, have allowed for the collection of strong insight on the impact of advertising or strategy on growth in specific product groups. Yet, knowledge on where the market will be growing - and therefore where the manufacturer should invest its time and money - can be better understood through embracing new digital means and putting the consumers themselves in the driving seat. On this note, one of the leading global chocolate manufacturers shared their insights on how Online Surveys and Communities are helping them enhance outcomes of marketing campaigns and impulse purchases by allowing consumers to inform the manufacturers on what products work for them, when they are more likely to consume certain goods or how likely they are to make a purchase based on where the product is exhibited on the shelves.
Understanding consumer behaviour
New digital technologies allow for the advent of an increasing number of ways to create more convenient shopping experiences for consumers. Connected appliances, proliferation of mobile payment methods and a rapid move towards the internet of things are all altering consumer’s in-store experiences and expectations. Omnishopper International posed questions and answers on how this evolution impacts shopping behaviour. If shoppers’ desire for the most time efficient and convenient experience takes them both to online and offline channels for different reasons, it is vital to track this behavioural rationale and gather data for both online and offline to meet changing client expectations.
Once we have an understanding of the purchasing habits of consumers between online and offline, an important question is how retailers can intervene in consumer decision making in order to align consumer behaviour with retailing strategies. For this step, we are told that the field of Behavioural Economics - led by the likes of Daniel Kahnemann – that looks at non-rational forces and implicit biases that condition human choices, is starting to make inroads on marketing and consumer research. Through this key insight on how and why shoppers interact in the way they do in a multi-channel environment, understanding the hidden drivers of purchasing behaviours, retailers can locate the Pivotal Moments where they can make a significant and meaningful impact on consumers’ purchasing choices.

Future of retail
Due to the impact of technology, 21st century consumers are increasingly knowledgeable about what they want and what is on offer. The blurring of sales channels has contributed greatly to this as shoppers are able to navigate across the online/offline divide to find the best product for them along the price/quality spectrum. Now more than ever, from quality of products to pricing, smart shoppers are more aware and are therefore increasingly purchasing with higher expectations from retailers and manufacturers. With the availability of more information, consumers are also increasingly less loyal. In this context, the saying, ‘the successful retailer is the one that understands what the client wants next’ is truer than ever.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Knect365 Cyber Week Special: $200 Off 2017 Insights Events & 40% TMRE Digital

Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, Cyber Week continues with $100 off our 2017 insights events and 40% off TMRE Digital.

For a limited time only, the Knect365 Cyber Week Specials include:

TMRE Digital
With TMRE Digital you can access 27 Sessions from the World's Leading Insights Event TMRE from the comfort of your own home or office.
Learn more and download it for 40% off:

The Media Insights & Engagement Conference
January 31 - February 2, 2017
The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Use code MEDIA17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

Marketing Analytics & Data Science
April 3 - 5 2017
JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square, San Francisco, CA
Use code MADS17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

June 20-22, 2017
Hyatt, Minneapolis, MN
Use code SHOPPER17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

TMRE: The Market Research Event
October 23-25, 2017
Rosen Shingle Creek, Orlando, FL
Use code TMRE17BL for an additional $100 off
Learn more and buy tickets:

Don’t miss out of this cyber week special only available until Friday!

We hope to see you at our 2017 insights events!


The Knect365 Team

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Is it Worth it? Key Considerations for Social Media Research

By: Terry Lawlor, EVP Product Management, Confirmit

The role of social media in delivering business insights is a tricky business. While most researchers consider it to offer real benefits, the big question is “how do we do it properly?” In our recent survey of Market Research professionals, we asked respondents about their feelings towards social media. Overwhelmingly, the most popular response from the five choices offered was “A useful addition to a Market Research project if we can bring the data together effectively”.

The word to look at there is “if”.

For many businesses, that “if” is surmountable, and for others it isn’t – at least not yet. There are a number of things to bear in mind.

Who is Your Audience?
The changing dynamic of the consumer has a significant impact on research. Millennials behave differently when it comes to researching, buying and complaining about products. The audience you’re targeting has a huge role to play when it comes to establishing the part that social media has to play in your business.

It Takes More Than Technology
There’s no silver bullet for social media. It takes a combination of people, process and technology to be successful. You need technology to sift through the vast quantities of information – to find and filter data sources, provide intelligent sampling of massive amounts of content, and perform categorization and sentiment analysis. However, you will still need people. In our recent study, Political Buzz, we used social media (as well as traditional surveys) to monitor topics for the UK election. One of our key findings was that the role of people was critical in researching the key social and online media channels, and in building the taxonomies on which your technology must function.

It’s More Than Just Social
When thinking about social media, most people immediately think of Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, perhaps YouTube and Pinterest. There are actually many more social media sites than you think, and there are many different feeds within each social media platform. And there is a huge array of online media, where people post comments and stories, and review sites that cover many different categories of products and services. So you need to think about online media as much as social media, and you need to think about data sources that amount to tens or hundreds of thousands of different media channels.

A Double-Edged Sword
As with every “next big thing”, social media research is a double-edged sword. On one hand, because it is largely unsolicited, you can uncover insights that you never anticipated. However, also because it is largely unsolicited, it might not address anything useful for your research program. You may want to research a particular topic but no one is discussing it, or your target audience just doesn’t use social media.

About the Author: Terry Lawlor has the responsibility of all aspects of product management, including strategy development, product definition, and product representation in client and marketing activities. Terry is a seasoned and highly professional enterprise software executive who possesses a wealth of expertise in the Market Research and customer experience markets.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tech-Fueled Retail: In-Store and Online

Over the past few weeks, the Stylus Life team has been tracking the latest innovations in retail tech – the online tools making shopping seamless, and the in-store tech that will encourage customers to head back to the high street.

Retailers are always seeking new ways to entice customers and encourage loyalty, particularly looking to create convenient purchase journeys that fit around shopping habits. This strategy is seen through Mr Porter’s recent partnership with Apple TV. A first for luxury content-commerce mergers, the collaboration sees the e-tailer monetise its editorial video content, letting shoppers buy directly through their TV.

Similarly, Instagram recently announced it would soon start testing retail tools that enable users to buy items found in their image feed – a move that will help both brands and tastemakers to drive revenue through the platform. The new feature, kicking off in the US with twenty retailers, ties in with recent stats showing that consumers increasingly shop via their mobile devices.

The consumer desire for convenience and curation is also highlighted in recent research that discovered 43% of US consumers are likely to do their holiday shopping via online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon, compared to just 15% purchasing via an individual retailer’s website. This dramatic difference is due to marketplaces’ ability to offer shoppers a simpler experience, with a wider variety of products at the best prices – all in one place.

So if shopping online is easier, what will send customers back to the store? Well, a recent survey has found that 63% of UK shoppers still prefer the high street, but are more likely to be enticed by tech-fuelled retail spaces. The convenience of contactless and mobile payments was described by some as “life-changing”. Meanwhile, shoppers are more likely to visit stores with technology such as virtual reality (57%) or smart fitting rooms (57%), which provide experiences that can’t be replicated at home or online.

Tesco is capitalising on this consumer desire for technology, trialling digital receipts that offer shoppers personalised offers, while also taking another step towards paperless transactions. The trial, running through November, aims to give customers more choice. Beauty brand Charlotte Tilbury has placed digital interaction at the centre of its new store, using virtual mirrors to help shoppers select their perfect look, and in-store screens to showcase social media inspiration.

Brought to you by Stylus Life, creativity and innovation news from around the web.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Innovation Inside the Box: A Systematic Approach to Link Innovation and Marketing Strategy

Innovation Inside the Box: A Systematic Approach to Link Innovation and Marketing Strategy
By Drew Boyd, Executive Director of the Master of Science in Marketing, University of Cincinnati 

Back End of Innovation Conference Keynote: 2016
The thesis of this talk is that Creativity is a skill, not a gift. This practical advice starts with a promise from Boyd: “I’m going to teach you how to use your brain to innovate anyway you want.”
He then discussed the origin story of the “think outside of the box” mythology. When you send people outside of the box, the mind suffers anxiety. The mind works better inside the box, he says, with constraints.
He then quoted Beatle Paul about “templates” for songwriting. All artist use patterns, he claims. But the artists don’t want you to see the patterns. Patterns boost the creative output. “Innovators and inventors use patterns, too, and they are embedded in the products and services you see everyday.”
The method is Systematic Inventive Thinking—and there are only five patterns. “Innovation follow as set of patterns: Subtractions, task unification, multiplication, division, attribute dependency.” 

Using these patterns you can move from solution to problem, rather than problem to solution.
To use this method, start with an existing situation, and then apply one of the five patterns from above. This thinking tool will yield a virtual product, then vets if it is desired and feasible. At this stage, an idea is born.
Let’s we examine the Subtraction technique. Here’s the method: remove a component, then visualize the new prototype, identify user needs, and then adapt as needed based on the factors of “the closed world.” Taking each piece out and thinking about the possibilities opens up new paths of innovation.
This method forces you to create combinations that you wouldn’t create on your own.
Task Unification is the next method we explored. Here you assign an additional task to a component and walk through the remaining steps of can we and should we do it.
We used “How we can keep consumers in grocery stores longer?” as an exercise. We listed all components, chose one, and then create ideas quickly, with time constraints.
The exercise demonstrated the effectiveness of the technique. Many new ideas were generated. The constraints forced new thinking, new potential value.
Boyd then gave many examples of the five techniques. The book explaining these methods is called Inside the Box.
Many of the innovators were excited about this technique, which works backwards from the empathy-first methods so popular today. Boyd claims that these methods improve the efficacy of brainstorming exponentially.

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric, and also serves as VP Innovation at Hunter Fan. Visit to learn more.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Old Brains, New World: The 3 Fs Of Shopper Activation

At the OmniShopper International conference in London this week, the focus was on how we shop now. Technology has made shopping easier than ever. But it’s also given birth to a myriad of new technologies for tracking, targeting and sales activation – one speaker estimated that there were now more than 3,500 start-ups operating in the space between a brand and its end buyer.

In this forest of complexity, how do we see the wood for the trees? In a morning keynote, BrainJuicer’s Chief Juicer John Kearon suggested we were answering the wrong question. How we shop is changing at a breakneck pace. But how we decide – the cognitive tools we bring to bear on shopping – hasn’t shifted at all. 

This isn't to say shopper insight is business as usual. Insights from the behavioural sciences are often paid lip service to, but it’s harder to actually implement them at scale. The effort is worth it, though, as getting behavioural activation right is a powerful route to profitable brand growth.

As behavioural scientists tell us, we decide using our fast, intuitive System 1, and then our slow System 2 generally rubber stamps the decision. Only a tiny minority of choices involve System 2 at all. And yet an enormous amount of promotional and shopper insight activity is designed to excite it by creating cut-through and trying to stop people and get them to think. Instead, why not put System 1 at the centre and focus on making it easier to buy a brand?

Marketing analysts Les Binet and Peter Field invoke the 60/40 rule, which their analysis suggests holds true even in a digital era. 60% of your budget should be spent on brand building, 40% on activation. Shopper is clearly a huge part of that 40%, so getting at the System 1 heart of the buying experience should be a serious marketing priority. But how to do it?

For brand building, we know that the key decision-making heuristics are the 3 Fs: Fame (how easily something comes to mind), Feeling (how good it makes people feel) and Fluency (how easily recognisable its unique assets are). The 3 Fs explain how brands grow. They also let Kearon predict how close the US election would be – Hillary Clinton had a small advantage on Feeling, but ultimately Donald Trump beat her on Fluency.

But activation – the heart of shopper – requires a different set of factors. Kearon introduced the activation 3Fs – more direct levers of consumer behaviour at the point of decision. These are Framing (the world around us), Following (the world between us), and Feeling (the world within us). Feeling – the need for an experience to create positive emotion – is what Activation and Brand Building have in common. Kearon described a study of online shopping where analysis of emotion showed that people who felt happy when shopping spent almost twice as much on average as those who claimed to feel nothing. Positive emotion is vital at every stage of the brand building and activation process.

But Following and Framing are unique to the purchase moment. Framing is all about managing the choice architecture around a purchase to make certain choices feel more obvious or easy. This can be done through pricing – Kearon showed how a charity setting its default contributions higher raised its average contribution dramatically, even though givers could still give as little as they wanted. It can also be done through promotion – making an offer limited, for instance, is a reliable way of boosting take-up. And it can be done through subtle changes in the environment – as in the famous experiment where German and French music played in an off-license boosted sales of wines from those respective countries.

Following, meanwhile, is all about what other people are doing: we are social animals and make System 1 choices based on information about other humans and their choices. Kearon described an experiment designed to make pub drinkers drink more water to reduce or dilute their alcohol consumption. The most effective intervention, he said, turned out to be a poster simply showing somebody drinking a glass of water. Mirror neurons in the brain meant people seeing the poster wanted to drink themselves – and take-up of the free water in the bar shot up.

These examples of Framing, Following and Feeling were entertaining, but is there a way to apply these ideas at scale without taking a gamble on real-world profits? This is where new technology does start to help, said Kearon. The upsurge of interest in virtual reality, and the rapid improvement of virtual store technology, creates the possibility of a gigantic laboratory where A/B testing of in-store behavioural activations can happen. Wild theories – like Kearon’s notion that pet treats would sell better in the human sweets aisle! – can be tested at vastly less expense and risk. The culture of optimisation that already exists in online commerce can come to physical retail, and the lessons of Framing, Following, Feeling and System 1 decision making can be truly absorbed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The polls got it wrong (again) but don’t lose faith in quantitative research

By: Jim Mann

Like many, I woke unusually early on Wednesday and reached nervously for my mobile phone. It was US election night and I was eager to see if, from my perspective, crisis had been averted or the world really had gone mad. Before I had a chance to tap my favourite news app I noticed a message from my brother: ‘Another resounding victory for the polls bruv!’ Detecting sarcasm (I’m smart like that) I knew this could only mean one thing. Sure enough, Trump was well on course to a victory that nobody, least of all the pollsters, was anticipating. For the third time in eighteen months (following the UK general election and EU referendum) the pollsters had got it wrong!

In the period since May 2015, I’ve had countless debates with polling sceptics like my brother. His, fiercely articulated, view is that polling is not simply inaccurate, it also has the potential to sabotage itself. He’s not alone in this belief. Behavioural economics shows that people generally wish to follow the herd. Therefore, a poll showing that the majority think in a particular way is likely to influence, albeit subtly, what they themselves believe. Furthermore, there are those that cite the possibility that polls could impact rates of voter turnout. After all, why bother to turn out to vote if the polls have created a strong belief that your favoured candidate is either assured of victory or has no chance of winning?

Polling, when first popularised by George Gallup in the 1930s, was hailed for the positive contribution it made to the democratic process. Gallup himself was, understandably, steadfast in this belief. Elmo Roper, another pioneer of the public opinion poll, described it rather hyperbolically as “the greatest contribution to democracy since the introduction of the secret ballot”. 

But there have always been critics, and the anti-polling arguments inevitably gain traction when the pollsters get it wrong. Failure is not a modern phenomenon either. Immediately prior to the 1948 election George Gallup predicted that Dewey would beat Truman in the election and stated, unwisely as it turns out, “We have never claimed infallibility, but next Tuesday the whole world will be able to see down to the last percentage point how good we are”. Dewey lost. The anti-polling lobby had a field day.

So criticisms of polling aren’t new and, let’s be honest, they would remain niche concerns if the polls were accurately predicting results. But they’re not and on the back of a series of high profile failures it’s increasingly common to deride polling as a “devalued pseudo-science conducted by charlatans”. Yep, my brother again. I hate to give him the last word so, in order to provide a flavour of wider opinion, I’ll quote the Guardian’s post-election editorial instead. “The opinion polls and the vaunted probability calculus rarely trended in his (Trump’s) direction; both are discredited today.”

The purpose of this blogpost is not to defend political polling; I have my own concerns in that direction and it’s undeniable that the work of pollsters is becoming harder, due to a combination of methodological issues and a more fluid, less predictable, political landscape. However, for the sake of fairness I’d like to mention two things, neither of which is intended to exonerate the practice.

First, most polls reflect public sentiment within a nationally representative sample. In the main, but not exclusively, the polls conducted immediately prior to the election found that, by a relatively small margin, more Americans intended to vote for Clinton than Trump. In this they were correct. At the time of writing, the figures show that 59,814,018 Americans voted for Clinton whilst 200,000 fewer (59,611,678) voted for Trump. However, due to the distribution of votes and the vagaries of the US political system, this translated into 279 Electoral College votes for Trump and 228 for Clinton.
Second, most polls conducted by reputable polling organisations produced results that placed the result well within the margin of error. “What’s that?” I hear you ask. Well, tucked away at the end of most reports based on a public opinion poll will be a small note about margin of error. This margin will differ depending on the number of people interviewed for the poll but, for a standard sample size of 1,000, the margin of error is +/- 3.5%. This essentially means that if the poll results show that Clinton is projected to win 47% of votes, the reality is likely to be somewhere between 50.5% and 43.5%. Within this context, the result of the election was well within the margin of error of most polls. It wasn’t so much the polls that got it wrong, it was the reporting of the polls that failed to sufficiently stress that the result really was too close to call. But people don’t like uncertainty so these boring, statistical caveats tend to get overlooked.

OK, but I said this blog wasn’t designed to defend polling. So what is it about? Well, I don’t feel the need to defend polling because I’m not a pollster. However, I am a market researcher working with quantitative surveys and, what concerns me, is the fear that growing scepticism around polling will negatively impact trust in all forms of numbers-based research into public attitudes. Maybe I’m just a worrier and people are perfectly able to distinguish between different forms of survey based research. However, my own experience suggests that isn’t always the case.

In May 2015 I was working at the Guardian. The Guardian has invested significantly in data journalism over recent years and coverage and analysis of polls was given a high degree of prominence in the run up to the UK general election. At the Editorial conference, held the day after the election, the mood was subdued. When the conversation turned to the failure of the polls some journalists questioned the prominence given to polling numbers, especially as those numbers didn’t chime with their instincts and the evidence of their own, on the ground, experiences. The upshot was a policy decision, only recently reversed, that editorial coverage of polling should be suspended. The coverage of polls in the run-up to the US election was reported under the banner ‘Sceptical polling’, which gives a pretty good indication of the mood around the organisation.  

As Head of Consumer Insight at The Guardian, a key element of my role was to advocate for use of consumer research and promote evidence-based strategic decision-making. My internal clients were ranged on a spectrum that ran from research enthusiasts to rejecters. This latter group, a minority it should be said, believed there was little to gain from engaging with research. The great polling disaster of 2015 provided a tailor-made reason to disengage. After all, research had been shown, in the most public way imaginable, to be unreliable and wrong! Hadn’t it?

I’m sure the Guardian is like most organisations in having research stakeholders ranging from enthusiasts to sceptics. To the latter group I would make this plea; don’t conflate political polling and other forms of quantitative market research and do not deny yourself and your business an incredibly powerful, consistently proven aid to decision making simply because political polling has been shown to not be a perfectly accurate crystal ball. As mentioned, polling isn’t quite as inaccurate as some would have you believe. Furthermore, the stakes are simply much higher for polling: A couple of percentage points either way (generally within the margin of error, remember) is the difference between two diametrically-opposed outcomes and the profound repercussions associated with that. In contrast, if a representative survey of consumers in a particular sector suggests that awareness of your brand currently stands at 34% whilst that of a competitor is 64%, does it really make a huge difference to the decisions your company will take if the reality is a couple of percentage points either side?  

Of course, some decisions do require a higher degree of accuracy. In these instances, market researchers have two huge advantages over pollsters. We can increase the number of people interviewed in the study, thus reducing the margin of error and increasing confidence levels. We can also utilise robust sampling techniques such as random probability sampling. Generally speaking, neither of these options is available to pollsters because they are simply too time consuming. Pollsters are required to provide an almost instantaneous reading of public sentiment, before new events have a chance to change it, and anything that slows that process is, by necessity, discarded. If pollsters were given the freedom to use these tools, it’s likely they would provide far more accurate predictions. How do we know? Well, following the 2015 general election most polling companies conducted re-contact surveys with pre-election poll respondents to try and understand what went wrong. What they discovered was that, even when conducting post-event research, they were unable to accurately replicate the result. The inquiry conducted by the Polling Council of Great Britain concluded that the reason was their use of (attitudinally) unrepresentative samples drawn from panels and that a random probability sampling approach (that gives every member of a target population an equal chance of participating in the study) would counteract the problem. Tellingly, the survey that best replicated the election result was the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey conducted by NatCen Social Research. Need I say that BSA is based on a large sample (3,000) and utilises random probability sampling?

I’ve rambled on too long and exceeded my word count limit by a distance so I’ll finish by saying this: The great jazz musician, Duke Ellington (or possibly Richard Strauss, it’s disputed) is quoted as saying “there are only two types of music: good and bad”. Market research is much the same. When done properly it is an incredibly powerful diagnostic and forecasting tool that can provide a highly accurate picture of consumer sentiment as it currently exists. Pollsters, through no fault of their own, are sometimes unable to do it.

Researchers, however, can and do. 

Jim Mann is a senior quantitative director at the numbers lab @ Firefish