Finding Our Groove at The Quirk’s Event

vinylI was recently explaining the idea of an in-home interview to my husband. “You would never let someone into the house!” he replied, knowing that I would be skeptical, at best, if invited to participate in one. However, I would agree to participate in this type of immersive research. Even though I am unabashedly, undeniably and thoroughly biased, I believe that helps me understand why some of the busiest professionals working in some of the most sensitive and regulated industries agree to do the same.

Yes, financial advisors are busy. Yes, doctors have to be careful about what they say and share. Yet both are willing to meet with us at their offices and talk for rather lengthy periods of time. There are certain industries—financial services and healthcare being two prominent examples—where compliance concerns, traditional thinking and precedent can falsely limit the qualitative method possibilities.

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Are Solar Roads Coming to Your Utility Territory?

solar-roadSolar roadways have captured the public’s imagination – see, for example, the viral “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” video produced by Solar Roadways and viewed more than 22 million times. And we certainly do use a lot of land for roads and parking lots – 61,000 square miles by some estimates. So why not use this space to also produce power?

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Utility Communication Lags Environmental Progress

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Utility Communication Lags Environmental Progress

The utility industry has made significant strides in reducing its environmental impact. According to the Edison Electric Institute, in 2015 utility CO2 emissions were 21% below 2005 levels, driven largely by a switch to natural gas from coal and increasing deployment of renewable resources such as wind and solar. Additionally, utility energy-efficiency (EE) programs nationwide save enough electricity to power nearly 12 million homes each year.

Despite this tremendous progress in environmental stewardship, customers do not perceive their utilities as environmental stewards. As we discovered in our 2016 Environmental Champions awards, customer perception of environmental dedication greatly lags other brand trust factors.
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Net Promoter Scores Net Nothing for Utilities

Customers Will Advocate for, but Not Recommend, Utilities

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Net Promoter Scores Net Nothing for Utilities 

As utilities continue to evaluate customer measurement scores, the most debated one I hear is regarding Net Promoter ScoresSM (NPS®). Promoters of the theory say that if a customer states he or she would recommend a company, then that company would benefit from a loyal customer base and third-party recommendations. For a retail company where customers can select a vendor, this makes perfect sense. Detractors of the measurement doubt NPS’s applicability to a monopoly where there is no choice but to use a utility for service. It is like recommending someone should use electricity.

How Accurate Is NPS in Predicting Actual Promoting Activity of a Utility?

The Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™: Residential study surveys 130 utilities and asks the NPS recommendation question. From that data you can calculate NPS in the normal manner (% of 9–10 ratings minus % of 0–6 ratings x 100). However, the following graph shows how NPS performance in no way predicts customers making positive comments about the utility. Continue reading

Brand Messaging: Perception Equals Reality


I hadn’t paid much attention to John Oliver until he lambasted US retirement plans in a clip that spoke directly to my clients and me with its relevance, comedy and mix of truths, half-truths and misperceptions. This led me to pay attention more quickly when my Facebook feed promoted a new Oliver piece about the Republican National Convention and the idea that feelings can…ahem…trump facts. I encourage you to have a listen (particularly at the 3:13 and 5:56 minute marks), though now is a good time to caution that there is foul language. It’s also important to note that the opinions shared in this video do not represent those of Market Strategies, though perhaps not only for the obvious reason that we do not support a political party or any opinions for or against Antonio Sabato Jr.

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How Market Research Has Evolved Over the Past Decade

Evolution of Market Research

In July 2006, I boarded a plane to Portland, Oregon. It was the beginning of my service at Market Strategies International. A decade is not a long time but long enough to witness some changes. Let me share with you a quick inventory of what has changed from 2006 to 2016 in the market research industry:

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Brand Loyalty: Vying for the Throne

Game of Thrones

Editor’s note: This is a spoiler alert for fans of Game of Thrones (GOT). You may not want to continue reading unless, of course, you want an entertaining way of looking at what drives brand allegiance.

Like 8.9 million other people, I sat riveted to my television when the season finale of GOT aired. If you’ve never seen the show or read the novels, here’s a quick, overly-simplistic synopsis: There exists a large kingdom called Westeros. The king of Westeros dies. Many others vie for the throne, each with a considerably decent claim to it. Not surprisingly, few are open to reasonable, sit-down discussions to determine whose claim is best, and thus, things must be decided the old-fashioned way: war.  To win a war, you need an army. And to obtain an army, you need loyal subjects. Thus, one could say the content of five books/six seasons of TV follows each individual’s story as he or she attempts to win over others to his/her side. I’m on Team Dany. Daenerys “Dany” Targaryen’s family ruled Westeros for thousands of years before the now deceased king took over. Although legacy isn’t everything, her lineage gives her a lot of street cred.  If I lived in the seven kingdoms, I would certainly declare for Daenerys as Queen of Westeros—and according to the end of the season finale, several thousand others agree.

But it took a while for Daenerys to achieve this support. How did she go from being a frightened girl with a wish to rule in Season One to a confident woman with an impressive legion of backers in Season Six? What is it about her, her decisions or her journey that inspired such loyalty?

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Honoring Bill Cunningham, Master Noticer


I was joking with our CEO, Rob Stone, earlier this year about how he and I have somehow turned into the unofficial obituary writers here at FreshMR (having between us written about the loss of great thinkers and doers such as Andy Grove, David Carr and Steve Jobs). I’m not entirely sure why this has come to pass, but I can theorize: we’re both intrigued by brands and brand stories—corporate and personal—and we both aspire to be keen observers and storytellers, possibly ones who have an above-average interest in “celebrity” stories in the fields of research, design and media.

Over the weekend, we lost one such celebrity—beloved and celebrated New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who has documented street fashion as a fashion journalist for the Times since 1978. A self-taught photographer, Cunningham practically invented candid street photo-journalism in the fashion space. He was a master at observing and capturing trends via his lens and then reporting on them in the Times’ “On the Street” feature. What I find amazing about Cunningham—and what I hope we researchers can be inspired by—is twofold:

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How to Blend Market Research & Data Sciences for Deeper Insight

Highway in Los Angeles

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a new Market Strategies’ blog series on blending data streams for more meaningful insight. Be sure to subscribe to FreshMR so you don’t miss an issue!

Traditional survey market research and data sciences are typically viewed as unique approaches, rather than compatible partners. These two research disciplines are generally conducted separately, managed by different client teams using different vendors. However, it is through the integration of these two disciplines that we can widen and deepen our findings—essentially learning more, about more. Want an example?

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An Elegy for Paranoia


The year was 1998. I was wrangling a group of blunt, possibly undercaffeinated IT directors through an early-morning focus group in New York City. In the waning minutes of the session, I turned the conversation toward brand, examining how brand perceptions of various tech companies might affect uptake of a new product concept. Instantly, one of the respondents jumped in with an observation about Intel—and it provoked one of the reactions moderators most fear: gales of laughter erupting audibly from behind the supposedly soundproofed mirror. A focus group isn’t an episode of “House of Cards,” where it’s cheeky fun to break the fourth wall. I worked to get the group back on track and put the comment out of mind for the rest of the session.

What provoked my Intel clients to laugh so hard? Someone had mentioned that they’d have to think hard about whether to consider Intel, given the recent news of its CEO Andy Grove’s retirement. This IT Director wanted to see how the company performed under new management. The clients had been laughing because, as far as they knew, Grove hadn’t announced anything.

“Good session,” one of my clients observed, as I walked into the back room. “But we may have to disregard that guy on your left. Not sure where he’s getting his information.”

It was just at that moment that a colleague checked his mail and discovered that, indeed, a back room full of Intel researchers and marketers had been scooped by a random IT professional in New York. Laughter was promptly replaced by a sense of profound disbelief. Andy Grove was a force of nature, widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of the technology revolution. The idea of him retiring was difficult to fathom. The news, earlier this week, of his passing is hardly less so.

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