Much like the rest of the world, marketing research seems to be moving at this crazy, intense pace.   Clients have come to need or expect answers in a ‘heartbeat’.

Quantitative survey research conducted using online sampling companies has certainly sped up the timelines for most projects, and provides a huge benefit in being able to display concepts, labels, branding, and even do projective exercises. 

On top of that, trying to conduct a representative random sampling by telephone becomes more and more difficult as technology introduces caller identification, Do Not Call lists spring up in response to telemarketing (even though marketing research companies are exempt from that legislation), and as an ever increasing percentage of the population abandons their home phone.

But, I for one wonder about the margin of error.   Has our society changed so much that the basic tenets of statistics are no longer important or applicable?

In order to quote the Confidence Interval (or margin of error), you need to use a random probability sample – where every member of a given population has an equal opportunity of being selected.   Members of online panels are self-selected, and can partake in surveys over and over, especially those 25-49 year old mothers.

Most, but certainly not all, published reports I read these days make an attempt to state that the survey has no identified margin of error when compared to the population as a whole.   Their caveat?   If this had been a random sample, the margin of error would have been +/- X%.    We’ve conditioned the media to report margins of error, so it seems they need to have something…

Recent US election polls helped us see that the online sampling method isn’t all bad, as many results were as predicted.   We’ll probably never know how internal Republican polling was conducted, or how the questions were asked, that gave Mitt Romney such unfounded confidence in his victory.

Those were election polls that try to predict the future, and much of what you read about are financially supported by media outlets to help sell papers or improve ratings.   What gives me pause as a professional researcher, are the critical business decisions that are informed by research that does not use random probability sampling.    

It is an accepted practice, and so far we haven’t had any “New Coke” type execution errors to add to textbooks.   I will continue to watch with interest how this methodology evolves, and where our conversation goes on applying statistical rigour in the future.






Recruiting using Social Media Redux.

I have just returned from attending the 2012 QRCA Conference in Montreal.   A good time had by all, lots of learning and sharing.

I attended a panel session which took us through work that QRCA had done on the issue of Social Media Recruiting.

I was heartened by the fact that others shared a similar vision – that using Social Media to connect with respondents was the wave of the future, and that we need to use it as another tool for connecting with our respondents.

After all, isn’t that the way more and more people are communicating with each other these days?  As Jim Bryson said, “We used to communicate using smoke signals…”.    Where are those today – I personally have never tried it.

The distinction comes not from actually utilizing social media, but in the ways which we use it.

If you use it as a method of connection, to talk in a very general sense about the type of project you are doing, yet still require that trained recruiter to properly screen the respondent by phone or in person, then how is it any different than placing an ad in the newspaper?

Why shouldn’t we use Social Media to encourage respondents to join our database for future projects?

Ben Smithee has inspired me to think of new and different ways we can connect with the larger community  – to build our profile and become a trusted brand.   Our organization is looking at ways to extend our reach using Social Media.     Thanks to this session, I have some new and different ideas….but as yet I’m still no further ahead!!!!

This is a question that I have been asked, and have heard other people ask, many times in the past year or two.

Social worlds like Facebook and Twitter have become part of every day life, so why wouldn’t the qualitative research industry want to make use of them?

There are ups and downs to the argument, but for me one constant remains – how you approach ‘advertising’ or notifying potential respondents for a project has to be carefully managed whether you are using the telephone, online classified sites or now, social media.

As a qualitative researcher who wears many hats – moderator, recruiter, facility owner, I don’t see much difference between recruiting using social media, or the way we used to advertise or seek out new respondents 20 years ago (yes, I just dated myself there…).

This type of reaching out to potential respondents has been going on for a long time – be it by cold call, advertising in the classified section of a newspaper, then through online classifieds such as Craigslist.   However, in today’s connected world, moderators and clients are just more likely to see it, or be sent the notification.

It appears that some companies in our industry are trying to automate the recruiting process – using an online survey to ask all the questions.  I’m not sure what role the recruiter plays, or even human interaction…

What has changed?   In a word, standards.    With few exceptions for very low incidence projects where our client buys in, we try VERY hard not to provide hints or clues in any notices about projects we have going on.   That’s what a screening questionnaire and a properly trained recruiter  is for.

However, somewhere along the way, the system has changed for many in our business.    It is now almost commonplace to see advertising for projects that are very specific.   You can easily search out focus groups to attend on the Internet – where recruiters ask if you are 27-38 years old and like to drink lots of beer.

Have you not seen those types of notifications?   Check out aggregators that have popped up such as, and you will see what I mean.

We should be better utilizing social media as a recruiting tool.   After all, that’s where potential respondents are.    As an industry, and as practitioners, we need to do a better job protecting the quality of our research projects by creating and abiding by better standards for this type of approach.

Are you a qualitative researcher?   What are your thoughts on this?

Last night a terrible thing happened in Aurora, Colorado.

For anyone plugged in on social media, you will have heard about this from a large number of sources in a short period of time.

It is remarkable to me how in today’s world, just how quickly we get information.    On the down side of that, when something major happens that is as tragic as the movie theatre shooting, I find it hard to believe how quickly you can feel overloaded and fatigued by such a story.    So much so that I am turning  off my Twitter feed for the rest of the day after posting this.

As a parent myself, I feel for the situation, and maybe it just hits too close to home.

From a business perspective, it makes me question how newspapers plan to stay relevant, even online.

I follow several media outlets on social media, and the daily newspapers in Ontario communities where I live and work were some of the last to post the stories according to the timelines on Facebook and Twitter.      Unless they are the large national papers, it has been the right time, for some time, to invest their time and effort in local or “hyperlocal” content, delivered how and where people will read it.    They simply do not have the resources or the priority assigned to reach me before I have heard, read or seen all about it elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the question of how to monetize those feeds remains.


Recently, I agreed to become a mentor.   I have never been a mentor before.   What does that entail?

Communitech is an organization based in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario that devotes all it’s efforts to helping technology startups make their dreams and ideas into reality.

Their new program, called Hyperdrive, involves intensive training and support for specially selected businesses.   Part of the support is a network of mentors from a number of areas, including marketing.

Last week I attended the kickoff event, and was introduced to the companies who will represent the initial cadre of businesses in the program pipeline.     These are the companies to whom my “mentoring” services will be available – to help provide guidance and advice in the areas of marketing research, branding and marketing communications.

While distinguished guests took the podium at the event to “launch” the program, I was struck by how this culture of innovation was permeating Waterloo Region, where I live.    I stood shoulder to shoulder with politicians from all levels of government, captains of the technology industry, and a crowd of bright, young minds.

In “Canada’s Technology Triangle”, we have transitioned from a manufactuing based economy to a knowledge based economy, in what seems like the blink of an eye.   How appropriate considering the speed at which technology is changing our world.

How exciting that on the same day as Research In Motion struggled through their annual shareholders meeting, that we could come together and feel the energy around this new program, and how much growth there has been in the area of technology and innovation.

I look forward to contributing wherever I can in this new program, and seeing what the future holds.