CFM Research​

Influencer Marketing Is a Good Investment

People trust other people more than advertising or promotions, which makes influencer marketing initiatives a good investment with long-term dividends.

People trust other people more than advertising or promotions, which makes influencer marketing initiatives a good investment with long-term dividends.

Influencer marketing is assuming a similar mission-critical role as influentials in market research.

Influentials are the people other people turn to for good advice, whether it’s what camera to buy or who to hire to remodel your kitchen. In research, influentials are a valuable resource because they are typically well-informed and willing to share what they know. They provide researchers with a clear window to see the wonders and warts of a product, service or idea.

Market influencers are the people others trust for advice on a buying decision. You don’t have to be a celebrity to be an influencer. In fact, most influencers today are bloggers or vloggers who offer views and advice in concentrated areas, whether it’s gluten-free food or smart parenting tips.

There is an analog to market influencers in the crisis communications space – third-party validation. Claims that an environmental spill has been cleaned up or that a financial practice has been corrected carry more weight if an independent third party verifies the claim. That party is essentially a “market influencer.”

The underlying truth is that people are prone to trust other people more than advertising or promotional pitches. A corollary is that brand managers, marketers and public affairs professionals often overlook the prowess of influencer marketing initiatives, especially ones that can ignite with a powerful employee advocacy campaign.

Jay Baer of Convince & Convert says influencer marketing is shockingly more successful than digital advertising, and he undertook a study to prove his point. Baer worked with a digital marketing firm and a research company that specializes in food to persuade 258 fitness and food influencers to create content related to Silk Almond Milk and its Meatless Monday initiative. The content was allowed to pulse out organically on social media without any paid promotion.

“Households exposed to influencer marketing purchased 10 percent more Silk products than the control group,” Baer reported. The return on investment after 12 months for the influencer marketing outreach was 11 times greater than the cost of banner ads, he added.

There are extended values as well, Baer explains. Influencer marketing content has a shelf life that keeps generating impressions. Brands can repurpose the content, which becomes in effect testimonials from trusted sources. And, the cost to produce the content is borne by the influencer.

‘We’ve known for years that online influencers can generate net-new impressions, clicks and even e-commerce sales,” Baer says. “But this new study demonstrates that online influencer marketing yields offline purchase shifts, too.”

Polling Misses Mark in Oregon Presidential Primary

A major public opinion poll conducted before the Oregon primary showed Hillary Clinton outpacing Bernie Sanders by double digits. Actual election results were almost the exact opposite.

A major public opinion poll conducted before the Oregon primary showed Hillary Clinton outpacing Bernie Sanders by double digits. Actual election results were almost the exact opposite.

A well publicized public opinion poll conducted between May 6 and 9 showed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton leading challenger Bernie Sanders in the Oregon primary by a 48 to 33 percent margin. Actual election results were almost the opposite, with Sanders carving out a double-digit victory.

How could a poll be so out of whack? One frequent reason is failure to account for voter turnout. However, the Clinton-Sanders poll took higher-than-average turnout into account, which showed Clinton’s lead narrowing to 45 to 38 percent. Still wrong, by a wide margin.

The same poll, which interviewed 901 likely Oregon voters, under-predicted Donald Trump’s vote count. He received 45 percent of the GOP presidential vote in the poll, but almost 65 percent of the actual vote. Another big miss.

Telephone surveys have become somewhat less reliable if they don’t include a percentage of cell phone users, which ensures that younger and minority voices are heard. While that sampling flaw might understate the vote in Portland or college towns like Eugene, it doesn’t explain Sanders’ strong showing in rural Wallowa and Lake counties or his dominance in all but one of Oregon’s 36 counties.

Candidates usually do better in states where they campaign in person. Sanders appeared in Oregon four times before the primary. Clinton made no appearances, but did send Bill Clinton to campaign. That’s a hard factor to capture in a public opinion poll, but it is a question worth asking to see if being here breaks someone’s vote one way or another. 

The Los Angeles Times carried a story over the weekend about the intense Democratic push in Oregon to register new voters as Democrats before the April 26 deadline. Many of the new voters were automatically registered as a result of Oregon’s Motor Voter law, but not affiliated with any political party. Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins reported a larger than normal registration switch, which favored Democrats. These factors would have been hard to track in a poll, but they may have been worth asking about to gauge the velocity of a late shift toward Sanders, who predicted he would win if the turnout was large. He obviously knew what he was talking about. 

Polling is a tough business, and it is getting tougher. Fewer people are willing to be interviewed by phone, which means pollsters need to make more calls to achieve a representative sample, which is more costly. Respondent reticence means polls have to take less time and include fewer questions, sometimes the questions that would be useful in improving confidence in poll findings.

While Sanders’ success in Oregon is not a huge surprise, it may be more telling than at first glance. His victory points out the foibles of one-off polls and the political benefits of an intensive ground game. 

More significantly, the results in Oregon show Sanders’ message packs some punch, and not just where you would expect.

Why Representative Samples Really Matter

If you want market research that matters, make sure the sample of people in your survey matches the audience you want to reach with your product or message.

If you want market research that matters, make sure the sample of people in your survey matches the audience you want to reach with your product or message.

A favorite story involves meeting with a client interested in promoting first-time homeownership. I mentioned the need for market research. No problem, the client said, we have that covered. I was handed the research summary and, as a matter of habit, jumped to the page about the telephone survey sample. It was very revealing. 

More than 50 percent of the respondents were 65 years or older. They were the majority of people who answered the phone and were willing to spend 15 or 20 minutes talking to a stranger about owning a home. Unfortunately, they weren’t the people the client had in mind as first-time homebuyers. 

Survey data is worthless unless the sample of who you interview reflects the audience you seek to reach. The sample in my client’s survey would have been terrific if the subject was reverse mortgages. It stunk as a reflection of who to address potential first-time homebuyers. 

Conversations between clients and research professionals must start with who to interview. If you have the wrong sample, the answers you get from the questions you pore over won’t matter a lick. 

Too often, the question of who to interview is glossed over. Sometimes the most obvious sample goes overlooked. When I was a lobbyist, a client hired me to “fix” his message that wasn’t gaining any traction with legislators. I started by interviewing about a third of the legislature, including virtually all of the lawmakers on the committees that were most engaged on my client’s issue. 

The interviews produced a wealth of insight. My client’s issue had latent support, but needed to be explained and demonstrated in a far different way. Lawmakers basically wrote the script my client and I used to lobby them. And it worked. 

Representative samples are harder to achieve for a mix of reasons. For example, increasing numbers of people don’t have landline phones and, if they do, they shield themselves from unsolicited calls with Caller ID. It takes a lot more calls, at greater expense, to collect a representative sample. Market research must cope with growing segmentation, which adds extra layers of complexity in selecting the right group of people to survey. 

The value of representative samples goes beyond quantitative research. Focus groups must be representative, too. And why would you do a customer satisfaction intercept survey for Nordstrom by interviewing people coming out of a rival department store? Representative samples matter in public opinion polling. A poll of New York voters wouldn’t be all that useful in projecting election results in Indiana. 

Despite the difficulty, solid research is grounded on good samples. Who you talk to matters if you want findings that mean something for your marketing.  

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Rats, Research and Repetition

Rats can teach humans something about communications. Rats, like humans, are wary of anything new, so the best communications should be on familiar turf.

Rats can teach humans something about communications. Rats, like humans, are wary of anything new, so the best communications should be on familiar turf.

Rats are an invaluable research tool. We usually think of them as stand-ins for humans on early clinical trials for new drugs or procedures. But maybe rates also can gives us clues on communications.

At least Clark Hays, an author and recovering cowboy, thinks so.

In a LinkedIn blog post, Hays says rats are extremely nervous about anything new, which they fear could be dangerous or fatal. "They restlessly, obsessively patrol their environment in search of new things, then studiously avoid those things until they are sure they aren’t dangerous or toxic (lessons learned, probably from living alongside trap- and poison-happy humans)."

People, Hays adds, have a similar reaction to new things. That's why, he suggests, familiar communications channels – newsletters, emails and meetings – have a residual value. People know what to expect.

Hays made his observations in regard to internal communications. That could just as easily apply to external communications. He talks of culture and consistency as guideposts for communications. Audiences are more likely to listen in customary places and absorb information that falls within the frame of their culture.

Too often, Hays writes, communicators are tasked with changing cultures. What they are really asking, he says, is to change how culture is discussed. "Truly changing a culture requires identifying and eliminating or minimizing negative traits and rewarding and amplifying positive traits, and closing the gap between words and actions." Treading on familiar ground can be a safer platform to explore a new frontier.

Hays says humans can take a lesson from "ratricide," where one rat or a group of rats is shunned by the larger group. "Rats, like humans, are highly social creatures and social exclusion can prove, quite literally, fatal for rats. Even with no obvious physical injuries, some rats shunned by their peers seem to simply lose the will to live and soon waste away."

"Communications are how humans stay connected – sharing words, thoughts, stories, dreams, fears and more," Hays observes. "Without those connections, we suffer."

"Professionally, that holds true within organizations, where lack of considerate, consistent and creative communications can rightly be considered a form of social exclusion," Hays says. "While not fatal, poor communications can lead to apathy and disengagement that undermine efforts to create a vibrant community, linked to a healthy culture and focused on achieving desired results. And that is fatal for an organization."

Business Use of Digital Media Skyrockets

Businesses are using video confrencing tools more than ever before. 

Businesses are using video confrencing tools more than ever before. 

Business use of digital media has skyrocketed during the past eight years for tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and video. While e-newsletters were the most popular form of digital media in 2007, it is not among the top four in 2015.  

These are some of the key findings from an Input survey among 318 decision-makers in Oregon and SW Washington conducted by CFM on behalf of Oregon Business. 

The survey found the most popular digital communication tools used for business and professional purposes were business social networking sites, such as LinkedIn (64%), texting (61%) and social networking sites (58%). A majority of decision-makers also use live video, such as Skype or GoToMeeting (55%) and e-newsletters (53%).  

Use of some tools has grown dramatically. The share of people using business social networking and texting has more than doubled since 2007, while use of consumer social media sites has increased six-fold. On the other hand, use of e-newsletters has increased just 10 points since 2007 and blogging remains one of the less frequently used tools. 

Increased business use of digital media is not surprising. Based on a variety of CFM research efforts for private and public clients, CFM has found customers and business colleagues are using online communication and engagement tools to get information and connect with friends and business associates. Essentially, businesses have learned to go where the people are. 

CFM predicts use of video will continue to grow during the next few years because mobile media use is increasing rapidly, recording videos and posting to social media and websites is easy, and people are sharing videos with colleagues and friends.  

The online Input survey was conducted in March 2015.

Political Polling Validity Becomes Shaky

Political polling is getting less reliable in predicting actual election outcomes. Reasons include the growing use of cell phones, reluctance to participate in telephone surveys and the rising cost of representative research samples.

Political polling is getting less reliable in predicting actual election outcomes. Reasons include the growing use of cell phones, reluctance to participate in telephone surveys and the rising cost of representative research samples.

Political polling doesn't seem to be as spot on as it used to be. Greater use of cell phones, wariness to participate in surveys and unrepresentative samples are among the reasons that political polls and election results turn out differently.

Cliff Zukin, a Rutgers political science professor and past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, writes in the New York Times that "polls and pollsters are going to be less reliable," so voters and the news media should beware.

"We are less rue how to conduct good survey research now than we were four years ago, and much less than eight years ago," says Zukin. "Don't look for too much help in what the polling aggregation sites may be offering. They, too, have been falling further off the track of late. It's not their fault. They are only as good as the raw material they have to work with."

Polling failures have been exposed in the most undetected 2014 mid-term election sweep in which Republicans captures both houses of Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's solid victory in Israel and British Prime Minister David Cameron's relatively easy re-election win.

Cell phones are everywhere and increasingly have replaced landline telephones. Pollsters can find cell phone numbers, but federal law prevents calling them with automatic dialers. According to Zukin, "To complete a 1,000-person survey, it's not unusual to have to dial more than 20,000 random numbers, most of which do not go to working telephone numbers." That adds budget-busting cost to telephone surveys, which in turn lead to "compromises in sampling and interviewing."

Response rates to surveys have declined precipitously. In the 1970s, Zukin says an 80 percent response rate was considered acceptable. Now response rates have dipped below 10 percent. It is hard to draw a representative sample when large chunks of the population refuse to participate. Some cohorts, such as lower income household members, are more unlikely to participate than others, which can skew results. And it takes more calls to achieve a representative sample, which encourages corner-skipping.

Internet polling has emerged as a strong alternative. It is cheaper than telephone surveys and, at least or the moment, people seem more willing to participate, in part because they have more choice in when and how to respond.

But Internet use has built-in biases, too, Zukin notes. While 97 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 use the Internet, 40 percent of adults older than age 65 don't. "Almost all online election polling is done with non probability samples," Zukin says, which makes it impossible to calculate a margin of error. 

The most vexing polling problem is not a new one – determining who will actually vote. Public opinion polling is one thing; trying to predict the outcome of an actual election is another. Pollsters recognize that respondents will overstate their likelihood of actually voting, but have limited ability to identify who will and who won't cast ballots.

Non voting can occur for a mix of reasons – bad weather, lack of interest or political protest. Some registered voters simply forget to vote, especially in non-presidential elections. Less motivated voters vote in top-line races and leave the rest of their ballots blank, making it hard to predict the "turnout" for so-called down-ballot candidates and ballot measures.

Scott Keeter, who directs survey research at Pew Research, says the combination of these factors is shifting political polling "from science to art."

Political polls will continue to be magnets for media coverage, but readers should be aware that the results may not have as much validity as polling in the past.