market research

Customer Experience Is the New Brand Differentiator


Ever wonder why more point-of-sale clerks ask you how your day is going and whether you found everything you were looking for?  They are carrying out an intentional strategy of engaging consumers in service of improving the “customer experience”.

Improving the customer experience – or CX, as it is called in marketing lingo – has become the new battlefield to differentiate a brand from competition and increase retention, satisfaction and revenue. Business leaders say as much as two-thirds of their competitive edge is based on the experience they deliver to customers in-store and online.

As a consequence, marketing dollars have shifted to CX improvements, based on a more attentive analysis of customer feedback to see if expectations are being met or exceeded – and, if not, to find out why, according to a Gartner survey. An intimate understanding of consumer expectations and the customer journey is critical to guiding strategic decisions at all levels of an organization. 

In the past, product value and service quality dominated consumer decision-making. That may be changing. Some 86 percent of buyers surveyed said they would pay more for a better customer experience on items such as coffee, sports tickets, airline seats and car insurance. Sustained customer satisfaction can lead to fierce consumer loyalty.

CX can extend from virtual reality tours for homebuyers to a good experience on a mobile device. Data indicates there will be nearly 28 billion more queries on mobile devices than desktop computers. Customers like to search for information themselves, so it is important to make the path easy, including mobile search and purchase.

Fifty percent of customers value finding and purchasing what they want on their own. Seventy percent expect a brand’s website should allow for self-service. Some of those queries will occur in-store. Impediments to positive in-store or online consumer engagement include difficult navigation, unhelpful search results, slow load times and sites that aren’t searchable.

Customer frustration with their experience can lead to bad word-of-mouth. One study indicates 13 percent of unhappy customers will share their dissatisfaction with 15 or more people, while 72 percent of customers will share a positive customer experience with six or more friends and family members. One in three customers will desert a brand after a bad experience. 

The bottom line is that if you aren’t measuring your customer satisfaction and investing in your customer experience, your bottom line will suffer.

[Many of the statistics cited in this blog came from a post titled, “37 Customer Experience Statistics You Need to Know for 2019” by Toma Kulbyté and published by SuperOffice.]


Millennials Pose Unique Marketing Challenges – And Familiar Ones

Millennials, as children of the digital era, pose unique marketing challenges. However, you are more likely to engage them with online video ads and social media with videos. That said, it never hurts to know you target audience and recognize they are a moving target.

Millennials, as children of the digital era, pose unique marketing challenges. However, you are more likely to engage them with online video ads and social media with videos. That said, it never hurts to know you target audience and recognize they are a moving target.

Millennials are a moving target, so it helps to understand as much as you can about their demographics. Salesforce did the homework for you.

Millennials are a moving target, so it helps to understand as much as you can about their demographics. Salesforce did the homework for you.

Marketing to Millennials is admittedly a challenge. They are as interested in car-sharing as car-buying. Owning a home is less important than being close to the action. They don’t read newspapers or watch commercial television. Their choice of channels seems to change regularly.

To get a better handle on Millennials, a real estate company commissioned a survey and discovered online video advertising is the best vehicle to engage this target audience. Not exactly a eureka moment, but it does confirm – at least for now – that online video still holds appeal.

Online video ads are not a silver bullet. According to the survey, 21 percent of the 1,100 Millennials interviewed said they engage with online video ads, contrasted to only 11 percent of people 39 years or older. Fourteen percent of Millennial respondents said they engage with social media ads with videos.

It’s worth noting, the survey indicated 31 percent of Millennial respondents say they don’t engage with online ads. More than four in 10 older adults say the same thing. That suggests Millennials are simply hard to engage with ads anywhere online.

What the survey underscores is the value of visual content. The second highest source of online engagement (17%) is social media ads with pictures. They attract the highest percentage (14%) of older adults, too.

Search engine ads work better to engage older adults (12%) than Millennials (9%). Display ads on websites and native ads don’t work that well with younger or older adults, based on survey results.

Tommy O’Shaughnessy of Clever Real Estate, which commissioned the survey, says, “In many ways, YouTube has assumed the functional role of television for Millennials. According to an eMarketer study, Millennials watch more digital video than traditional video content, making YouTube an incredibly important tool for marketers.”

He adds, “While Facebook is still the dominant social media platform and reaches the widest audience, the preferences of younger Millennials have begun shifting toward YouTube and Instagram, where video content is more readily available and more fundamental to the experience. However, despite the recent Millennial migration away from Facebook, ads run on the social networking megalith are still more likely to lead to a purchase than ads run on any other platform.” The migration of Millennials from Facebook appears to be tied to growing concerns about its privacy policies.

One nugget buried in the survey is that Millennials are 54 percent more likely than older adults to buy a product suggested by a social media celebrity. That may be the byproduct of older adult unfamiliarity with most social media celebrities.

It may not set apart Millennials from other adults, but the survey underscores they like to laugh and learn at the same time. “Marketing campaigns that provide value to their audience through funny and informative video content stand the best chance of engaging their viewers,” O’Shaughnessy says. “Humorous content is the most likely to strike a chord with millennials (44%), while informative content comes in second (30%).”

“Amusing and informative advertisements elicit good responses from Millennials and Baby Boomers, with the latter demonstrating a slight preference for informative ads,” he explains. “However, marketers need to exercise caution when trying to grab their audience’s attention with a shocking ad, as these performed abysmally across both generations – only 4% of Millennials and 3% of Baby Boomers stated that unsettling ads resonate with them.”

While Millennials, children of the digital age, pose unique marketing challenges, they are still part of the human race. “Although this generation has its idiosyncrasies, Millennial marketing is not such a hard nut to crack,” O’Shaughnessy argues. “Millennials crave content that feels valuable, honest, personal and sticks out from the rest of their feeds. The best way to accomplish this is to create video marketing campaigns that utilize influencers and provide funny, informative content to a brand’s audience.”


New Book Says Polls Provide Indications, Not Predictions

Anthony Salvanto with CBS News has written a new book that explains what polling can and can’t do. It’s a good place to begin to become a savvy research consumer.

Anthony Salvanto with CBS News has written a new book that explains what polling can and can’t do. It’s a good place to begin to become a savvy research consumer.

Political polls give indications of voter attitudes, not predictions of election outcomes, says Anthony Salvanto in his new book, Where Did You Get This Number.

Salvanto, the director of elections and surveys for CBS News, says he wrote his book to explain how polling works after skepticism arose following the 2016 presidential election that polls suggested was a lock for Hillary Clinton. She did win the popular vote, but lost in states critical to a victory in the Electoral College. The polls were right and wrong at the same time.

In an interview on Face the Nation, Salvanto said he is often asked how national poll numbers are generated based on as few as 1,000 ten-minute telephone interviews. He explains representative samples can produce reliable results. Pollsters may not interview you, but they interview people like you.

A representative sample is just part of the best practices followed by professional pollsters. Clear, objective questions must be asked. Individual questions should test a single variable. Conclusions should be tempered by statistical validity. For example, a national poll with a 1,000-respondent sample may provide a valid national picture, but not a statistically valid picture of voters in Colorado.

Even the most scrupulous professional pollsters don’t always get the numbers exactly right. There often is a slight, but significant skew as a result of the specific methodology a pollster uses. For example,  failure to include a representative number of random sample calls to cell phone users could under-represent younger people, low-income families and minorities.

Nate Silver of argues it is more reliable to look at groups of polls through the lens of a probability model.  He claims analyzing a pool of polls and weighting each one by their history of accuracy can burp out a more accurate polling results. Even then, Salvanto would say, it is not a prediction, just a reflection in time.

Then there are the polls that aren’t really polls. Push-polls ask questions, less to get an answer and more to deliver a message, often a negative one, about a political opponent. Cheap robopolls get lower than average response rates, which can skew results. Because they are prohibited by law from calling cell phone users randomly, they have a built-in bias.

The bottom line: Purchasers need to be smart consumers of research. Before looking at results, look at the sample so you know whose views are represented in the results. Understand the methodology being used and the statistical confidence it will yield. Know the benefits and limitations of different types of research, and certainly between qualitative and quantitative research. Collaborate with a pollster on the questions that need to be asked and let him or her advise you how to ask them fairly so you get usable responses, not just what you want to hear.

Salvanto’s book may be the place to start on your journey to understanding polling’s potential and limitations.


Pew Tracks Partisan Split Over ‘Openness to World’

A recent Pew Research survey shows a sharp partisan divide on whether we should welcome or resist an open world view.

A recent Pew Research survey shows a sharp partisan divide on whether we should welcome or resist an open world view.


Americans overall embrace an openness to the people of the world, but the difference in viewpoints between Democrats and Republicans is staggering.

Pew Research found 68 percent of Americans view “openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation.” However, that masks that 84 percent of Democrats agree with that view as contrasted to only 47 percent of Republicans.

The finding provides context for the reaction – and non-reaction – to President Trump’s controversial comment last week about immigrants from “shithole countries.”

The Pew survey, conducted last summer among 2,505 US adults, showed general agreement among all age groups and levels of education to an openness to the people from around the world. The glaring difference was between Americans who identified as Democrats or Republicans.

On a separate question, 48 percent of Republicans said openness to people from around the world could “risk losing our identity as a nation.” Only 14 percent of Democrats share that concern.

Views are somewhat less divisive over the question of increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the United States. Seventy-six percent of Democrats agree diversity will make the United States a “better place to live,” compared to 51 percent of Republicans.

The data confirms what has been obvious since 1968 in American electoral history. Following passage in Congress with Democratic majorities of civil rights and voting rights legislation, voting patterns in the Deep South switched from Democratic to Republican. That may have been accompanied by a realignment of party affiliation. Regardless, there is a clear distinction on world view and immigration between parties.

The partisan split on world view is not mirrored to the same extent by race, age or education. Younger people are the most open in their world view and older people the least open, but in both cases their openness sharply exceeds that of people identifying as Republican or conservative.

A Pew Research survey earlier last year found 64 percent of Americans viewed increasing racial and ethnic diversity as a positive. The biggest difference in the survey was among Democrats (76 percent) and Republicans (51 percent).

It would be fair to speculate that Trump understands these numbers and calibrates his statements and tweets to appeal to his political base that questions openness to the world and fears the upshot of increasing diversity in America.

More curious is the blind spot in many Americans’ world view to the economic benefit to the United States of global trade and capital flows.


Using Research to Find Out What You Need to Know

The moment you think you know it all is the exact moment you need to stop and take stock. Quality, affordable research can make the difference on a new product, rebranding exercise, website home page or ad campaign.

The moment you think you know it all is the exact moment you need to stop and take stock. Quality, affordable research can make the difference on a new product, rebranding exercise, website home page or ad campaign.

The moment you think you know it all is exactly the moment when you need to stop and take stock. Hubris can turn on a dime into expensive mistakes.

Market research and timely public opinion polling is often dismissed on grounds that “we already know the answer to our questions.” That may be true, but it could be a disaster for a business plan, communications strategy or a school bond campaign if it isn’t true.

Frequently hubris is cloaked as a budgetary concern. “We can’t afford conducting any research right now.” Experience shows that many businesses, nonprofits and public agencies can’t afford not to conduct research.

Cockiness can be the cousin of recklessness. Most executives wouldn’t think of making a major decision without legal or financial counsel. So why would they risk the fate of a new product, the design of a website landing page or the effectiveness of an expensive ad buy based on a hunch or a gut feeling?

Research can be overlooked because of unfamiliarity with all its different forms. Many people think of research as only telephone polls or focus groups. Those are common types of research, but there are many other options that may fit better with a project and a budget.

One-on-one interviews is a cost-effective way to gather reliable information. These interviews won’t produce pie-chart results, but they will generate useful perspective and context. Say an executive is ready to launch a new initiative. One-on-one interviews can test whether his top lieutenants are on board or have lingering concerns. A nonprofit is considering a name change. One-on-one interviews can help ascertain how much brand equity resides in the current name and the aspirations for a new name.

For consumer-facing businesses, follow-up online surveys can gauge customer satisfaction and identify problems with products, personnel or shipping.

Roundtable discussions, whether in lunchrooms or at community centers, are an underutilized form of research. You might think of these as informal focus groups where you can collect information directly from participants and view group interaction. Both can provide insight, either by reaffirming what you thought, countering your assumptions or uncovering something you never thought of before.

An old-fashioned idea, which remains relevant, is to walk around and talk to people. Ask employees what they would improve. Ask customers whether you are meeting their expectations. Ask vendors how you could do business better and more profitably.

Research professionals are valuable resources who can give advice on the type of research that matches what you need and what you have to spend. They also can assist on what questions you ask and how they are framed to avoid biasing answers and skewing results.

One final thought. Third-party research, whether in the form of surveys or interviews, can yield more candid responses, especially if the topics explored relate to bosses and their plans.

The fundamental value proposition for quality research is what helps you find out what you need to know, not just what you want to hear.


Clear, Fair Questions Key to Reliable Survey Results

Reliable survey research depends on many factors, but it all starts with questions that are asked clearly and fairly.

Reliable survey research depends on many factors, but it all starts with questions that are asked clearly and fairly.

A lot of things need to be done right to deliver reliable and useful survey data. At the top of the list is asking relevant questions clearly and fairly.

Fuzzy questions produce fuzzy answers. Skewed questions produce skewed results. Fuzzy answers and skewed results aren’t a solid foundation for successful advertising and advocacy campaigns or for smart business decision-making.

Clarity in the wording of questions is essential to avoid confusing respondents. You want to make sure respondents have a common comprehension of the question so you can reliably measure their responses. A best practice in public opinion polling and market research is to test questions to ensure they are as clear and commonly understood as possible

Question clarity is becoming more important because of increased cultural diversity and audiences that include English-as-a-second-language speakers. Question testing needs to include this variable as well.

Along with clarity, questions should explore a single idea, issue or product feature. If you mix in multiple ideas, issues or features, you won’t necessarily know which one is the factor that fetches a  “like” or “dislike” answer. Sarah Taylor, in a blog post about survey questions, provides this example:

For example, asking "how valuable and organized was the Ebook?" is mixing two issues together: value and organization. Maybe the respondent really enjoyed the content in the Ebook, but thought it was organized poorly. If you ask them that question, the response may be for either issue and you won't really have a sense of what needs to be changed for your next Ebook. Instead, ask two questions: “How valuable was the e-book?" and “Rate the organization of the Ebook" to get better quality data.

The vocabulary of questions should be basic. Respondents will run the gamut of education and backgrounds. If your subject matter is technical, take special care to avoid jargon or phrases that may go over the head of some respondents. In some cases, you may need to preface a question so there is a common framework for all respondents. Special care is required to make sure any explanation is fair and factual.

Which brings us to skewed questions. If you are in the propaganda business, skewed questions and push polls may be tools of your trade. But for everyone else, skewed questions aren’t helpful and can be disastrous if you mistakenly base million-dollar campaigns on their findings.

Finding out what you need to know – as opposed to what you want to know – is the proper attitude to bring to any kind of research, whether  a quantitative poll or qualitative focus group. Curiosity, not a fixed mind set, is the right frame of mind.

Credible pollsters and market researchers can readily identify and will avoid loaded words or leading sequences of questions. But sometimes skew still slips in, as it did in this famous question, “Would you vote for a woman for president if she were qualified in every other way?” In addition to being confusing, the question implies being a woman is a qualification as opposed to a gender. Subtle, yes, but doesn’t mean it can’t have a significant effect.

The order of questions can influence responses. Pollsters and market researchers will often rotate the order of questions to minimize the possibility of skewing results.

Give respondents a full range of choices in evaluating an idea, issue or product feature. You also might give them a chance to comment through an open-ended question, which allows you to capture their words, not just their answers.

One of the most common forms of skewing is the omission of a key word or concept. If you were polling the congressional Republican proposals to replace Obamacare, it would be a mistake not to test the concept of lower health insurance premiums in connection with the cost of keeping premiums low for patients with pre-existing conditions. Who wouldn’t want to see lower health insurance premiums, but at which price and paid by whom? Installing residential rooftop solar panels will be enticing as a way to cut electricity bills, but the financial equation is incomplete with exploring how long it would take to break even after making the investment in solar panels.

Many other factors determine the accuracy and reliability of survey findings, such as representative samples, sample sizes, length of surveys, when surveys are conducted and the type of survey used. Surveys can generate rich, meaningful and actionable data if done right. A good place to start is to get the survey questions right.