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Brands increasingly want to be able to see in real time how consumers are behaving around their products and there is much technology developing that allows them to do so.

While traditional surveys remain a staple of market research, the insights they provide are now being supplemented with those from less conventional sources. Marketers must now work out how to put the pieces of the jigsaw together.

Sony Europe’s head of customer insight, John Mackie, is keen to try new research techniques after growing concerned about the quality of the online panels for traditional research and whether they are telling the truth.

Mackie says: “We are looking at new ways of understanding the consumer. One of them is using a ’360-degree’ approach, whereby we recruit people who are in the process of buying a product. They complete a traditional survey at the beginning, but then they record any exposure they have to the brand or the product category with their mobile phone.”

Sony is using smartphones to get a first-hand and immediate view of how consumers look at its products and those of competitors.

Respondents submit photos of what they have seen through research agency Mesh Planning, accompanied by text accounts and online diaries about how they reacted and any conversations they had with store staff.

According to Mackie, this is a better way to capture information as marketing spending moves away from traditional advertising towards more fragmented media channels, word-of-mouth marketing and in-store activity. It means the brand does not just have to rely on respondents’ imperfect recollections or claimed behaviour in surveys several months after the event.

Sony is using these research techniques to understand in real time what exposure people have had to the brand in various contexts, and to direct where it should prioritise future marketing investment.

Similar approaches are being used by Stylist magazine to provide information about its readers to advertisers through an iPhone app from consultancy Flamingo (see Q&A, below), and baby products manufacturer MAM, which is using online diaries alongside focus groups to guide its product development.

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In one example, through design research company The Big Picture, MAM asked mothers to keep online diaries of how they used the company’s new bottle steriliser, with written accounts and pictures.

The participants then took part in focus groups to discuss what they had submitted. According to MAM head of international market research Andreas Woppmann, the mothers’ ability to record their actual behaviour online helped them to come to the focus groups more prepared, while picture evidence gave MAM useful additional insight that it otherwise would not have been able to collect.

“The pictures give information about how they use the products and in which environments,” says Woppmann. “For example, sometimes in the UK, kitchens are quite small compared with those in other countries, so that gives us a hint about how big the device should be in relation to the size of the kitchen. You get a little bit more detailed information, which is an add-on benefit.”

Shopper marketing is one area where observing consumer behaviour has been prevalent for some time but here, too, the methods used are being continually refined according to various marketing applications. In mocked-up ’shopper labs’, for example, research subjects are filmed and assessed for every aspect of their behaviour as they walk through environments constructed to replicate supermarket aisles as closely as possible.

United Biscuits used such an environment to test different kinds of point-of-sale marketing around its newly developed McVitie’s Quirks biscuits, with agency WARL. It measured shoppers’ reactions in an approach known as ’stop, engage, land’, according to United Biscuits shopper marketing controller Adrian Green.

Observing consumers in situ is crucial to this kind of research, he says, because by necessity it involves actions they are mostly not aware of. Questions asked during more general consumer product research do not serve the same purpose.

“They are not experiencing the packaging in the real world. They are not seeing it on a shelf around its competitive set in a store environment. Equally, they are not experiencing the point-of-sale material that we are trying to use to snap them out of their subconscious state,” says Green.

Getting consumers’ attention

He adds that according to research company Ipsos MORI, which runs the shopper lab used by United Biscuits, the Quirks brand scored better than any other product so far on the ’stop, engage, land’ test, in terms of shoppers’ interaction with the product.

“We also found that, as a rule, shoppers in the sweet biscuit category are generally more engaged and interested. They slow themselves down, they become more awake, they look around actively for new things. If you cue up a new message on the shelf, it draws their attention. That was a valuable thing to learn.”

It is similarly important to get an objective view of consumers’ behaviour in online as well as real-world environments. Airline Jet2 has adopted usability testing methods involving eyetracking and electroencephalographic (EEG) brain scans to see how web users experience its site as it attempts to shift consumer perceptions of the brand away from those of a low-cost carrier (see case study, above right).

For more than a year, electronic parts business RS Components has also been looking at how to enhance and redevelop its site to improve the experience for customers. The company was previously seeing a large number of users leaving the site from its search results pages relating to specific product types.

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After using its own analytics to identify areas of the site that were causing the problems, RS undertook traditional usability testing, where customers in key markets were observed using the website and then asked about their reactions. This has now been expanded using entirely web-based usability tests designed by UserZoom, which set tasks for website visitors and analyse their progress.

Online customer experience manager Alan Mears says: “We got a wealth of rich data back from discussions with customers, but that was limited to 50 customers in three countries. What we are seeing now is the ability to do that sort of research on a much larger scale across all our territories.

“We can identify whether there are any regional differences that we would not have found having picked three markets. It is the reach and scale of this newer technology that we want to grasp and to use more frequently than traditional methods would allow.”

At financial services company CPP Group, insight manager Chris Dann is exploring how online communities could help to achieve similar improvements in the website experience while providing feedback and insight into how its products should be tailored to customers’ requirements.

The interface he is using, provided by Ci Research, includes a web analytics suite to track website users’ online behaviour and allows CPP to interact with the user community through live chats, online polling and discussion forums. Formerly at Standard Life, which runs an established online community to gather feedback on its own financial products, Dann says he is trying to put together a business case to build a similar community at CPP on an ongoing basis.

“You can get a turnaround overnight, whether it’s a poll or a discussion. It is more cost-effective than other traditional techniques and you can get a lot more honest with respondents on it.

“That helps us to feed into product innovation and enhancements, and to focus the experience on what our customers want and need. You can also use a co-creative approach, which can cost a lot of money with traditional methods, such as workshops. You have got that facility 24/7 through an online community.”

But Dann also echoes the unanimous sentiment that these evolving behavioural research techniques add to, rather than replace, traditional approaches. Marketers must also know how to filter out the unnecessary and unhelpful excess of information that adding more and more data sources could create. In building a bigger picture, it is still important to keep everything in perspective.

brand in the spotlight

Q&A

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Mark Jefford
Research manager
ShortList Media (publisher of Stylist and ShortList magazines)

Marketing Week (MW): Why use smartphone apps to do reader research?

Mark Jefford (MJ): The main benefit is the speed with which we can conduct surveys. On average it takes me around half an hour to an hour between coming up with what we want to ask and that arriving on a community member’s phone. Depending on the length of the task and how demanding it is, typically we would receive content within a further half-hour and within 24 hours we would receive two or three pieces of very rich content.

MW: How did you gather information on your readership before, given that your magazines are handed out free?

MJ: Without having access to immediate data about our readers, we had a need to tap in and get qualitative information about them as quickly as we could, in response to advertising agency and client briefs that come through.

We would respond to them as well as we could with quantitative reader surveys, but we were never able to paint a picture of who our readers actually were.

MW: What kind of questions do you now ask readers and how do they tend to respond?

MJ: We did a piece of research in response to a mobile banking brief, and we had a very short turnaround of about 24 hours. We sent it out to the community and the responses we got told us what they thought about their own financial security and the barriers to using online banking on their phones.

As well as telling us those things, which we would be able to get from an open-ended quantitative survey, they were showing us pictures of the apps on their phones or taking videos of themselves talking into the phone about financial security, and what they do and do not like using on their phones.

MW: Are you able to put the content submitted by the research community to creative uses in the magazine?

MJ: A number of people in the community are also subscribers to the daily email from [Stylist sister website] Emerald Street.

We were able to contact those people, on a two-hour deadline, for an ad in Stylist.

This was for an ad for Emerald Street which would show the faces of some of the readers to tell a story about them, what they like and how they would recommend it to other people.

We were able to send that task to them and within a couple of hours they were able to send us back images of themselves with a short blog post. In that week’s Stylist, four of the community members appeared in a double-page spread ad, among some other readers.

MW: How do you see the use of mobile phones developing in market research?

MJ: It is only going to become more important. People do not need to be sitting at their desks, and you would normally ask questions online so respondents do not have to be at home as they would for a telephone survey. They do not have to go to a focus group. They can be on the move, so for our audience, a large percentage of whom will be commuters, we can contact them while they are on their commute.

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Jet2: Used eyetracking studies to discover how customers use its website

Casestudy

Jet 2

As an airline that trades mainly on its prices, Jet2 is often thrown into the same low-cost category as easyJet and Ryanair and can be subject to many of the negative consumer perceptions that dog the sector.

But according to commercial director Steve Lee, Jet2 is trying to shift its branding away from this territory and establish itself as a “cost-conscious leisure brand”.

A fundamental part of the process is conducting usability testing on the website to ensure the user experience tallies withthis description.

“How do we make the booking process easier for them and move away from the legacy of a low-cost airline, of being seen as a website that wants to trick you into buying travel insurance and other things? We want to make it quite clear what the basic airfare is and what is available over and above that if you want it,” Lee says.

To address this question, Jet2 has used eyetracking studies conducted by research company SimpleUsability to understand how consumers of different demographics respond to different parts of the website and the booking process.

Lee says that as soon as people get to the site, they need to feel that the brand will help them “arrive happy”, as its marketing strapline promises.

Jet2 has also previously accompanied the eyetracking research with electroencephalography (EEG) studies that analyse consumers’ brain activity as they browse the website. It gives the brand an idea of the emotions, and particularly feelings of frustration, that users go through as they navigate pages. This is something that Lee says will be used sparingly, since using it at every stage of development would betoo slow.

“We will do EEG analysis again once we have further developed the website and made all the necessary changes. There is always a danger that you get too much information at once, and then you cannot focus on the key areas.”

He adds, however, that EEG and eyetracking technology are a useful complement to other research sources as they pick up information that might otherwise be missed.

They can address flaws in traditional surveys, where people are often unwilling to admit to being influenced by marketing messages and are unable to recollect their choices and actions accurately. Lee says these are not necessary less reliable, and that behavioural monitoring techniques are used alongside, not instead of, surveys to build a fuller picture.

“The majority of it is challenging your own ideas of how you should market online. You do not see the wood for the trees all the time. You can have an overall conversion strategy that is successful, but you can always tweak it further and that is where website usability testing comes into play.”