Versta Research Newsletter

Dear Reader,

Want to stay at the very top of your professional game and gain a significant edge over competitors? Want to dazzle colleagues with real insights that nobody else is yet discussing? Look no further than the Ivory Tower.

Throughout the year our academic colleagues are producing a treasure trove of ideas and knowledge based on research more rigorous than most private companies can afford. They publish this stuff so that anyone can read it and learn from it.

In this newsletter we review the top three academic journals we recommend for market research, survey research, and public opinion polling.

Other items of interest in this newsletter include:
We are also delighted to share with you:

Oh, and one other piece of exciting news. Peter Kowalski officially joins Versta Research as a project manager on July 1. Many of you have worked with Peter in the past, in which case you know that he will be an outstanding addition to our team. We are delighted to have him joining us. Feel free to reach out to Peter at x1400 and say welcome!

Happy Summer,

The Versta Team

How to Find Marketing Gold in the Ivory Tower:
Three Academic Journals Worth Reading

If you ask me, the value of a market research professional having a Ph.D. is not the high level expertise it presumably denotes, but rather the personal habits it nurtures and ingrains along the way: Reading, studying, learning, probing, collecting, analyzing, writing, and sharing—these are all habits that elevate research well beyond what executives imagine when they think about research as a business function.

I contemplate this whenever I pick up those heavy, mostly boring academic journals full of turgid prose about marketing or market research. In the past, I read them because it was a professional obligation to know what my colleagues and competitors were writing and publishing. It helped me navigate an academic social network, which is one crucial piece of the publish-or-perish ethic. But today I read journals because I nearly always find nuggets of useful information that make our research better and smarter.

For all professionals whose calling is research, reading journals is a habit worth developing. To start, subscribe to just one or two. When they arrive in your mailbox every two months, set aside an hour. Flip through each article. Read the title and the abstract. If it seems relevant, scan the introductory paragraphs and the concluding discussion. If the content is grabbing your interest, go deeper; if not, move on to the next article.

Where do you start? Here is an overview of three top journals we regularly review and highly recommend.

Public Opinion Quarterly is the official journal of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). It is where the best social scientists publish new findings and innovations about how to do research. The goal is to develop and refine sophisticated, rigorous research methods that withstand the highest levels of scrutiny. The POQ website describes it thus:

Published since 1937, Public Opinion Quarterly is among the most frequently cited journals of its kind. Such interdisciplinary leadership benefits academicians and all social science researchers by providing a trusted source for a wide range of high quality research. POQ selectively publishes important theoretical contributions to opinion and communication research, analyses of current public opinion, and investigations of methodological issues involved in survey validity– including questionnaire construction, interviewing and interviewers, sampling strategy, and mode of administration. The theoretical and methodological advances detailed in pages of POQ ensure its importance as a research resource.

Lest you think that’s way too highfalutin for useful ideas that apply to your research, here are some examples of insights we found that apply to our work every day:

1. Survey respondents jump to conclusions as soon as they hear (or see) a grammatical question mark. So if you want to elaborate on a question or offer instructions, do it beforehand, not after.

2. Poorly representative samples (not sample size) explain why Gallup has done a lousy job over the last decade predicting presidential elections, highlighting the everyday importance of how to screen survey respondents and how to weight them in final results.

3. High response rates may hurt survey results, because the survey will likely include many distracted, unreliable participants whose answers damage the accuracy of statistical estimates.

Journal of Marketing Research is a flagship journal published by the American Marketing Association (AMA). It is a scholarly journal that connects rigorous academic research with commercial applications. Among professors of marketing research at U.S. business schools, this is the top journal where they aim to publish. As AMA describes it:

Journal of Marketing Research concentrates on the subject of marketing research, from its philosophy, concepts, and theories to its methods, techniques, and applications. This bimonthly, peer-reviewed journal is published for technically oriented research analysts, educators, and statisticians. . . . Most of the research currently published in JMR fits into the following two categories: (1) empirical research that tests a theory of consumer or firm behavior in the marketplace and (2) methodological research that presents new approaches for analyzing data or addressing marketing research problems.

More than any other source, we finds insights in JMR about specific content areas, industries, and types of buying behavior that relate to our work and that of our clients. Some recent examples:

1. In 2011 an entire issue was published on consumer financial decision making, focused on topics ranging from managing debt and savings, to retirement investing, to active trading.

2. Purposive sampling for concept testing and innovation research is sometimes better than random sampling among general consumers. Why? Because some people are measurably better at developing and providing feedback about new product concepts.

3. Researchers at Northwestern University identified a new type of bias that messes up customer satisfaction survey data, and they offer a simple solution to overcome this bias.

Journal of Consumer Research is a weirder, esoteric journal that often reads like a psychology journal that has nothing to do with marketing or market research. But if you want a deeper understanding of the social-psychological processes that drive consumer behavior (even if the business implications are unstated) this journal is definitely worth reading. It is published by the University of Chicago Press, which describes it thus:

Founded in 1974, the Journal of Consumer Research publishes scholarly research that describes and explains consumer behavior. Empirical, theoretical, and methodological articles spanning fields such as psychology, marketing, sociology, economics, communications, and anthropology are featured in this interdisciplinary journal. The primary thrust of JCR is academic, rather than managerial, with topics ranging from micro-level processes (such as brand choice) to more macro-level issues (such as the development of materialistic values).

What specifically have we learned from this journal over the last few years? Here are just a few nuggets of insight:

1. A 2011 review of fifty published and unpublished consumer choice experiments shows that the idea of choice-overload is overstated. In fact, there are two well-established situations in which more choice is clearly better.

2. Recent research shows the effect of color on a buyer’s willingness to pay. Red elicits aggression, which elevates auction bids but reduces negotiated offers. Blue does just the opposite.

3. New research shows differences in how people respond to negative vs. positive feedback, which has implications for how to communicate with research vendors versus how to communicate with internal clients who use research.

The Academic Ethos: Sharing Knowledge

In market research for business, most of what we do is proprietary and confidential. Sometimes it feels like colleagues at other firms must be working on all the same problems, but there are unfortunately few good ways to share and learn from each other. (Presentations at industry conferences are intentionally superficial!)

The world of academia is different. Access to information and ideas is paramount. Professors succeed only if they publish their research for their colleagues (and for us) to see and use. The more those ideas are used and elaborated by others, the greater the value and success of those who publish them.

So take good advantage of what the ivory tower has to offer: opportunities to benefit from the most advanced, innovative, rigorous, shared knowledge that is out there. Train yourself to review the best (surely tedious) tomes of the academy. For every idea that grabs your attention, think about how it might apply, sometimes in curious ways, to the methods or content of your own research. Soon your colleagues will be turning to you again and again not just for quantitative and qualitative data mining, but for those nuggets of golden insight mined from the ivory tower.

Stories from the Versta Blog

Here are several recent posts from the Versta Research Blog. Click on any headline to read more.

13 Suspects: The Verdicts on Gallup’s Gaffes

A rigorous review of why Gallup was inaccurate with its 2012 presidential polling identifies 13 critical threats that every survey researcher should know about.

Why Vendors Have to Do Everything Twice

You should not have to ask vendors to fix mistakes and do things twice. Here are things they should always check and do twice before the work ever gets to you.

Two Examples of Animated Data Visualization

Here are two examples of animated data visualization, one of which has become the exemplar of this new technique and uses it to exceptionally powerful effect.

Social Media Not Rocking Research So Far

Three years ago opinion was split on whether social media would fundamentally re-shape the work we do in market research. Here is where things stand in 2013.

Respondents Jump to Conclusions

A recent experiment on questionnaire design shows that adding clarifying instructions after a question, instead of before it, will reduce the accuracy of responses.

The Next Generation Wants to Ask You…

…some very astute questions about why you do research and what you’re hoping to learn—from a recent talk I gave to MBA students at the University of Illinois.

Telling Clients What They Want to Hear

Telling clients the good news they want to hear from satisfaction research gets a bad rap; sometimes it is more useful to their efforts than “corrective feedback.”

The Creepy Factor with Google Surveys

Our first test run with Google surveys reminded us that the company tracks everything, which means it may not be a good option for confidential research.

Research Could Have Spared J. C. Penney

There is plenty of research describing how consumers respond to pricing models, and even some simple market research would have helped JCP avoid its Apple-inspired mess.

Tell Me What I’m Doing Wrong

New research shows that as people progress from being novices to experts, they respond to negative feedback more favorably because it helps them improve.

Why You Don’t Need Big Data

While some believe that huge volumes of data will deliver more insight than ever before, small random samples are extremely powerful and might do better.

Video: Why Research Takes So Long

This is a short, inspiring video about the creative process that applies to all aspects of marketing, even the “thoughtful curiosity” needed for market research.

Versta Research in the News

Employee Experience Survey Wins Gold Quill Award

Brilliant Ink’s Employee Experience Survey conducted in partnership with Versta Research was named a 2013 Gold Quill Award Winner by the International Association of Business Communicators.

Versta Presents Diabetes Findings at Two Scientific Conferences

Results from two Versta Research surveys are being presented in May and June at scientific meetings sponsored by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).