Versta Research Newsletter

Dear Reader,

This quarter’s newsletter includes thoughts about what a difference good research can make over bad research, and some ways that we, as researchers, can help clients. It applies to vendors, like Versta, helping its clients, but also to internal researchers, like you, helping your business units.

Here’s to a healthy turn-around in 2009!


The Versta Team

Two Research Remedies for Today’s Economy

In a wide-ranging interview about current economic challenges and how market research needs to shift, Versta’s president discussed two ways in which the industry can help. Excerpted below is part of this interview:

Q. You’ve said recently that market researchers are partly to blame for the current economic crisis. How so?

A. Research should help clients understand their markets, both short term and long term, so that products and services meet real needs. Corporations and consumers need to be in relationships that are sustainable. I was at an industry conference last November where the keynote speaker said that one half of the research equation is to protect consumers from stupid ideas. Everyone squirmed. We know that market research has not done that.

Q. What needs to change?

A. A couple of things. First, we need to nudge our clients to look outward instead of inward. Most researchers spend too much time looking in mirrors. They’re asking consumers, “What do think of my products? Which of my ideas do you like the best?” They should be looking through a magnifying glass, and asking, “What do you need? What are your frustrations? How, if at all, does this product help you, or does it get in the way?”

Q. But don’t consumers say they want it all – a bigger house, a better TV?

A. I have faith that people can talk about real needs, and about the frustrations they have in getting those needs met. Let me correct that – it is not faith – I know it from having talked with consumers as a researcher about difficult subjects for over twenty years. When they say they want a bigger house or a better TV, they’re telling you their dreams, and those dreams are important. But most will tell you they don’t need an outsized mortgage – they need help financing a home they can afford to live in. Researchers can help by understanding the specifics of that need, and helping our clients design products and services to fit that need.

Q. What else needs to change?

A. The second thing we need is to show our clients that research data is not neutral. It always has implications, and it has to be interpreted. One of my clients recently brought on a new head of market research. The mandate from this head was that nothing ever goes up to senior management without the value-add of interpretation. That was a smart move, and it means that researchers are being held accountable for what the data mean and what it will lead to.

Q. Does that put researchers in the inappropriate role of making decisions, or biasing them?

A. Not at all. Think of it as being like a lawyer. My job is to give you the best counsel based on my experience and the facts of the case, and then let you make the decision. You can’t make that decision without a clear interpretation, and without a realistic assessment of implications. I can help you open a consumer’s wallet so that you’re both bankrupt in three years, but it is my job to advise against that and to use research for a better outcome.

News on Landlines, Response Rates and Screen Time

  • The number of U.S. households without landline telephones is about 20%. This is comparable to where we were in 1963, but today nearly all such households have members who own cell phones.
  • Response rates for surveys are typically 15% to 25% for even the most rigorous polls reported by major media.
  • Studies show that boosting response rates beyond these levels usually does not improve the accuracy of a survey.
  • The average “screen time” for U.S. adults (viewing TVs, computer screens, cell-phone screens, GPS devices, etc.) is 8.5 hours per day, and there are virtually no differences by age.