An Interview with a Market Research Expert – Tom H. C. Anderson

January 7, 2011
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Today I’m introducing a brand new series to my blog and you

Today I’m introducing a brand new series to my blog and you’ve been lucky enough to start reading it from the very beginning! This series of articles will focus on interviews with the very best people in market research from around world. Due to the length of some interviews, I recommend you set aside 10-minutes or bookmark this page if you don’t have the time to read it all at once.


Today’s interview was conducted over email with Tom H. C. Anderson, Founder and Managing Partner of Anderson Analytics. 


“Tom H. C. Anderson founded Anderson Analytics in 2005 as the first full service online market research firm to leverage data and text mining with other online research techniques. Since then Tom and his team have won several awards for their innovative methodologies and groundbreaking work.”

An interview with Tom H. C. Anderson …

Exciting Industry Predictions: 

“I’m excited about seeing greater specialization, more software and DIY tools for the client side researcher. I’m not talking about more Survey tools, but analytics, or coupling the two together. I hope and expect there will be a much needed weeding or occurring simultaneously as there are already too many fly-by-night social media research consultants as well as social media monitoring tools out there. I think once everyone finally realizes social networks are here to stay we’ll stop acting so crazy around it. Sort of how we got used to the phone and email.” – Tom

“greater specialization, more software and DIY tools”


“Speaking of DIY software, a discussion about SurveyMonkey [SurveyMonkey is looking for expert guest-bloggers] got a lot of attention on your Next Gen Market Research LinkedIn group. There was a lot of attention put on the fact that this survey tool is free (or almost free) and that client-side researchers are using it. Reading through the comments I got the feeling that some research suppliers are worried about clients doing their own research using DIY tools like SurveyMonkey because then clients won’t be using their research suppliers as much. What do you think about this?” – Sean

“My view on DIY, and I’m not sure how sound it is, but then again there’s nothing you can do to stop it, is that so far I don’t think it has lost my firm any business at all. This is because if a client doesn’t appreciate the value you bring to the table and instead thinks they can do the same job cheaper, then that was not a job/client that made sense for us in the first place. Now granted, this view may be nearsighted because we’re not just talking about whether or not I’m afraid DIY will lose me business, but on the larger long term effect. DIY most definitely is contributing to some degree to the commoditization of market research.”

“My view on DIY … I don’t think it has lost my firm any business” 

“If the receptionist in your dentists office can do a customer satisfaction survey to their customers, then why would you need to pay a firm to do it for you? And how many surveys do those customers want to answer.”

“Well, anyway, I’m not sure about you, but I think the whole DIY survey and respondent quality debate is getting boring. Like I said, that dentists office would never have been a good client for most of us anyway. What I’m more interested in is how actual clients like 3M are using the tools. And here I prefer to look at the bright side. I’d like to develop more useful and interesting DIY tools for them to use.”

“If I were a survey monkey or any other survey co. I’d better realize quickly that if the product is being given away for free SURVEY SOFTWARE IS A COMMODITY! Time to add a little more $ into product development to show why your software is worth paying for. And the answer isn’t improved skip logic or ease of use, it’s creating software that does something none of the others do.” – Tom

“All the lip service paid to privacy … will go away”

“There’s also going to be a lot more actual measurement going on. All the lip service paid to privacy around cookies, sniffing and scraping will go away as we learn to live in a less private world again. We can’t legislate the entire web anyway as we don’t own it, and who would really want to anyway. Browsers with more security will be added, and programmers will find new ways to track, and so the circle of life continues…” – Tom

“This makes me think of an article I read in November titled “KLM suprises travellers to see “how happiness spreads“, where airport employees research Foursquare users who check into their airport so that they can track the users down and provide them with a specialized gift. At first I thought, “what a great idea,” but then I also thought about the privacy implications. With so much rapid change occurring with online privacy, how do you foresee people learning to become more transparent online to aid in good research while still protecting their privacy?” – Sean

“I think I recall that article. You have to learn to ignore noise if you are going to be a successful company. You have to realize that today it’s in fashion to cry foul and say your rights have somehow been violated. It’s a phenomenon that is especially pervasive in certain countries, including the US. Smart companies need to understand when to ignore the press and realize that if you can please 95%, hell even 50% of people, that’s more pleased customers than you will be able to handle. KLM is free to give me a gift anytime anywhere! I love them by the way, they’ve taken great care of me in the past.” – Tom

Favorite Research Methodology/Analysis: 

“Text Analytics and Segmentation.”
Text Analytics: A set of linguistic, statistical, and machine learning techniques that model and structure the information content of textual sources for business intelligence, exploratory data analysis, research, or investigation. – Wikipedia

Segmentation – A concept where research is used to determine sub-sets of people or organizations with one or more characteristics that cause them to demand similar product and/or services based on qualities of those products such as price or function. – Wikipedia
“Customer segmentation is by far my favorite type of traditional research technique. It’s very strategic but also needs to be tactical. Sometimes you get to work with survey data, sometimes with a client’s CRM data base, and on the really cool ones with both.”
“In terms of ‘Next Gen’ research tools you probably know I was an early proponent of the use of text analytics in marketing research. Text Mining is a big topic and it’s a methodology that can be used across several sources of data. As I always like to have my cake and eat it too, we’ve at times had text analytics components in segmentation work.” – Tom
“As far as I’m aware you were the first advocate of text analytics in marketing research, well before big market research companies like Nielsen and TNS got into it. In December I also read an interview with BI expert Seth Grimes titled “Anderson Analytics Eyes Text Analytics Software Space with OdinText” on the new Text Analytics Software “OdinText” developed by Anderson Analytics. What can you share with me about this new software and why did you wait to develop it?” – Sean

“Don’t fight the DIY trend”
“Well I think it goes back to what we were discussing earlier. Don’t fight the DIY trend. If you have strong expertise in an area, which allows you to make products that add value to your offerings, then you need to do so.”
“Don Peppers of Peppers and Rogers Group once told me that he and Martha Rogers started in much the same way, except with enterprise CRM systems. Initially they had exclusive agreements with certain technology vendors which they eventually terminated in order to serve a larger audience. My thinking was in a way similar. Learn everything you can from everyone else before building your own. Text Analytics is a continuously evolving field, so there’s a lot to learn. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the smartest people in the field. I think the marketing research perspective Anderson brings to this is very important also, though.” – Tom
Social Media’s Role in Market Research Companies:

“For marketing of, course, both for ourselves and for our customers, it’s an important channel. It’s sort of like asking where do you think TV, radio and print advertising play a role in research. Except with social media not only is it an advertising channel, it’s also a two way communication channel AND a way to watch how consumers interact with each other and brands in the market, all available without anyone having to leave their desk!” – Tom

“an advertising channel … a two way communication channel AND a way to watch how consumers interact”

“Social media is definitely a game changer for marketers, but how do you think research providers can use social media research to help their clients understand how to market through social media?” – Sean

“Why do we always have to use social media to do the social media research? I mean I’m as much for new cool Next Gen research techniques as anyone else, but I can’t figure out the fascination with everyone analyzing Twitter. I’ve had some clients come to me and ask us for a proposal to screen scrape our Facebook group and YouTube channel, we want to create a kick ass social media campaign. Sure, we can technically waste a lot of time and money doing that for them.”

“I can’t figure out the fascination with everyone analyzing Twitter” 

“What I usually do next is ask them how many of their customers or target customers are currently using what social media/network, and what type of interaction would they like from you? Surprisingly the answer is often that they’re not sure. They have a top “Digital” AD or PR agency doing all that for them.”

“When I then suggest some traditional primary research to answer these questions they seem disappointed. I tell them, if you have the budget, lets do a segmentation study which includes a social media usage battery.”

“we do have to prove it makes sense from an ROI perspective” 

“Some of them seem to get it; sadly many don’t. They seem to prefer to analyze a few Tweets and reply to them. These may be best served by some sort of DIY product I think, but we do have to prove it makes sense from an ROI perspective. I’m confident that some of us can do this.” – Tom

“Who is doing this right?” – Sean

“Not many. And of course there are so many ways to measure it.

“Market Mix Modeling companies have made a lot of money usually using nothing more than simple regression to predict effects of advertising, coupons etc. I’d expect social media to start playing a bigger role in these models soon.

“As we begin to better understand the ROI from an advertising perspective, we should also be able to put a better value on the research part. As with anything, there are many ways to put a value on something. One way is not necessarily better than another. It’s more about convincing management that it adds value in several ways.” – Tom

Offshoring Market Research Services:


Offshoring: “the relocation by a company of a business process from one country to another—typically an operational process, such as manufacturing, or supporting processes, such as accounting.”  – Wikipedia
 “one of the biggest yet quietest trends in research”

“In general it’s been one of the biggest yet quietest trends in research over the last 10 years. We talk more about MROCS and Twitter Analysis!?!

“Next Gen Market Research group did a survey among 855 market research professionals, and we found that clients are often unaware of whether or not their research is being offshored as well as potential risks of offshoring if not done very carefully. I think the market research industry is built upon trust, and therefore it’s very important for all of us to try to maintain that trust and be as transparent as possible with our clients.

“Also, in the end we have to be honest about why we do it. To save costs. That means we also have to be honest about how we measure these costs.” – Tom

“What are your main concerns surrounding the transparency of market research companies using offshoring?” – Sean

“IP [Intellectual Property] and PII [Personally Identifiable Information]

“The GRIT study has also tracked concerns about the market research industry in the past two years with about the same sample size as above. In each of these studies offshoring has been one of the key concerns among market researchers in regard to the commoditizing effects and impact it will have on the reputation of our industry.” – Tom

GRIT (GreenBook Research Industry Trends): “In 2003, The GreenBook began collaborating with select industry partners to produce the annual GreenBook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) report. Initially focused on data collection issues, the scope of GRIT expanded to include directions in outsourcing, advances in technology, and inter-relationships among research providers/providers and clients/buyers.” – GreenBook

“with greater transparency … comes greater clarity on its effects”

“I think that with greater transparency around the issue comes greater clarity on its effects and costs as well as ways to improve it for those who see it as a viable option. Clients have been very interested in learning more about this, and I think that’s part of the reason several supplier companies signed up for the FTO (http://www.offshoringtransparency.org/index.php?page=directory) even though it’s all been a grass roots effort.” – Tom

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the ORN (Offshoring Research Network) who conducts research specifically on offshoring. Their research is very well respected for tracking change in the usage of offshoring. Do you feel that the research done by the ORN is not focused enough on the research industry and the issues at hand?” – Sean

It’s a broad area. FTO is specific to marketing research, which now involves a lot of KPO (Knowledge Process Offshoring), something that yes, there is not enough research about.” – Tom

An Interesting Piece of Market Research Insight:

“That’s a tough one. One of my research side hobbies is happiness and satisfaction research. It’s very difficult to measure though. As a result I’ve read a lot about it and often try to slip in some questions on it inside other studies (if they are funded by Anderson Analytics). Without getting too specific, two years ago we created some face book applications, a couple that delved into that area. Those insights I came across in analyzing the data were very cool.”

“happiness and satisfaction research” 

“It was a side project though and some of the initial analysis went back into developing other tools. I want to pick it up again someday when I have time.” – Tom

“I’ve also found that area of research quite interesting. A few years ago I attended an event in Ontario held by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing that was essentially a large idea exchange and collection on the topic of well-being. The CIW group “seeks to account honestly and accurately for changes in our human, social, economic and natural wealth through a new index that can best capture the full range of factors that determine wellbeing in Canada.” – Sean

“Yes, I’ve read about similar indexes. But even the more basic ones like UNDP & UNHCR don’t get enough attention. This part of economics should get more attention at universities. We’re so caught up with the business/corporate finance side of economics, I’d like to see greater focus on economic history, how past paradigms may be changing, and how our communities are affected on the whole. By looking at baseline economic equity in a society (Lorenz Curves for instance), you start wondering if most of us are really striving in the right direction.

“Just to give you an idea of where one could go with this sort of methodology. Here’s an example of one of our apps. we did just for fun to better understand Facebook, we called it ‘Compared to Me’ http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=43439829009. We had thousands of people using these applications in a very short period of time.

“Unfortunately I haven’t really seen any demand from research departments so we’ve been working in other areas instead.” – Tom

“I haven’t really seen any demand from research departments”


“I think that many governments and government-funded agencies are interested in this topic, but they have a hard time finding funding for it as the public doesn’t see the value. What do you think could be the “selling point” of this kind of research to governments and even corporations?” – Sean

“Academia should be most interested; they can get the government funding for it easier. Who knows, perhaps Facebook will invest in it themselves as well. I saw a lot of other applications which were going in that direction, but the whole Facebook Apps bubble seems to have burst. Now everyone is working on iPhone Apps. I think that’s reached it’s peak as well.”

“Like I said, I’d love to pick it up again if I have time. But sometimes convincing folks to do what they’re not ready to do is not the best way to generate positive cash flow.”

“I’m simply happy that after 6 years the market research industry is finally going gangbusters for text analytics. I spent 2005 & 2006 explaining what it was. Can’t do that with the apps. Plus there’s the whole “privacy” thing…” – Tom

“I’m simply happy … the market research industry is finally going gangbusters for text analytics”

 
I’d like to once again thank Tom H. C. Anderson for the time he spent on this interview. I hope that as you read this article you found it as interesting as I did. Also, please feel free to comment below if you have any questions or comments.
 
Thanks again for reading my blog,

Sean Copeland.