Five “oops” in your writing that spell check might miss

July 27, 2011 at 12:54 am | Posted in report, Uncategorized, writing | 1 Comment
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A written “oops” can happen to even the best writer with an accidental click, a typo, or an incorrect auto fill. Whether you’re writing a research report, news article, blog, or tweet, you  must choose correctly within each pair of these easily-misused words.

1) Your versus you’re. Use “you’re” as the shortened version of “you are.” For example:  You’re my BFF. Use “your” when describing something that belongs to the person you’re speaking to. For example:  “Your eyes are beautiful.”

2) Its versus it’s. Use “it’s” as the shortened version of “it is.” For example: It’s never too late to have a good time. Use “its” when describing something that belongs to someone or something. For example: The cat is washing its whiskers.

3) Too versus to. Use “too” when discussing more than enough or to indicate “also” or “in addition to.” For example:  The temperature outside is “too” hot for my comfort. I will purchase the motorcycle, and I will ride it off the sales lot, “too.” Use the word “to” when describing a direction or designating someone or something. For example: I gave a pizza coupon “to” all my friends. She went “to” the north side of the parking lot.

4) i.e versus e.g. When you want to give an example use “e.g.” Remember, “e.g.” stands for the Latin words “exempli gratia” which translate as “for the sake of an example.”  For example: My favorite restaurants, e.g., IJ Canns and The Scholar’s Inn, always have a great wine selection. When you want to say “that is,” use “i.e.” Remember, i.e. stands for the Latin words “id est” which translate as “that is.”  For example: I’m going to have my favorite drink tonight, i.e., Diet Coke.

5) Whose versus who’s. Use “who’s” for the shortened version of “who is.” For example: “I don’t know who’s coming to my party tomorrow night.” Use “whose” to designate ownership of something. For example: I don’t know “whose” books were left on the table.

Open-end questions add value to a survey

March 28, 2011 at 4:18 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Open-ended survey questions should be used as sparingly and strategically as spices added to a favorite meal. Information from verbatim comments can be used to understand responses to a key question, to help formulate new questions, or to obtain quotes to use in reports to help the numbers “come to life.”

By following a few guidelines, you can use this qualitative analysis tool effectively.

  1. If you don’t plan to analyze the responses, don’t ask the question. That’s simple. Don’t waste your time and the respondents’ time.
  2. Use open-ends sparingly. In a five-minute survey, there should be no more than one general open-end question if all other questions are closed-end, and no more than two in an eight-to-ten minute survey. Respondents get fatigued at “explaining” too many answers.
  3. Be mindful of the respondents’ time.  Answering an open-end question can take 20 to 45 seconds, adding length to the survey. In the same time, you could collect data for two to three closed-end questions.
  4. Tie the open-end question to a closed-end question to explore underlying reasons, opinions or beliefs. For example, you might ask “Please explain the reasons you chose to rate your overall dining experience as fair.”
  5. General “comment” sections on surveys generally don’t produce data that applies to the overall population. However, some survey designers include them for “political” purposes or to allow an individual respondent to “vent” about a specific problem. Again, if you don’t plan to respond to individual comments or try to solve problems, don’t set the expectation by including an open comment section.


In our next post, we’ll explore ways to analyze the comments.

Three times a DIY researcher should seek professional assistance.

November 22, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Posted in loyalty research, marketing research, online surveys, PR best practices, resarch techniques, research methods, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The availability of free and inexpensive online survey tools and the ability to obtain member or customer email lists have turned many marketers, communicators and managers into instant researchers. Many of the survey tools even have examples of questions and encourage the DIY researcher to follow these. So, it’s possible to create and distribute an online survey in minutes.

If you are a DIY researcher but don’t have formal training in statistics or survey design, there are still many times when the results you get will be just fine for your organization. However, there are at least three times when you should consult a research professional.

First, ask a professional for assistance if you or your organization plan to make a decision that could impact your  organization by financial loss, reputation damage, or customer loss if you make a wrong decision. For example, let’s take a 80,000 member alumni organization that needs to know whether members would accept a $50 dues increase and under what circumstances and wants to know which services could be discontinued. The decision to be made involves at least $1.6 million. That is when a research expert would be well worth the investment to ensure the survey wording meets the objectives and that the results are accurately interpreted.

Second, seek professional assistance if the subject matter of your survey is controversial and if the outcome could show the status quo is not working. If you expect proponents of either outcome to question the results, then seek help. For example, imagine that business wants to know whether customers would prefer that staff wear easily identifiable clothing such as a short with logo or carry a name tag. Some management team members who say the cost and process to the clothing are out-of-line are likely to find fault with the survey after the fact if it shows customer would prefer the more uniform look. By bringing in a reputable experienced researcher, you can avoid being put on the defensive.

Third, get assistance if the results need any analysis other than simple frequency reporting. For example, a wine store wants to survey its customers about when to hold free wine tastings. They are interested in times that would attract new customers, that  could encourage minimal purchases to increase the frequency of their purchases and that would be convenient for frequent purchasers. In this case, the survey would need to be carefully designed to include appropriate demographics questions such as age, distance from store, frequency of purchase, and type of purchase/wine. The data would need to be statistically analyzed and someone who understand how to interpret statistics would determine whether there are differences in preferences for time of day, day of week and other factors.

While there any many times when a DIY online survey will provide an adequate answer, these are three of the many times a professional should be used.

Three easy informal research techniques for communication pros

November 12, 2010 at 1:30 am | Posted in informal research, marketing research, measurement, resarch techniques, research methods | Leave a comment

Informal research is useful for getting quick feedback or a general sense of how people respond to an idea, action or product. Here are three brief examples of what a communication/pr/marketing pro can do with no-cost informal research.
Idea one: Talk to your front-line customer service staff, whether they are face-to-face with customers or talk to them on the phone. Let’s say your business reduced the hours it is open and you want to know about customer reaction. Meet with your customer service staff. Collect a short list of the most frequent comments. Then over the next few hours or days have each rep tally the times he or she hears each comment. This will give you a general sense of the feedback; while it is anecdotal, it is useful information.
Idea two: If you have on-site traffic to a bricks-and-mortar business, set up a very short, and I mean VERY short, three question intercept survey. Use a five-point Likert scale to adress your main issue in two questions. Use a third follow-up question to get verbatim comments to explain the answer. Use observation to code demographics such as gender, age range, etc. Have an inexpensive give-away or coupon to encourage customers to take the survey. Keep the contact to less than three minutes. Don’t try to capture people in a group. Space out the interviews over the hours of business. Add the time of each interview to the data. Then you can do some frequencies as well as cross-tabs. If you do this yourself, be sure to be neutral and friendly in approaching people and don’t try to influence their answers. Try to collect at least 50 completed interviews. Code the verbatim comments  into major categories and tabulate the frequencies.
Idea three: Carefully write out three questions that having the answers to would help your decision-making. Call your mother or your best friend or someone you trust but who doesn’t work in your company. Test your wording with them. Can they understand the questions. Make the questions open-end such as “When you read the names the new chicken dishes on our menu (Heavenly Harvest Chicken and Cheesy Almond Chicken) what words or images first came to mind?” Have follow-up questions so that you can conduct the interview in three minutes. Call about 12 customers randomly and ask the questions. (We’re assuming you have a customer database. If not, develop one.)
These are three quick ideas you can use. Remember, this type of  research is NOT representative of all customers, but is useful in obtaining insight. If you discover major issues you may want to follow-up with a more extensive survey with a larger sample.
Let me know if you try any of these. Tell me how it works for you.

Three ways to ensure your news release about a research study meets best practices

October 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Posted in marketing research, PR best practices, resarch techniques, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Generating press coverage for the findings of your research study is another way to get additional benefits from the study. There are some best practices you can follow to make it easy for reporters to understand and to ensure you are presenting information ethically and appropriately.

First, before you generate the first word of the news release, you’ll need to decide if there are any potential negative outcomes to sending the release. For example, you might want to reveal only part of the findings from the study because it included confidential information such as market share or competitive positioning. Decide how to handle the partial release of information and consider whether the benefit of news coverage of the information you are willing to share is greater than the potential risk of appearing to withhold information.

Second, work with your statistics experts to develop a straightforward disclosure statement that meets prevailing research standards. The Code of Marketing Research Standards published by the Marketing Research Association says you should disclose: 1) the method of data collection, 2) the date(s) of data collection, 3) the sampling frame, 4) the sampling method, 5) the sample size, and 6) the calculated margin of error for quantitative studies. By including this information, you provide credibility for your work and give reporters a way to relate your findings to appropriate target audiences.

Third, you may want to include supplemental information either by providing links to online information or a sidebar or background piece. The supplemental information could include additional technical information about the data collection and analysis such as a list of the actual questions asked, details of data weighting, method of respondent selection or any known limitations to the study. You may also include details of non-response and its impact on bias.

Following these guidelines will help avoid misinterpretation of your news, and will allow you to be transparent about the research.
For additional information about standards for news releases on research, go to the Marketing Research Association website at and look under the resources tab for information about public reporting of research findings.

Link to MRA Code of Marketing Research Standards

Why do otherwise intelligent business people “fall” for the Net Promoter Score? Even knowing it doesn’t fit OEM?

June 26, 2010 at 6:10 am | Posted in customer loyalty, customer satisfaction, loyalty research, marketing research, measurement, Net Promoter Score, resarch techniques, research methods | Leave a comment

Just today, a business leader wrote a question on a LinkedIn group asking for advice on how to change the wording on the “recommend” question used in the Net Promoter Score survey to fit his OEM business because asking customers if they would recommend wasn’t appropriate. Why, oh why, would someone even want to use the Net Promnoter Score at all, much less in an organization for which the model doesn’t fit?

OK, yes, there was a best-selling book and it made money for the author, and, yes, it did provide a simple, simplistic approach.

However, why can’t these otherwise intelligent people read the market research literature that explains the shortcomings…and there any MANY…of the NPS?

I wonder if the business leader is “saving money” by using do-it-yourself research based on the book. Does he know “bad” data is worse than “no data?”

Fortunately, myLinkedIn group colleagues suggested other research approaches, such as loyalty-based measures. There was one individual though, who suggested rewording the question to a hypothetical “recommend.” Heaven help us….

Advice: 1) If you are considering the NPS method, please read professional comments on the process in literature published by the Marketing Research Association and by professionals who are trained in research. Not all evidence supports the NPS method. 2) Work with a professional researcher who understands the OEM process and is familiar with other proven, actionable methodologies such as loyalty and transaction/relationship measurement. 3) Consider a custom approach to fit the OEM situation. 4) Don’t put lipstick on the pig! (To borrow a phrase from the marketing arena.)

You can overcome objections to social media

June 22, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Posted in goal setting, measurement, social media | Leave a comment

When you’re the head of marketing or pr and want to use resources for social media, you can encounter resistance from everyone from your boss to your co-leaders to your staff. One of the biggest objections to using social media (or any other media) is that non-users (frequently those in decision-making positions) demand “proof” that it works.

Here is a three-part plan you can use to overcome objections: Set a 1) Specific goal the social media campaign will accomplish 2) Specific time frame in which this goal will be accomplished 3) Specific audience to reach. This advice may sound simplistic, but you’d be surprised how many people start a social media campaign with no plan beyond ” let’s get some fans on facebook.”

Here’s an example of a a goal for a small local non-chain restaurant: Use social media for five weeks to reach families with adult head-oif-households in the 25 to 40 age group in the X metro area with the goal of increasing gross revenue on Monday through Wednesday dinner hours by 3% at the end of the campaign.

Then, measure. If the campaign succeeds, great. If not, then review every aspect from your “offer” to your message to your product. What would you improve next time?

The future of market research is now. . . and it’s changing

June 22, 2010 at 7:15 am | Posted in marketing research, online surveys, research methods | Leave a comment
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Big decisions in a research project used to focus on how many total respondent were needed and how to set sub-quotas. Or maybe, it was a big decision to pick the three to six cities for the focus groups. The methods have changed, the sampling has changed, the speed has changed.

New trends include various ways of blending qualitative and quantitative. Large research companies have developed new products to do this. Technology allows variations of qualitative not possible before: bulletin boards, online journals, web journals, web cam interviews combined with other techniques.

With free and inexpensive online tools, staff in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 to small not-for-profits and neighborhood organizations are conducting “do-it-myself” online surveys.

With the increase in cell phones worldwide and the decrease in use of landlines by specific segments of the population, the traditional random sample telephone survey methodology faces challenges.

With all of this, I believe the research techniques that produce INSIGHT that proves it achieves goals such as selling a product, increasing membership, or moving public opinion will win out. We researchers are challenged to provide insight, not just data. We must work closely with those who make decisions based on our data and track the outcome of those decisions so that we can rapidly and constantly improve.

Gone are the days…of “perfect” random representative sample

September 21, 2009 at 11:26 am | Posted in marketing research | Leave a comment
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If the days of a perfect random sample ever existed, they are gone like the snows of yesteryear.

Those of us in marketing research understand this and are working with the sampling available to provide the most appropriate sampling frame possible for each project. We know that a RDD (Random Digit Dialing) sample is not perfect due to the increase of cell only households, especially for urban dwellers, minorities and younger adult populations. Add to that the issues surrounding contacting cell phones without prior authorization, and the issue becomes more complex.

The purpose of a marketing research project is to obtain information for decision-making on specific issues. Explaining the sampling method used and listing any limitations that exist are good research practices when reporting findings. This information allows research users to consider the “perfection” of the data.

Sampling people’s opinions is not the same as randomly sampling objects as they come off an assembly line. Individuals may not be easily reached during the period of a research study; individuals may decline to participate; individuals may have different methods of preferred contact such as by email rather than by telephone.

An article in the September issue of MRA’s Alert! “The Virtues of Consistent Bias: Online Research Must Move On” by Steve Gittelman and Elaine Trimarchi, PRC, provides a thoughtful look at online sampling, specifically. They recommend that we consider the element of consistency when using online sampling, and they suggest using multiple sources, if possible.

The key concept of this column is that for many populations in marketing reserch, identification of all members is frequently difficult at best, and impossible at worst. Additionally, it may not be possible to reach a completely random representative sampling by any one method. The “old” concept of always using probability sampling no longer works in many, if not most, instances. Instead we must define our sampling practices and make decisions using our best judgement. We must move forward into the age of non-probability sampling fully informed.

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