Automation isn’t just about the technology

The Q3/Q4 2016 GRIT report identifies automation as one of the areas generating the most buzz among client and supply-side market researchers: one-third call it a game changer, and well over another one-third are interested in following the trend. The results are not surprising given the rising attention to agile market research, and emerging technologies.

Yet, the concept of automation is not new to the marketing research industry, so I assume the “game changer” aspect must be referring to the growing number of software and platform solutions that span all phases of research, for example:

  • Sample/Fielding – Routing, optimization and aggregation
  • Data Collection – Video/voice-to-text transcription; social media scraping
  • Analysis – Data manipulation; sentiment/text analysis
  • Reporting – Online dashboards; customer experience/VOC systems that immediately alert stakeholders of customer feedback

At MSI, we’re constantly evaluating and developing innovative solutions that support automation, but our embrace of automation goes beyond the technology itself. After all, we can still use “old school” techniques to automate tasks (remember recording macros in Excel or running SAS/SPSS syntax?). The true benefits of automation come from the processes to reduce time and costs, increase efficiency, and ensure quality, which allows us to produce greater insight and value to our clients (and more quickly).

Approach to Automation

When seeking automation opportunities, we are mindful of our core objective: to implement efficiencies with the intent to save time and avoid errors by eliminating redundancies. However, the rise of available automation tools (not to mention the impressive demo videos on their websites) makes it easier to fall into the trap of simply purchasing software and expecting to see an immediate ROI. Deployment of automation solutions requires a clearly defined plan and understanding of objectives in order to be successful.

Meg Janzer of our Marketing Sciences team outlined MSI’s approach in evaluating automation opportunities:

Approach_to_Automation Steps_to_automation


The critical part of our approach are steps 1, 2 and 3, before we begin development, to ensure that our energy is focused on solving problems rather than technology that we may not utilize. More time spent answering these questions – most importantly step 2 “identifying the rules of automation” – helps the development stage go smoothly.

During the development stage, steps 4 and 5, we perform rigorous testing before releasing the solution, even testing scenarios with a low probability of occurring. The automation solution is deployed once we are confident in its ability to meet our needs. 

Potential of Automation

Certainly there is much value to be gained as the marketing research industry strives to further incorporate automation into daily activities, particularly in regards to operational efficiencies (faster turnaround, lower costs, less manpower resources, etc.).

At MSI, we are constantly evaluating ways to automate our business and processes. We monitor the opportunities and identify those that have a positive impact. But, we don’t rely solely on technology and automate for automation’s sake. Rather, we leverage automation with one goal in mind – provide better insights to our clients’ business objectives.

By capitalizing on the efficiencies of automation, we are able to spend more time thinking about our clients’ business challenges. Let us know if you would like to learn more about how MSI is able to this.

Concerns About Respondent Experience – Seriously?

Mobile Graphic

Recent surveys of research providers and buyers by Greenbook (GRIT Q3-Q4 2016; GRIT Consumer Participation Report March 2017) raised a serious red flag for me. The most important factors in the design of a research investigation are trust between provider and buyer and the quality of the samples that we use. This makes sense right? Factors that are actually at the heart of MSI International’s core values.

However, what doesn’t make sense is that both providers and buyers of marketing research place low importance on the respondent experience. The three lowest factors were…

  • That participants speak positively of the experience, become evangelists for marketing research,
  • Participants are compensated based on their contribution, and
  • Participants have a positive impression of the industry after completing a survey

Now this finding is nothing new and the GRIT surveys have identified the low concern for the respondent experience previously. But seriously, can we really place importance on trust and data quality if we ignore the people who are providing the data? Sample quality is extremely important and MSI goes to great lengths to minimize the inherent skews in many of the sampling sources available to the industry. But research quality goes well beyond our sample sources.

At MSI’s 10th anniversary (we’re now pushing towards our 30th), we had a company celebration and launched a tagline – “In order to get a better answer you need to ask a better question.” That simple line is still relevant today. It really doesn’t matter how much attention you pay to sample design and sample source quality if your questions are broken.

Today this concept is even more important. Our experience has found over the past 4-5 years the percentage of respondents completing on a device other than a PC has increased dramatically. Recently we have found roughly 26% are completed on a smartphone and 7% are completed on a tablet. Have you tried to complete a survey designed to be executed on a PC on a Smartphone? We have and it’s not easy to do.

At MSI International we’re working to make all of our surveys Mobile Friendly if not Mobile First. All of these efforts will result in a higher respondent experience and better quality data.

But this challenge is not an easy one. In many cases, we need to reduce question wording and modify how the question is presented to make the survey friendly. While that in and of itself is an easy task, it becomes extremely difficult when there are norms or the study is part of an ongoing tracking study.

Within the next month MSI will field a study that executes a questionnaire across 3 formats…traditional, Mobile Friendly and Mobile first. We expect to get rigorous data on the impact of the changes on response rates, dropout rates and the results themselves. With this data in hand we can start having a fact based discussion about the respondent experience and its impact on data quality. More to come in future blogs – stay tuned – seriously!

Faces of Consumption: Smartphones The Incidental Finding

CELL_usageHave you ever intended to look up something in particular, only to end up discovering something else? To draw a parallel to marketing research, this would be similar to initiating a study with a set of objectives only to find an unexpected outcome. In research, we refer to the discovery of unexpected outcomes as incidental findings. In spite of incidental findings being unintentional, they often lead to rich insight.

Recently, I began drilling down on mountains of interesting data regarding our Faces of Consumption initiative when I stumbled upon incidental findings that were intriguing.

Every Picture Tells a Story

Social_Media_ReportIn the words of Rod Stewart – every picture tells a story. At MSI we’re constantly bantering about social media, which sites will make it, which ones will die a slow death. So we decided to take a deeper look at a variety of social and technology trends in 2013. And we’re going to tell that story with pictures. Our first foray was a look at the social media sites with the largest followings. And in order to tell the story, we used a tried but true method of having consumers associate “faces” of consumers with the sites. A total of 10 pictures were used to get out the faces and personality of the major social media sites.

And what we found may surprise you…

Personalizing Your Marketing Research

Customized_researchAs users of marketing research intelligence, we recognize the merits of custom marketing research clearly outweigh a one-size-fits-all approach. Studies designed around precise objectives yield outcomes specifically addressable to those objectives. With all that said, a recent experience as a survey participant prompted me to think of opportunities to take our customization even further. This began thanks to a restaurant that I visit frequently sending me a questionnaire where I became a highly involved participant. Little did I know that the information I was about to provide would be leveraged into action for my INDIVIDUAL benefit. Following is how the process played out as well as ideas going forward on how you can personalize marketing research to your customers’ benefit.

The Ever Evolving Social Network – Perceptions of Today


In spite of social networks appearing to be new on the scene, they have evolved in dramatic ways. Thinking back to the early days of social networks, they were comprised predominantly of male engineers. Subsequently, a new social network came on the scene, first referred to as The Facebook which was comprised of college students. Fast forward to today and people from all walks of life are on social networks. In fact, they have become part of our fabric. Some may even go as far as expressing that certain social networks have become less cool given that grandmas and grandpas embrace them. Nevertheless, it is through social networking websites that we communicate with others by:

Pretesting…a lost art?


There was a time when collecting quantitative data, more often than not, involved a conversation. And the conversation was a game where the respondent seemed to hold all of the cards. A lengthy interview, a poorly worded question, a missing response option – all represented excuses for the respondent to dismiss you by hanging up or otherwise ending the interview.

Can you tell I was an interviewer?

At that time, phone pretests often involved a painful process of listening to hours of rejections and hang-ups…but the result was invariably worth the price – a survey that more accurately collected the intended data.

The Tortoise Wins Again. Faster Data Collection Is Not Always Better.

At the risk of sounding like my grandfather, I’ve seen a lot of change in my career in terms of the speed at which we can deliver insights. Back in the day, we used to send tabs and reports to clients via snail mail. No, we didn’t use the Pony Express, but compared to today’s technology standards, it seems as though we weren’t far from that. ☺

I know I’m stating the obvious when I say that the advent of online interviewing brought a dramatic change in the speed at which we can collect data and deliver insights. And with lightning-fast capabilities sometimes comes the perception that we should collect vast amounts of data as fast as we can, maybe in just a couple of days at most. I understand that perception. And I understand the need for speed to insight in today’s world. But is faster always better?

And the winner is…results from our recent Oscar poll.

MSI_Academy_Awards_winnerAnother Hollywood award season culminated Sunday night with the biggest show of the year, the Academy Awards. From the red carpet parade of designer gowns to the over-the-top show production, from the “genuine” heart-felt (if not incoherent) acceptance speeches of the winners to the gracious applause from the losers – and not to mention Jennifer Lawrence’s embarrassing trip up the stairs – the Academy Awards brought its audience a wide range of emotions that only Hollywood can.

For those of us in the market research industry, the Oscars also gave us another chance to see how well the so-called experts could predict the winners. At MSI, we were curious to see how well our audience fared against the Nate Silvers and David Rothschilds of the world. We asked our social media followers a few questions on who they wanted to win, who they thought should win, and who they predicted would win in the Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Picture categories.

With over 100 people responding, MSI followers on average watched 2 out of the 9 movies nominated for Best Picture. Over one-quarter (29%) did not watch a single nominated movie (if The Avengers was nominated that number would be much closer to 100%), but why let that stop people from making predictions or sharing their opinions? Does it matter that so many people did not watch these most of these movies? Would we see a bias towards Silver Linings Playbook, set locally in Philadelphia and starring hometown actor Bradley Cooper?

Let’s find out. Without further ado, here are the results (queue the music as we open the envelope)…

The Oscars Survey

February 24th is the biggest Hollywood event of the year. Although we’d like to think we’re above it all, let’s admit it, we’re all a little hopeful of an embarrassing trip up the stairs to collect the award or some incoherent babble we can laugh at in an acceptance speech. Really, who doesn’t love Jack Nicholson smirking in the front row or question why we all need to listen to the tight security guarding the results by PricewaterhouseCoopers? Celebrity, glitterati, whatever you call it, it’s completely superficial but yet we can’t help ourselves. It’s fun! It’s an event! We love movies!

So, unlike our usual efforts where we typically solicit opinions among people that are well informed on the topic, here we’re just interested in what you think. No movie going required. Just opinions.

The survey is available at and will be available through 7pm, Sunday, February 24th.

Chalk another one up for Beer Bloggles shameless pandering!

Check back after the awards when we compare our selections with the “experts”!

Hooray for Hollywood!