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.

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…

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?

Big Data Scientists – Fact or Fiction An Interview with Dr. Mark Hayward, University of Texas

Big_Data_MSIRecently I have read a number of articles about Big Data Scientists. Actually, they have been about Scientists, Analysts, Researchers, etc. Nobody knows what to call them, so I’ll use the term “Scientists.”

And similarly, no one seems to agree on where they come from (or where they should come from). The arguments range from IT, Business Analysts and Statisticians to Social Scientists. As I read these debates, my gut reaction was to believe the best data scientists will come from the social sciences.

How Big is “Big Data”

Right now Big Data is REALLY big – HUGE even (don’t you hate that word). Not a day goes by without someone posting a blog or writing an article on the value of Big Data.  And why shouldn’t they? The reality is that all of our clients are sitting on huge amounts of information about their customers and prospects – yes, terabytes and terabytes as most are fond of saying. The value of this information is immeasurable. And when we can derive actionable insights from this data the return is immense. The data itself is free (although sometimes integration of multiple databases can be a challenge) therefore insights gleaned from this data can have a major  impact on our product development and customer experience initiatives without requiring significant financial resources (OK, I realize that the advanced analytics aren’t cheap, but they are relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things).

But is Big Data really big enough to drive truly actionable market insights by itself? 

Back to Basics: Doing More with Less – Stakeholder Engagement

In marketing research, we are frequently faced with getting answers faster and for less investment. In the current business climate, we have become all too familiar with the term “Doing more with less.” Along those lines, buyers of marketing research frequently face situations where there are fewer human resources available or less budget, yet the demands of stakeholders remain unchanged. When confronting such resource-restricted situations, one becomes tempted to rely on silver-bullet solutions in order to meet objectives. However, in life, there are rarely quick fixes or magic bullets that adequately serve our needs completely. So what does one do to ensure that we are delivering on objectives in spite of a limited pool of resources?

Marketing Research: Are We Experiencing Evolution or Revolution?

As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, evolution is a process of continuous change. Webster’s Dictionary defines revolution as sudden, radical or complete change. In other words, evolution occurs gradually over a period of time, while revolution is immediate. Within the scope of modern-day marketing research, we often read that given today’s digital age, we are experiencing a revolution. Considering the current technological times, which would apply more accurately – evolution or revolution?

The question of evolution versus revolution applies not only to marketing research, but also to everyday behavior. In order to stay concise, let’s take three examples: