The Arrival of Social Media Analytics: What Took So Long?

Social media has been one of the hottest trends in technology over the last decade. It has changed the way we talk to one another. We meet online. We converse online. We share online. And we complain together, online. Market researchers were quick to seize upon the opportunities provided by mass adoption of social media. Social media and “listening in” on the social chatter helps us better understand how brands are perceived, which points the way forward towards better campaigns and better targeting. Continue reading “The Arrival of Social Media Analytics: What Took So Long?”

“Game On!”: How Virtual Reality is Transforming Market Research

When the term Virtual Reality (VR) comes up, many people will immediately conjure visions of kids with goggles, hands gesturing into thin air. The stereotypical VR kid is using the technology for gaming and immersive role playing. VR is certainly a high-profile, high-octane market. Estimates say it will be worth tens of billions of dollars by the early 2020’s. What is maybe less visible but no less important is the fact that market researchers are using VR to take their work to unforeseen levels.

Continue reading ““Game On!”: How Virtual Reality is Transforming Market Research”

The Power of Conversation

Observers of the market research industry have been noticing a trend of late: researchers are acknowledging the limitations of large-scale surveys and are rediscovering the value of qualitative research, namely, real conversations with real people. Why?

That’s precisely the question, and also, the answer. “Why.” Quantitative research often has difficulty answering the “why?” questions. While it is true that much insight can be gained by analyzing big data, why not go directly to the source and talk to them? By interviewing and hearing people’s stories and insights, you can understand data better. Why do products sell? Why is growth not taking off? Why do preferences emerge for one brand and not another? Some answers are more readily gained by simply talking to people, then interpreting the results.

Continue reading “The Power of Conversation”

Why Paid Research Technology is Essential for Safe and Accurate Studies

We live in a day and age where a lot of the tools we use are free. There are free word processors, free search engines, free video editors, free photo editing tools — free everything, it seems. But one question we’ve often thought about is, “should we use free research technology?”

Continue reading “Why Paid Research Technology is Essential for Safe and Accurate Studies”

Why Location Continues to be a Difference Maker

Last Christmas I wanted to buy a turntable for my daughter. Thanks to an online message forum, I discovered that Target was selling a new brand of turntable at an affordable price point with features typically seen on higher-end models. It was early in the Christmas buying season, and I had a hunch that a product like this might sell out quickly. So I researched the website, checked their inventory and used the store locator to find the nearest Target with the turntable in stock. At this point many would click the “buy now” button and have the product shipped. Instead, I hopped in the car and drove to the store. Why, you ask? I wanted to see the product for myself before buying it. Once inside the store, my smart phone told me which aisle to go to. With a little help from my friend the store clerk, I located the turntable, looked it over, bought it, and wrapped it up for Christmas. What this very short story teaches us is that while technology has become a key component in the way we consume, we aren’t quite willing to let go of location-based purchasing decisions.

In his best-selling 2005 book The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman popularized the concept that 21st century global economies, fueled by technology, were leveling the playing field, creating a world where geography didn’t matter. Trans-national corporations, Internet technology, and streamlined global supply chains, had combined to make it easier for consumers to access the things they wanted – anywhere, all the time.

The virtual, “flattened” landscape is here to stay, and it has drastically altered the way we do business and live our lives. It’s hard to remember what life was like in “the old days,” before Google was a verb, before social media was pervasive in our daily routines. That being said, has the world really become as flat as we thought it would? Maybe not.

Anywhere/all-the-time access to goods and services is wonderful, but does this really mean it doesn’t matter where you live? Even as far back as 2005, many geographers weren’t buying Friedman’s thesis that the world was flat. They insisted on the ongoing reality that place continues to influence how and what we buy.

Richard Jerome, in a recent column for elaborates on this concept. The fact is, consumer preferences and behaviors are conditioned, at least in some measure, by geography. To put it another way, how you behave in virtual space is determined by who you are, which frequently correlates to where you live. Even when buying patterns have been so disrupted that consumers have completely changed their means of accessing goods and services—going online to buy, where location seems to have been flattened out of existence—even there, location underpins how we buy online, how you use technology to gain virtual access to retail.

Market researchers must never forget the deep and abiding persistence of geography. Just as the old saying goes, “all politics is local,” there is a truth to the claim that all consumption is local, too. Geographical context, and the behaviors surrounding a given location, are connected to buying patterns, brand identification, and receptivity to new markets.

The real world wields a sort of gravitational force on consumer habits. This phenomenon is described in Wharton School professor David R. Bell’s book Location is (Still) Everything: The Surprising Influence of the Real World on How We Search, Shop, and Sell in the Virtual One (2014). Bell studied online commerce and developed a GRAVITY framework tool to understand how the geographical and virtual worlds intersect. The Internet obliterated two key barriers to consumers’ never ending quest to obtain the products and services they want. The first was information access. It used to be a royal pain to find information about products and their availability. Search engines and instant access to store inventories solved that problem. The second barrier was something Bell calls “geographical friction,” the tendency to only buy what you could get via local markets. The Internet and services such as Amazon two-day shipping has broken that barrier, too. But that is not the end of the story. When Bell studied Internet sellers, he found that sales evolved in some interesting patterns based on location. Initial demand was focused on a few locations, but then demand spread out contiguously—neighbor to neighbor, block to block, and so on. Consumers see what their peers are buying and tend to imitate those buying patterns. In another scenario, because people with similar consumer preferences tend to live in the same neighborhood, they adopt similar buying patterns.

Once you accept the fact that location still plays a major role in consumer preferences and activities, you need to keep factoring geography into your strategic thinking. Some key factors to consider:

  • How is geography influencing buying patterns and tendencies? What other regional markets compare to my own? Are there parallels, and should we be reaching this consumer segment too?
  • Is online retail really meant to displace offline retail? Or should the virtual and physical spaces coexist in a harmonic, fluid way? Maybe the relationship between the two is more symbiotic than parasitic.
  • How does the fact that consumers are doing more of their buying on smartphones impact your marketing strategy? Smart phones’ built-in location services can ease access to goods and services. Brands should be tracking where their customers are when they buy, and whether their purchases are isolated or contiguous to a geo demographic segment.

MSG’s Geo Demographic services can help you to understand your customer base. By mapping demographics onto geography, you can better understand territories, neighborhoods, block-level consumption patterns.

SOURCES used for this blog piece:

Tell Me a Story: How MR Can Leverage the Power of Narrative

Sometimes old habits die hard. Take market researchers, for instance. They used to take comfort in the assumption that they were in control of their brands and the stories told around them. It was driven and steered by MR, with an assured direction for which to navigate. Brand messaging would be beamed to audiences, and follow-up surveys would tell researchers what was working and what wasn’t. That was then, but this is now. The world has changed.

We live in an “always on” brave new social media ecosystem, where end users have the power to talk back. Their messages are shareable and spreadable like never before. It’s a new, tornadic spin on “word of mouth” news. The simple facts are that marketers do not have nearly as much control of their brands’ stories as they used to think. Consumers and customers have a voice. They are now participating in a dialogue that, due to the nature of the Internet, automatically gets woven into a brand “official narrative.” These ancillary stories are only a hashtag away from spreading faster than a brushfire.

The sooner MR grasps this reality, the better. What is in order is a change in strategy, something that can put in plain and simple terms: find out where your target audience is telling their stories about your brand online, and listen to them. Carefully. Listen and learn.

The World Is the Network

Think about the effect the Internet has had on our lives. We all have direct access to one another like never before. Business to business, marketer to consumer, consumer to consumer. The Net is built for fast and wide dissemination of content. Content delivery is no longer a one-way street. Traditional gatekeepers don’t wield the power they used to, and boundaries have been effectively eliminated.

What’s Your Story?

It’s not just the fact that we’re hyper-connected that’s relevant. It’s also what we are doing when we reach out and connect to one another that should be noted. We are sharing our lives, often in the form of telling stories around the stuff we own and use.

Storytelling runs deep in human nature. Ever since the invention of fires to gather around, people have been sharing stories. We love telling tales. We love listening to them. Stories tell us who we are and what matters to us. So it should be no wonder that people, once given social media access, would use the medium to speak of relationships to their products over time.

When Story meets Big Data

While the Internet and Mobile Communications have altered the power balance between brands and consumers, there is another just as momentous change brought on by technology. MR is swimming in big data. What we buy, how we use it, how we browse, it’s all trackable. Big data generated the need for massive data analytics, with the aim of answering all the who, what, where, and when questions about a customer base. We know more about customers than we ever did before. But can big data tell you the “why”?

That’s where storytelling comes in. If you want to understand why customers behave the way they do, you obviously will survey them, but you can listen to them online, too. It is absolutely vital to devote resources to the analysis and interpretation of this feedback. A two prong strategy can help you get a handle on what you are gathering from the most subjective of spaces.

First, survey respondents where they live online. It is quite likely these days that email might not be the best source. Technology changes rapidly, and you have to hit them where they hang out. Would in-product surveys or text messaging produce higher completion rates? Otherwise, you’ll be getting lower response rates and less reliable findings.

Secondly, implement a process to monitor popular social media spaces like Facebook, Twitter, “right” feedback is going to be finding an optimal signal to noise ratio. Social media can be a noisy space. Are all voices valid? Can they all be trusted? Are some more trustworthy than others? Caution is advisable. It will take nuanced analysis to sift through and tune into the authentic stories out there.

The Pay Off: Better Reporting

A holistic listening strategy merged with big data analytics means your reports are going to become more insightful and interesting. Think of the ways you can make your next research presentation “pop” by incorporating the actual voices of consumers, sharing their stories. What can’t be captured in a PowerPoint slide? The story. That’s the one you need to tell.


For more insights, see Jamin Brazil’s article Human Experience Takes Center Stage, at greenbook blog

Why Won’t They Return My Call?

I’m sure you’ll recognize the following scenario.  A customer chooses a new company to do business with and begins receiving service(s) from them. They forge a relationship. Promises are made. Maybe the first time or two or three, they are satisfied with the results. Time passes. They come back once more with a question, a special need, a complex task in need of expert advice. They call the salesperson or the project manager. And wait. No reply. What went wrong? Was it something they said? Why the cold shoulder? Is there anybody out there?

There are many reasons why customer service response times can fail or slow down. Drastic changes to company internals can affect communications with customers. Maybe events such as downsizing, mergers, or acquisitions have led to staff reallocations, conflicting roles, or overburdening of existing staff. Maybe sudden expansion has caused confusion, reassignments, and before you know it, customer service contacts start slipping through the cracks.

Another possible reason relates to changing habits in the way people communicate. Millennial generation workers, for example, have a reputation for being averse to phone contact. It’s not their preferred means of staying in touch. Compounding the issue is the fact that there are many more “ways” to communicate these days, whether it be mobile, social media, email, or traditional landline. If a company doesn’t have a coherent strategy for managing and allocating incoming calls to response teams (no matter what channel they come from), it is likely that lapses will occur and frustrations will mount.

The impact of all this can be devastating. Clients obviously will not feel respected, valued, and their immediate needs won’t be addressed, which is incredibly aggravating. And providers who cut corners, treating customer service as an afterthought, will be sorely bruised by negative feedback. The impacts can be crushing. A Zendesk customer lifetime value report found that 66% of B2B customers stopped buying after a bad customer service experience. Bad news travels fast and widely, too: 95% of bad experiences were shared with others, 54% were shared with more than five people, and 45% share bad customer service experiences over social media. Generally, bad news is shared more often than good news.

(Source to link to:

It’s a fact that some companies are better at customer experience than others, and it is incumbent on customers to do their homework. Take into account the level of commitment to customer service before opting in, or when considering a switch. Research the track record. Seek out reviews online. Ask around.

What does this mean in practical terms? Fast turnaround times. When a prospective client contacts us, we are in communication with them within a few hours and we constantly monitor incoming messages, whether it be by email or phone. You will hear back. No more calls going into the customer service black hole. We at Marketing Systems Group know our customers deserve better; it’s the kind of courtesy and respect that lives at the heart of our company mission. We are dedicated to customer experience. We don’t think of customers as objects to acquire. Rather, we are in the business of building lasting relationships. Doing that requires effective, fluid, two-way communication and a detail-oriented approach to following up on every lead, issue, and problem that may arise. We respect our customers and don’t forget them. The relationship does not end with making the sale. We enjoy the interaction. It’s how we learn and improve the services we offer. We are facilitators, here to consult, provide options, and keep the focus on your needs.

New Census Data Available for Computer Ownership and Internet Subscription.

The United States Census has long been a treasure trove of data for market researchers, and the riches have just gotten more rewarding. It now offers data regarding computer usage and internet access.

On December 6, 2018, the United States Census Bureau released its Summary File for the 2013-2017 American Community Survey (ACS) Five Year Estimates. For the first time this data product contains tables for computer ownership and internet subscription. The ACS assists government, community leaders, and companies in understanding how their communities are undergoing change. It contains a wealth of information on U.S. population and housing. The new Five Year Estimates for computer use are further broken down by estimated characteristics such as household income, age, educational attainment, and labor force status.


To fully appreciate the significance and importance of this release, you have to go back 10 years. In 2008 Congress enacted the Broadband Data Improvement Act, with a goal to identify geographical areas of the country that did not have broadband services. Legislators were hoping to promote deployment of services within underserved areas and in addition, bring affordable services to all areas of the country.

In 2013 the Census started asking questions concerning computer and Internet use in its ongoing American Community Survey (ACS).  Each year the ACS randomly samples approximately 3.5 million addresses, and the information from that survey is released each year in two distinct datasets:

  • One Year Summary File (SF)
  • Five Year Summary File (SF)

The key difference between the datasets is that the Five Year SF is backed by five years of respondents and thus includes estimates down to a very detailed Census Block Group geography. Block Groups are statistical divisions of census tracts that are defined to contain a minimum of 600 people or 240 housing units and a maximum of 3000 people or 1200 housing units. The One Year SF, created from one year of respondents, only includes estimates for large geographies with a population greater than 65,000. Examples of large geographies are census regions and census divisions, individual states, and metropolitan areas (which are groups of cities and surrounding counties).  Incidentally, there are 501 metro areas with populations greater than 65,000.

One Year Summary File Drilldown

Below is an example of the level of detail that can be produced from the One Year SF, looking at Presence of Internet Subscriptions in US Households.

2017 American Community Survey One Year Estimates – Presence of Internet Subscriptions in Households
  United States
Estimate Percentage
Total US Households: 120,062,818
With an Internet subscription 100,662,676 83.84%
Internet access without a subscription 3,395,581 2.83%
No Internet access 16,004,561 13.33%

We see that there are 19,400,142 households (16.16%) in the U.S. that have no Internet subscription or no Internet access, and as the map shows, the highest percentage of no subscription households tend to be concentrated in Appalachia and deep south.

The Five Year Survey

With the 2013-2017 Five Year current release, the ACS has surveyed more than 17.5 million addresses, which is enough to accurately provide estimates down to a detailed level of geography.

However, there is a catch. Unfortunately, just prior to this release the Census announced the removal of the Block Group estimates and it is unclear at this point whether the Block Group estimates will be available before the next release, which is scheduled for December 2019.  This means that currently the lowest level of geography available is Census Tract. A census tract is an area roughly equal to a neighborhood.  Census tracts are smaller than a city, but larger than a block group and generally have a population size between 1,200 and 8,000 people. There are 73,056 Tracts in the US 50 State (+DC) geography.

Below is an example showing how census tract level geography helps to pinpoint particular target households. This analysis can be valuable because it allows users to target specific detailed areas.  In addition, clusters or groups of neighboring areas that have similar characteristics can then be used to define a study area.

New Data Available at Finer Geographic Levels

For the first time, the Five Year summary file offers new tables and categories which are available at detailed geographic levels. Click on the link to find out more information.

One key website containing census and demographic data is the American Fact Finder.  This site contains an abundance of information but can be tricky to navigate, manipulate, and comprehend.  With over 35 years of combined experience, MSG’s Geo-Demographic team are experts at working with this data and are here for your project needs.

Visit the Resource Center on the MSG website for National estimates of the new data categories.

Explore our geo-demographic capabilities at

Resources and links used in this article:

The ACS 5-Year Estimates.
Broadband Data Improvement Act.
American Community Survey (ACS).
Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2013.
ACS Webinar.
American FactFinder.

Stay in compliance with ever-changing governmental regulations.

Alert! Alert! Alert!

In this new age of “always on” technology and communication, it seems like something is always vying for our attention. We get so may alerts. Weather alerts, traffic alerts, health alerts, vehicle recall alerts, food safety alerts. I could go on and on.  Our first tendency might be to get a little irritated about all of these alerts, as they interrupt our daily flow and can produce anxiety. But then again, think of why we are receiving the alerts in the first place. They are there for our benefit—the safety and security of ourselves, our family and our neighbors. By getting that important information out to us quickly, we can act immediately and take the necessary steps to either be prepared or be protected.

When we use alerts in the context of handling personal data, the benefits are the same. We are vigilant, looking out for the safety and security of the data collected on our panelists.  The safety and security of data is a major concern for many countries around the world. That is why regulations such as the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have been put in place. They help to ensure that personal data is being handled properly.

Stay alert to panelist data changes

Having the ability to receive alerts on the system used to store and/or collect data can be an essential tool.  An alert system can perform two kinds of notifications:

  • Inform proper personnel of changes that have been made in the data
  • Alert personnel of the need to make changes to the data.

Alerts can help you to make necessary changes in an expedited time frame, thus complying with on-going regulations.

What are some examples of alerts that can prove beneficial?

Let’s take a look at a few instances where alerts would provide helpful information.

Example: A panelist wants to be removed from the database.

Let’s say a request comes in from a panelist who no longer wishes to receive invitations to participate in studies, screeners or research. The request can come from the panelist portal, from the invitation or from within the questionnaire.  Whatever the source, an alert can be sent to the proper personnel to make sure that the panelist is removed. By receiving an alert, the removal can be handled quickly, therefore limiting the chances of the panelist becoming frustrated by receiving additional notifications.

Example: A panelist is not able to participate in research for a period of time (extended travel, expectant mothers, temporary health conditions, etc.).

Sometimes a panelist needs a little time off. They can inform you of the start date for the period of non-participation.  During that interval, the panelist record can be set to inactive. They will no longer receive notifications of available research studies. An alert can be created for the proper internal personnel at the resume date so the panelist record can now be set to active status. At this time, they would again get notificatons to participate in any available research.

Example: While filling out a questionnaire or screener, the panelist indicates that they would like to be contacted.

Companies always want to know if their consumers are happy. To ensure that any perceived issues are handled quickly, a question can be added to a questionnaire or screener asking the panelist if they would like to be contacted.  Additional information can also be collected as to the nature of why they would like to be contacted. Once this information is collected, an alert can be generated that informs the proper internal personnel of not only the request to be contacted but also the reason. The alert allows companies to respond to any issues or requests for contact and handle them without any hesitation.

These are just a few possible suggestions showing how alerts could be a great benefit. Having the ability to create custom alerts based on the particular operations of your organization can provide innumerable benefits to the company, department and panel members. The ARCS system, for example, allows you to define custom alerts that match your organizational needs. Contact one of our ARCS specialists today to discuss how to setup specific data alerts.

Keep in mind that alerts should be used judiciously, only when something really calls for immediate attention and action. When used for truly critical notifications, alerts will help your organization to stay in compliance with ever-changing governmental regulations.