Why We Need to Do Better than Panels, Focus Groups and Surveys

PlaceIQ’s Audience Series sets out to highlight the importance of segments in the advertising world. As the pioneer of mobile’s application to location intelligence, and leaders in the mobile audience field, PlaceIQ has the knowledge you need. Key audience experts from each PIQ department — from engineering, to data science, to sales — will tackle a new topic each week to give a 360-degree view on this vast, ever-changing industry.

In perhaps the most inspiring development in the literary world in recent memory, a survey of Millennials showed that 100% of respondents still read books on a daily basis. Though works of nonfiction outpaced “reading for pleasure” by almost 2 to 1, a whopping 33% of the population is engrossed in A Game of Thrones.

Though the remake on HBO has received critical acclaim and a very healthy fan following, the results of this carefully selected focus group prove that Americans still appreciate those special moments of solitude in their lives when the simplest words on a page can transcend their very being into a new reality.

Skeptical?

Well, you should be. The “study” above was conducted with a group of my colleagues over coffee. Though there is nothing scientific about that particular selection process, a market starved for consumer insights must often be reminded of the cautionary tales in Darrell Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics.

The lessons there within seem as true today as they were back in 1954 when this classic was first published.

Through flowing numbers, beautiful graphs, and flowery words dressed as conclusions, many a consumer study may appear sound. Although the results should be scrutinized from top to bottom, often the biggest holes can be found by looking right at the inception and asking one simple question: Who was in the sample?

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A History of Surveys

When Arthur Nielsen started his radio rating service in 1942, you can imagine the Great American Family sitting around their radio after dinner, listening to a small group of national broadcast networks all competing for the national set of eyes and ears.

At that point, it’s not that far-fetched to believe that the viewing habits and interests of the Great American Family could be explained through a magnifying glass on a small sample of households.

Over time, that Great American Family has changed, along with their behaviors, intents and very nature. Mom and Dad are driven by different factors. The kids live in a world of their own. Comparing the Midwest to the Northeast may as well be like looking across oceans.

Time for Change

When you consider the incredible technological advances that have been made in media over the last half century – from television to the internet and now on to mobile – the sheer scale of consumption and variety of choices has grown exponentially for the American consumer. In attempting to understand the who, what, when, where and how of their journeys, do we as brands and marketers really have an exponentially better understanding of consumers today than we had 50 years ago?

Moreover, in a constantly changing, ever more connected world where global trends are overshadowed by local influences, should we still extrapolate the results of, say, a focus group of 100 to the general population of 300 million?

When I sit back and think about my own decisions on a daily basis, the paths that I take are immensely varied. I can watch one of 500 channels on television. I can choose to experience just about any type of cuisine from around the world. I can get my news from a near infinite number of local and social sources around me. On a Friday night, I can go to the opera, the symphony, a rock show or chill out to some smooth jazz.

So, as a marketer, if you want to connect with me, understand me, and reach me with the right message at the right moment in my life, are you seriously considering using the experiences and habits of a college student in New Mexico who fills out a survey for a little extra beer money to mirror my own in that all important 18-34, male demographic?

Now, chances are we both like beer, but that’s probably where most of the comparisons end.

How to do Better

Let’s stop taking the easy way out. Rather than just repurposing dated methodologies invented half a century ago, it’s time that we change the entire conversation around consumer intelligence.

Easier said than done, you may say. A paradigm shift is rarely straightforward. When the goal is to understand the new reality, the road to nirvana becomes even more daunting.

Being responsible for innovation here at PlaceIQ, I take this task very seriously and believe we are on to some major disruptions. If we start with the Who and attempt to extend our breadth and depth of understanding based on reality, we can let the past, present and future actions of the Who paint a complete picture.

Consider this:

  1. Let’s start with the premise that location is the greatest indicator of consumer intent since search. Those little devices that we carry around with us everywhere provide the perfect backbone for our new reality. At scale, we begin to see patterns emerge from hundreds of millions of devices emitting hundreds of billions of signals every day.
  2. We can connect data across multiple channels and overlay it on our foundation based on location. Desktop cookies, television and radio viewership habits, past purchase behavior, social trends – the list goes on.
  3. Finally, we bridge the divide between the online and offline worlds. This is where where the old surveys or focus groups can still provide some value by plugging into the new. The CRM systems and offline consumption behaviors that brands have leveraged for decades can close our proverbial loop and complete our view of the consumer journey.

I hope this post has addressed why, as an industry, we need to do better. The framework above should provide a glimpse of how we are already on the right track.

PlaceIQ’s Audience Series sets out to highlight the importance of segments in the advertising world. As the pioneer of mobile’s application to location intelligence, and leaders in the mobile audience field, PlaceIQ has the knowledge you need. Key audience experts from each PIQ department — from engineering, to data science, to sales — will tackle a new topic each week to give a 360-degree view on this vast, ever-changing industry.