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If Not Online Reviews, Who Do Consumers Trust?

It’s a Love Story

The history of online reviews is not unlike a love story. In knight’s armor, online reviews enter the scene on a white horse to save consumers from dishonest marketing and advertising by providing authentic reviews from real people. As the online reviews knight and his steed stand there in the majestic light of sunset (A.K.A. Amazon.com circa 1995), consumers stare in awe and fall madly in love at first sight.

When this new information source and apparent transparency arrived, consumers proudly posted their status as “In a Relationship” with the online reviews knight, resulting in a huge wave of dedicated review sites crashing into the market to capitalize on the new craze (e.g., Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and Consumer Reports, just to name a few). Now, hundreds of thousands of individual sites host their own reviews, and on top of that, consumers can read reviews and slam or praise businesses and products on social media sites. In fact, 70% of consumers visit review sites and 57% find recommendations on social media sites before making a purchase.

But more consumer reviews mean more honesty and transparency, which in turn leads to more satisfied consumers, right? Not quite. Like any love story… it’s complicated.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

The age-old problem is that consumers and brands want different things. Consumers want the full picture, while a brand prefers to only show pictures taken on its “good side.” For brands, online reviews are just another medium to convince consumers they should buy their products. So, with Yelp users posting 26,380 reviews per minute and research continuing to show reviews as an essential stage in the shopping journey, it’s not surprising that brands invest in strategies to maintain a positive image across online reviews.

Brands can employ several online reputation management strategies, including hiring a firm to write positive reviews about the brand or negative reviews about a competitor. Ironically (or perhaps not), these types of maneuvers remove the element of online reviews that consumers desire most: honesty. Nowadays, consumers are more aware of these tactics, resulting in growing skepticism of online review content (only 59% trust online reviews).

So, Who Do Consumers Trust?

Reviews are still vital to the purchase journey, but their role has shifted. Rather than using online reviews as the sole basis for a purchase decision, shoppers use them to form a consideration set. Then the question becomes: How do shoppers make the jump from a few brands in the consideration set to one final purchase?  In some categories, especially those with high involvement products and/or long distribution channels, buyers and shoppers rely on experts of the trade to make final purchase decisions. Let’s walk through an example of a typical shopping journey.

Joe Schmoe’s Quest for Luxury Toilets

Joe Schmoe needs to purchase five new toilets. Joe takes pride in his home’s luxurious bathroom experience, and desires many specific toilet qualities and features. After conducting extensive online research and reading hundreds of online reviews, Joe has narrowed it down to three brands. The next step for Joe is to head down to his local big-box home improvement store to check out the toilets in person and speak with an expert associate about which product is ultimately best for his bathroom goals.
The store associate in the plumbing section listens to Joe’s extravagant bathroom goals, asks about his timeline and budget, and, based on his experience, recommends a brand that isn’t in Joe’s original consideration set. Joe quickly whips out his phone in the store, reads a handful of online reviews about the recommended brand (most of which are positive, but not all), and decides to purchase that brand for all five of his bathrooms.


The Bottom Line

The point of the story is that a good online reputation is useless if your brand doesn’t sell. Even though three brands won the online review battle, none of them won the war because they lacked the allegiance of a vital channel member. We see this same story play out all the time across many different backdrops, including the interaction between distributors and store buyers (which can be even more deadly because consumers can’t purchase a brand if it never makes it to the shelf).

How To Grow Your Channel Member Loyalty

We realize that in today’s world it sounds utterly archaic to suggest shifting part of the focus away from the almighty digital landscape to real humans. But as skepticism of online reviews and recommendations grows, enlisting more sales support from channel members is a huge untapped opportunity for brands in certain categories.

Brands can grow channel member loyalty by better understanding which products distributors, contractors, or retailers recommend in a variety of sales situations. For your brand, a good place to start is to quickly diagram the situations in which a channel member recommends products in your category. The next step is to identify which products are recommended by those channel members in each type of sales situation (we use a survey-based simulation methodology called Channel Lab TM to do this). Next, if applicable, try to answer the questions below:

Which selling situations are most lucrative for your brand?

  • Are channel members failing to recommend your brand in certain types of selling situations? If so, which ones?
  • Are there product line gaps that keep you from being recommended by channel members?
  • What type of promotions most influence channel members to recommend your brand? Other brands?
  • What trade messages most ensure channel member allegiance?
  • Which of your competitors are most vulnerable to your channel marketing efforts?
  • Are channel members failing to recommend your brand to certain types of customers? If so, which ones?


These steps should give you some momentum to begin the journey to achieving more sales support from your channel members. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. We’d be happy to discuss your unique situation and point you in the right direction.

Big Data and the Futility of Ignoring the “Why”

Imagine that there are two gold miners: Swifty and Grace. Both are skilled mining managers and have dual degrees in engineering and mineralogy. Both are working mines that have been in operation for years.

Over time, Swifty experiences a decline in his monthly yield of gold ore. Figuring that the actions he has taken for years have always worked, Swifty has his crews blast away ever more aggressively, with more equipment deployed over longer hours.

Grace also experiences a similar decline in yield, but she takes a different tack. Instead of just doing more of the same, she assesses the situation. Grace conducts time studies among her work crews. She compares core samples from the areas being mined currently with samples taken in prior years and from outlying land parcels owned by her company. And she consults geological maps to see where gold ore yields are best.

In short, Swifty does more of the same to respond to the What, expecting a different result. However, Grace tries to understand Why her gold yields are down before deciding on a course of action.

Today’s Communication Professionals are Increasingly Like Swifty

Unfortunately, with the availability of “big data,” today’s PR and communication professionals act increasingly like Swifty. They focus solely on the What without first making the effort to understand the Why behind it. As a result, they generate a lot of failed programs.

Even when sales are declining, today’s PR and communication professionals beat up their data sources to discern past customer purchase patterns, falsely believing that doing the same things will lead to success. While we concede that this behavior is helpful to a degree, over-reliance on “excavating the past” has an insidiously damaging effect: It prompts organizations to continue to mine “tapped out” markets using the same old ideas and tactics. Accordingly, “excavating the past” discourages marketers from finding new market segments, identifying more successful selling approaches, using more effective information channels, and generating more innovative communication strategies.

So, ironically, an over-reliance on the shiny new thing we call “big data” too often prevents PR and communication pros from exploring or embracing newer, better approaches. It causes an unhealthy dependence on the What without first understanding the Why.

Where’s the Evidence for Big Data?

It’s true that the arguments above do fly in the face of convention. But ask yourself a simple question: Have you ever seen big data work? Has big data alone ever given you an “aha” moment that provided you with insights for selling a bunch more of…anything?

We asked some leading business professors – people who validate selling and communication strategies for a living – whether they’ve ever seen a positive sales result from big data alone. Guess what their answer was? A resounding “no.” Despite the hype, they couldn’t point to a single study or validated case of how big data, by itself, has improved an organization’s sales results.

So we posed the same question to a category marketing director for a respected global packaged-goods giant. He’s not a believer, either, despite working with data miners for years. Sure, he did say that his company’s data gurus once came to him after analyzing troves of coupon redemption and retail shopping basket data, suggesting that his pet product brands were most often cross-sold with a particular category of alcoholic beverage. Unfortunately, neither he nor his brand teams could figure out a way to capitalize on this pearl of wisdom. After all, he pointed out, it’s pretty difficult to cross-promote categories like dog food and beer.

Does this mean that mining big data never works? Not at all. But it does mean that blindly following past data to wherever it takes you is likely to lead to frustration and failure. There has to be a better way.

Back to the Future

For a clue to resolving the big data dilemma, it’s useful to reexamine the past.

There was a time – not very long ago – when PR and communication pros would examine and discuss whatever sales or market data they could readily glean from any product or service situation. This identified the What. They’d then develop a few hypotheses about Why things were happening and brainstorm the creative opportunities each Why implied for the widgets they were selling. Most importantly, they’d commission research to fill in critical knowledge gaps or test potential communication concepts that might make sense to pursue.

This old approach was clean, it was organized, and it made sense. And, importantly, it married information about What was happening with Why it was happening, resulting in a broad range of plausible marketing and communication ideas to consider and validate. In short, the old approach unleashed pragmatic creativity – not blind slavery to a database.

Under the old rules, for example, finding out that dog food and craft beer were heavily cross-sold couldn’t possibly supply enough information by itself to launch a new campaign, so PR and communication pros would first develop alternative hypotheses as to why this was the case, such as:

  • Dogs love to swill beer.
  • Dog owners are lonely and, therefore, like to drink.
  • Dog owners tend to live in markets with heavy beer consumption.
  • Dog owners become thirsty after taking their pets for a walk.
  • Beer drinkers and dog owners share the same demographics.

They’d then test their “dog/beer hypotheses” by commissioning a research study and develop initiatives or campaign ideas around those validated findings. Additionally, these PR and communication pros would almost certainly test their initiatives and campaign ideas to refine them and make sure they had the power to move the sales needle.

Under the old rules, PR and communication pros wouldn’t put their own creative egos ahead of the needs of the customer, nor would they risk monetary or reputational damage to the client to speed some half-baked campaign to market under the guise of “gotta do it fast.”

Now here’s the maddening thing: This more disciplined “excavate, hypothesize, test, and create” approach would work even better today. That’s because, used correctly, big data has the potential to identify so many more What circumstances than the syndicated market studies and sales data of old. Additionally, research techniques are immeasurably faster these days, so testing the Why hypotheses and validating ensuing creative concepts no longer leads to a long delay before PR pros can hit the start button.

This more disciplined approach is still used by the most sophisticated marketers and their agencies, but not often enough. Additionally, the approach is almost never used by smaller clients and agencies, who would almost certainly receive the greatest marginal benefit from it.

For this unhappy situation to change, PR pros need to be gently reminded that not all What opportunities are fruitful, and not all creative ideas are effective ideas. They also need to become more educated about the many new research methodologies and tools that are available to them.

Tools and Techniques for Better Results

Regrettably, many PR pros (and far too many of their marketing associates) seem to be familiar with only two research techniques: Pre/post campaign measures and gathering online metrics. The problem is, these techniques are far better at assessing the What than the Why of a marketing situation, and they do almost nothing to prompt or validate effective communication initiatives or campaign concept ideas.

For this reason, it might be useful to briefly describe just a handful of the newer research techniques that can help communications pros pursue a more disciplined “excavate, hypothesize, test, and create” development approach:

  • Online focus groups – Fast and comparatively inexpensive, online groups use specialized software that enable moderated, real-time chat sessions to generate a rich understanding of the Why behind a situation. They can also be used to validate and refine communication ideas and initiatives. Project turnaround: About four weeks.
  • Segmentation with Segment Target Modeling – A sophisticated, large-scale online survey and statistical modeling approach that identifies relevant market segments on the basis of needs or lifestyles, profiles each segment, quantifies the client’s potential in each segment and – perhaps most importantly – develops scoring models so real people in each segment can be located and targeted with segment-specific messaging. Project turnaround: About seven weeks.
  • Channel Support Modeling – A survey-based modeling technique to determine which communication programs or initiatives would gain the most support from marketing channel members (e.g., distributors, retailers, trades people, etc.), who typically have the power to make or break most client marketing efforts. These studies usually provide a simulator that allows the client or its agency to test the likely effectiveness of a multitude of program scenarios. Project turnaround: About five weeks.
  • Message combination modeling – Another survey-based modeling technique that models the best combination of messages needed to motivate target customers to consider a client’s product or service. Most messages are communicated in sets instead of individually, so this is an important and frequently used research technique. These studies almost always provide a simulator that allows the client or its agency to test the relative effectiveness of thousands of message combinations. Project turnaround: About five weeks.
  • Graphical concept testing – Think of this one as A/B testing on steroids. Using this methodology, an agency or client can pretest hundreds or even thousands of electronically-generated versions of display ads, landing pages, search ads, billboards, or promotional graphics all at once to determine which are best at motivating desired behavior. Importantly, this approach tests actual graphic/copy design combinations – not just attributes or message lists. Project turnaround: About four weeks.


Don’t be like Swifty

Today’s lesson is easy: Don’t be impulsive like Swifty. Use big data to identify the What, but avoid launching an initiative or campaign until you understand the Why that drives it. Finally, don’t let your creative ego get in the way of success – use one or more of the techniques identified above to validate your assumptions and the likely market acceptance of your proposed solution.

Over the long haul, you’ll gain time, money, and quite a bit of professional respect.


Have you ever been in a situation where big data led your marketing strategy down the wrong path?

If you’d like to understand the Why to your What, contact us here.

Why Cheap Marketing Research Leads to Expensive Mistakes

Let’s say that you’re a brand manager presenting research results to a room full of senior executives.  Which of the following situations would you rather face?

  1. You are explaining data results that you derived from a free online survey platform. You feel great. (What’s not to love? Management now has pages of data at their fingertips.)  Then suddenly, they start to question your methodological approach, inquire why you asked certain questions, and they start paging through the deck looking for insights and relevant recommendations.  Uh-oh – panic ensues as you grasp at straws attempting to validate your efforts.
  2. You have a team of professionals at your side leading senior executives through validated research findings that provide actionable insights in a concise manner. The questionnaire was carefully crafted by experts, programmed using the latest technology, fielded with a nationally-respected panel, and the data was analyzed by professionals using the most advanced tools and techniques.  You’re able to easily answer who, what, when, where, and why, and it is easy to convince your bosses that the findings are legitimate.

You may think the answer to the above situation is obvious – who wouldn’t rather be in the second situation?  Well, recently, the research industry has seen some companies attempt to handle their research needs in-house by replacing expert market research teams with cheap solutions such as free online survey platforms and digital analytics tools.

The Harsh Reality

The truth is, very few businesses have the expertise to take on all of their market research needs in-house.  Making do-or-die business decisions with insights derived from improper market research techniques is a dangerous practice.  More and more often, companies fail to make good decisions because they are relying on seriously questionable data derived from lousy marketing research.

It’s not to say that bringing marketing research in-house doesn’t make sense for everyone.  After all, some companies are actually aware that monadic design isn’t a type of wallpaper.  However, this is often not the case, and turning to the appropriate resource is critical for not making catastrophic business decisions.

Where Most Teams Fall Short

There are too many to name them all, but below is a list of the most common shortcomings of amateur researchers:

  • Experience across a variety of methodologies – Knowing when and how to use certain research methodologies is one of the first steps to ensuring project success. For example, research among patients regarding a new cancer treatment takes a completely different approach than research to understand consumer preference for a new soft drink.
  • Questionnaire creation – This is one of the worst offenders, and the marketing research industry can spot an amateur-drafted questionnaire from a mile away. (Trust me, some of these surveys are so bad that experts laugh at them.) My five-year-old son is a master at asking questions.  No lie – I field hundreds of questions on a daily basis. (Did you know children ask 288 questions a day? [1]) But does that mean that I would trust my son to ask questions that will get my clients the answers they need?  Absolutely not.  The same goes for an online questionnaire template.  Blindly trusting a cookie-cutter questionnaire to get the answers you need is just as bad as having my five-year-old craft your questionnaire.
  • Empirical knowledge of what measures work/don’t work – It is always important to think about the back-end analysis and what you are looking to answer when you are at the beginning stages of research. Make sure your team has the breadth of experience and knowledge to know what measures to use and when.
  • Programming expertise – Surveys are dead in the water if there is a programming mistake. We have seen clients attempt to program their own survey and the result is often tragic. Imagine trying to draw results from a study where one of the tested designs never properly showed to the online participants.  It’s not a situation I would wish on anyone.
  • Knowledge of sampling techniques and sources – Sampling the right audience and using reliable sample sources is important when fielding any survey, but it is also necessary to have measures in place to catch fraudulent activity among research participants. To put it in perspective, we throw out about 17% of respondents in our online surveys for dishonest answers. Without knowing how to catch bad data, marketing research has no integrity.
  • Data solutions – Weighting is another common mistake that novices often make. Using incorrect weighting or no weighting at all can completely alter results.
  • Advanced analytics capabilities – There are few in-house teams equipped with the knowledge to utilize advanced techniques such as logit, structural equation modeling, adaptive conjoint, discrete choice, and response simulators to squeeze the most out of their data and get the answers they really need.

Take a Moment

There are many questions that you should ask before making crucial business decisions, but a good place to start is to ask yourself:

  • Does your team have the expertise and resources to implement the most effective tools and techniques?
  • Can you effectively and easily manage all aspects of the research process?
  • Do you know the right questions to ask to develop meaningful insights?
  • Will your research provide actionable results?

Be Careful

In today’s instantly gratifying digital world, it is easy to get caught up in the sea of available quick, low-cost options, and the appeal is undeniable.  Our warning is this: cheap solutions are NOT synonymous with expert marketing research, and cutting corners can be a costly mistake. 

You don’t want to end up like the brand manager in the first scenario!  Make sure that your company is not sacrificing the quality of your research for cheap and unreliable “quick-fix” solutions.


We’d love to hear your thoughts.  What do you think the biggest advantages (or disadvantages) are to using a marketing research firm?

If you’d like to learn more about Brandware Research, contact us here.


[1] “Littlewoods retailer survey finds mothers asked 228 questions a day” news.com.au 29 March 2013. Web. 16 June 2016.  http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/littlewoods-retailer-survey-finds-mothers-asked-228-questions-a-day/story-fnet085v-1226609073893

Is Your Brand Tracker Old-Fashioned?

Checking the Pulse of Brand Trackers

As marketing researchers we often ask questions like: “What brands do you think of when you think of tennis shoes?”  After all, according to canonical theories of brand marketing, we need to identify what brands come to mind when thinking about a particular category… don’t we?

Typical brand trackers include measures such as unaided brand recall, brand preference, and brand associations, and those measures certainly serve a purpose. But isn’t it appetizing to think that brand trackers could provide much more? Perhaps even results that brand and marketing managers could actually act on?

We thought so. So naturally, we did some research.

Where Did Those Measures Come From?

Brand health trackers use measures that are based on the traditional brand marketing concept, the “consideration set[1],” which is defined as a subset of brands that consumers seriously consider when making purchase decisions within a category.  Therefore, with the consideration set in mind, the classic, “What brand comes to mind…?” question is completely valid.

But, it Depends

Who remembers that one provocative classmate that always answered questions with, “It depends”? Well, the same goes for brands that come to mind for a consumer.  In reality, the consideration set is populated by brands that a consumer recalls for particular situations. For example, when I think of tennis shoes in general I think of Nike, Asics, New Balance, Mizuno, Reebok, and Adidas. But when thinking of serious running shoes I think of Mizuno; and when I think of casual tennis shoes, I think of New Balance.

So, the better question becomes: Why do so many researchers ask only what brands come to mind when thinking of tennis shoes in general? Isn’t it more useful to ask what brands come to mind when thinking of reasons why consumers actually enter the tennis shoes category in the first place?

Memories Matter

The answer is YES, and the key to unlocking this priceless information is to consider the way that we recall memories[2].  Consumers derive relevant answers based on their own experiences; and obviously, every category has unique cues that consumers call on when they need to make a purchase decision within a category.  Through a disciplined sequence of qualitative and quantitative research, brands can map their performance (i.e., captured mindshare) across the most relevant category buying cues.

What Does it all Mean?

Mixing a bit of category buying behavior into your brand health tracker makes a powerful and delicious cocktail that can give you the information you need to grow your brand.  Imagine the gold mine of information that can be uncovered when brands identify and measure the pervasiveness of various category buying cues. Managers who understand which cues offer the most potential and the mindshare captured by their brand for each one will be a step ahead of the game.

This post barely scratches the surface of the incredibly complex mind of the consumer and how we can better harness the power of category behavior. If you’d like to learn more, contact Brandware here.

[1] Howard, JA & Sheth, JN. The Theory of Buyer Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. New York. 1969. 
[2] Tulving, E & Craik, FIM. The Oxford Handbook of Memory. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2000.

What if everything you ever learned about brand marketing was wrong?

Here’s a distressing thought: New research might suggest that everything you ever learned about brand marketing was wrong.

Okay, saying everything you learned is invalid might be an exaggeration, but there are several recent studies coming to light that suggest the old brand identity model popularized by David Aaker several years ago just doesn’t work in most product categories.  Yes, you read that right – new findings suggest that most of the advice first popularized in Aaker’s blockbuster book, Building Strong Brands, is fundamentally useless to marketing managers.  Moreover, these same findings suggest that the wisdom of “The Aaker Model” didn’t simply fade with the rise of digital marketing, but that the model always failed to describe the way shoppers process information and select products or services.

Wow, talk about a generation of marketers getting the rug pulled out from under them!

The Aaker Model

Before we get into why the Aaker model is being challenged, let’s reexamine some of the brand marketing doctrines proposed by Aaker and his contemporaries.  These well-meaning professionals declared that solid brand management starts with building a longstanding brand identity – a unique set of functional, emotional, and user associations that signify what the brand stands for and offers to buyers.  And they argued that brand identity was instrumental in differentiating and making a brand attractive to a unique set of target customers.

Sounds entirely reasonable so far, right?  And if you own an advertising agency, what could be better than to earn a pile of money by creating and promoting a “differentiated and powerful brand identity” that is expressly designed to bring notoriety and sales revenue to your client?  The client is happy and the agency is happy – everybody wins!

Except that they don’t.

Unfortunately, there are several faulty assumptions implicit in The Aaker Model, and therein lies its weakness.  The first of these assumptions is that most consumers buy using the classic “learn, feel, do” behavioral model.  That is, they mentally seek out and process information which brands in a category are best for them, build affinity with particular brands using this newfound knowledge, and then purchase the brand that best fits their needs.   The second assumption of the model is that customers seek an ongoing “relationship” with brands – that customers want to be emotionally connected to the brands they buy.  And the final assumption is that brands with strong identities ultimately succeed by building loyalty among targeted customers, whose bond with the brand keeps them coming back for more.

Recent Brand Findings

Although the common-sense assumptions that underlie The Aaker Model might initially ring true, peer-reviewed empirical findings from researchers like Andrew Ehrenberg, Gerald Goodhardt, Chris Chatfield, Byron Sharp, and Jenni Romaniuk, largely refute them.

In essence, the newer findings indicate that, in most categories, customers buy out of habit and engage in minimal mental processing when deciding which brands to buy: that is, they follow a “do, learn, feel” behavior that is quite the opposite from what Aaker and his contemporaries have suggested.  The newer findings also show that a brand’s market share is most often driven by market penetration rates, not strong customer loyalty (i.e., attracting more customers is generally more effective than convincing current customers to purchase more often).  Finally, the newer findings demonstrate that customers in most categories typically engage in choice-seeking behavior, rendering ineffective the targeting of particular market segments for many products and services.

These newer findings have profound implications for managers who are tasked with growing sales and revenue.  For example, the findings strongly suggest that narrow brand positions are frequently too limiting and that the key to successful growth isn’t building customer loyalty, but capturing a greater number of light or occasional category buyers.  And that implies the need to develop a more varied product line that is communicated to a broader target audience.  It also suggests the necessity of making a brand available across a greater number of physical and online buying locations and making it more recognizable across a variety of category buying situations.

Implications for Research and Measurement

As one can imagine, the empirical findings mentioned above also affect the way in which many brands should be evaluated.   In fact, in many product and service categories, these findings make obsolete the traditional “awareness and association” research regimen which, until recently, was considered the gold standard of brand measurement.

The specific measurement implications of these findings are too numerous to review here, so we summarized just five of them below:

  1. Don’t rely on data analytics alone. If the goal is to capture a greater number of customers who haven’t previously purchased a brand, then it’s fallacious reasoning to believe that simply modeling how the brand’s past customers were generated unlocks the secret to capturing new customers.   After all, if non-customers behaved similarly to customers, they’d already be buying the brand.  Sorry, folks, but it’s far more effective to use traditional research to learn why non-customers haven’t purchased a brand, and then adjust marketing tactics accordingly.
  1. Initially research category buying behavior – not brand-specific behavior. Measures relating to the level of mental processing during the buying process, brand penetrations, purchase frequencies, and cross-purchasing behavior are especially illuminating.  It’s shocking, but many marketing managers constantly track brand awareness, rarely giving a thought to systematically understanding how, when, why, with whom, how often, where, and under what situations and occasions category users buy.
  1. Identify and measure the pervasiveness of various category buying cues. This is a complicated task that typically involves a disciplined qualitative and quantitative research sequence, but these buying cues represent the “open windows” through which a brand can grow by capturing new customers.   Managers need to understand which cues offer the most potential as well as the mindshare captured by their brand for each one.
  1. Measure brand visibility. If the goal is to capture as many new buyers as possible, then marketing managers need to understand how many category buyers recognize their brand’s name, logo, colors, trade dress, package design, communications style, etc.  Even brands with strong name recognition must be complemented with heavy-duty visibility and distinctiveness at the point of sale to grow revenue.  Don’t believe us?  Try finding your favorite item in a store after an ill-advised packaging refresh.
  1. Mind the overlaps. Most marketers already collect category data that pertains to past purchase behavior and buying information sources.  They briefly look at the data and gravitate toward the most popular responses.  However, the new empirical findings suggest that the real power of this information is derived from examining the overlap patterns between brands, purchase locations, or information sources.  These analyses can reveal promising brand extension scenarios, the best distribution opportunities, and the most impactful media channels and properties.

There’s so much more to report on this important topic, but we’ll save that for another day.  Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about why The Aaker Model is falling out of favor and what’s replacing it in the brand measurement world, please contact Brandware here.

Catch More Fraudulent Data with Advanced Approaches

For the past 20 years, the Internet has provided researchers with tools to quickly and efficiently obtain data for marketers. The monitoring of online data quality has been customarily taken on by professional researchers, who have used a variety of tactics to spot and remove bad data.

Now, with the advent of easy-to-use survey software, some brands are beginning to bring their research in-house. This means that they have to shoulder the responsibility of identifying and removing bad data and dishonest responses—a critical responsibility they too often overlook. And they need to take on this task just as more and more dishonest respondents are becoming experts at cheating and avoiding detection.

To combat these issues, it is vital that anyone with responsibility for conducting online research—whether client or research provider—develop and use an advanced quality check process with dynamic traps, JavaScript, and PHP programming.

Current Tactics

Fraudulent data is a widespread issue, resulting from respondents speeding through a survey, not paying attention to the questions, or becoming fatigued[1]. The problem this presents is obvious: Management cannot make reliable decisions with unreliable data.

Current tactics employed by marketing research firms and in-house researchers alike include:

  1. Analyzing the median/mean time to complete the survey
  2. Verifying open-ended responses for nonsense answers
  3. Adding non-sequitur instruction questions (e.g., “To continue, select the following answer…”)


…among others. While these do help to weed out some bad responses, the rate at which fraudulent data is caught by a specific trap question is small, only about 1% to 3%[2]. Research indicates that about 15% of respondents answer carelessly, and that this number increases with survey length[3]. Furthermore, as the study specifications become more stringent, the proportion of bad responses also rises. Shockingly, using inadequate methodologies to catch bad data can result in as much as 20% of responses being completely random[3].

What’s Wrong With the Current Tactics?

Unfortunately, as online surveys become more ubiquitous, respondents bent on cheating have become more knowledgeable of the tricks-of-the-trade. They might take care to not speed through questions too quickly, write “none” for all verbatim responses, or quickly scan answers for special instructions. At any rate, it’s almost guaranteed that any survey will receive a multitude of false responses.

What about sample providers? Sample providers advertise their capability to filter out bad respondents and provide the most trustworthy panel possible. But even with the supposed advanced methodologies that survey panels employ, researchers still end up with fraudulent responses, suggesting that relying on sample providers is just not good enough.

Regrettably, traditional tactics take hours or even days to detect junk responses, so researchers need a solution with multiple layers that can dynamically flag bad data in real time.

So What’s the Solution?

The best way to ensure all dishonest responses are captured is to flag data quality issues as they happen. Using client-side checks written in JavaScript, as well as server-side languages like PHP and Python, responses can be verified in real time. Additionally, servers capture useful metadata by virtue of their connection to respondents that researchers can utilize not only to inform data, but to verify respondents’ answers.

Employing this methodology, surveys can be fielded quicker with more accurate resulting data. Using anything less could result in imbalanced results, especially if one relies on traditional methods—or no method at all.

As the availability of online survey platforms proliferates, so will respondents looking for an easy buck. It’s the responsibility of those executing the research to familiarize themselves with the common signs of bad responses, and to use the most effective methodologies to combat them in a timely manner. It’s imperative to adapt with the technology, and become acquainted with the tools necessary to dynamically—and quickly—catch data that could adversely impact a brand’s marketing strategy.

If you’d like to learn more about Brandware’s advanced quality checks, contact us here.

[1] Johnson, Jeff. “Improving online panel data usage in sales research.” Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management 36.1 (2016): 74-85. Online.
[2] Garlick & Knapton. “Catch me if you can.” Quirk’s November 2007, page 58.
[3] Meade & Bartholomew. “Identifying careless responses in survey data.” Psychological Methods 17.3 (2012): 437-455. Online.