A fresh approach to recall – an interview with Bob Dance

Here’s the transcript of Bob’s interview with Denyse Drummond-Drum (first published on the mrmw.net blog at the end of last year).

In about two months’ time we will be meeting up in exciting Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the first MRMW event of 2013 in Asia. In preparation for my trip, I reached out to Bob Dance, Director of Research Solutions at FreshMinds Research in the UK, who is scheduled to speak on the last day. His presentation, “The art of not relying on recall: the use of pop-up communities for mobile research” had such a provocative title, I couldn’t wait until January to hear more. This is a summary of our discussion.

Denyse: Bob, I see you are clearly living up to the reputation of FreshMinds, by taking a fresh new look at the old metric of recall. Why did you choose the topic?

Bob: We got into mobile to respond to a need to get closer to the consumer. Online, synchronous focus groupresearch, which like many others was our first attempt to reach out in this connected world, was somewhat disappointing. We found we lost the dynamics of a focus group and missed the all-important body language of in-depth interviews.

Mobile research  enables us to get closer to the natural behaviour of consumers when purchasing or using products and services. When people think about a purchase afterwards, they often post-rationalise.

It allows us to match recall with behaviour and get a much richer input from consumers. We can ask them to do certain tasks and to take photos or record videos for discussion with them afterwards. Mobile enables people to record what they are doing in the moment, which is in stark contrast to asking them to recall what they did. It may not be the perfect answer, but it is certainly getting us over many of the issues of recall. We run many “Pop-up communities” where we get a group of people to do specific tasks and then feed their recordings back into groups. Sometimes it can even mean asking client stakeholders to change stimulus material during the research. It is an iterative process and enables us to overcome many issues with standard recall questions. Although people can recall what or where they bought, they are less able to recall their feelings or need-states at the precise moment of purchase. Being able to record photos and videos makes it much easier for consumers to relive the event and thus more accurately recall it.

This methodology can be particularly beneficial in disruptive NPD or with the sharing of new concept ideas. In the past we just gave people a quick review of different concepts and then asked them to rate them. The winners often got chosen simply because they were easier to explain and understand in a short time. By spending more time to explain the concept and integrate it into the consumers’ current world, we are much more likely to get an accurate representation of their likely behaviour

DenyseIs this the only area in which you see mobile research making a significant contribution to the quality of data collection?

Bob: Many Behavioural segmentations rely on recall; what someone bought, used, their need-state or how they felt at the time of purchase or usage. In the future, technology will enable us to record much of this without asking. We will still need to ask the “why”, how they felt at the time, but the “what” will be accurately recorded for us. In fact the “what” will likely be even more accurate than the “what” we currently get based on recall alone. We will be able to record the “disruptive moments” to help explain especially purchasing, which can be based on many things we still don’t understand.

We all make irrational purchases and when asked, post-rationalise them afterwards. By better recording what happened, consumers can later be alerted to behaviours they may not even be aware of, and are thus freed from having to recall an event, to be able to discuss what they were thinking at the time. I believe this will have a more immediate business benefit than say neural networks, which is still in its infancy, at least for business use. It still has to overcome several barriers, such as the complexity of the brain’s reactions; the intrusiveness of the material needed to record brainwaves and of course the cost.

Such is progress however that it is likely that the future -will bring a combined methodology using mobile and brain measurement, but we have a long way to go before both provide a practical and affordable solution for the business world. Technologies such as GPS -already enable us to map shopper journeys so we –don’t have to ask and greater connectivity together with faster mobile phone processor speeds are increasingly making this tool more practical for everyday use -. -So,for instance we will  be able to record what a shopper is doing and link their brain patterns to the act, but the barriers concerning the intrusiveness of the gear and the interpretation of what is recorded will remain. Until we understand what really triggers emotions and behaviours, interpretation will at best be approximate.

Denyse: You just mentioned GPS and neural networks; do you see other uses of technology, such as integrating GPS, video, audio etc.?

Bob: We use an APP that people download and then record their answers which are uploaded when they are next connected via WiFi. This is highly appreciated, as it avoids the issues of battery life, signal quality and excessive consumer connection charges. We include short questionnaires, but we also ask them to photograph and record what they are doing, or we can play them a film and get their immediate reactions to it. Working in this way also eliminates a lot of anxiety that people may have about being constantly followed, like “Big Brother” watching their every move. Although a few may not like adding another APP to their smart phone, they don’t realise that for instance iPhone users are already being followed and their data being continuously sent back to Apple.

Denyse: Bob, your company is called FreshMinds and you head up research solutions, so you obviously have some new ideas to share. What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for the industry in the coming years, as we all become more mobile?

Bob: Consumers have changed; in the past we could rely on people accepting brand messages, a one way conversation. Now they want a dialogue and to openly express their opinions to the world. Consumers today are aware, knowledgeable, empowered and ready to share their ideas if approached in a relevant way. Unfortunately our industry still gathers information as it did 20, 30 or more years ago. We are not working in a way that is relevant to how consumers buy and use products today. Research needs to dialogue with consumers and must become far more inclusive than in the past. For instance the use of the NPS measurement tool is being challenged today, since consumers can be more influenced by two negative comments left on a travel site than the ten positive ones.

In addition more businesses are finding ways to directly collect information themselves, so the industry must identify itself not (just) as data collectors, but as expert analysts with a deep understanding of how to interpret consumer behaviour. We are also challenged by the fact that if a company finds an unhappy consumer, it can immediately contact them. We will need to address this conundrum of confidentiality if we are to stay in business. Currently, we can only say what is wrong and what needs to be done, we cannot sort out the problem for our clients in the same way they themselves can. Therefore we need to become more assertive in giving recommendations; we have to be able to put the action into research, rather than just the passive data collection bit.

Denyse: Bob, you don’t sound very optimistic for our industry. What’s your solution?

Bob: I believe we need to stop holding onto areas of our work we can no longer uniquely provide such as data gathering, and use our expertise to defend our profession. What we should do is look for ways to analyse things to a greater extent and provide actionable results. Technology has made us all more mobile; it is time for the Market Research Industry to get moving too. People who are not in our industry have trouble making the distinction between good and bad research. Our job used to be to collect data, make sure it was collected accurately and then just hand it over. Now we need to be able to integrate the data we collect with multiple pre-existing data streams (e.g. social media, sales, loyalty, usage, etc), analyse it cost-effectively, generate timely insights and help embed the learning across our client organisations.

Denyse: Thanks for your time Bob it has been a real pleasure listening to all your ideas. I know we are all now looking forward to hearing more from you on mobile research in January.

Denyse Drummond-Dunn is the President & Chief C3C Catalyst of C3Centricity. After more than 30 years watching & listening to consumers in over 100 countries for some of the best marketing organisations, (Gillette, Philip Morris, Nestlé), today she runs her own consultancy. She will be attending MRMW Asia on January 29th to 31st in Kuala Lumpur and is looking forward to seeing you there.