Everything we need to know we actually learned as children from Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. Through his books, we've all learned about the importance of family and honoring the infinite variety of life. And of course, all of us, once upon a time, have read from his celebrated 1960 classic "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."
The good doctor's story of a boy and a girl and their incredible array of strange and wonderful friends can teach us so much more... especially in understanding a representative sample universe in market research.
Just as Dr. Seuss shows us the need for all kinds of fish to coexist in an "ocean ecosystem," so too in research do we need to incorporate all types of people in a "sample ecosystem." We need to break out of the confines of the traditional panel box and recruit people from social networks, reward programs and mobile outreach. By fishing where the fish are, we will create a representative population that reflects back not just to arithmetic, but more importantly, to knowledge.
My 76 year-old father, an enthusiastic adventurer who travels all over the world, shared with me a personal story. He told me that on a recent trip to Europe, he filled out an airline customer satisfaction survey. He took a lot of time answering these questions because he really wanted to share his opinions. But, when he came to the age question, he classified himself as a 47 year old. When I asked him why he did that, he explained, "If I put my actual age, they'd put me in the category of 'travels once a year to see my grandkids... and that would not really tell my story!"
Sure, we'd have caught this discrepancy online and disqualified my ageless father as a "valid" respondent. But we would have lost the opportunity to add his life experiences to our results.
In another classic, "Green Eggs and Ham," an unnamed character refuses to try the odd-colored dish despite enormous pressure from his tormentor, Sam-I-Am. But then Sam promises our hero something in return – to leave him alone.
So our stubborn protagonist finally eats the green eggs and ham. And he loves it. In fact, he vows to eat it everywhere and with everybody. He's become a green-eggs-and-ham brand evangelist. Understanding what the protagonist valued – something lifestyle profiling can reveal – was what sealed this Seussian deal.
The truth is that consumers have no problem sharing lots of personal information... IF they get value back in return. That's the underlying premise of Facebook and other social networks; I'll give you data about my lifestyle choices and personal preferences in exchange for the ability to establish relationships with like-minded people.
Even in a digital age in which our toolboxes overflow with ways to capture consumer attitudes and behavior at the most granular level, we must move beyond demographic profiling (bucketing respondents by age, sex and income). This no longer captures the essence of our consumers.
That may sound simple. Then again, so does a Dr. Seuss book. But sometimes the most profound learning springs from the simplest ideas.
Shelley Zalis has over 25 years of experience working in traditional marketing and advertising research companies. In early 2000, Shelley Zalis founded OTX, which in nine years has grown to become a top 18 global research agency, with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, and London. In January 2010, OTX was acquired by Ipsos. Shelley now leads the Ipsos Global Innovation Center. Shelley can be reached at Shelley@otxresearch.com.
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