Market Research & Internet Research Basics and Tall Tales, Four Marketing Research Miniature Case Studies
Gary Polson is a mechanical engineer and market researcher. He has written a comprehensive document: "Market Research, Industry Research, Business Research - How to Learn About an Industry or a Specific Company" Although it is written from a U.S. perspective, it includes a international section with solid information as well. This document may be used as a market research guideline for companies anywhere. (Gary Polson is also the author of "Web Site Review Procedure," as referred to at I. Strategy Audit and Website Audit at Services.)
A seperate issue is people doing market research about your firm. It is on page one of a Google search, but for whom? What one sees as the first page changes, depending on the viewers' search habits, what country he is in, and more. The Google search results are determined by at least 57 variables, key among them the location of the host server. Internet search results are always skewed, adjusted (censored), made "politically correct just for you."
Section I explores Goolge search bias further.
Section II explains some counter-measures, so that you can get, if not neutral, at least less biased, search results. Section III ties the "click" research of parts I and II into traditional "bricks" (secondary and primary) research.
I. Selective Search Results
The Orwellian Internet?
In George Orwell's dystopian* classic Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)1 society was characterized by perpetual war (= terrorism), pervasive surveillance (= Google and Facebook user data collection) and public mind control (= CNN and YouTube). The Ministry of Truth controlled the information flow to the citizens. It manipulated what people saw, heard, spoke and thought. The Ministry´s activities are described in terms of Big Brother, doublethink, thought crime, Newspeak, and Memory hole. (The modern Ministers of Truth in the U.S. are known as "Senators," "Congressmen," and "spin doctors.")
The trend towards personalizing the Internet by Google and Facebook shows some disturbing Orwellian symptons. In a short, powerful speech at TED2 (Feb. 2011) about filter bubbles the journalist Eli Pariser presents two striking examples. He is an open-minded political progressive, also interested in the conservative take on issues. He does NOT want to receive only information that is comfortable for him, that fits his pre-conceived views. The examples he gave were:
1) Overnight Facebook eliminated all the links he had to his conservative friends. The Facebook algorithm had noted that he made contact more often with his liberal friends and took action.
2) Eli Pariser had two friends with very different backgrounds Google "Egypt." One received a "normal" response, i.e. showing the breaking news there about political unrest. The other received NO such information at all, but only historical and travel information.
The audience, many of them software professionals from Google and Facebook, gave him a standing ovation, a sobering confirmation of his concerns.
In April, 1887 Lord Acton wrote: "All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."3 (The footnote explains the historical context, which was the uproar created by the declaration of papal infallability in 1870.) The Internet is about disseminating information. Information is power. Absolute information, a road Google and its brethern are happily pursuing, leads to absolute power . . .
* Dystopia is the antonym of utopia. Webster´s III defines it as "an imaginary place which is depressingly wretched and whose people lead a fearful existance." The adjective is used in the software world, for instance in floating point notation, to describe an inconvenient superscript. (Floating point is a computer realization of scientific notation; think "exponents." The speed of floating point operations is measured in FLOPS; think "complicated.")
II. Market Research on the Internet
Determining the right questions to help find uncontested market space is the sine qua non of market research. One begins with secondary research. Before one relegates libraries to “old school,” one should realize that a good number of librarians nowadays are very well versed in Internet searching. They are not only happy to share their expertise with you, but may well have access to commercial databases that your company or you do not happen to subscribe to.
For less biased results one needs to disable the automatic "personalized web search" algorithms of the search engines. Actually doing that with, say, Google, is tricky even for the professional. However there are some shortcuts well within the reach of laymen. These include:
1) Add "&pws=0" to your Google entry. Apparently this method does not work in 2011 as well as it did in 2010, but is still worth trying.
2) Firefox: go to Tools and select "Start Private Browsing." To return to your normal "personalized" searches, one just goes back to Tools and disables it.
3) On the browser Chrome select "New Incognito Window." One can also do this by hitting Control-Shift-N.
4) Enter www.google.com/ncr to disable the automatic country redirect function. (NCR stands for "no country redirect.") Before you do this, look up (google) how to turn your country redirect back on for your local searches.
5) Go to https://ssl.scroogle.org/ and enter your search term in the rectangular box. Google may still "optimize" your search on the basis of your country host server, but at least your personal cookies will be out of the equation.
6) Use the search engine www.DuckDuckGo.com. If you want to google search with it, you can enter the prefix !g in front of the search term.
To bring oneself up-to-date on modern search techniques, one can start with a book, the catchy title of which is a little misleading. In fact, it undersells the book and I, for one, would shorten the title to Web Search Secrets instead of the longer Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling, Web Search Secrets, by Sam Richter, 2009. Regardless, the book received rave reviews at amazon.com for showing how best to use search engines and a variety of databases to obtain all kinds of business information. The orientation of his training and his website (www.takethecold.com) is towards sales, fair enough. However the techniques are excellent for anyone seeking information.
Just one example of a powerful on-line tool is www.quancast.com It is based on tracking visits to websites, and provides extensive information about all kinds of different “audiences.” Unfortunately, the Internet is a moving target. For instance, a technique that worked well a year ago to look up someone’s E-Mail address no longer functions. The new method (April, 2011) is to type into Google search: + email + “@domain.com” It does not work nearly as well as the old method did, and the commercial sites which offer the service of providing E-mail addresses are pricy.
When you peruse the four "tall tale" market research cases which follow, consider what the impact of the social media such as Facebook and Twitter on each case would be today. Then reflect on their impact on the market research your own company, and specifically your sales force, is conducting.
III. Four Market Research Mini-Cases
The four mini-cases that follow on the subpages are tall tales in the spirit of the Jonathan Swift Coaching Certificate at FAQs and John Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox, Babe.6 (Babe was seven axe handles wide between the eyes, ate 50 bales of hay for a snack, and drank rivers dry.) The tales are about old school market research, about making direct contacts.
The common denominator to them is, naturally, a Qoogol corollary. Asking a lot of questions may very well not move you forward. You can be pumping your legs vigorously in water. Whether that is in a red ocean or a blue one does not matter much if you are kicking vertically, i.e. “standing up” in the water. You will just be expending a lot of energy treading water. To move with any purpose, you have to change position to a horizontal one in order to swim forward.
Success with the Qoogol approach of asking questions is not merely a function of quantity, asking ever more questions. One can get lost in a sea of questions. Rather success depends on quality, on asking good, penetrating questions. To get into position properly in order to move forward entails asking the right persons the right questions, - “the rights.” Finding "the rights" is a mixture of art and science. There is, in fact, a coaching direction, the Nescience method, which maintains it is all art, no science. This horse-and-buggy method is pilloried at FAQs, general questions, #6 about coaching methodoligies in its Appendix I. Therefore it will not be flogged further here.
Archimedes (c. 287 BC - c. 212 BC) stated in his Doric speech of Syracuse: "Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world." The first corollary is: With the right information and the "viral lever" of the Internet, one can indeed "move the commercial world." That having been said, "right" is a difficult concept to realize.
First, information distorts as it is passed from one person to another, from one medium to another, from one language, culture, country to another.
Second, information errors, repeated often enough, become "received wisdom," and, as such, impossible to challenge in the public mind. Received wisdom is also fiercely defended by academia. The Wright Brothers were almost certainly not the first to fly a powered airplane in 1903. They were preceded by Gustav Weißkopf, perhaps already in 1899, and (documented) on August 14th, 1901.4
Apple was not the first in 1976 with the personal computer either. It was preceded by the MITS Altair 8800 in 1974.
Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz did not invent the car in 1887, any more than the American claimant, Stevens-Duryea in 1901 did. In fact, there was a car race covering 200 miles in 1875 in Wisconsin. The winning car (of two entries) averaged 6 miles an hour, winning a prize of $5,000, equivalent to well over $100,000 today. A good 200 years before that a working toy car had been made in China.5
1 George Orwell (1903 - 1950), né Eric Author Blaire, wrote two classics, Animal Farm and 1984, both among the world's leading bestsellers, with estimated sales of 1984 at 25 million. After completing Eaton (England's most famous boarding school), he joined the Indian Imperial Police. At the age of 23 he was an Assistant District Superintendent responsible for the security of 200,000 people. At 24 he resigned to become a journalist and author. He lived for almost two years in Paris before settling in England. There he remained until his death, except for his participation in the Spanish Civil War. (Wikipedia, 2011)
2 The first TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference was held in California in 1984, and since 1990 it has been an annual event. It is run by the non-profit Sapling Foundation. Speakers are given 18 minutes to present "ideas worth spreading." Among them have been Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Al Gore, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and a slew of Nobel Prize winners. The events are held in Long Beach and Palm Springs in the U.S., as well as in Europe and Asia. Over 700 speeches are available for viewing on-line. These have been seen more than 500 million times (June, 2011).
3 The background to the aphorism about power by Lord Acton (1834 - 1902): On November 18th, 1302 Pope Boniface VIII (Benedetto Gaetani, 1235 - 1302) issued the papal bull Unam Sanctam. In it he took an extreme position about papal spiritual authority. This clever political positioning was picked up by the First Vatican Council of 1870.
The dogma was strengthened: "The Pope is preserved from even the possibility of error" when he maintains that a proclamation is made with devine revelation. The First Vatican Council's doctrine of papal infallibility caused an uproar, especially in England and Germany. It led to a splitting off (the Old Catholic Church) of a part of the Roman Catholic Church. With this doctrine and its consequences on the Catholic Church in mind, Lord Action wrote his famous statement about power in a letter in April, 1887.
4 The case of Gustav Weißkopf is mentioned in Luc Bürgin's book about scientific errors, Irrtümer der Wissenschaft. My father was an antiquarian bookdealer who specialized in aviation history. He sceptically read a privately printed book about Gustav Weißkopf. After further research and discussing the book's evidence with some fellow authorities, he concluded that Gustav Weißkopf almost certainly had preceded the Wright Brothers.
The Wikipedia article (2011) is negative about Weißkopf, but within it is a story that I feel carries real weight. The Harvard economics professor John B. Crane published an article disputing the Weißkopf claim in National Aeronautic Magazine in 1936. John Crane was able to interview people personally familiar with Weißkopf. After extensive further research he changed his mind. In 1949 he published an article in Air Affairs supporting the Weißkopf claim.
Two books are noteworthy. The first is by Stella Randolph, The Story of Gustave Whitehead, Before the Wrights Flew, 1966. The second is by Stella Randolph and William O#Dwyer (of the U.S. Air Force), History by Contract, 1978. The second book describes in detail the contract the Smithsonian Institute signed about the Wright flights, prohibiting it from giving credit to any earlier flights.
5 The Flemish Jesuit, Ferdinand Verbiest (1623 - 1688) was a mathematician, astronomer and lingquist who wrote 30 books. He also invented a self-propelled vehicle as an amusement for Emperor Kangxi (1654 - 1722), one of China's greatest emperors. This toy car does not denigrate the German contribution to automobiles. The modern internal combustion car is rightly credited to German inventiveness.
Besides the numerous technological advances made by Gottlieb Daimler (1834 - 1900) and Karz Benz (1844 - 1929), three other Germans are especially noteworthy. Nickolaus Otto (1832 - 1891) invented the four-stroke internal combustion engine for gasoline in 1867. Rudolf Diesel (1858 - 1913), born in Paris, France, initially worked on refridgeration and later, in 1893, invented the four-stroke diesel engine. The future of the automobile may well lie in the hydrogen fuel cell. Its principle was discovered in 1838 by Christian Friedrich Schönbein (1799 - 1868).
From 1875 on, cars developed quickly. By 1906 race cars could move at modern speeds. The Stanley Steamer Racecar set a record with 205.5 km/h in Daytona that year. At that time there were about 75 car manufacturers in the U.S. These were put out of business by Ford's Model T (1908 - 1927).
6 The origins of John Paul Bunyan go back to the Papineau Rebellion of 1837 in French Canada, near Quebec. Among the Canadian loggers who fought the British was a bearded giant, Paul Bonjean. Folklore about a giant lumberjack became the basis for an advertising campaign created by William Laughead in 1916. He was a copywriter who had worked in lumber camps. This background helped him to get hired to write a campaign for the Red River Lumber Company in California. The company followed the 1916 campaign with a booklet The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan as Told in the Camps of the White Pine Lumbermen for Generations During Which Time the Loggers Have Pioneered the Way Through the North Woods from Maine to California Collected from Various Sources and Embellished for Publication, 1922. This booklet is the basis for all the tall tales about him thereafter. (Wikipedia and www.mythfolklore.net, 2011)