Spotlight On: The RENO Team

With the mission of renovating our current methodologies and internal practices to reach their fullest potential, our Renovation Team (affectionately termed the RENO911 team) is always on the lookout for additional tools that can complement our in-context focus.

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RENO Team (L-R): Emma Connolly, Quinten McGruder, Tyler McGruder, Adam Kneeland

One of these exciting new add-ons is eye tracking. Our moderators remain the best in the business with regard to eliciting honest and insightful feedback from respondents. However, for shopper insights in particular, subconscious thoughts and behaviors are harder to get at because shoppers rarely think about how they shop; consumers may say they have not seen certain signage, but their eyes may tell a different story. Now, with the eye tracking capabilities made possible through a partnership with Tobii, we are able to obtain a tangible read on exactly what respondents see and focus in on.

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While this technology is not new to the industry, the trade-offs presented by available devices have, thus far, not been a worthy additional to our methodology arsenal. Only now, with the right technology and right partner, has eye tracking shown to have the capability to be an appropriate add-on to our solutions. Paired with our in-store methodologies, eye tracking can be a great addition, especially to studies focusing on packaging and signage. This way of seeing through the eyes of the respondents gives definitive backing to insights and a measurable method of analysis. Like Project Director Quinten McGruder says, “It’s a natural extension of our existing methods.”

In addition to researching and developing our eye tracking offering, RENO911 has also looked into other new and innovative additions to the field, such as text analytics, and has been devoting time to building relationships with retailers across the country. REAL Insight was born when founder Jim Cahill walked into a Cub Foods and asked to conduct research there. “We’ve been building on Jim’s legacy of maintaining good store relationships,” says Emma Connolly, Associate Project Director. These ongoing connections are imperative to the in-context research in which we excel and, therefore, we prioritize their maintenance and growth. RENO911 keeps our skills, practices, and methods sharp and current. Where will they lead us next?

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Small Business

In a land where bigger is generally equated to better, we at REAL Insight dare to take an alternate perspective: Innovative is better. Flexible is better. Faster is better. Affordable is better. Personable is better. These qualities are all part of the value-added offerings our small business brings to the table.

With 12 full time employees and an extended team of about 20, we embrace our small business status, but also challenge the title—we are small in size, but not in capability or impact. We are undaunted by large projects or tight timelines. Customization isn’t a dirty word; we prefer it. We do not shy away from hard-to-find consumers or needed nuance. We enjoy keeping current on innovation, both human and technological, and have a repertoire of tools, ideas, and methodologies that stand up to any task. We are ready to pivot as projects develop and inevitable obstacles crop up. We also enjoy being able to fit the whole team at a restaurant table to celebrate birthdays, sunny days, or happy hour 🙂

This week we celebrate all those businesses that are fast and flexible, innovative and imaginative, creative and capable, and also have small employee numbers. Happy Small Business Week!

Spring into Action

Spring in Minneapolis is quite the spectacle. Sounds such as birds chirping and creeks babbling return to the daily soundtrack; Target Field begins its thaw from the cold as opening day approaches; a collective sigh is heard as winter jackets are packed back in closets and snow boots are tucked away in favor of galoshes or, for some brave souls, sandals. And with spring, comes the green.

Here at REAL Insight, we have a particular preference for the color green and find spring to be a wonderful time to celebrate those warm feelings. With Earth Day on its way, our internal green team teamed up with our volunteer team to celebrate the planet and show our support for the continued “greening” of our community and world.

Earth Day is a great reason to think both globally and locally: what can be done in our neighborhoods, and how can we fit in with the bigger picture? To address both of these perspectives, we decided on supporting both a global initiative and a local need:

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One Tree Planted is a non-profit organization focused on planting trees throughout the world. For every dollar donated, they plant a tree in one of their six global locations, selected based on the needs for reforestation in those regions. We decided to start a collection for One Tree Planted in the office and offered to have our volunteer/green team match all donations, which resulted in REAL Insight planting 100 trees throughout the world!

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Locally, we decided to make a donation to support Arbor Day efforts and plant trees here in our fair city through giving to People for Parks, a local non-profit with the goal of enhancing and promoting Minneapolis parks. Giving back to the city that gives us so much is an important goal of out volunteer team and green team.

April showers bring May flowers, and nurture trees throughout our backyards and the world. Happy Earth Day and Happy Arbor Day from all of us!

-Mary Dolan O’Brien, Project Coordinator

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Richard Simmons and the Power of Empathy

Historically, the name Richard Simmons did little more for me than conjure up Day-Glo tinted memories of spandex and pep. While familiar with him and his fitness empire, he was not a person on which I spent much time dwelling in the past decade.

That was until recently, when I joined thousands of others in being utterly captivated by “Missing Richard Simmons,” a podcast detailing the abrupt departure of Mr. Simmons from the public eye, and one man’s quest to find out why.

15simmons1-master768In the past, when Richard Simmons would come up in conversation or the news, my two most prominent thoughts were:

  1. His success must be tied to the fanfare surrounding him and his unique way of carrying himself.
  2. Who would choose him as a fitness guide when there are other, more credible-seeming guides out there and available?

What I failed to see is something that the podcast has illustrated for all those listening: his success (which is much larger than I was aware of) lies in his authentic empathy for people. He saw people through non-judgmental and caring eyes and wanted to hear their stories and help them.

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It actually reminded me a lot of my dad, the founder of our company, and what made him so effective at the 75,000+ intercept interviews he did over his career. He, like Richard, had a way of immediately instilling a feeling of worth and importance in anyone with whom he interacted. This authentic and believable foundation encouraged and inspired conversations, and continues to this day. Respect and empathy are rooted in the DNA of REAL Insight, and grow with us as we continue to expand and innovate.

Brands can be authentically empathetic too, but it requires brand teams to be open, vulnerable, and receptive to interactions in environments that may seem uncomfortable or places that may not be major cities. It’s not enough to just do research. Teams need to truly see and listen to people, which is harder to do when those people are different from themselves.  This is where true empathy needs to be formed, and this is where we can help.

We have developed a solution that makes this process much easier: a REAL Intuition Journey. This is a multi-touchpoint process that will help your team transition from hearing to listening and from looking to seeing. Empathy has power; let us help you harness it.

-Luke Cahill

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Large Companies Driving Disruptive Innovation?

Ford Motor Company recently announced a 5-year plan to develop and begin mass-producing fully autonomous cars.   As someone who has a 25 mile commute each way to work, enjoys a happy hour every now and then, and has 4 future teenage “drivers,” it’s easy to immediately think about the benefits of self-driving cars.  Ride-sharing through the likes of Uber has already started to transform the automobile transportation industry, and technology players like Google are trying to enter the autonomous vehicle market.

The auto industry, especially American manufacturers, developed a reputation for being traditionalist and stuck in their ways.  That tendency obviously caught up with them a decade ago when fuel efficiency and quality concerns caused them to lose significant shares, and they have been working hard to regain and maintain their edge ever since.  It’s easy to see how new autonomous technology—the lessening of our love-affair with cars, seeing them more as a Point A to Point B commodity, etc.—would be seen as a threat to future profits, but instead of doubling up on lobbyist spending,  Ford has decided to learn from past mistakes and embrace the shifting landscape by evolving to stay both relevant and profitable.

Their commitment to mass produce vehicles for ride-sharing purpose is fascinating because it not only shows a commitment to implementing innovative technology, but also to an innovative transportation system.  By investing in developing both fronts, Ford acknowledges how autonomous cars will likely lead to fewer cars being needed (and therefore being sold), but still affirms that transportation will continue to be needed, and that there are other ways to profit within the transportation industry.  Remember when IBM used to make computers?  Now, they are heavy investors in this next phase of innovation; by doubling their Silicon Valley presence and continued investments, they are acquiring the right pieces to be on the front-end of an evolving auto industry.

The food industry is another place where large companies are evolving to stay relevant and embracing disruptive innovation.  General Mills’ 301 team has gotten a fair amount of press for its evolution into an investment company that—rather than being an internal innovation company—is finding small innovative start-ups, giving them much needed capital, and sharing its expertise in distribution, production, research, etc. to help them leverage the passion and innovation that got them started and help them succeed in the areas where they struggle most.

The key ingredient to both of these examples if for key decision makers at large companies having the …let’s call it Fordsight…to see what their industry is evolving in a disruptive way, and then having the humility to accept the change and make whatever adjustments are needed to stay relevant and profitable.

-Luke Cahill, Managing Principal

Healthy Versus “Healthy”

The New York Times recently released an article detailing the differences between what nutritionists think is healthy versus what the general public believes is better for you. While a difference between the public and nutritionists is to be expected, NYT discovered quite a disparity in ranking within each group as well. Certain foods obviously ranked high (e.g. kale, chicken, oranges) and others were solidly in the low camp (e.g. chocolate chip cookies, white bread). The most interesting, however, are the foods that divided the public and nutritionists and just how those perceptions came to be.

Overwhelmingly, granola bars were the food that most divided the public from expert opinions, with 71% of consumer ranking them as “healthy” versus 28% of nutritionists. Granola, too, fell into a similar disparity, with 80% of the public ranking it has healthy versus 47% of experts. On the opposite side, 89% of nutritionists ranked quinoa as “healthy” while only 58% of the public agreed. So, where do these divisions come from?

On the quinoa side, it is probably safe to say that as an upcoming “superfood,” there is a large percent of the population that is still unfamiliar with the product (or stopped trying after being unable to figure out how to pronounce it).  Granola and granola bars, however, have been a “healthy” snack that has been popular for years and continues to find itself a staple in many American pantries.  Being that what is “healthy” and what is not flip-flops on nearly a daily basis, it is safe to say that marketing plays a considerable role in these public perceptions.  And by what we’re seeing here with public opinion, it’s working.

As a market research firm, REAL Insight is well versed in what cues “healthy” to a consumer and what will lead them to think the opposite. There is certain language and positioning that paints products in the perfect light that assures shoppers feel that what they are purchasing is good for them. Granola bars are a good example of a product that highlights the right qualities to appeal to its target audience.

While one could criticize the health halo that granola has granted itself, there is a second, perhaps more important takeaway from this survey. There are healthy and nutritional items that the public can purchase and consume. However, without cues as to how these items will benefit the consumer or assuage a need, their chances of going into the cart are slim. Where a box of granola bars will have claims leaping off the package about its benefits, a bulk bag of quinoa never will. Though as of today, only 58% of the public see quinoa as healthy, time (and marketing) will tell how that perception may change.

-Sarah Morrison, Communication Strategist & Mary Dolan O’Brien, Project Coordinator

Out of Focus

When the field of market research comes up, a common image that materializes in the mind is that of the traditional focus group: padded chairs clustered around a gray table set with uniform place settings of pens and paper, a white board easel off to the side, and a large two-way mirror leering omnisciently from the back. If you were to question the ability of such an environment to produce authentic and honest insight, you would not be alone.

Neil Stevenson lays out the case against continued use of this methodology, starting with its history and ending with one proposed replacement. Stevenson’s point is that the focus group either needs to be reinvented or left in the past. Initially ran by skilled psychologists contracted out by large companies, the insights produced from these focus groups were fairly large leaps based on emotional conversations that aimed to understand respondents at a deep level. Companies trusted these insights and built marketing and advertising campaigns around the interpretation of the psychologist.

Today, the format is much different and the types of questions asked in focus group tend to be direct, non-emotion driven (e.g. which design do you prefer?), with the hopes of eliciting verbatim quotes that can be used as evidence to prove the direction down which a company should go. However, this type of questioning can commonly lead respondents to either say what they think the moderator wants to hear, say something just to respond, or say something influenced by the group around them. If one person in the group is particularly vocal, it is not uncommon to have the rest of the group swayed along.

As a company, we at REAL Insight align with Stevenson’s argument against focus groups. Our advocacy has always fallen on the side of in context research due to its ability to elicit more honest and authentic feedback. Innovation options we bring to the table include our Brewed Insight sessions and REAL Immersion journeys. We have also created a design thinking team focused on growing and adapting our current methodologies. Innovation is a necessary component to successful research. As the history of the focus group shows, no methodology is guaranteed to remain relevant forever. REAL Insight knows this and makes a point to keep our methods current and relevant through innovation and adaptation. Focus groups are a comfort level for some companies, and stepping outside of that comfort zone can be daunting and nerve wracking, but general wisdom also says that’s where the magic happens. Or in this case, that’s where authentic, actionable insights can grow and flourish.

-Jennifer Carrasco, Associate Project Director

(New)trition Labels

Though perhaps unconventional, one way a curious observer might monitor modern food trends is by studying the evolution of the nutrition information label on packaged foods. First mandated by the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, the latest chapter for the familiar black and white box will take effect by July 2018. Stalwarts against change might initially bristle at the news, but besides the new labels being yet another reminder that certainty can only be found in death and taxes, such a decree from the FDA merits further examination.

So what is going to change? Well, a few different things. To begin, the calorie count will be featured more prominently and in larger font. Though calorie count in itself is not indicative of a product’s health, for those who are calorie-conscious, the large font will be easy to see. Also, the serving size will change to better reflect what a normal person actually consumes in a serving. For example, ice cream will change from ½ cup to 2/3 a cup and soda will change from an 8 ounce serving size to a 12 ounce.  Which makes sense, because who stops drinking a can of soda 2/3 of the way through?

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U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The idea behind both of these changes is that the nutrition label should be there to help consumers manage their consumption and make it easier to interpret the numbers on the package. Doing mental math when a child is screaming and the ice cream is melting, and getting out of the store in ten minutes to make it home in time to get dinner started can be taxing. The new labels hope to streamline the process.

Further, the requirements for which vitamins need to be included on the package have changed, swapping out vitamins A and C for D and potassium. Back in the 90’s, Americans were lacking in A and C, but recent studies on food consumption have pointed out that deficiencies lay in other categories these days. The reasoning here is that people generally consume enough A and C, but need to be more mindful of their D and potassium consumption. Calcium and iron will stay put.

Of the proposed changes, the most debated is the requirement for specifically calling out added sugars from the total sugar amount. This decision stirred up some rumbling among food companies who argued that sugar is sugar and therefore, calling out added sugars is redundant. However, health advocates applaud the change, standing firm in the assertion that added sugars (as opposed to naturally occurring sugars) are a hidden danger to the health of the population.

The inclusion of added sugars took off in the anti-fat trends of the recent past (think anything “lite”), and have hung around even as fat has gained somewhat of a recovery in the public eye. Now, health professionals hope to draw attention to the empty calories associated with added sugars, which, unlike naturally occurring sugars that usually come along with vitamins and nutrients, offer no nutritional benefit whatsoever. Dairy products have naturally occurring sugars, so do fruits; pop does not. The FDA’s new rules aim at giving customers more knowledge about what they are consuming so that they can make the best choices for them and their loved ones.

The goal of the change in nutrition labels is to help consumers make good decisions based on current diet and consumption patterns. Time will tell if the intended impact comes to fruition, but the desire of the FDA to use data of current consumption as a basis for reformatting shows a desire to adapt regulations as the general public evolves. Time will also tell if the new labels have an effect on not only health, but purchase behavior. Will new nutrition labels affect FOP call-outs? Will they force a change in product formulation? Will they have an impact at all? Good questions. Time (and good research) will tell.

-Sierra Dooley, Research Associate and Mary Dolan O’Brien, Project Coordinator

Is the Road to Success Paved with Social Activism?

A few months ago, we looked at an article that analyzed the autonomous relationship that Unilever had with its acquisition, Ben & Jerry’s. The team at the ice cream giant was adamant that they continue with their longtime commitment to social causes and hoped to influence their corporate overlord in the future. And it seems that it may have worked.

Does Selling Out Mean What it Used To?

At a market research conference, Unilver CEO Paul Polman stressed the importance to social issues and stated that, “by prioritizing social issues, business success will follow.” With the increasing presence of Millennials in the workplace, companies are starting to take note of the values of these employees. This burgeoning workforce wants to work for an employer they can believe in; they want a workplace that values social activism and volunteering; they want to work for a  company that gives back to the consumers it profits from. It’s a stark contrast to the traditional view of profiting for the shareholder who in turn might return their profits to the greater community.

So what, then, will be the future decisions of employers? And, if they decide to prioritize social responsibility as company value, how do they determine and come to agree on a shared social mission? At REAL Insight, we have organized a number of team volunteering events at local charities, and plan to continue doing so each quarter. However, with a team of less than twenty, coming together on such an endeavor is a relatively easy prospect for us. In larger companies with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of employees, how realistic is it to align on and execute a social mission?

One way to activate a large group of people is to come together as an industry. Last year, a group of researchers created the Marketing Research Education Foundation in order to bring this sense of activism to the marketing research industry. MREF strives to pool the community’s resources to educate children worldwide. Though still relatively new, they hope to expand their reach with grants and service opportunities for researchers to come together and work towards a common good.

Polman asserts that supporting social issues leads to—rather than is the result of—business success, but for traditionally structured corporations, that may be a hard pill to swallow. At the end of the day, the end goal will always be profit, but as younger and younger faces enter the workforce, shifting priorities may alter the best way to get there.

-Quinten McGruder, Director of Business Operations