AIMRI Conference Rome 3/4 April 2014

By popular demand, AIMRI returned to Hotel Imperiale in Rome for its conference on 3-4 April 2014. We were last at this popular venue in 2010, and this great city always retains its allure. The topic this time was “Italy is different – and so is everywhere else!” The conference was held over two days to provide in-depth exploration of factors that influence the delivery of quality international research.

“My face feels like the moon!” After welcoming the delegates on Day 1, AIMRI Chairman Tony Dent opened the conference with this intriguing title. He described his origins as a statistician in B2B market research and the quality control issues involved. Learnings from experience include the need to interview the right person in the organisation, i.e. the person who knows the answers – and to understand relative statistical probability. He pointed to the importance of differences in national mentality: Italians tend to exaggerate purchase intentions while UK respondents tend to understate and Germans tend to be more accurate.

And the moon? Tony explained this example of differing cultural attitudes to qualitative probing. Iranian males were surveyed on their feelings towards shaving. One replied: “My face feels like the moon when I shave.” What did he mean? In that culture, the answer could not be explored further. The respondent’s reaction to probing was simply: “But I’ve just told you”!

Tony’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion on the respective merits and challenges of online and F2F sampling and whether the growth of online MR together with pressures on cost has eroded standards across all forms of data collection. The point was made that online technology has moved on with the result that data quality has improved, but there is still evidence of fraudulent respondents, etc. In some Asian markets F2F is still the best, most robust and cheapest method of data collection.

Richard Sheldrake, Managing Director of Perspective Research Services, followed with a paper on data protection in Germany and the impact of changes in EU privacy regulations. Germany has led the way in the promotion of data protection and privacy legislation – with the result that German regulations are much stronger than in other EU countries.

European MR bodies such as Esomar and EFAMRO are working to prevent Germany’s stricter data protection rules from being adopted across Europe. The aim is to preserve the special nature of MR vs. direct marketing, e.g. to ensure that cold calling remains legal for telephone MR. Different EU countries operate different rules for telephone sample management, e.g. “do not call” lists. Current laws in Germany require positive “opt in” for marketing activities, but fortunately MR is exempted from this. In the UK, the key legal issue is protecting consumers from so-called “sugging” (selling under the guise of market research).

Grey areas still exist, e.g. regarding pulse checking of RDD sample from abroad. Discussion after Richard’s paper also focused on the handling of online sample, where double or even triple opt-in may be recommended.

For the next paper, “The Transatlantic View”, a special internet link was set up enabling Peter Milla (privacy consultant at Peter Milla Consulting, USA) to present his talk remotely online. Peter spoke authoritatively about privacy and data security regulations in the US and their implications. Privacy and respondent confidentiality are a core concept in MR and are included in industry codes and guidelines. But in the pre-online era this was thought of primarily as the protection of survey data. Now the digital era has raised new concerns about privacy of communications, etc. There is a symbiotic relationship between privacy and data security, Peter said – they are not synonymous: “security” is about confidentiality and integrity of data; “privacy” is about preventing misuse of data. Companies are required to enact data security policies, but security is a means to an end which is data privacy.

There are different laws and regulations in different jurisdictions. In the EU, privacy is seen as a right that is equivalent to other freedoms; in the US it is seen as a commodity – it is regulated by the courts and claimed invasions of privacy must demonstrate tangible harm. The US lacks a comprehensive regulatory framework on privacy – some regulations are Federal, some at state level, some by the FTC or other agencies.

Peter described the various forms of US regulation impacting on data privacy. Some have a direct impact on MR, e.g. the Federal “Do Not Call” registry which currently applies to telemarketing but some states are pushing for it to be extended to MR. “Safe Harbor” rules for the handling of personal data were developed by the US Department of Commerce in cooperation with the EU Commission and are enforced by the FTC. “Safe Harbor” is a way for US companies to avoid legal challenges in the EU. It impacts on the collection and transfer of data on respondents in the EU by US firms.

He concluded with a summary of the factors that MR companies must consider with regard to data security. Perhaps inevitably, the subsequent discussion centred around the NSA and its activities. Peter commented that the problem with the NSA is its wild collection of data on the basis of claiming to protect national security. But he added: “At least there’s one part of the government that actually listens to you!”

The first day concluded with an open discussion on data privacy and its impact on MR, followed in the evening by a most enjoyable Gala Dinner at the Ristorante Moma, just a few minutes walk from the conference venue.

Day 2 opened with a brilliant keynote speech by Cristiana Valenti from MPS Marketing Research, Italy, on “Surviving the Euro Crisis – The Italian Way”, a panoramic view of how recent economic difficulties have impacted Italian society. She presented data generated from a multi-client study designed by MPS to track and interpret how the economic crisis was influencing consumers. The study is conducted 2x per year based on 8 focus groups plus 3,000 CATI interviews. It has generated a wealth of information which is analysed by MPS based on two qualitative scales:

Self-efficacy scale: Omnipotence / Positivism / Realism / Survival / Impotence

Strategy scale: Static / Rigid / Flexible / Erratic / Chaotic

With the euro crisis, Italian households have experienced severe reductions in income, leading over time to a sharp drop in perceptions of self-efficacy, i.e. a reduced perception of one’s own ability to master events, and ultimately to rage and frustration. Households have experienced erosion of savings; growing uncertainty about the future raises the need for defensive strategies and making sacrifices: product categories previously seen as essential have become “dispensable”. In 2012, Cristiana said, people were still “excited” about the challenge of coping with the crisis, but now the mood has turned into frustration and exhaustion.

The crisis has led to a deterioration in relations between the citizen and institutions of all kinds, with a loss of trust in the ability of politicians and managers to manage, e.g. in public transport, health, education, public safety, and even the media. Citizens feel abandoned and politicians are viewed as careerist and incompetent.

But, Cristiana concluded, Italians are optimists. They are able to see sacrifices as coupled with benefits, e.g. instead of going by car I use my bike and keep fit; I feel proud of fixing defects in the home by myself, mending my own clothes, etc. Expectations for the future are relatively positive: “It can’t get any worse!”

The conference continued with a paper on multi-country research by Federica Sacchi and Stephanie Echeverria from SIS International Research: “Local Methods Provide a Global Perspective”. The two research executives described their experience in running global projects. All countries are different, culturally and socially, and methodologies may vary greatly from country to country.

For example, Europe takes a more formal approach to organising projects than the US where the main priority is quick response. In Asia it is very important to have all the details of a project settled before any action is taken. Africa by contrast is very communicative and flexible in trying to overcome field obstacles, while Latin America is more laid back; everything takes longer and there is no “go-getter” approach.

Using a case study of an automotive project in 8 countries, Federica and Stephanie showed the need to consider local differences while finding ways to “standardise” the approach to multi-country projects. It is essential to ensure that quality standards are maintained and not sacrificed, but there are many different routes to achieving the standard. The presentation was followed by an interesting discussion about the special features of working with clients from different countries, e.g. Korea.

After lunch, Anumita Sharma, Managing Director of The Third Eye (UK and India), spoke on “Technoculturally Global / Local?” Aided by data from Anuja Sharma, Chief Diversity Officer at TechMahindra, India, Anumita discussed how culture and demographics impact technology adoption and therefore research.

Anumita analysed country differences based on a range of cultural dimensions: power distance vs. equality, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty, pragmatic vs. normative, and indulgence vs. restraint. She discussed these in relation to the UK, India, China, Russia, Brazil and Germany, finding that e.g. Russia and China have very high power distance (nothing happens unless the man at the top gives the okay) and high collectivism, while the UK has high individualism, masculinity and indulgence but low power distance.

India and Germany share a low level of indulgence – i.e. a feeling that restraint is virtuous and indulging oneself is wrong – while Brazil has high indulgence: they like to enjoy life, have fun and spend money.

Anumita asked, what is the impact of technology on power distance? This led to a discussion on technology and its impact on MR. In the UK, more research is being done online and technology is very advanced. In India, technological development is less pervasive but a small percentage of the population are very tech savvy. Currently, surveys among the mass of the Indian population can only be done F2F. Only the educated and wealthy have access to the internet and social media, but mobile phones are also becoming widespread. Anumita concluded by showing a video about Dharavi, a slum in Mumbai, and local people’s efforts to present the vitality and creativity of their community.

In the final paper, Roy Patel, Managing Director of Cubic Index Ltd, UK, asked “Will the World Play the Game?” The concept of “gamification”, Roy argued, has swept across the marketing industry and is also of interest for MR. The game is on!

A game, he said, is defined as any activity that we do for fun. It is based on a set of rules, the exercise of skill and/or effort, and reward. Technically, all MR surveys are games, just rather dull ones! How, Roy asked, can one “gamify” surveys to make questionnaires more fun? Why not make questions into games?

He presented an exciting new approach to gathering consumer data via truly engaging games, e.g. prediction exercises. He showed us a mobile app called Pryz Manor developed by Upfront Analytics, in which MR content is embedded seamlessly into the gaming experience. Given that a high % of Smartphone owners play games on their device, high user retention rates can be achieved. The app can be compared to social media mining: a large volume of data is generated, but with directed instead of unstructured dialogue. The app applies a strict code of practice: no marketing is involved and respondent anonymity is assured.



John Attfield


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