October 2009

Have you heard about the Facebook Gross National Happiness Index?  On Monday, October 12, the Times ran an article (by Noam Cohen) reporting some of the findings based on analysis of two years’ worth of Facebook status updates from 100 million users in the U.S.  The index was created by Adam D. I. Kramer, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Oregon, and is based on counts of positive and negative words in status updates.  According to the article, classification of words as positive or negative is based on the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count dictionary.

Among the researchers’ conclusions:  we’re happier on Fridays than on Mondays; holidays also make Americans happy.  The premature death of a celebrity may make us sad.  According to a post by Mr. Kramer on the Facebook blog, the two “saddest” days–days with the highest numbers of negative words–were the days on which actor Heath Ledger and pop icon Michael Jackson died.  Mr. Kramer points out that, coincidentally, Mr. Ledger died on the day of the Asian stock market crash, which might have contributed to the degree of negativity.

We’re going to see a lot more of this kind of thing as researchers delve into the rich trove of information generated by users of search engines and web-enabled social networking.  The happiness index, based as it is on simple frequency analysis of words, is the tip of the iceberg.  At the moment, “social media”–I’m not exactly sure what that label means–is getting incredible attention in the marketing and marketing research community.  The question that has yet to be posed, let alone answered, is, “what exactly do we learn from all this information?”



In the October 4, 2009 edition of The NY Times “Sunday Business” section (“It’s Brand New, but Make It Sound Familiar“), Mary Tripsas, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, writes about the challenge of finding the right consumer reference points for innovations.  In a nutshell, consumers have a hard time figuring out innovation unless they can compare it to something that is more familiar.  One example offered in the column  comes from Arthur Markham, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin:  the less than blockbuster introduction of the Segway motorized personal transport device.  In a similar vein, Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational) argues that comparison is a fundamental process in consumer decision making.

Estimating demand for really new innovations may just be the most difficult endeavor in market research.  A decade ago Robert Veryzer, Jr. identified six factors that make it difficult for consumers to react to innovation (“Key Factors Affecting Customer Evaluation of Discontinuous New Products,” Journal of Product Innovation Management, 1998, 15, 136-150) .  The first factor listed is “lack of familiarity with the product, with the way in which the product is used, or with the underlying technology.”  And one way consumers try to understand a discontinuous product is by comparison with things they already know about.

By and large, I think marketers and market researchers underestimate the fundamental role of comparison and contrast in the way we make judgments about products.  As Professor Tripsas makes clear, humans (consumers included) rely on categorization to understand the world.  Looking at a new, discontinuous product, we’re likely to ask, is it this or that? (more…)

The Psychology of Survey Response by Roger Tourangeau, Lance J. Rips, and Kenneth Raskinski (Cambridge University Press, 2000) will change the way you think about the “craft” of survey design.  While there are other, well-regarded books on survey question construction (such as Asking Questions by Norman Bradburn, Seymour Sudman, and Brian Wansink, Jossey-Bass, 2004) and tons of individual research papers and articles on various aspects of survey design, measurement scales, question construction and the like, this is the first book I’ve encountered that presents a practical conceptual framework for understanding the cognitive processes that produce a response to a given question.  Moreover, the authors review a lot of relevant research to support their framework.