Saturday, April 29, 2006

Top Ten sources

How are you doing, blogosphere? The weather for the past two days has been impeccable here in southeastern Pennsylvania, and it looks like it will continue for a couple of days more. Simply perfect late Spring weather.

As if that weren't enough to lift my spirits, my blog received the very flattering distinction of being recognized as a "Top 10" marketing research blog by the editors at "Top Ten Sources". You can check it out yourself, or just look in my righthand sidebar for the list.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Exxon challenge

For the past few months, the news media has been tearing up ExxonMobil, at first for the enormous profits the company has been reaping of late. Then, the crowning touch came with the news story that showed Exxon's retiring CEO Lee R. Raymond as having been compensated to the tune of $144,573 for every DAY that he led the company (from 1993 through 2005). Even more scandalous was the fact that in 2005 alone, because of a lump-sum pension handout and rising stock price, the amount was much more -- over $1.1 million PER DAY.

During a period when every oil company is making money hand over fist, does any one individual really deserve to be compensated over a million dollars a day? Do we think that Exxon would have gone bankrupt these past few years, were it not for the management expertise of Mr. Raymond? To me, I'm not sure anyone really needs more than $25,000 a day to live a decent life as a corporate CEO operating a company that essentially extracts liquid from the ground, refines it, and sells it on the commodity and retail markets. Go ahead, brand me a Communist, or worse, a Liberal.

That got me to thinking. If Exxon's CEO could have scraped by on $25,000 a day, that would have freed up nearly $120,000 a day for the company. They could have run one hell of a consumer promotion with that budget. They could have called it the "Exxon Challenge". Here's how it might have worked:

First, Exxon would conduct an internal database query of their ExxonMobil SpeedPass Card holders. To minimize anomalies of small samples, they would filter out any ZIP codes with fewer than 5,000 total households (according to the U.S. Census). Exxon would then calculate the current market penetration (household incidence) of their SpeedPass product, within every major ZIP code.

Then the "Exxon Challenge" would begin. For the first 3 months of the year, the company would promote a "membership drive", encouraging households in the largest ZIP codes to apply for and obtain an ExxonMobil SpeedPass Card. At the end of 3 months, the ten ZIP codes that most substantially increased their market share of Cards would be named "Finalist" ZIP codes. (The Fox Broadcasting Company or the Game Show Network could get involved at this point, with a "reality" series.)

For the next 6 months, those ten ZIP codes' SpeedPass Card holders would be encouraged to buy gasoline exclusively at Exxon and Mobil stations, using their new Cards. They would be encouraged to buy, buy, buy! Use as much gas as possible!

Then, Exxon would analyze the customer traffic volume across the ten Finalist ZIP codes to determine the one winning ZIP code that bought the most gas during the 6-month buying frenzy. The grand prize? Every SpeedPass Card holder residing in that winning ZIP code would get $5,000 deposited into their SpeedPass account! All paid for by Mr. Raymond's pay cut.

This promotion would elevate to a new plateau all of the things we Americans love about oil and gas companies -- greed, excessive depletion of limited resources, consumer debt, pollution, and (potentially) fraud. What's not to like about the "Exxon Challenge"?

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Monday, April 10, 2006

That's one messed-up scale

Ahem. Getting back to marketing research, now.

I received an e-mail at work last week, inviting me to participate in the "Research Industry Trends 2006" survey. It was being sponsored in part by the NY-AMA (American Marketing Association), publishers of the GreenBook Marketing Research Directory, with which obviously I am familiar. Addtional sponsors were DialTek (vaguely familiar), Pioneer Marketing Research (not familiar), and the mysteriously named Rockhopper Research.

I almost always participate in surveys directed at our own research industry. I like to voice my opinions (obviously), and I'm always hopeful that a top-line summary of the research might be made available to me as "compensation". I think our marketing research industry could use some more objective research about what makes the most successful companies hum. What are clients looking for? Is the industry truly polarizing to the extremes of crude data collection (order takers) offset by consultative strategic partners, leaving those in the middle on tenuous ground?

But then I get a survey like this, and I'm just disappointed. Take a look at the following graphic (click it to open in a larger view), a screen-shot of one question in the study that made me shake my head:

What was bothersome about this question? Let me count the ways!

First, the respondent is supposed to have a strong enough idea about the growth potential in each of ten different global regions to be able to form an opinion about each. You're not allowed to "Don't Know", because that's just not an option.

Second, what if I anticipate that there will be a decline in one of the areas? Again, that's just not an option. I guess the survey authors felt that there couldn't possibly be a retrenchment in research anywhere in the world, even the Middle East. I'm sure they'll just be pouring out the marketing research studies over in Baghdad throughout 2006.

Third, look at the five-point scale. At the top end, a "5" reports "Very High Growth" (nevermind that we seem to be forgetting about "potential" any more). At the bottom end, there is "1" anticipating "Little to No Growth". So, what would you expect in the middle, at point "3"? The survey says "No Change". WHAT?! If you're going to have "No Change" in the middle of the scale, then 4 and 5 should be positive change, but 2 and 1 need to be negative change. They're not! It's all growth, growth, growth.

Fourth, I have to marvel that, when a question is this patently awful in design and execution, how did it POSSIBLY pass through the quality checking process of (presumably) all FOUR sponsoring research entities? Were they all asleep at the wheel, or was this the disasterous result of a project by committee, where this rating scale was the queer result of some kind of compromise among disagreeing sponsors?

It just looks bad for them, either way.

That's my criticism. How about making it constructive? What should they do now? In my opinion, the study should be pulled from the web and sent through a more thorough review process. Additional completes then can be solicited on a second, better version. Heck, with the right mea culpa, those who already completed the survey could be invited to take another crack at it.

I would always rather have 50 completed interviews on a well-designed question than 150 completed interviews on one that is seriously flawed. I guess I'll notify GreenBook, DialTek, Pioneer, and Rockhopper about this now.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Strumpette's decline

Ever since the "Strumpette" got off the ground, blog readers far and wide have discovered that "she" is probably a "he", and that the site is less of a "naked journal" of the PR industry and more of a low-brow attack on Edelman Public Relations. I think intelligent readers want objective commentary from real-life people who aren't hiding behind a fake persona.

Me, I learned not to wrestle a pig. You both end up dirty, but the pig enjoys it.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so this will be my parting shot:

Goodbye, Strumpette.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Garfield's too big

I recently came across an amazing list. While this might not have much to do with marketing research, it does underscore how incredible the power of "the masses" can be -- often trumping the power of the intellectual elite.

The list was generated by the Online Computer Library Center. They're the folks who, along with their member libraries, cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat -— an electronic catalog of books and periodicals (not to mention a few stone tablets and MP3s). If you've ever spent time searching for library books online, chances are you were using a WorldCat database.

Anyway, about the list... It's the 2005 edition of the Top 1000 works that are owned by 53,000 libraries in 96 countries. They started with nearly 495,000 WorldCat items, then counted how many libraries had how many copies of each item. The top five listings shouldn't be a surprise to anyone:

1. The Bible
2. U.S. Census
3. Mother Goose
4. Divine Comedy
5. The Odyssey

The next five should present no surprise, either: The Iliad, Huck Finn, Lord of the Rings, Hamlet, and Alice in Wonderland.

Furthermore, I have no beef with numbers 11 through 14 -- Don Quixote, Beowulf, The Koran, and The Night Before Christmas.

Number Fifteen, however, I had issues with. Garfield.

That's right. Garfield. The orange cat.

In terms of library dollars allocated to assure the institution had a copy available, Garfield beat out Tom Sawyer, Romeo & Juliet, Treasure Island, The Scarlet Letter, and Last of the Mohicans. In fact, there are over two times more copies of Garfield books in the OCLC libraries than Last of the Mohicans!

If you love books, or if you love lists, you'll probably enjoy browsing the complete list.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What is "fair use"?

Sometimes I get into these "comment battles" with other bloggers with whom I may disagree. A recent such dialogue I had was with a new voice in the blogosphere, someone specifically dealing with "breaking news about PR and marketing communications". Her blog is certainly irreverant, which is borne out even in her background photo, shown here:

Now, I'm not going to say who this blogger is. I'm not going to give you her web site. I'm not even going to attribute this photo to her or her photographer (if this photo even depicts "her" -- there's extensive speculation about the real identity of this person/woman/nom de plume/Brian Connolly/Furthermore character). I know full well that I am not the creator of the above image. Am I violating a copyright? I think so.

The sassy lady blogger in question, however, says otherwise. Fair use, she would claim.

I'm trying to make a point. The point being, she copied an image from The Economist online magazine and used it in a recent blog post (without any permission, or even attribution). Then when three different people leaving comments questioned her about whether she had the "rights" to use the drawing in the manner she did, she replied in each case that she did. She's not an attorney. She didn't have the time to explain why she was right and the field was wrong. She only cited that there is a "four factor fair use test", and that this image use was covered by such a test, and that there should be no further discussion on the matter.

That's what frosted me the most. A subsequent comment of mine was notably "not approved" by the saucy blogger. She deemed that no more discussion on the topic of copyright needed to make its way to her blog comment form. Visitors, purportedly, would only be allowed to comment on the topic of the original post, not the underlying legal/ethical question of copyright. I think that's a pretty lousy policy for someone to have on their blog -- especially one that claims to be a "naked journal".

Before I open a big can of worms, I've checked out the images that I have ever posted in my own blog, and I sincerely believe that all of the photos are either: used with permission, used for the purpose of parody, or being re-used as the product of a public relations campaign where the original authors would be delighted to see more exposure for their product. I hope.

If you really, really must know the identity of my opponent, you can probably figure it out in my Technorati tags, below.

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