August 06, 2002
How To

Guerrilla Market Research Expert Mitch McCasland Tells How You Can Conduct Quick (and Cheap) Research

SUMMARY: No summary available.
"Get creative and go undercover!" After 25 five years in market research, Mitch McCasland, Founding Partner and Director of Brand Inquiry Partners is an expert at quick, creative and cost-effective guerilla tactics.

We asked him about the best guerilla ways to uncover consumer desires and position brands to fulfill them.

-> Traditional versus guerilla research

McCasland does not knock traditional research. "Surveys and focus groups are great research methodologies with a lot of history and integrity, but there are a lot of innovative, off the beaten path ways to conduct research."

"Going straight to the people, talking to them and, most importantly listening, removes that unnecessary internal dialogue that goes on in companies," he adds. "The whole point of research testing and brand initiatives is to remove that subjective debate by introducing the voice of the people that count. The people who are going to take out their purse or wallet and take their money out and exchange it for what you happen to be selling."

As you might guess, guerilla research is the art of conducting research more quickly and cost-effectively.

"Traditionally, a large marketing firm might conduct a survey, buy data lists, or use a focus group to learn more about the consumer," says McCasland. "But these tactics aren't just expensive, they require a lot of lead time." Today, brand improvement and gaining the competitive edge advantage means "getting an instant response, guerilla research just happens to be extremely cost effective as well."

-> Conducting guerilla research in the real world

Creativity is key. "Creativity can save a lot of time and money."

McCasland shared some of the more imaginative and resourceful examples of market research with us but reminded us often, that he does not suggest doing anything illegal.

1. Landing the Road Warrior

A former client who sold a product related to frequent business flyers was interested in finding out information on people who travel for a living. He needed consumer feedback right away.

"I suggested that they go out to the airport with a bunch of $20 dollar bills and wait outside a gate for passengers to come off their flight." When people come out, politely ask them to answer a few questions and offer them some incentive (the $20). By targeting the first people off the flight you know you've reached the first class passengers.

2. How to reach an audience of teens who would rather listen to music than answer some stupid survey

Teenagers have to be met on their turf. "Go stake out a local music store with gift certificates in hand. With the incentive in hand they'll be much more willing to ask a series of questions and you'll be able to learn about their relationship to brand."

3. How to study how people interact with favorite retail brands

If you want to study a store brand you can do your own "secret shopper audit." "Pose as a shopper, or go in and discretely take notes, maybe even bring a disposable camera. The worst thing that could happen is security could confiscate the camera and you'll be out nine bucks."

Another incentive that McCasland has found highly effective is to offer scratch off lottery tickets to other shoppers in exchange for answering a few questions as they move through the store.

Key tactics to remember:

a. Sensitivity. "You've got to go in under the radar, you have to be very subtle and look at the environment you're in," says McCasland.

Guerilla research is about connecting with the consumer and hearing their opinion, not alienating or attacking them (only guerilla warfare involves sniper attacks). "The name has more to do with creativity, an opportunity to do things that are unusual in their approach."

b. Go to where the action is. McCasland likens guerilla research to other fields of study like ethnography, where study by observation is key to understanding the subject. If you observe consumers in their natural habitat, you will learn more than you imagined.

-> Taking guerilla research online

McCasland offers three tips for online research:

1. Are you surveying the right people?

McCasland notes, "There are a lot of services that provide research and different tactics but what matters in the end is whether or not you considered your respondents. Are these people who happened upon your survey or your site, or have you attracted them there with an incentive?"

Prior to putting up an online survey, determine exactly what demographic you need answers from, and then make sure you drive only those people to your survey. (Or include an opening question that slices your perfect prospects out from the pack.)

2. $1 million isn't always the best incentive.

"In the end the best way to get a good response rate is to guarantee compensation or chance to win something." However, you don't have to run an expensive sweepstakes. McCasland cites a study a few years ago showing that consumers surveyed give a median response time of 12 minutes when marketers offer a chance to win $1000 or a $15 guarantee.

Know your audience well if you are going to put a value on the time they will spend answering your survey questions. "I liken the time person spends on line --in particular for a survey-- to a value-exchange. You have to know what they are interested in."

How do you figure out the minimum value for the response you want to get?

Sometimes it is not about the money. "Cash isn't always the most appropriate," McCasland says. "In fact it probably motivates less well that something that is specifically targeted to them, something more relevant to them. Something that not everybody else has works very well with teens and techies."

Giving away MP3 players and palm pilots for example is effective. "The perceived value of the prize is greater than the nominal value, especially with hand held technologies that seem to be worth a lot more than they are."

When one client in the real estate industry wanted to give away a million dollars, McCasland chuckled and offered a more creative solution cost 75% less and got a better response rate:

"I said why not make the compensation one fourth of that million dollars and make the prize "A Whole New Life." By offering the winner a brand new house, a new car, a briefcase full of cash, a makeover, a trip to the spa, we created an incentive that was more applicable and a more creative incentive that, again was a product if higher perceived value. "

3. Beware of Time Zone Bias

"One thing you really have to be careful with on the web is that it is an instant medium." To survey a national audience, one might send an email out and post the survey at 6 A.M. and wait for the first 200 respondents.

"Guess what?" McCasland asks quizzically. "All of your 200 respondents came from the eastern half of the US. You've excluded entire audiences and you have considerations about regional attitudes and biases that you have to include."

One way to ensure inclusion of a broad representative audience McCasland suggests would be to monitor the response or to elicit certain audiences.

"If I knew the population distribution in the US then I would only take a certain amount of respondents from each area, or I would sent simple text-base emails to a certain audience and offer them an incentive."

-> Biggest guerilla research mistake

Do not conduct focus groups internally.

McCasland warns, "It is incredibly risky to ask your own employees for what they think you ought to do, and it narrows your research immensely."

"Your focus group has to represent the full breadth of people you're going after especially if you are communicating to a multi-ethnic, multinational audience in regions spread across tens of thousands of miles. Not every corporate culture is representative of the population at large."

Saving money by using your own people will cost you money in the long run.

Mitch McCasland

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