Category Archives: Marketing Research

Lies, Inundation and Being Sold: Part 1, The Great Dupe

This is the first in a series of posts discussing several challenges that marketers face in reaching their customers and how to overcome those challenges. This iteration deals with the inability of consumers to trust advertising. Part two deals with the prevalence of advertising. Future articles present solutions to help marketers overcome the challenges described. 


A couple of weeks ago, my brother, a successful endodontist (root canals), heard an ad on the radio for a local used-car dealership. In the ad, the dealership touted that they want to buy your used car and would pay virtually any car owner $3,000 more than the car was worth. Upon visiting the web site, there are large ads , headlines and even a video stating that even if you don’t buy one of their cars, they’ll buy yours. 

As my brother is still hanging onto the car he had in college in the late 90s, he figured that the $3,000 bonus was even more than the car was worth so why not give the dealership a try? Needless to say, the salesman’s rampant backpedaling over the $3,000 deal obviated to my brother what we all suspected—the ad was merely an attempt to dupe potential customers into coming into their dealership. They had no interest in purchasing his well-used vehicle.

Of course, my brother is neither the first nor the last to experience deceptive practices in advertising- and marketing-related activities. It’s no surprise that a recent study by YouGov found that 50% of Americans don’t believe what they see, hear or read in advertisements. It’s also no surprise that said study listed advertisements for cars as the forth least trustworthy category of ads. Furthermore, nearly two thirds (58%) said that there should be stronger requirements for proving claims

The responsibility for this lack of trust in traditional advertising rest squarely on the shoulders of the decades worth of advertisers, marketers and organizations that have resorted to mindless gimmicks similar to the one that duped my brother. It creates a serious challenge for those of us who try to market legitimate products and services using above-board strategies and tactics. It also plays a significant role in a consumer’s nearly involuntary reaction to sales-related messaging, where at best it is simply ignored or at worst resented.

We call on marketers and advertisers everywhere to give up the lies and gimmicks and develop something of real, salient value to their customers.

The next post in this series will explore the prevalence of advertising and how that further challenges the marketing landscape.



The Tao of Virtual Focus Groups

Focus groups have been a mainstay of market research for a few decades now. In practice they are qualitative rather than quantitative events. This means that the conclusions you might draw from a small group of eight to ten people might be stunning, insightful, and impressive. But the results are not necessarily representative of your target market at large.

Why then would anyone want to consider insights from people who might not be representative of your market? Because there is something compelling about having a dialogue with real consumers. Focus groups facilitate a degree of feedback that is simply not possible with standard surveys. And while the results may not be representative of the thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs of the market at large, it’s possible that your focus group can be right on the money. How can you increase the chances of your focus group being right on the money?

Make it a Virtual Focus Group.

Having managed and moderated over 800 Virtual Focus Groups in the last six years, let me 1) outline the process, and 2) highlight the value of our unique approach. The Tao of Virtual Focus Groups, if you will.

  1. A quick definition: a Virtual Focus Group (or VFG) is a two-hour event in which participants sit at a “virtual table.” All they need is a telephone and internet connection to participate. There are two clear advantages to a VFG over a live focus group. First, for what a live focus group will typically cost, you can conduct two and sometimes three VFGs. This means that you are hearing from 16 – 24 people in your target market rather than eight; this can significantly increase your confidence level in the conclusions you derive from this activity. Second, a live focus group limits you to a specific geographic area–not always a bad thing–but a VFG allows you to bring people from across several time zones and zip codes together.
  2. Our VFGs are “high touch” events. Typically we interact with the participants 8 – 12 times before and after the event. This is notable because in today’s socially networked world many of your VFG participants can actually become vocal champions for your product or service. Most people are pleased to be part of something BIG. If you manage the relationship properly not only do you get valuable insights from your participants, but you also create advocates and stakeholders.
  3. Every VFG begins with a qualifying screener. Think of this as a mini survey. Our goal is to find the most qualified participants from a larger population within your target market. We’ve learned that a properly designed screener can serve a dual function: 1) It helps you identify qualified participants, and 2) It produces valuable quantitative feedback from your market. Indeed, if you screen a few hundred people, why not construct the screening tool so that you capture actionable market intelligence as well.
  4. Many VFGs include a “pre-event activity.” This is an online activity that typically takes 15 – 30 minutes. We ask VFG participants to complete such an activity prior to the scheduled VFG. On one hand, it allows us to confirm their real interest and commitment to participate in the VFG, and on the other hand it allows us to present information or content that we want them to experience before the VFG. This can range from completing an actual product review to previewing a new concept. Important to note here is that we can present visuals, audio, video in the pre-event activity. It’s an effective way to gather additional insights from the participant as we get to know them better as people.
  5. Every VFG is professionally moderated and driven by a Discussion Guide (DG) that is carefully developed around the needs of each client. The DG is an interactive tool that presents a topic to be discussed, but it requires each participant to grade, rate or quantify something before we engage in discussion.This means that each participant sees a question on their computer screen, and they respond online before anyone vocalizes their thoughts. This approach has two advantages. First, it greatly reduces the possibility that one member of the VFG can influence the response of others because everyone has to “lock in” a response before we discuss the topic. Keep in mind that human beings can be influenced by others. It might be an especially articulate participant who sounds smart; others at the table might be inclined to agree with this person because they want to come across as smart as well. It happens. Likewise, we’ve seen situations where a participant is inclined to disagree with another participant because of factors such as geography, surname, or  the tonal quality of one’s voice. If you had a really bad dating experience in college with a guy from Boston whose baritone voice still lingers in your long-term memory bank, you might have a subconscious reaction to someone at the VFG table who reminds you of that person. It happens. The DG we develop for the VFG mitigates this possibility. The second advantage is that by having VFG participants provide ratings to certain questions we move the event more toward a quantitative activity. It’s really the best of both worlds. We measure reactions and then we discuss.
  6. The format of the VFG allows us to present a live demo of something–anything from software to a walkthrough of a website. We can also present video, audio or visuals. This means our clients can do everything from introducing a new concept for a product or service to presenting potential advertising and promotional approaches they’d like to get reactions to before launching to a wider audience.
  7. VFGs are recorded and we give you the option of having transcripts of the entire session.
  8. Most of our VFGs include a brief follow-up activity with the participants. This might be a brief survey with a few follow-up questions. It could be a brief interview in an effort to further build a relationship with the participant.
  9. All VFGs include a “Snap-Shot Report” produced by one of our analysts who has carefully reviewed the audio recording, transcript, and responses to the Discussion Guide. This is, in essence, an Executive Summary that details the conclusions we can draw from the VFG (or series of VFGs). It also provides a “Next Steps” overview that suggests potential strategies for the client to consider, including a plan for staying connected to those VFG participants who are most likely to be viral promoters of your product or service.
  10. With the Snap-Shot report in hand, we like to engage our clients in a brief 60-minute review of the results. Often times this meeting includes several stakeholders from our client company. It’s almost like having an internal Virtual Focus Group about the Virtual Focus Group. Often this meeting yields additional insights that become a key part of the client’s overall business strategy.


There you have it, our ten-point Tao of Virtual Focus Groups. Yet another way that research and relationships combine to produce meaningful results.

36.4B Reasons to Like eCommerce

According to an article by Ann Zimmerman of, people bought $36.4B of stuff from online retailers this holiday season (between October 31and December 23).

This represents an increase of 15.4% over the same period last year. Online retail sales now account for about 10% of all retail sales – excluding gas and automobile purchases. 1 in 10 dollars made in retail this holiday season was made over the internet via ecommerce enabled websites.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is that the sector that experienced the largest growth was specialty clothing retailers –up 25% over last year. This is interesting because most of us like to try stuff out – especially things we need to wear.

What does this say about our perceptions of the buying experience? Continue reading

The End of Retail (as we know it)

On my smart phone I have two apps called TheFind and Red Laser. They allow me to effortlessly comparison shop wherever I happen to have 3G. This means I can comparison shop within the walls of any brick-and-mortar retail establishment. I have become what some have coined an “empowered shopper.”

In a article by Miguel Bustillo and Ann Zimmerman state that on Black Friday of 2009 empowered shoppers represented .1% of all shoppers that patronized brick-and-mortar retail stores. On Black Friday 2010 empowered shoppers represented 5.6% according to data gathered by Coremetrics.

How worried you are about this trend is dependent upon what type of business you are. If you are a provider of unique or vital services or utilities this trend may be interesting, but not alarming. If you are a seller of things online, this problem is not really new to you as online retailers have always been susceptible to instantaneous price comparison. But, for brick-and-mortar retailers this trend may be alarming. To some it may, like so many other technologies, represent the end of retail as we know it.

This trend may be alarming, but it does not represent the end of brick-and-mortar retail – just the end of it as we know it. These apps like so many other technologies will not ruin retail. The internet has not ruined newspapers or magazines (although it has certainly strained things) and Facebook has not completely ruined face-to-face interaction with your friends.

Here are some suggestions, from the marketing professional perspective, we have for our friends in brick-and-mortar retail: Continue reading

Make it Personal, Make it Profitable

If your business is like most businesses, you enjoy making a profit. One idea for making your business more profitable is by creating a more personal experience for your customers.

This is actually more than just a novel idea. There are several research projects that back  it up. A study by Garrity and Degelman, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, indicated that restaurant servers who introduced themselves by name and then personalized the experience for their patrons received an average tip of 23% compared to 15% for those that made no effort at all. That’s a difference of 53%.

You may not own a restaurant, but the concept of personalizing the customer’s experience still applies and can make your business more profitable. Here are a few suggestions on how you can better personalize things for your customers: Continue reading

Marketing-philes Unite

Serfwerks is committed to changing the way businesses market themselves and how professional marketers do marketing. Over the past few years we have done this by providing our clients with outsourced marketing services, market research and marketing consulting services. By doing these things we have helped our clients recognize significantly high returns on their marketing investments.

Over the past few months we have been packing our proprietary processes, experience, knowledge, and skills into training courses that can be taken in-person or over the internet. These courses have been designed by a team of marketing and instructional design professionals with dozens of years of experience. Our objective is to create a training product that bridges the gap between knowing and doing — helping our training clients realize a high return on their training investment.

Now we reckon we are on the right path, but we’d like to gather some market data to help us fine tune things before releasing a live version of our courses later this year.

The link provided below will take you to a “5-min or less” survey, please help us help you by filling it out. We’ll make it worth your while by producing the best marketing training you’ll ever encounter on the planet earth and entering your name in a raffle for a $50 iTunes gift card.