A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words


A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  October 15, 2012

Let’s play a game. It’s called free association. I’ll throw out a word, and then you say the first thing that word brings to mind.


(Insert your response here.)

OK, good job. I couldn’t hear your response, of course, but I’m going to guess it was possibly “birthday,” or maybe “wedding.” But perhaps the word cake instead elicited thoughts of your childhood and a snack your mother packed in your lunch or gave you when you had a tough day, so you said “yummy” or “comfort.”

In any case, for many of us, cake is an emotional foodstuff that brings to mind specific associations, feelings or memories.

At least that’s what Steve August, CEO at Revelation, told me.

“Cake communicates emotion in a way a ham sandwich doesn’t communicate emotion,” he said.

(As humorist Dave Barry might say at this point, I am not making this up.)

Steve’s job is to figure out what associations people make with which products, why, and how so advertising agencies and major brands can use that and other information to better appeal to their customers and prospects.

For example, one of Revelation’s customers is in the business of selling cookies, donuts and cake. But the latter wasn’t exactly selling like hotcakes, and the client wanted to understand why. So the company tapped Revelation to do a study on a week in the life of people and their cake. Revelation got to work developing the test concepts, creating a survey test group, and identifying the products to be evaluated.

Test participants, which included moms and teens, were provided with three cake products to try and comment upon.

But rather than asking survey participants to log their experiences in a diary, Revelation had them use video and photographs to capture their “cake moments”.

Steve said there was one particular picture that stood out. It showed a green lunchbox on a stovetop, and atop the box were heart-shaped snack cakes the woman had ready for her husband’s lunch. Steve said this woman uses the mini cakes not just to fill a tummy, but to let her hubby known she loves him.

For Revelation and its client, this picture beautifully captured a key moment that might’ve been lost had the woman instead been part of a study at a research facility or logged her experience through writing. The point, Steve said, is that key moments happen when researchers are not there. And mobile devices, many of which are now outfitted with cameras, can help researchers and their survey participants capture those important moments in detail and before people forget the experience or feeling.

That led Revelation to create a mobile app for Android and iPhone (News - Alert) devices that can be used to create and enable research participants to log their experiences, track other research activities, and easily share photos and videos with researchers. That allows Revelation and its clients to look at the customer experience not only in terms of behavior and emotions, but also in terms of context or environment, he said.

Video has also become a key tool for FocusVision and its clients, Tim Lynch, director of marketing at the qualitative research firm, tells me. FocusVision has mailed thousands of Logitech (News - Alert) webcams to research participants so that rather than coming into a facility, they can be part of a focus group from the comfort of their own homes or workplaces via videoconferencing.

While FocusVision has partners that operate a total of 1,050 facilities around the world at which it conducts research, enabling people to offer their opinions from wherever they are is especially useful when those individuals are folks like mothers, who have children to tend to, or doctors, who may find it difficult to break away from their commitments with patients, Lynch says.

“They’re just really hard populations to get, and that’s where video streaming comes in,” says Lynch.

While video has become an important research tool in the last decade, just in the last year have we seen a ramp up in its adoption and usage for this application, says Lynch, adding that FocusVision last year conducted 7,000 research projects involving webcams, and that this year it reached that mark by June.

Pharmaceutical companies have led the way in the use of webcams for research, first connecting with physicians, then connecting with patients, he says. That research typically has to do with doctors’ prescribing habits, responses to advertising and messaging, and more.

Big brands are also using webcams to connect with people at home, and to look into their homes, he says. For example, one Canadian company targeting consumers who are environmentally and health conscious was surprised what it saw when it asked test participants to open their kitchen cabinets, Lynch says, explaining that even these folks commonly had sugary cereal and such in the larder.

Edited by Braden Becker
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