Category Archives: Conferences

MRSS Asia Research Conference: The Brave New Digital World

On 7 August I attended the MRSS Asia Research Conference 2014 at Fairmont Hotel. Despite the strapline – Brave New Digital World – invoking sci-fi dystopia, it was instead a day filled with inspiring and thought provoking sharing from 12 veterans of the market research industry.

The topics centered around changes in consumer behaviour with the rise in smart devices. The world is overtaken by digital media, albeit not overnight, but with evident footprints that are too deep to overlook.

President of MRSS, Joan Koh, kicked-off the conference with a strong message for brand leaders and researchers. She said that 70% of brands are still relying on traditional media, but smart devices are multiplying and shaping consumers’ lives today. Moving forward, it will be an exciting time learning and catching up with the consumers with the new technologies.

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 5 takeaways and implications on how we approach MR

 1. Real role of mobile phone:

I was very intrigued by Dave’s McCaughan’s paper on “Who needs a nose!”: The truth about your fifth sense. I gave my personal vote to Dave as the best paper not because I learnt a new word from him – phubbing (check it out if you don’t already know), Dave put across a very interesting point, which really bugged me and made me rethink how we can tap into this behaviour when conducting research. In a piece of research, Dave found out that when people were asked to choose what they can’t live without, most choose their mobile phone over their nose! Mobile phone has taken on a very important role in our lives, helping us sense and interpret things around us.

Why did I say this bugged me so much as a researcher? Look at how we manage research sessions now – we always tell participants to put their phones away so that they can focus on the discussion happening in the room. But what also means is that we are actually asking them to put their 5th sense away!

I remember asking a participant to put away her phone during a workshop discussion. She told me that she was going online to look up what we just said about the product technology because she has never heard of it and found it really interesting. Imagine this for a moment – if we were to design our agenda and exercises such that participants are asked to go online to look for inspiration, ideas or images, the insights we gather will be rich, diverse and quick. Most importantly, we are working with consumers with all of their senses, including the new 5th sense.

 2. Big data & big challenge:

Big Data is a buzz word that experts reckon brands and agencies are still working hard to make sense of , but let’s dive into it anyways as it sounds really important. From what I gathered from various papers shared at the conference, Big Data must be used with a strategy and end-game in mind. There is no lack of data, but to create meaningful connection with the data requires more thought.

Arno Hummerston, Digital Market Intelligence from GfK, gave his honest thoughts that big data is not a case of the more the merrier. In addition to that, Arno also raised some worrying challenges social media research faces with the use of multi-devices information channel and multi-delivery environment.

Recently, Jessica Owens our in-house social media research expert suggested 10 ways to add rigour into your social media research to deliver solid findings. One of the ways that Jess mentioned, “qualify your quant insights” is something that many clients have seen lacking in the market. Only data that are translated into meaningful insights offer new learning of the market and audience. At Face and Pulsar, we have researchers who are committed to qualifying mass amounts of data to create meaningful stories to inspire insights.

3. Tapping into new behaviour:

I had a geek moment when Melissa Gil, Director of SingTel’s Customer Intelligence and Living Analytics, presented the geo-analytics findings of SingTel’s big data. It is fascinating how traffic pattern informs shopping behavior, giving SingTel confidence to execute tactical marketing effort and staff planning.

Having covered the macro insights, capturing and understanding the actual audience behaviour is important to provide a holistic picture of the insights. In a research to understand people’s shopping behaviour, SingTel requested its research participants to upload receipts of their purchases. The information collected from the vast amount of receipts provided deep insights into shopping behaviour from a location, day and time perspective. This method of data collection was probably less feasible years ago, but now people are open about  capturing and sharing personal experiences via technology. Since SingTel has ownership over the data, they can always call up the research participants to provide deeper insights into each spending experience.

I feel that Big Data has definitely blurred the lines of quant and qual further – in a good way. Starting broad and wide provides a direction on what to focus on. Focusing on selected issues provides a perspective on why things are evolving the way they are. We will definitely see more and more need for hybrid of intelligent minds to analyse data with both a macro and micro view.


4. It’s not only about the Gen Y and Millennials:

I must say that Benjamin Smithee’s talk was very captivating. It is a topic that I am particularly interesting and passionate on – the Gen Y and the Millennials. Yes, we all should know by now that the Gen Y and the Millennials grew up in the digital world, and that changes how brands should engage with them. But what’s more fascinating for me is how Gen Y and the Millenniums are impacting the upstream generation – their parents. When Ben talked about this, it dawn on me that it is so true that I have been influencing my mother’s lifestyle to a large extent! I introduced her to smartphone and tablet, I introduced her to H&M and Zara, and I introduced her to the world of YouTube and iTunes. Before, my mother consumed media solely through TV, but now she watches offshore cooking programmes on YouTube at any time of the day.

What does this mean? Brands should not be looking at this segment in the same way. While they don’t form the bulk of the “digital generation” as much as the Gen Y and the Millennials, they definitely are spending a fair amount of time and money online.

This also inspired me to relook into our research design and approach. Often we would be concerned about adding digital components for audience above the ages of 45, but this new insight gave me a fresh perspective. I feel that the digital world has made pure demographics less and less meaningful.

5. It is time for change

In the closing message, Ray Poynter reinforced what Joan Koh started with – the context has changed but most thinking is still based on old methods. Ray pulled very interesting contrast between the landscape of 1974 and 2014. What’s most interesting to me are two areas:

#1: In the past the consumer’s role was passive, which has evolved to be reactive, and now it is collaborative. This changes how research approach should be designed – it is no longer about evaluation and feedback, but creation and refinement. At Face, we believe in co-creating with consumers right from the beginning of the process. It is a new era where brands and marketers should seek to work more closely with consumers.

#2: Marketing to global consumers in every local market. With technology and smart devices, people are no longer restricted to what they have and see in their own market, but globally. This gives brands a lot more challenge to create a unifying message that works cross-market, but also give brands a lot more opportunities to cross-sell.

Vijay Raj, Unilever CMI Director for Research Innovation and Protocol Management, made it explicit that it is no longer enough for brands to innovate to cope, but we need to proactively innovate to win.

It is encouraging that clients are excited to embrace this change. In fact, brands are expecting their research agencies to take leadership to transform and inspire approaches and thinking. It is exciting times ahead. We don’t know what the limit of digital technology is, but we know we will be limiting ourselves if we don’t adopt it.

Meet us at… Corporate Researchers Conference


Corporate Researchers Conference (September 17-19, Chicago) is one of the only conferences created for and by corporate researchers, and FACE cannot wait to be there.

We will be putting you to the ultimate test with our Internet cats vs. Internet dogs battle, just like we did at Marketing Week Live in the UK. There, the more dominant force has been Internet cats. Now with the test going transatlantic for the first time, will the US be any different?

If you’re familiar with our experiment then you’ll know that everything we do at FACE is about understanding people. Once again we have teamed up with our friends at Sensum who specialise in mobile solutions for capturing, visualising and reporting engagement. Using Sensum’s proven biometric technology (yes, we are taking this seriously) we will measure people’s emotional reactions to one cat and one dog YouTube Buzzfeed video and solve this old-age debate once and for all.

 Although everyone already knows whether they’re a cat or dog person in real life, things may be a little different in the digital sphere. So when it comes to Internet pets, which one do people like more? If you’re attending Corporate Researchers Conference in September please come over and take the test to see not only which pet will win YOUR heart, but who is the winner overall. 

And while you’re there, please say hello to Andrew Needham (our CEO), Job Microsoft (UK MD), and Marc Geffen (US Research Manager) who are very much looking forward to meeting you.

Do you want to know how to identify top influencers within your category? Interested in the ingredients of a successful co-creation project? Or what it takes to become a socially intelligent business? Then come to our booth at stand 202 in the Vista Lounge, we’d love to tell you all about it.  We’ll also present our social data intelligence platform Pulsar which enables you to go beyond keyword tracking to map brand audiences, track how content spreads, and manage your teams to engage effectively with your customers in social media. 

Thank you to Buzzfeed for kindly allowing us to use their content for this experiment.

10 tactics for rigour in social media market research

Last week I went to the MRS Connected World conference, a really excellent event gathering together an inspiring crowd to talk about new technologies and consumer behaviours. Not just to listen – though listening was great! I was also putting forward the FACE point of view on a panel with Tom Ewing of Brainjuicer and Paul Edwards of Working Plural & JKR.

Our topic: “cutting through the noise”. Digital media & technology has generated a dramatic shift – for the first time in history, there’s not a shortage of information but an excess. But how to make sense of it all? How to find the insight amid the flood?

Our session was kindly written up by Research Live, so I won’t go into the details here. Instead, I want to pick up on a really smart question from an audience member – How do you do social media research with real rigour?

Great question. How do you move beyond a set of observations made on a vast and potentially rather amorphous dataset, to get to something we might actually call research? On the spot I came up with 3 ways  - but on reflection, there are more.

Here’s my top 10 ways to make your social media research rock solid:

1. Capture the complete universe

If the dataset’s incomplete (and especially if you don’t know what’s missing), you can’t say anything about how your findings relate to the wider universe. Tweets found directly through Twitter search are really no more than anecdote until you can contextualise them within a meaningful totality of everything that’s going on in social.


Image source: Mapping The Global Twitter Heartbeat: The Geography of Twitter, by Kalev H. Leetaru et al., 2012

So make sure you’re using a social media research tool that’s built on top of Twitter Firehose (the 100% data API) and robust blog, forum & news data collection.

Of course there’s still a gap between “everything said in social” and “everything people think”. But that’s true for every research method – this is a risk we can only minimise, never remove entirely.

2. Your search strategy is critical

Great data sources aren’t enough on their own – you’ve got to set them up right. If you’re searching for a particular category (e.g. haircare), you need to be confident you’ve collected the whole category – every possible way people can talk about hair, from products to styles and stylists, and verbs & adjectives as well as nouns. Just searching for all mentions of “hair” won’t cut it – you’re not capturing a meaningful totality.

How to build good search syntax: Brainstorm. Then test it in Twitter & Google search, then iterate to add in new words & phrases that come up. Analyst experience is key here to build a search strategy that’s both comprehensive and focused.

3. Qualify your quant insights

Social data is qual data at a mass scale, says Francesco D’Orazio, our chief technologist.

Numbers on their own aren’t insights. Positive sentiment is 20% – so what? What are people saying? What are the needs and emotions driving that figure, and why is it higher for one brand than another? Read, synthesise, code. Quote the actual messages, show the verbatim. Keep the people visible in how you tell your insights.

4. Quantify your qual insights

Say you’re doing an innovation project, find out that fighting frizz is the most important consumer haircare need. Your immediate client might love the depth of qual insight you can build from beauty blogs and forums… But she’s also got to communicate that insight around a larger organisation & to lots of people who won’t ever read your full deck.

So quantify that qual insight and rank it against other needs. Savvy use of Boolean search strings – NEAR operators & smart exclusion terms – can give you sensible approximate volumes for almost any concept. You’ll not capture every nuance, to be sure – but it’ll help support that qual insight as a really solid finding.

puggit pug AND rabbit

(Ok, not really an example of quantifying qual insights – but a very cute example of Boolean syntax!)

5. Can another analyst find the same insights?

Classic research methods such as data coding still can have a key role to play in turning social media data into insight. It provides a structured template for content analysis that helps iron out bias from the analyst’s own preconceptions. Instead you’ve got a random sample of 200 messages and a structured grid, and it’s easy to review across team to help standardise what you mean by particular categories and concepts.

6. Benchmark

Is this finding real? How much does it actually matter? Display your research findings contextualised against other brands, other categories, or as share of voice – so your reader can get a sense of proportion.

7. State what you don’t know, or can’t prove

  • e.g. “This visualisation is based on Twitter data, a channel used by 26% of the UK population.”
  • “Social media messages almost never identify a store by its exact street address, and only 1.6% of tweets have geolocation. Consequently we cannot locate the se complaints to specific store, only town or region level.”
  • “Social media data includes only information that is publicly available on the web, and not private email or text message data” (yes we get this one!)

Make the gaps explicit. It shows you know what you’re talking about – and helps ensure your insights are interpreted accurately. Overclaim isn’t rigorous!

8. Test hypotheses. Test a null hypothesis.

Having hypotheses makes your data useful – instead of just drawing a picture of the landscape, you’re trying to find out something specific. But in the spirit of scientific enquiry, proving a hypothesis isn’t just going out looking for data that supports it. It’s also about looking for data that supports the null hypothesis – the counter-possibility that nothing is happening, or the opposite. Look for both – and if all the evidence really falls on one side, then you can be confident that your finding is really robust.

Null hypothesis cartoon aliens socks

Testing the null hypothesis or counter-factuals  is also a great way to find interesting things you weren’t expecting (see point 10!)

9. Triangulate against other data sources

Extract everything you can from your client, from sales figures to  qual research to semiotics decks.  Turn these into hypotheses. Is your research supporting these? Building on them? Taking them a new direction? Or disagreeing entirely? All are legitimate outcomes – and putting your insights in this context makes them much easier for your client to use.

10. Don’t do social media research if it’s not the right way to answer your question

A contrarian point for closing – but here at FACE we’re honest about the fact that social media data can’t answer all research questions. Its genius is that the data we’re analysing is largely spontaneous and unprompted, making it a great way to find “unknown unknowns’ – the things you didn’t even know you wanted to know, or needed to ask.


But sometimes you’ve got really specific questions to answer – how far are consumers prepared to trade off price vs. quality, perhaps, or whether a different shade of blue would make a better bottle top. And I’m afraid people just aren’t talking about bottle cap colours in social media… So you’d need to ask them directly: time for a focus group! Not social.


So that’s 10 ways to make your social media research really robust. Any more to add? Get in touch with us on Twitter – we’re @FaceResearch – and tell us your top tips! I (Jess) do a bunch of tweeting for FACE, so let’s keep the conversation going.

Or if you’ve got a really thorny research problem and you’re looking for a rigorous solution, get in touch with my colleague James on – we’d love to talk it through with you.


Meet us at… the MRS Connected World conference

On Thursday 10th July, Jess Owens, one of our Social Media Managers here at Face, will be speaking on a panel at the Market Research Society’s Connected World conference in London.

Connected World is an exciting new conference for the market research industry which aims to “help the insight and marketing world capitalise on the new technologies, behaviours and beliefs that are driving relationships between individuals, brands and consumers.”

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It’s a privilege to be one of the only research agencies speaking at a conference drawing on an excitingly wide range of speakers and expertise. Connected World aims to inject new ideas into the market research debate, drawing on everything from experts in consumer creativity (Hazel Robinson on tapping into the power of fans) to technologists visioning the future through pervasive computing (Adrian David Cheok, City University) and the Internet of Things (Moeen Khawaja, Umbrellium).

Jess will be on a panel at 11.40am called Cutting Through The Noise, alongside Tom Ewing (Brainjuicer) and Paul Edwards (Working Plural and JKR), with discussion chaired by journalist Richard Young.

The pitch:

“An ever-growing amount of interaction between consumers, brands and beyond means only one thing for research professionals – an ever-growing challenge. How can the analysis keep up with the flow of information? How can research adapt to the new technologies and practices? In this case study-free debate, we discover the scale and nature of the task ahead of us.”

For more information, full programme details and registration, please have a look on the official site of the conference.

Or catch up with Jess at the conference by saying hello on Twitter (@hautepop) or email

Meet us at… Marketing Week Live London (June 25-26)


Marketing Week Live, one of the biggest events in the UK marketing world, takes place next Wednesday and Thursday and we’re really excited to be part of it.

If you haven’t already, you can register for free here.

Here’s what we’ll be up to:

Cats vs Dogs

Cats vs. Dogs: the experiment
Stand E372, Understand zone

Who’s better, cats or dogs? This question can start more intense debates than even those between rival football fans. And while everyone knows if they’re a cat person or a dog person in real life, things may be a little bit different when it comes to digital media. So when it comes to internet pets, who do people love more?

Since everything we do here at FACE is about understanding people, we thought we’d do a little experiment.* For this, we teamed up with our friends at Sensum who specialise in mobile solutions for capturing, visualising and reporting engagement. Using Sensum’s proven biometric technology (yes, we are taking this seriously) we will measure people’s emotional reactions to one cat and one dog YouTube video and solve this debate once and for all.

So if you’re at Marketing Week Live next week come by our booth (E372 in the Understand zone) and be part of the ultimate internet cats vs internet dogs experiment. You will not only get to see who wins YOUR heart but also who is the overall winner.

And while you’re there, we’d also love to chat about your marketing challenges and see if we can’t share a few ideas about how we can help out. But if you just want talk lolcat videos, we’re up for that too. We are, after all, keen afficionados of viral video.

*Warning: The experiment may involve butterflies in your stomach. Chills down your spine. Hysterical laughter. And even tears. 


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How Stuff Spreads presentation
June 25, 1pm, Insights Forum, Understand zone

Jess Owens, our Social Media Research Manager and one of the most experienced members of the Social Insights team will join the main stage to present breakthrough insights from our How Stuff Spreads research which looks at how content goes viral on Twitter.

Why do some videos go viral while others collect just a bunch of clicks? Most studies on the subject focus on virality as a feature of the content. But what if virality was (also) a feature of the audience? Can the demographics and the structure of the audience of a video explain how it goes viral? And how can you predict virality?

Jess will share what we learned about virality using content tracking technology to look at four videos that recently went viral on Twitter: a music video, an advertising campaign, a citizen journalism video and a Vine series. All videos went viral in different ways and whilst there is no simple answer such as a virality formula, the talk reveals the common traits of viral phenomena and how marketers can engineer them in their creative and planning process in order to achieve virality and develop a data-driven content strategy.

AURA one-to-ones

June 25, afternoon

Our Head of Research, Matt Arnold is very much looking forward to meeting the AURA members in the 1 to 1 sessions organised on Day 1 of Marketing Week Live.

As you can see, we’ve got lots of very exciting things going on. We can’t wait till next week and hope to see you there.

If you’d like to arrange a meeting with us during Marketing Week Live, please contact us at