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Why Standing up for the Census Still Counts

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Wed, Nov 07, 2018

busy city street

Over a year ago, I wrote about the critical state of the U.S. Census. To recap: to stay within budget, the US Census Bureau planned to add online and phone data collection to the traditional mail and face-to-face fielding. As any good researchers would, they planned to test this new mix of methodologies using a series a field tests and an end-to-end test. 

After cancelling several field tests earlier this year, last month the bureau completed an end-to-end test in Providence County, RI, and are “ready to transition from a paper-based census to one where people can respond online using personal computers or mobile devices, by telephone through our questionnaire assistance centers or by using the traditional paper-response option.” Click here for an infographic with all the details.

Whew, right?  Not so fast—there’s still another problem. A big one.

Against the recommendation of the Census Bureau, the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, is fighting to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

In a memo sent to the DOJ, the bureau’s Chief Scientist and Associate Director for Research and Methodology, John Abowd, wrote the inclusion of a citizenship question would be "very costly, harms the quality of the census count, and would use substantially less accurate citizenship status data than are available from administrative sources.”

In response, opponents of the question, including the state of California, New York, and the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed lawsuits against the Federal Government—echoing Abowd’s fears that the citizen question would discourage participation and compromise the integrity of the census.

Despite a request by the Federal Government to postpone, the trial began on Monday, November 5, in New York City, and is expected to last two weeks.

As I wrote in my earlier blog, the US Census is critical to market research. It serves as the foundation for things like sampling plans, weighting data, sizing audiences, and determining who to target.

If the citizen question goes through, it may deter non-citizens from participating. This would seriously harm the quality of the data and pose a threat to the integrity of our industry—not to mention impact federal budgeting and the number of House seats.

As market researchers, it’s our duty to preserve the integrity of the US Census. Whether you support or oppose the citizenship question, I encourage you to pay close attention to how the decision plays out. We’re still a year away from the census, but what’s decided now could have far-reaching ramifications for our industry and country.

Athena is a Project Director at CMB who really hopes the next time she blogs it will be about a satisfactory resolution to this ongoing issue.

Topics: Market research, data collection

Welcoming a New Year and New Opportunities

Posted by Jim Garrity

Fri, Jan 05, 2018

2018-for social.jpg

It’s 2018 and I truly believe there is no better time to be in the insights business. Yes, our industry and our clients face daunting challenges—new market entrants, digital disruption, political and regulatory upheaval, and increasingly empowered consumers are just a few. But it is also true that these disruptions have the potential to reveal—to those organizations prepared to tackle them—more opportunities than ever before. 

I firmly believe that CMB has never been better positioned to help our clients face both the challenges and the opportunities head on.  As we enter this new year, I want to reaffirm our commitment to you—to continue to be your collaborative, decision-focused, creative and forward-thinking partner. I also want to share just a bit about how we are investing in your success—ensuring we help you meet your objectives today and in the years to come.

Investment in groundbreaking Consumer Psychology solutions: Brands that will thrive in the future understand consumer motivations are both critical and complex. Our Consumer Psychology team lend their innovative thinking on the self, identity, and emotions to all of our work.

Developing configurable solutions to solve common problems quickly and cost effectively: Time and cost pressures will only increase over the coming year(s) and we are committed to leveraging technology and processes to deliver tailored results without resorting to cookie-cutter approaches.  We’re also excited to offer expanded solutions in partnership with our new parent company—ITA Group—delivering insights into the world of incentives, engagement and cultural transformation.

Staying on the forefront of the latest in predictive and advanced analytics techniques: Massive computing power paired with our Advanced Analytics Team’s expertise give our clients the advantage—providing a best assessment of the future under a variety of scenarios. Clients have LOTS of data that tells them what DID happen, we leverage predictive analytics to tell them what WILL happen—a critical need in a changing world.

Thoughtful and creative solutions from innovative design to co-creation: While a creative approach to a quantitative research design might seem worlds apart from an inventive co-creation workshop—we know meaningful insights aren’t about numbers on a slide and that creativity, curiosity and a relentless focus on decisions lead to the biggest breakthroughs.

Our people are your partners: Your CMB team is smart, client-focused and fun to work with. From our most tenured and expert senior consultants to our incredibly bright and creative associates, every member of your CMB team is focused on helping you and your business succeed.

Thank you for your partnership and here’s to a new year full of successes for you and your team.

Topics: Market research, business decisions, data integration, technology solutions

A New Year's Resolution For All Professionals

Posted by Dana Vaille

Wed, Dec 27, 2017

hikers.jpeg

My New Year’s Resolution came to me at a recent manager’s meeting where I was reminded of the importance of professional development—both for our teams and for ourselves. So, in 2018, I resolve to be more intentional about practicing what I preach—that we all must be committed to doing what we can to learn and grow professionally.

As a manager, one of my biggest responsibilities is to encourage and foster professional development among my team. But sometimes it’s easy to forget to take advantage of the opportunities myself. Fortunately, CMB is deeply committed to the professional development of all its employees—across departments, from the top down. My team and I are equipped with a lot resources to help us grow—CMB hosts, encourages, and supports a variety of training and development interests—both the tactical development of skills and interest-based desires.

“Professional development” can mean many things. It’s not always about correcting for a specific problem or working to close the gap on a particular skill—nor does it necessarily have to be a formal training session or coursework. We can develop ourselves in a lot of ways. From conferences and networking events to free webinars, any opportunity for growth is constructive.

No matter how far into your career you are, there’s always room for learning, improving, and refining. So, in 2018, I encourage you to continue advocating for the professional development of your team—but don’t forget about yourself.

With that I’ll “walk the walk” and resolve to identify and take advantage of at least one professional development opportunity per quarter. Wish me luck!

Interested in joining the CMB Team? Check out our open positions here.

Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey, Market research, CMB Careers

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot: the 2017 Corporate Researchers Conference (CRC)

Posted by Julie Kurd

Thu, Oct 19, 2017

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It was quite a week to be in Chicago for lovers of musicals and insights!  As one of the lucky market researchers who got to attend the Corporate Researchers Conference AND see Hamilton, I knew I couldn’t “throw away my shot” to share just a few highlights that inspired me and made me think.

First up, the critical question: Marketers and Researchers, how are you helping your company to differentiate, separate, and grow? If you want to be “in the room” with your company’s decision-makers, and not just the bearer of insights, you’re going to have to employ art and science. Here’s what some of your peers are doing:

  • Judd Antin of Airbnb will ONLY hire “full stack” researchers—those with 1) formative qualitative (ethnos), 2) evaluative qualitative (usability), 3) survey design, 4) applied statistics (yeah), and 5) SQL (merging data sets etc.). He sees the sciences as key to growth, a solution to homophily and the confirmation bias that limits our thinking and growth. He is definitely not throwing away his shot. He challenges us to get outside of our point of view and has established guidelines for non-English surveys in a company that is in hundreds of countries.  His group is redesigning the host interface, conducting ‘check-in’-a-longs (take me!) and he’s demanding rigorous quantitative analysis to prioritize the strategically important improvements and operational optimize the tactical elements. They have a full time international community member panel in 10 countries and in 10 languages and they translate surveys in and out of native languages for results in a single week. As Alexander Hamilton would say, “Learn to think continentally".
  • Charise Shields from Toyota reminded us that women buy cars. Millennials buy cars. Millennial women buy cars. They are redefining the two-year intender path to purchase, and they aren’t a monolithic block. They are single parents, married parents, couples without kids, and childless singles. The upper funnel of the purchase decision funnel has been democratized because the path to purchase begins online. This shift in the anatomy of the purchase journey means researchers need to reevaluate their preferences for relying solely on advanced quantitative research. Charise’s presentation was a great example of why I love CRC—talking to researchers who are flexible, innovative, and willing to try new things.
  • Ronda Slaven from Synchrony Financial and Neil Marcus from MetLife were not afraid to discuss the disturbing implications of poor participant experience on deflating brand equity. Both Ronda and Neil spoke candidly about their experience and the work they are doing to improve the participant experience. It seems like a simple gesture, but Neil shared a video (shot with an iPhone!) of himself thanking participants for their time. MetLife embedded the “thank you” video at the end of a survey, and saw a significant increase in participant satisfaction among those who watched the video over those who didn’t. Ronda and Neil are challenging their teams to push the envelope on improving participant satisfaction—practically shouting “I’m past patiently waiting, I’m passionately smashing expectation, every action is an act of creation.”  These brave researchers are reshaping the industry’s poor habit of cramming everything into a questionnaire or moderator’s guide. After all, in a way, participants are an extension of the organization and their happiness matters.
  • Mark Stephens from American Family is an agent for change, Mark and Judd are very alike in that they see the power of both qualitative and quantitative as a pathway to company growth and to making the world a better place. OK this is CMB’s co-presentation, and I work at CMB, so it’s easy to see your own work as a masterpiece, but, sitting in a full room of the LAST session of the LAST day, the researchers in the audience asked two dozen questions about proxy variables and appending data and drilled for understanding like Hamilton….studying profoundly, day and night so their minds are obsessed with “the fruit of labor and thought”.
  • Kate Morris of Fidelity presented on her public relations research work. She drilled home the importance of being memorable because memorable is actionable. Of course, storytelling is a typical imperative in the research world, Kate’s wonderful defiance and unique perspective reminds us, as Hamilton reminds us, to ask “who tells your story?”
The market research industry is maturing, and with maturity comes the responsibility to deny the mediocrity of “talk less, smile more” and to insist that the tactics and strategy are shaped by advanced quantitative and qualitative research and not by habit or blind conformity. It’s time to ask…“If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?”

 

Topics: conference recap, Market research

Why the Market Research Industry Must Stand up for the Census

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Wed, Aug 23, 2017

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You might be forgiven if the future of the U.S. Census didn’t make your “list of things to worry about this week”. But a lack of funding coupled with the recent resignation of Census Bureau director John Thompson has put the 2020 census in danger—and the ramifications are deeply concerning.

The U.S. Census Bureau might not get the media coverage of other government entities, but it plays a critical role in our democracy, federal spending, and in the market research industry. As we prepare for the 2020 census, it’s time to start paying attention.

The U.S. Census

As a reminder, the U.S. Census, mandated by the Constitution, is a decennial survey that counts every resident in United States. The data is used to allocate Electoral College votes and congressional seats by state.  In addition, it helps the government determine how to allocate roughly $4 billion in federal funds to local communities that help pay for infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads, public works, and other vital programs. The U.S. Census Bureau also administers the monthly American Community Survey—comprised of the long form census questions—sent to about 295k households a month. You can read more about the work of the Bureau and how the data are used here.

A New Collection Methodology Puts the Census in Danger

Replicating the 2020 census using the 2010 methodology would cost $17.8 billion, but Congress has mandated that the Census Bureau limit spending to meet the 2010 census budget ($13 billion over ten years).   

To comply, the bureau hoped to implement a new system, adding online and phone data collection, in addition to mail and in-person visits, that will ultimately keep costs in line. However, any change in methodology requires rigorous planning and testing to ensure results are accurate and replicable. For example, when moving a brand tracker from the phone to web, you typically run tandem data collections (both via phone and online) for the first wave and then compare the results. This testing requires extra work, and initially may cost more, but it’s critical to ensure the results from the new methodology are comparable and will save money in the long run. 

The scope and costs of the census far exceed my brand tracker example, and given the uncertainty of the census budget, it’s unclear whether the census will be able to properly test their new methodology before implementation. If funding isn’t there for testing, the Census Bureau runs the risk of missing the mark.

The end-to-end of the census test is still slated for 2018 but the prerequisite field tests that were to run this year have been cancelled.  The Bureau hopes to include the areas from the cancelled field tests, but that’s still up in the air.

The US Census and Market Research

The US Census serves as the backbone for all consumer market research. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that here at CMB, we use the census on a weekly basis, if not more often, for designing sampling plans, weighting data, sizing audiences, and recommending who to target. You’d be hard pressed to find a research firm that doesn’t use census information to inform its work.

To that end, if the census is flawed by undercount (resulting from a poorly-tested methodology), these errors will be reproduced in most consumer market research studies. As researchers, we’d begin to question the foundation upon which much of our research is built—as would the many businesses that use our services

The Larger Picture

If the census is underfunded, the undercount would most likely impact areas where residents are harder to reach (think lower socio-economic groups less likely to have internet access, rural populations, transient populations like seasonal workers, etc.). These areas—the very communities that need funding the most—could be deprived of vital federal funds due to disproportionate allocations.

In addition to faulty fund allocation, an underfunded, undercounted census could produce a misrepresentation of seats in our House of Representatives. In this charged political environment where everyone’s vying to be heard, it’s more important than ever to ensure we are properly represented.

What’s Next?

2020 may seem far off, but if Congress doesn’t properly fund the census now, while there’s still time for testing, we run the risk of executing a bad census, one that misrepresents the population, unfairly allocates resources, and undermines the quality and credibility of market research. I strongly encourage the market research community to stand up and make their voices heard to preserve this important institution.

 Athena is a Project Director at CMB who wants to see her daughter grow up in a world where the US Census is accurate. 

Topics: Market research, B2B research, big data