The biggest Deprivation Study

Reflections on doing market research in time of COVID19

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge

Daniel J. Boorstin

Deprivation Studies are a research methodology initially developed among psychologists at an academic level, which aims to “prevent” an organism or a subject from benefiting from something it wants or needs: sleeping, a good, a service…

Many years ago, these studies were also carried out in the world of market research. For example, taking some people, asking them to refrain from watching television and at the same time keeping a diary of their daily lives. More recently, studies have been carried out to deprive a group of teenagers from using smartphones and social media.


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Is sample building an opinion? Short dissertation about “root biases”

Trumpet SoldierRecently a person informed me about a study published on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: Music training alters the course of adolescent auditory development.

THe scientists observed a group of 40 adolescents: 20 of them chose in-school music training. Please wait: I will tell you what other 20 adolescents chose, after.

The study demonstrates “in-school music training changes the course of adolescent brain development. Relative to an active control group that shows the expected wane in subcortical response consistency, adolescents undertaking in-school music training maintained heightened neural consistency throughout high school. The music training group also exhibited earlier emergence of the adult cortical response, suggesting that in-school music accelerates neurodevelopment“. In other words: linguistic and cognitive functions improve more if you study and play an instrument.

The other sub-sample (20 adolescents) chose a military cadet programme.

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“Social” is not a department, it is an attitude

There are a lot of legends in corporate world. “Companies must be customer centric” is one of them. I will write about it in the next post. “We are social” is another one and it is a typical claim by any given company.

Companies often mix up “to have social network pages” with “being social”. And companies forget what “being social” means. A recent example in Italy can explain better than an essay.

McDonald’s Italy recently launched a commercial where a family (father, mother and son) are ordering in a restaurant. THe waiter asks to the kid “And you? What kind of pizza do you want?”. Kid: “A Happy meal”. The pay-off: “Your son has no doubt”

Yikes! The associations of Neapolitan pizza makers screamed against McDonald’s. Furthermore: a plenty of social counter offensives were launched immediately, driven by social network creativity: a lot of videos joking about “Kids prefer pizza than Happy Meal” (you can find one at the end of this post)

McDonald’s answered with following public statement:.

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You don’t need a weatherman… Time to face Customers

I participated to the annual ABI (the Italian Association of Banks) Conference “Dimensione Cliente” (in italian, Dimension: Customer) in 2012 and in 2013. The Conference hosts several speeches by bankers, consultancy firms and MR agencies.

I read some papers by 2014 edition. And I continue to think “Something doesn’t work”.

Bankers talk us about different manners to open or enable channels from customers to banks: new layouts for agencies, changes in online channels (i.e. advanced home banking platforms, home banking apps for mobility), advanced Customer Care touch points (i.e. video chats).

But a lot of these initiatives seem to me “atomized”, like series of disconnected software libraries: pieces that are necessary for a good operating system, but the operating system is still in beta version.

Banks are facing a new age in their business: used to wait their customers at the counter, they are realizing that customers’ likelihood to switch is worryingly high. The main outcome is banks are dealing with “talking” with their customers, not only by codes, contract statements and compliance norms. But the outcome is incomplete: they must go to their customers (from bank to customers).

I am not an expert about finance, but, sure, I spend a lot of my time observing and talking with customers. A lot of them are banks’, financial institutions’ and insurance companies’ customers… These are the main mistakes or incomplete steps customers (not I) report about the financial companies they work with.

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The ultimate or the last question? How NPS could compromise your understanding

ultimate questionThe number of top executives who is asking for NPS (Net Promoter Score) has grown permanently since the famous article by Bain & Company mentor Frederick F. Reichheld (The One Number You Need to Grow, Harvard Business Review, December 2003). Main reason of such success is not the NPS’s predictive ability but its own simplicity.

Top executives hasn’t enough time to read huge amounts of pages describing complex (although elegant) analysis or sophisticated indicators. NPS seems to provide a good recipe: it is simple to explain, it is short (“The one number…“) to show, it is clear to understand.

Like several examples we can catch from other contexts, NPS is a “postulate-driven” assumption: if I recommend, I am a promoter; if i don’t recommend, I am a detractor. Like other postulates, NPS has a corollary: company revenues are predicted by NPS.

I don’t agree. Simply. I don’t  mean I don’t care Top executives’ need to receive few, clear and self-standing results that could provide a compass for growth. I strongly suggest to understand that a postulate has to be weighted before to be accepted.

A careful observation of NPS could drive us to a healthy criticism. And I say healthy in an ontological meaning (every theory must be put to the test), but also in a restricted meaning (if you want a compass for growth, be sure it is calibrated).

I will describe main mistakes that may occur to you if you don’t accept a healthy criticism on NPS. Mistakes are divided between

A. NPS’s own lack of foundation

B. Self standing NPS risks

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Giancarlo Livraghi – In memoriam


Giancarlo uivraghi

Giancarlo Livraghi (Milano, 1927 november 25 – Milano, 2014 february 22)

When I came to know it, I held my tongue. I expected a jumble of comments by more or less known “big guns”, however more appointed than me. After all, he was the “Livraghi” in Livraghi, Ogilvy & Mather (people who work in marketing industry should know what does it mean to have the strength and the moral authority to place your own name before someone like Ogilvy). Therefore who was I to….


I knew (in person, I was already aware of its reputation) Giancarlo Livraghi more than ten years ago. With a gang of reckless guys, I had organized a workshop about Trusted Computing (who does not know what Trusted Computing is, please take a tour on specialized sites) at Informatics Dept. of Milan University. I armed myself of gall and contacted him: he was the President and Founder of ALCEI, the italian Association that defends freedom and privacy in Internet (it is the italian section of EFF)… rather “the Internet”, how Giancarlo named it as the exquisite philologist who he was. He invited me to go out for lunch and we dealt with the programme and his contribution.

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You! Hypocrite Research Spender! – mon semblable, -mon frère!

Thomas Stearns Eliot ends The Burial of the dead (first part of Waste Land) with an excerpt from Charles Baudelaire‘s preface to Fleurs du Mal: “You! Hypocrite Lecteur! – mon semblable, -mon frère!” (in Baudelaire’s original there isn’t the word “You!”). We can translate it in “You! Hypocrite reader, my likeness, my brother!”.

In Baudelaire’s (and Eliot’s mind), the reader is guilty of lies and sins exactly like the author. And sins are not the output of any kind of Devil’s activity but rather the result of boredom.

Recently I answered to an online questionnaire that asked me about “online bet games”. I d0n’t bet often but the curiosity pushed me. And I found a great example of HOW NOT TO WRITE A QUESTIONNAIRE.

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Love letter from a statistician

I am quite sure I work for an “industry”. Foreign countries colleagues would agree with me, probably. Italian colleagues would say “Are you sure?”.

Proliferation of literature, cinema, theatre works is a clear evidence of the existence of an “industry”, lawyers know what I mean.

It’s so strange… even housewives have a TV series, not to mention politicians, cops, journalists…

No one is preparing a series for Fox channels or a great movie with Robert Redford playing as a market researcher (I also imagine Clint Eastwood as a bungled drunk statistician).

I am afraid Market Research could enjoy jokes only: here it is a classical “love letter” from a statistician.


The inertial consumer

global brands

You had a temper like my jealousy:
Too hot, too greedy.
How could you leave me,
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too.

Kate Bush, Wuthering Heights

A strange contemporaneity. While prominent scholars, bloggers and know-it-all guys are explaining us how brands move the world economy (No logo was published 13 years ago), brands are severely fighting to understand consumers. And let me a bit interested…

Like in the evocative Kate Bush’s song, brands are asking “How could you leave me, When I needed to possess you?“. Private labels uprising, local products or the old ugly competition threaten brands daily.

I am fiercely sure that we should study less the fashionable phenomena like Apple i-stuff success and focus more on case like Lotus Smartsuite, Commodore or RIM Blackberry’s struggle to survive. If history could teach something, it is the fragility and sudden fall of whom nurtures himself in the “rentier syndrome”.

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Are respondents people too?

Few days ago I came across a post: Respondents are people too by Rosie Greening (at SSI) and I strongly advice to read it.

A worryingly huge number of researcher (with complicity of a same number of research buyers) write questionnaire following 3 criteria:

  1.     Using words the research buyer prefer
  2.     Using concepts the research buyer prefer
  3.     Piling each research buyer’s doubt in questions

Recently I read some questionnaire that made me howl.

Case 1 – Some times ago, someone asked me to word a question “How do you rate the chiostrina“. In Italian, chiostrina is a small (about few square metres) courtyard in some buildings (example, hotels) to bring air and light to rooms that haven’t windows on the frontage. It is a technical term, probably used by architects. No average respondent knows the term.
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