All posts by Stacy Sherwood

Voters Blame GOP for Government Shutdown

Who’s to blame for the government shutdown of 2013? Depends who you ask.

In late September 2013, the House voted to make funding the government contingent on a one-year delay of the Obamacare healthcare reforms. Consequently, from October 1, 2013, the start of the government’s new fiscal year, to October 17, 2013, the U.S. government was shut down, placing hundreds of thousands of federal workers on unpaid leave. Select essential services remained open for public safety.

In an age of bipartisan politics, when uncompromising parties reach an apparent stalemate, the inevitable blame game ensues. But, we aren’t just a nation of Democratic and Republican citizens, who support our respective party no matter what. Despite the simplistic picture the media often paints, we are a bit more complex than Democrats supporting Democratic Party decisions and Republicans supporting Republican Party decisions; although, party loyalty is part of the story too.

qSample tapped into both its general consumer panel, SurveyGIANTS and its likely voter panel, VoterFeedback. Half of likely voter participants (50%) believe the Republicans are solely to blame for the government shutdown, while just 30% of the general population respondents blame House Republicans only. Thirty percent of likely voter respondents blame both parties and 45% of general population respondents say both are at fault.

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Both groups surveyed exhibited some apparent party allegiance with Democratic respondents being the most likely group to blame House Republicans solely. Fifty-three percent of the Democratic general population respondents and 81% of Democratic likely voter respondents blame just the House Republicans for the government shutdown.

On the other hand, Republicans from both groups surveyed were most likely to blame both the House and Senate for the shutdown, with 54% of Republicans from the general population group and 46% of Republicans from the likely voter group blaming both parties.

Where do Independents fall in his debate? Forty-eight percent of Independents from the general population group blame both parties, while 35% blame just the Republicans. The numbers are reversed when we look a Independents’ responses from the VoterFeedback group. Forty-eight percent blame Republicans only and 34% blame both parties.

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Where do these same groups of people stand on Obamacare? The majority of both the general population respondents (68%) and likely voter respondents (62%) are in favor or neutral towards Obamacare, with 26% and 35% opposed respectively.

Both groups feel effected in some way by the government shutdown with 34% of the general population respondents and 29% of the likely voter respondents saying that the shutdown affects them either personally or financially or both. Another 24% and 37% respectively say that the shutdown affects either their friends or family.

Whether a citizen is directly affected by the shutdown or feels empathy towards those going without pay or concern over the political system, economy or healthcare reform, the 2013 shutdown touched people in a lot of different ways. Voters will likely remember these events come election time, and the shutdown may even affect the outcome of some elections.

VoterFeedback is an online community of likely voters who have agreed to participate in various roundtable discussions on both national and local issues. To learn more about qSample’s VoterFeedback panel, visit voterfeedback.com.

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by Stacy Sherwood

Did Limbaugh and Deen’s Advertisers Bail Too Soon?

Turns out, not all press is good press. When public figures like Rush Limbaugh and Paula Deen recently made media waves with sexist and racist words respectively, it caused many of their advertisers to bail. In the case of Paula Dean, her career fell instantly like an imploded soufflé. So why is Limbaugh still on the air over 6 months after his ordeal while Deen’s TV show got canceled right away? We already know a big part of it is ad revenue. But, why do advertisers tend to jump ship long before the storm has the chance to settle? Why did Deen’s words rock the boat worse than Limbaugh’s? What does the public really think about the brands that are advertising on these shows?

Let’s take a closer look at the two stories. Deen publicly admitted to having said the n-word in the past and apologized profusely saying it was “inappropriate,” “hurtful” and “totally unacceptable.” Rush called Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, a “slut,” repeatedly during his show for speaking at a democratic hearing about the need for contraceptives both as birth control and for broader medical reasons. Limbaugh saw Fluke as an advocate for casual sex. All told, he tallied up approximately 70 personal insults directed toward Fluke on his on-air talk show, making it impossible for anyone to argue his remarks were just a fluke. Like Deen, Rush also apologized publicly. Why is Limbaugh still on the air but not Deen?

There are two main theories bouncing around the media that attempt to explain the difference between Limbaugh’s situation and Deen’s situation. First, we are reminded to consider that the two figures have different audiences with different expectations. Limbaugh built a career on being controversial. He speaks to a niche audience of mostly conservative white males that value him because of his bold opinions. Deen’s audience, on the other hand, seeks controversy-free comfort food and southern hospitality. Even a pinch of racism ruins the Paula Deen recipe of sugar and spice and everything nice.

The second theory is that a little sexism will be tolerated, but racism is never okay. In 2011, Gilbert Gottfried was dropped by Aflac as the voice of the duck after he carelessly tweeted jokes about Japan after the tsunami. Gottfried’s public persona is similar Limbaugh’s in the sense that his audience also expects a certain degree of edginess from him, but his tweets crossed the line. Here’s one example, “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, “They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.”

Aflac originally hired Gottfried knowing that tact was not his strong suit. Gottfried is considered to be one of the first to make a joke publicly about 9/11. He quipped that he could not get a direct flight because “they said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.” However, Aflac does a high percentage of its business in Japan, making Gottfried’s jokes deal-breakers.

Limbaugh is still on the air, and he is still at risk for loosing advertisers, ratings and potentially the renewal of his show. QuestionPro and qSample teamed up to take a quick poll of the SurveyGIANTS panel to find out what the public thinks of the brands advertising on his show. Only 13% of respondents said that their opinion would be negatively affected if a brand they trusted advertised on The Rush Limbaugh Show. Forty-seven percent said their opinion of the brand would be unchanged, while 32% said their opinion would actually be positively affected. About 8% didn’t know who Rush Limbaugh is.

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For the 32% who responded that they look favorably upon a brand continuing to advertise on Limbaugh’s show, it makes you wonder if the fleeing advertisers have got it all wrong. Perhaps the public is more forgiving than advertisers think. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Spouses say hurtful things, but it’s usually not grounds for immediate divorce. From the advertiser’s perspective though, there are plenty more uncontroversial fish in the sea. In business, there isn’t much loyalty, but the public may not be as quick to view Limbaugh and Deen as just tainted brands. Limbaugh and Deen are people who make mistakes, and they are public figures who are expected to lead by example. While the people might not agree with what Limbaugh and Deen said, they might be ready to forgive.

by Stacy Sherwood

The Nimble Elephant: Big Data and Agile Marketing

On Monday September 9, 2013, the qSample team attended the American Marketing Association “Evening with Experts at 1871: The Age of Agile Marketing.” The speakers were Justin Massa, CEO of Food Genius and Chris Young, Senior Director Global Menu Services at McDonald’s. The presenters showed us how big data can be leveraged to facilitate agile marketing.

What is agile marketing? No, it’s not practicing yoga postures while drafting a marketing plan. According to agilemarketing.net the goals “are to improve the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.” Agile marketing is inspired by the values of agile development:

Agile Marketing

Responding to change over following a plan
Rapid iterations over Big-Bang campaigns
Testing and data over opinions and conventions
Numerous small experiments over a few large bets
Individual interactions over target markets
Collaboration over silos and hierarchy i

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Basing marketing decisions on data rather than instinct was the theme of the night. Justin Massa emphasized that Food Genius is, above all, a technology company that extracts insights from an enormous amount of restaurant menu data from numerous sources such as GrubHub and presents them in such a way that a client can understand. Massa works with what is known as big data, which he describes in layman’s terms as data that you can’t download in an Excel file. He referenced the 5 V’s of big data to illustrate its core functions.

The Five V’s of Big Data

Volume: The most obvious of the 5, there’s lots of data!
Velocity: The data grows and changes quickly.
Variety: Data comes in a variety of structures, creating complexity.
Veracity: “Dirty” data may need to be cleaned up.
Value: All that data is only useful if you can extract value.

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Massa implored marketers armed with valuable data to stop asking “why?” and to be satisfied with just the “what.” He argues that identifying the trend is enough. For example, wraps are one of the fasted growing menu items in the United States. You don’t need to know why wraps are so popular. Is it the low carb craze, the gluten-free trend, the salad-sandwich hybrid appeal? Doesn’t matter. Just identify the “what” and forget about the “why.” The “why” he says, will just slow you down and decrease your agility. Of course, this may be because big data alone typically can’t give you the “why,” even if you needed it. Big data plays a very important role in agile marketing, but for most marketers, it will not be the only source of data.

The truth is that there are many segments that simply don’t yet have an accessible data infrastructure, let alone a specialty company like Food Genius tracking and making sense of the data. If you’ve got a niche audience, sometimes the easiest thing to do is ask your exact target the exact questions you need answered, and you can just as easily ask “what” and “why” while you’re at it. For example, if you need a group of gamers to tell you what they think of your new product prototype, big data isn’t going to help.

qSample specializes in sample group acquisition and specialty panel management and recruitment. With 10 specialty panels including Homeowners, Baby Boomers, Campus Universe, Wine Opinions, Voters, Contractors, Gamers, Mobile, Small Biz Opinions and Travelers, plus a suite of survey software you can get the exact insights you need from the exact group you need to reach. The qSample mobile reporting app allows you to see your data in real time in vivid easy-to-understand charts and graphs. With quick turnaround and real-time data, survey research will enhance, not impair, your agility.

Remember agile value #5, “numerous small experiments over a few large bets”? To be an agile marketer, Massa tells us to eat the elephant one bite at a time. His slideshow image of elephant soup got some awws from the audience.

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McDonald’s knows better to bite off more than they can chew. Chris Young, Senior Director Global Menu Services at McDonald’s piggybacked off of Massa’s wrap example and explained that wraps were introduced country by country in European markets before introducing to U.S. restaurants.

In another example, Young pointed out that even McDonald’s didn’t dive headfirst into offering fruit smoothies. The company had big ambitions for their beverage line-up, but started first with perfecting their coffee recipe before moving into Frappes. With growing beverage success, they then introduced fruit smoothies which could be made using the existing Frappe machines. Young also pointed out that it’s often logistically imperative for McDonald’s to make small, market-by-market change simply because of the volume at which the company operates. There simply wouldn’t be enough strawberries on the planet to suddenly begin selling smoothies at every McDonald’s overnight.

Listening to Massa and Young share similar philosophies on agile marketing reinforces the universal value of the concept. Each company has put the principles of agile marketing into practice in different ways, as they each face different challenges. Traditional market researchers have had to become more nimble as well, as online and mobile surveys promising quick results have become the standard. The overall message is to utilize data to make decisions and to move quickly but make small changes, treating each move as an experiment that will guide future growth.

i http://agilemarketing.net/what-is-agile-marketing/

by Stacy Sherwood

Student Debt: The Good, the Bad and the Plastic

We’ve all seen the headlines about college students graduating with unprecedented debt, but not all debt is created equal, and not all student debt is insurmountable or even a bad thing. Debt is a more complex subject than mainstream media has the time or resources to tackle because of factors such as multiple types of debt, from loans to credit card debt, combined with varying interest rates, costs of living, employment status, wages and how all these factors change over time.

Tuition and fees for 2012-2013 at public 4-year colleges cost students on average $8,655.00 per semester, an increase of 104% since just one decade ago. So, why does tuition continue to increase faster than inflation? States have cut the amount the money they give to colleges by about 17% in the last 5 years. At the same time student enrollment continues to rise, indicating that young adults still view a college education as a worthy investment despite the rising costs. i

Two-thirds of American students will graduate with some debt. And, the average borrower will graduate with $26,600 of debt. ii

Still, student loan debt is often referred to as “good debt”. A college degree is an investment in the future, required in some fields and providing a competitive edge in others. Over the course of a lifetime, associate’s degree recipients will earn $500,000 more than those with only high school diplomas, and those with bachelor’s degrees will earn $500,000 more than those with associate’s degrees. iii

Student loans aren’t the whole debt picture. Some students will graduate with credit card debt or other types of loan debt. While credit card debt is often labeled as “bad debt” it is really more about why the individual has the debt, not what form it takes. For example, a laptop for school might be a good investment (good debt), while spring break in Mexico might be poor investment (bad debt).

qSample wanted to find out how credit card debt factored into the big debt picture for students. A recent survey of qSample’s Campus Universe panel revealed that most participants (99%) own at least 1 major credit card. Participants’ top reasons for having major credit card(s) tended to be responsible with over 60% indicating that “build my credit rating” and “in case of emergency” are very important reasons to have a credit card. Almost half of participants (46%) reported having no credit card debt at all, while about 25% have over $1,000 in credit card debt. Student loan debt was much more prevalent in the group with over 50% owing $10,000+.

Most participants with credit card debt (82%) planned to have their credit card debt paid off in 2 years or less. Only 15% of participants with student loans planned to have them paid off in 2 years or less. Thirty-one percent planned to have their student loans paid off within 3 to 5 years and 28% planned to be done within 5 to 10 years. Nine percent believed it will take closer to 20 to 30 years to pay off their student loans.

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Given the typical ratio of load-to-card debt, it is no surprise that the Campus Universe panelists said that they worry more about their loans than their credit card bills. Over 50% of participants only rarely or occasionally worry about credit card debt, while 21% worry often or all the time. When it comes to student loans, 37% rarely or occasionally worry about their debt, and 40% worry often or all of the time.

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The federal government depends heavily on student loan programs for funding and is expected to make a record $50 billion in profits this year. The good news is that measures are being taken to help keep student debt within reason. In August of 2013, President Obama signed a new law that dictates Federal Student loans will now move with the financial markets. This will lower interest rates for now but could mean higher interest rates as the economy improves. However the loans do have a cap. With the new law, federal student loan interest rates now range from 3.4% to 6.41% depending on the type of loan. iv

The U.S Government has also been looking out for its youngest cardholders. Gone are the days of credit card companies giving away t-shirts on the quad. The 2009 Credit Card Act requires the card companies to stay 1,000 feet away from campus if offering free giveaways. Plus, anyone under 21 needs either an adult co-signer or proof of adequate income to repay the debt. v

Student debt in all its forms is typically not that scary. Yes, there are extreme cases that rack up to six figures and take decades to pay down. But most of the time, an education is a sound investment in the future. By and large, students are staying away from overspending on credit cards, which could lead to a larger debt problem with higher interest rates. With the Credit Card Act of 2009 and the recent student loan relief, the federal government is taking measures to protect young adults from accumulating too much debt too early in life. For most college students, the future is brighter and shiner than the plastic in their wallets.

i http://money.cnn.com/2012/10/24/pf/college/public-college-tuition/index.html
ii http://www.forbes.com/sites/specialfeatures/2013/08/07/how-the-college-debt-is-crippling-students-parents-and-the-economy/
iii http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/26/pf/college/community-college-earnings/index.html
iv http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-500395_162-57597680/6-things-to-know-about-the-new-student-loan-rates/
v http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/help/what-the-new-credit-card-rules-mean-6000.php

Campus Universe is an online community of on and off campus college students who have opted-in to participate in a variety of research studies. The panel is developed and managed by qSample, a Chicago based research and data collection firm.

by Stacy Sherwood