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The Father of Market Research

Picture of Edward Bernays before digital numbers and an observing eye


In Freud and the Intriguing History of Focus Groups, I detailed the life and influence of Ernest Dichter—a patriarch of qualitative research and chief father of the focus group. As the title of the article indicated, Dichter was greatly informed by Sigmund Freud; and that shaped many modern notions of market research.

There is another figure who arguably towers over Dichter when it comes to market research. He was more than an acolyte of Freud, but his actual his nephew. He is often called the father of public relations, market psychology, and even propaganda. His ideas not only shaped contemporary marketing and advertising, they were used to topple governments.

His name was Edward Bernays. Life magazine named him one of the most influential Americans of the century. He advised American presidents, magnates like William Randolph Hearst, and lauded corporations on the psychology of consumers and use of mass media to direct them. In fact, many of the (so-called) cutting edge techniques of digital and inbound marketing can be traced to Bernays.

Just as important, as Margherita Giannel wrote in A Bright Mind In The Right Moment, Bernays was the first in history to promote that “market research was fundamental to understand why and how consumers chose to buy a certain good.” Many purists consider Charles Coolidge Parlin the father of market research. But it was Bernays’ who truly combined qualitative and quantitative research in a way that transformed market research forever.


First, a brief history



Bernays was born in Vienna in 1891, moved to the U.S. the following year, received an American education, and eventually entered the journalism field as an adult. His first break came while working for the Woodrow Wilson administration, in the Committee on Public Information. He was a key orchestrator in getting the U.S. into World Word I. His success came by marketing the idea of “bringing democracy” to foreign countries, a notion the government has utilized even recently.

After the war, Bernays honed the skill of public relations, opening his firm in New York in 1919. He perfected the idea of the private sector press release, among many other innovations. He worked for various major entities like Lucky Strike, General Motors, Procter & Gamble, and the Aluminum Company of America (he is the reason American water contains fluoride).

Like Dichter, Bernays employed Freud’s psychology theories (even asking his uncle for advice), in effect establishing the basis for qualitative research. Unlike Dichter, though, he saw people not as oceans of unconscious desires needing to be tapped, but as chaotic beasts that ought to be manipulated for the greater good (offered by governments and businesses, of course). He called this notion “engineering of consent.”

Before shrugging all of this as outdated history, here are some of the ideas of Bernays that are still relevant today (even if they wear new terminology):


Influencers or Thought Leaders



Modern marketing demands an expert in the field not only to promote a product but grant gravitas to a company. Every CEO or department head seems to have a blog or active social media account or webinar appearance. Their ideas are curated for different agendas, even by competitors in the industry. This is almost standard today.

This phenomena originated with Bernays, and one could add the celebrity or expert endorsement as well. He called this marketing tactic “third party authorities” that promoted his clients’ causes.

“If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway,” he once said.

The greatest example of this is how Bernays was able to increase the sales of bacon . While researching for the Beech-Nut Packing Company, he found an empty space in American’s diets: their light breakfasts, which in those days was not much more than a roll and juice.

Bernays’ was able to obtain the opinions of more than 4,500 physicians endorsing the idea that a heavier breakfast awarded more energy for the day. Not trusting the public to accept these findings, Bernays flooded the market with manipulated press releases, articles, and advertisements—with the message that doctors personally ate large breakfasts or that bacon and eggs were part of that “nutritious breakfast.”

Sales of bacon went through the roof, and Bernays confessed later in life he was surprised consumers fell for such a stunt.





This marketing practice still very prevalent, especially on the internet and its A/B testing frenzy—where colors, graphics, and even fonts are tested and used to tie a brand to a desired emotion. Bernays actually called this idea the “tie in.” He (and the rest of us marketers) owe this as much to Pavlov and his dogs as to Freud (and Bernays admitted this).

His most notorious campaign on Association was his ability to make smoking popular with women, during a campaign for the American Tobacco Association in the 1920s. In those days, women smoking was taboo, even illegal in some parts of the country. Bernays, through public events and media exploitation, was able to connect the distasteful idea of women smoking with the nascent feminist movement. Put simply: the “tie in” was that being against women smoking was being against women’s rights. By the 1930s, women smoking wasn’t just accepted but became a symbol of American freedom.

(It should be noted that, like Dichter, who also worked for cigarettes companies, Bernays would repent later in life and join antismoking lobbyists).


Content Marketing/Inbound Marketing



Any company today assumes that marketing must be conducted in as many mediums as possible, regardless of the size of the company. Even just a few decades ago, large companies were judicious about the amount of media channels they delved in.

Bernays was the first to advocate multi-channel marketing of any brand he worked for, and with a content that was tailored to each medium (as he did with the bacon campaign). As one marketing psychologist wrote: before Bernays, marketing and advertising were a direct one-on-one affair. Bernays maintained that a product needed to be ubiquitous in some avatar or another, whether it was a promotional newspaper article, billboard, press release, or radio commercial.

Today’s much lauded “sales funnel” and “buyer’s journey” were a normal part of Bernays’ strategies almost 80 years ago.


The Dark Side of His Marketing



Bernays led a successful career, but his ideas were considered incendiary to many in the industry, especially his attitude that the masses were chattel with little free will. One biographer  even explains that Bernays (a Jew) was dismayed when he discovered that Joseph Goebbels, one of Hitler’s most esteemed butchers, leveraged one of his books as a resource on how to manipulate the German population.

Furthermore, his uncle was reported to have been disappointed in Bernays tactics. Freud believed in psychoanalysis for the betterment of the individual, not psychoanalysis for the betterment of government and businesses.

Bernays is also directly cited as the reason the Guatemala government was overthrown in 1954, while he worked for the CIA and Chiquita (and we get the term “banana republic”). This was all part of Bernays prepackaged “communism is bad” public relations campaign that the U.S. government had used before and certainly after the Guatemala incident.

Yet Bernays certainly laid the major foundation for marketing psychology. Like I said with Dichter, his qualitative approach is going through a renaissance as more information on consumers is more available than ever. Bernays died in 1995, just missing the Internet Age with its vast domains of consumer and business psychology—all meeting in a cyber banana republic he would enjoy biasing.

Article originally appeared in the American Marketing Association

Spoiling Spot: Holiday Gifts for Pets

Considering buying a Christmas stocking for your cat/dog? No need to question your sanity, you are far from alone.

The overwhelming majority of pet owners say they treat their dogs and cats like family. Pet owners are projected to spend more than $5.5 billion on pet related gifts this holiday season, which is close to 10 percent of the total amount consumers are projected to spend on their pets.

To gain further insight into such an astounding consumer trend, qSample conducted a survey among more than 350 participants from qSample’s own Pet Owner Panel.

According to the results, 38 percent of respondents plan to spend $21-$50 on their pet this holiday. Nearly 20 percent plan on spending more than $51 on their companion’s gift.

Retailers have certainly taken notice of the increase in spending. With each passing year, owners can choose from more and more pet products and gifts. New trends, highlighted by the American Pet Product Association, include new offerings from retailers that have been focused on human products. Companies like Ralph Lauren (now selling dog sweaters), Omaha Steaks (new steak pet treats), and Paul Mitchell (new pet hygiene products).

The majority of respondents, 37 percent planned to purchase toys and 22 percent will buy a toy that distributes food or treats.  When purchasing food or treats, 37 percent say that the number one factor in their purchasing decision is whether their pet likes the product or not, 28 percent look for organic, all-natural or grain-free options, 13 percent look at brand name as their key determinant and 12 percent consider pricing first.

Most of the survey’s respondents, 49 percent, planned to purchase these gifts at a physical pet specialty store. 19 percent plan to purchase online and 11 percent will purchase from auction sites, veterinary clinics, pet shelters/rescue groups or another venue.

by Connor Duffey




The Pros and Cons of Surveys


Research professionals who have been in the business for years have seen survey popularity with consumers ebb and flow. When surveys were new, they were fun and it was easy to find survey participants to complete them. However, it became evident that survey data collection was becoming more and more challenging, due to other activities on the calendar that became a huge distraction to the average consumer.


How do researchers compete for the consumer’s time effectively? Respondents who complete a survey are often rewarded for their time and participation. At a time when the economy was somewhat sluggish, survey honorariums became a huge attraction with research participants and viewed by some as a way to earn some income on the side. A focus group participant, for example, can earn anywhere from $50 and up for their time. With the growth of social networks, taking a survey has become easier than ever and many research firms, including qSample, take full advantage of the methodology.


For this post, we explored the pros and cons of surveying.survey_news




Surveys allow marketers to gather many different opinions from a wide-market spread, or from many different markets. Running around the mall with a clipboard to complete surveys can sometimes lead to skewed conclusions, since the majority of survey participants will consist of local residents. While this might work if the research requires speaking with local area residents, an online survey is probably a better, cheaper and more effective method to reach a broader audience.


Surveys allow for sampling within certain regions, if needed. Surveys can be initiated in certain regions only, if needed. In fact, panel providers, like qSample, can target respondents’ zip codes for very selective geographic studies. If a respondent needs to live in Midland, TX because a researcher wants to discover the draw of living there, a researcher can pull respondents from that area only.


Surveys ensure that all respondents are answering the same questions. This is important so that the resulting data is very clear (i.e. 40% of respondents said that they like to pack a lunch and 60% of them do not like to pack a lunch). If participants receive different questions and options to respond, the survey results become null.


With modern surveys, marketers can compile results quickly and use technology to see trends. Gone are the days of hand-counting checkmarks in certain columns and then creating reports about those results (unless one IS running around a mall with a clipboard).

qSample has unique technology that allows instant graphing of results as they come in. Those results are open to all team members involved so that adjustments can be made if needed and communication is clear. Because qSample already has active panel members ready to participate and great software, surveys can often be completed within days.


Surveys protect respondent’s personal information and do not affiliate information with a name. Online surveys in particular guard the consumer’s private information so that it cannot be sold, rented or tampered with. There is no paper trail on respondents. Although certain demographics might be tapped for a particular survey, contributor’s contact information is kept separate from the results lessening the potential fear of identity theft, inherent bias, etc.




Respondents may be biased when answering questions. Although researchers, not unlike lawyers in a jury selection process, can attempt to find any bias before running a survey, this isn’t always possible. If the goal is to find consumers who love General Mills, a marketer will initially ask consumers if they buy General Mills products before sending them to the rest of the questions and of course, it’s possible some would claim to buy the brand when they really don’t. This would immediately skew the results. Surveys must operate on the assumption that most contributors are answering to the best of their knowledge and allow for a small margin of nuances.


If survey answers are multiple choice, some answers may not be listed. Many wonder why there is not an answer that fits them on some survey questions. It is because the researcher wants participants to fit into the categories offered. Although they recognize that not all participants will comply, they want to connect mostly with the people that do fit into those categories. The best surveys will have an “other” or a “none of the above” option.


Respondents sometimes skip or are untruthful about personal questions, like income and age. Respondents have a natural inclination to be untruthful if they perceive that the question crosses a line. Annual income ranges are an example of this. Does it matter? Perhaps. Market Researchers know this and can work with it. If researchers want to know if those who make more than $100,000 like to buy a certain car or not, the survey should be approached with that qualification up front by gathering respondents who make that verified income range before even beginning the survey.


Marketers can be biased when putting together respondent qualifications or survey questions. It exists and is sometimes hard to pin down, but of course there can be bias when writing a survey. In addition, questions can be leading, which makes for a poor tool to gather unbiased data.


Sometimes surveys don’t hold consumer’s attention long enough to complete. Ideally, a survey is created with this in mind and retains the interest of respondents. Minimizing respondent fatigue and making the survey as user friendly as possible is paramount to getting the best responses possible. qSample keeps this in mind before fielding any surveys and employs several different tactics to keep respondents engaged.


Understanding the potential cons of surveys, market researchers have implemented methods to minimize these issues and gather accurate data.  With the large reach of surveys, and especially qSample’s online and mobile options, marketers can reach the exact market of people that they need and gather the best data possible.


Focus Group Evolution

“After working with the team from qSample, we decided to move all our survey research to online, and now we are able to conduct research fast, with less expense, and with more accurate samples than ever.” Jim Kitchens, Ph. D, President of The Kitchens Group.

After realizing that using online and mobile technology for gathering insight is more efficient and faster than the traditional ways of conducting in-person research (or even on the phone), many qSample clients have embraced new virtual options offered for their quant and qual needs.

qSample blends both qualitative and quantitative research to provide the most comprehensive research solution for its clients. The ability to conduct online focus groups using a custom online chat platform takes advantage of both methodologies. As a result, clients receive respondent data in more detail. This process also allows the researcher to cross reference quantitative data when conducting qualitative research.

Clients see success in the number of responses and the quality of the feedback received as well. There is no doubt about it: online options are less expensive, more time efficient and also often require less manpower to administer. In addition, online options bring benefits including the ability to gather more respondents and increased opportunity for communication throughout the process.

Social media has responded in kind. We as consumers can now take surveys on Facebook and survey sites and these sites make it easier to get questions out to the masses. We can vote, see other people’s responses, add commentary and review products and services online as well.

Focus groups are a great way to help find evidence when trying to prove or disprove a theory and even with a large number of research dollars earmarked for qualitative research, companies always look for ways to make that money work more efficiently. Focus groups do not aim to reach consensus on the discussed issues. According to Monique M. Hennick in her book, “International Focus Group Research: A Handbook for the Health and Social Sciences”, ‘focus groups encourage a range of responses which provide a greater understanding of the attitudes, behavior, opinions or perceptions of participants on the research issues’.

Focus groups started right after World War II when the military was researching how US soldiers were responding to the propoganda films made famous by Uncle Sam. Robert K Merton and Paul Lazarsfeld disagreed with the leading questions that were presented to the soldiers and developed specified criteria to gather nonbiased feedback from them. Merton’s resulting book, “The Focused Interview”, published in the 1950’s, became a guide for scholars and researchers in the area of market research.

Social scientists came on board with focus groups in the 1980’s and despite the fact that focus groups were initially developed as an academic research method, they have become more synonymous with market research (Jeremy Munday, 2006). Marketers realized that groups might hold a key to discovering how/why/when people buy, when they need services and how they like to receive and dissimilate information. This all, of course, impacts their buying decisions.

In the 1990’s, online surveys became popular and soon thereafter, marketers realized that there was even more potential for gathering feedback online.

When implemented correctly, online market research can help companies determine proper targeting of the market and discover opportunities that may not have been clear before. In addition it can help evaluate success of a campaign, service or product and help identify the need for a change in tactics.


There are different types of focus groups. One of the most common types  – Instrumental Focus Group,  where the goal is to eject opinions, behavior patterns or knowledge. There are also Expressive Focus Groups, where the primary goal is the health and welfare of a participant (s). These groups are commonly held in the social services industries and in therapy or counseling venues.

How groups are structured varies greatly and is dependent on client request-as well as surveying recommendations to obtain the best feedback possible. Groups can range from completely structured/controlled to non-structured types; organized to receive responses to specific questions or more of an open-ended discussion. In a way, we start a focus group when we roundtable at work or conference call with other people to discuss a particular topic.

qSample often holds virtual focus groups in our customized chat rooms. The advantages of virtual versus traditional focus groups include:

Geographical – The location of respondents no longer matters so much, unless of course the client specifies that all respondents should be from a specific region or area. This allows marketers a larger group of respondents to pull from. In the area of attendance, virtual groups allow us to pull in feedback from professionals and executive who would commonly not have the time to participate.

Financial– The client can save money by using online options to hold focus groups. There are no longer costs for hotels, space to hold groups, production teams, recording equipment and more. The participant fee is commonly lower as well and all that’s necessary is access to a computer, which most of the population has.

Flexibility– Virtual survey and discussions can be much more flexible in both timing and format versus a traditional group. This is because the method can be applied to elicit information from any topic, from diverse groups of people and in diverse settings (Stewart, D.W., “Focus groups:Theory and practice, 2nd edition”). In addition, holding a group virtually may prevent biases amongst the participants and therefore skewed feedback.

Virtual focus groups also help with streamlining both projects and data. David Warwick, the President of iverificationservices.com says, “As we have completed projects with qSample, they have consistently helped us improve the projects and streamline the processes involved. Their advice and recommendations have improved the overall quality of the project objectives.”

To learn more about qSample’s online focus group capabilities, email inquiry@qsample.com

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


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.


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.


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