The risks of market research

I have written multiple times recently about the perils of market research and a recent article by Kristen Berman and Dr. June John, [Don’t] Listen to Your Customer, builds on these perils. Berman and John write, “a sole reliance on customer input and feedback is built on an antiquated model of human decision making that assumes humans are rational,” and time again we see that people’s decision are often not driven by optimizing utility. Thus, talking to people and understanding their desires and aspirations to design products fails because most people do not know their desires and aspirations.

People do not answer accurately

The core problem with market research is you do not get true answers. In research done by Berman and John, they found that a small minority answered a question correctly about their own intent and importance. They asked people why they were or were not saving for retirement. 86 percent of people responded that saving for retirement was important. That response conflicted with the reality that in a typical company (without automatic opt-in), less than 50 percent of people would sign up for the retirement program. The authors write, “[t]he real reason people save for retirement or (don’t save) is because they’ve been defaulted into a savings plan. Companies who automatically enroll employees in a retirement savings plan increase savings rates by 50 percentage points. It has nothing to do with a preference for the future or not having enough money.”

Data is both inaccurate but also does not reflect motivators

Not only do people provide a response inconsistent with their actions, they often do not understand underlying causes of their behavior. In the retirement plan example, Berman and John followed up by asking why they had not enrolled in their company plan. Although data showed the key driver was whether it was or was not an opt-in plan, only 6.2 percent of respondents cited anything related to form design or default enrollment.

Basing decisions on these responses could have ruinous results. As the authors point out, “if we relied solely on data from these traditional qualitative and quantitative research methods, we would likely spend a lot of time and money building solutions that would miss the mark, and for sure be less effective than just designing a default enrollment.”

People are not lying

It is not that people are trying to mislead you when they respond inaccurately, the fundamental issue is that we are not conscious about the mental processes leading to decisions. We are also not cognizant that we do not know our own decision making processes.

Another study cited in the article showed over 70 percent of people did not know the underlying reason for a decision they made. Berman and John asked people if a default setting for organ donation and retirement savings would impact their choice. Despite data that shows such defaults nearly doubles the chance of someone opting in, 71 percent of people who said the default would not impact their retirement or organ-donation decision were “very” or “completely” confident in their answer.

The authors cite another study that reaffirms how confident people are in their incorrect responses. “They showed participants two female faces and asked which face was more attractive. After the participant pointed to a face, the researcher secretly swapped photos to the one they didn’t choose (think David Cooperfield). Then, the participant was asked to explain why they chose the face (which they didn’t actually pick). A majority of participants didn’t even notice the face swap. And furthermore, they went on to explain in great detail why they preferred that face. Most participants made up the reasons—good reasons—for liking a face that they didn’t actually choose. Only a third of people realized they had been tricked.”

Why it happens, ask Kayleigh McEnany

Given that people are not intentionally trying to be dishonest, you can ask why they are so inaccurate predicting and understanding their own behavior. Researchers have given this occurrence the name the Internal Press Secretary. Berman and John explain, “[t]he brain’s Press Secretary must, like a president or prime ministers’ press secretary, explain our actions to other people. “I don’t know” is simply not an acceptable answer. Many times the brain’s Press Secretary is correct, but other times, it’s just guessing, piecing together clues in order to give a plausible answer. The tricky thing is, we don’t know when our Press Secretary is using facts and when it’s just guessing.”

Kayleigh

Don’t ask, test

Given the challenges people face understand and explaining the actions they will take, product managers and designers need to find alternatives to traditional market research. One of the most powerful is to test what people will react to different choices. This testing can take the form of an ABn or multi-armed bandit test, where you present the options to a test and control group. It can be a preference test where you show customer or potential customers different concepts and see which one they are most likely to purchase or would spend the most for.

You can also look at responses in similar circumstances. How did a similar product or service perform? Did competitors launch comparable features? I often find that looking at adjacent or even completely different industries helps understand people’s true preferences. The key is using one or multiple tools that show actual decision making rather than relying on what customers believe is their preference.

Key takeaways

  1. A sole reliance on customer input and feedback, traditional market research, is built on a model of human decision making that assumes humans are rational, while in practice we are not.
  2. Not only do people provide a response inconsistent with their actions, they often do not understand the underlying causes of their behavior.
  3. Use one or multiple tools that show actual decision making, such as ABn testing or looking at reactions to similar initiatives in adjacent industries, rather than relying on what customers believe is their preference.

How to get your big initiatives done

A source of frustration not only for me but many of my colleagues is how important and large initiatives often run out of steam before getting finished. This failure is not due to re-evaluating the importance of the initiative but a loss of momentum or focus. Given that the value has not changed, these projects failing represents a huge potential loss. MOVE by Patty Azzarello provides a great framework for getting these projects done.

move

Over the years, I have championed or been part of multiple projects that had great potential, either new endeavors or initiatives to increase efficiency, but after a great start they get bogged down in the long middle phase. It’s not just in business where we run into this phenomenon. In MOVE , Azzarello uses the example of someone deciding to jog daily. First few days you get out and have a great run. Then your day of rest becomes two days of rest, then a week, eventually you are no longer jogging. Dieters face the same challenge. First week you stick to the new diet religiously and lose ten pounds, then you decide to cheat one night and have a piece of cake. Within a few weeks you are back to your old habits, and weight. To combat this phenomenon, Azzarello developed the MOVE model, which stands for Middle, Organizational, Valor and Everyone.

Slide1

Middle

The first element of the MOVE model is focusing on the Middle phase. This is the critical period as it is easy to get momentum at the beginning and also when the finish line is in sight it provides sufficient incentive to complete the initiative. It is the long, often hard and boring, phase in the middle where projects regularly stall and die.

To move through this middle phase, you need to allocate resources and measure outcomes. She points out you need to move from a vague timetable to one with small, clear and achievable targets throughout the process. In the dieting example, rather than just looking to lose 50 pounds, you set targets of losing 5, 10, 10, 10, 5, 5 and a final 5 pounds. Using the MOVE model with clear targets throughout the path will greatly improve the likelihood of getting the initiative done.

Organization

The second key of the MOVE model is Organization, building and aligning the organizational structure to succeed. You need to determine you have all the right people and resources. At the inception of the initiative, create a list of the resources and roles needed to succeed (do not tie it to your current team). Do not leave any role undefined and put in details on what every role entails (ability and experience). Also speak with colleagues and flesh out the requirements based on their input.

Once you understand what you need to succeed, then see what current team members can fill these roles. If there are gaps or unnatural fits, create a plan to overcome those issues. If you cannot get the resources to fill the gaps, build a plan on how you will overcome these holes. They will not go away simply by ignoring them.

The final phase of the O element is motivating the organization. You need to engage the team and ensure there is a common, and meaningful, purpose. Form bonds with everyone on the team and help them see the bigger picture of what you are trying to achieve.

Valor

The third part of the MOVE model is Valor. Every project runs into obstacles. There will be hard days as well as easy ones. To keep these hard days from sidetracking or stopping the project, you need to create a sense of valor. Being valorous is a matter of drawing on inner and outer resources. You need to ensure that your team members, as well as yourself, will not be paralyzed by fear when these challenges occur but will push forward despite these uncomfortable feelings. Rather than doing it all internally, connect with friends and mentors who can advise you on your initiative, preferably through past experience.

Your initiative may involve new processes and to help you fight through challenges when implementing them you should build in checkpoints and guidelines. By breaking up the initiative, it will be easier to fight through challenges as there will be a clear completion node.

Valor is much easier if you have a policy of ruthless prioritization. Rather than focusing or getting bogged down on tiny, unimportant details you work on the tough decisions that will make a major difference. Then, rather than having to fight through tens or hundreds of challenges, you are only fighting the ones that matter. To help ruthlessly prioritize, make a list of the three things crucial to the initiative’s success, consider these necessary and non-negotiable.

Everyone

The final part of the MOVE model is Everyone, getting everyone involved. No matter how great your valor is, you will not succeed in getting through the middle phase without the involvement of everyone. Rather than telling your team what the initiative is and how to get there, talk with them about how it will work. Not only will you get valuable feedback but they will start talking to each other about it, which will provide them with more ownership.

To help get everyone involved, create spaces where strategic conversations tied to the initiative can take place. Let them discuss the initiative and priorities. Also, get them involved in documenting the successes along the way. As they hit the milestones, have them talk about it and acknowledge the success. It is also important acknowledge the problems and how you will get through them to keep the project on tracks.

For everyone truly to be involved, there needs to be trust among your team. The best way to build trust is to talk to members of your team, more precisely to listen to them. Ask them what they think of the initiative and how it is going. Act on concerns that they show. Asking these questions will help forge deep bonds with your team.

MOVEing forward

The MOVE model is more than a just four elements of a process; it is a way to get big initiatives and changes done. The key to using it to make it through the challenging middle phase of an initiative is how the MOVE model starts with a clear and concrete strategy, builds an organization structure with capacity, highlights valor to make tough decisions and prioritize change and then engages everyone.

Key takeaways

  1. Many important initiatives, from new products to operational efficiency, bog down and die in the middle phase. They initially have momentum but stall once the initial burst dies down.
  2. To MOVE projects through this middle phase, the Middle element needs a clear and concrete strategy and you need an Organizational structure with capacity to complete the initiative.
  3. The final keys to getting through the middle phase are Valor, making tough decisions and prioritizing the initiative, and getting Everyone involved.

Why Evo’s $2 billion+ acquisition of NetEnt is more important (to both iGaming and social casino) than you think

Last week, Evolution Gaming offered €1.8 billion ($2.02 billion) for NetEnt AB, which while a large deal in absolute numbers actually has even greater implications and lessons for the gaming space (both social and real money). While a $2 billion deal is significant, in the grand scheme of iGaming it is dwarfed by Flutter’s purchase of the Stars Group; GVC’s acquisitions of Ladbrokes, PartyPoker and Coral; and even Stars’ acquisition of SkyBet. These other deals, however, were largely driven by synergies and market opportunities while the Evolution acquisition of NetEnt shows a structural shift in the space.

Live Dealer for the Win

The most important lesson is that the Live Dealer vertical is becoming the most important, and valuable, segment of the gaming space. This transaction shows that Live Dealer, which effectively did not exist ten years ago, now is driving the casino industry. NetEnt is the largest provider of online real money slots content in Europe, so the fact that the largest Live Dealer provider was able to acquire, rather than by acquired by, the largest slot provider shows the relative value of both verticals.

What is Live Dealer?

For those not familiar with Live Dealer, and it is still largely unknown in North America and in social gaming, a live dealer casino is a room, or series of rooms, on an online gaming site, where you can play traditional or modern casino games that are run by a real-live person. Games run the gamut of table games you would see in a casino, with revenue largely driven by blackjack, roulette, lottery and baccarat, though there are now many interesting variants and new game categories. What makes Live casinos so exciting is that the games are run in real-time by a human dealer and players are able to take part in the game on their mobile device or computer. It also increases players’ trust, as customers often will trust a live person more than a Random Number Generator (RNG).

PT Blackjack

Who is Evolution Gaming

Evolution Gaming (Evo) is the largest provider of Live Dealer content and services to Real Money Gaming operators; they provide the content that its customers (online iGaming operators) then show to players (Evo is 100% B2B). Evo was founded in 2006 and reached its first agreements to provide Live Dealer services in 2007. Evo now has over 70 percent of the European Live Dealer market and has continued growing about 30 percent each year. It has over 700 table and offers Live Dealer content to its customers’ players every hour of every day.

Why this deal shows Live Dealer has won

Very few companies have gone from start-up mode to being able to make a $2 billion acquisition of an industry leader in such a short time. While Evo has run its business brilliantly, it shows the underlying strength of Live Dealer. While the Live Dealer vertical is about 15 years old, compared to the Slots vertical which has been around since 1894, it has already surpassed slots with several major online casinos and is likely to at least be equal with slots in the near future.

Live Casino is also a better business than slots for (a very few) providers

The other element of the Evo-NetEnt deal, and the fact that Evo is the acquirer, is that a top Live Casino provider is in a stronger position than a top slots provider. Live Casino has huge barriers to entry as companies have to create studios to provide the content and each table requires dealers/presenters as well as the technology infrastructure. With Evo providing over 700 tables, it would cost a new entrant tens of millions of dollars even to create an inferior offering. Due to these barriers to entry, there are effectively only two companies (Playtech being the other) that provide a competitive and robust offering. It is interesting that NetEnt, even with its vast resources, tried and largely failed to penetrate the Live Dealer space.

PT roulette

Contrast that situation with the slots world. A small studio with a talented mathematician/game designer and artists can create a slot that competes with the top providers. They may even do it without the mathematician or artists, outsourcing those tasks. Last year at ICE, I commented that slots content has become a commodity, that problem has only accelerated. While there will be some hit slots that perform exceptionally well, there are tens if not hundreds of company’s capable of creating a top-10 slot (yet only ten, at most, will).

While NetEnt is also a great company, you do not pay $2 billion for a bad one, it does not have the same defensive moat that Evo has. They constantly have to compete for operators’ attention, and eventually the attention of end users, with slots all the other slot providers worldwide. The situation has gotten worse as major operators are now creating their own slots, further fragmenting the addressable audience. This problem is likely to accelerate as barriers to creating slots continue to fall. NetEnt also provides its games in a very competitive environment, which gives operators leverage on deal terms while operators have much less bargaining power when dealing with Evo.

Implications for iGaming RMG

While most European real money gaming operators have already embraced Live Dealer, this deal shows that they should realize that both it and slots are likely to be equally important and allocate resources accordingly.

US casino

More importantly, many of the nascent US real money casinos that do not have an experienced European partner do not understand the dynamics of and need to embrace Live Dealer as a central part of their offering.

Implications for social casino

The implications for the social casino space are greater than for RMG. While RMG has already “discovered” Live Dealer, most social casino companies have not even dipped their toes into this vertical for a couple of reasons.

  • It is not top of mind. Most social casino operators focus on their competitors and while they may be aware of Live Dealer, they do not see how much it has grown. Social casino companies are also often based in the US or Israel, two markets where real money Live Dealer is either non-existent or limited to a very small part of the market.
  • You cannot create a good Live Dealer experience internally. Unlike Real Money, virtually all social casinos rely on internally created content. Not an issue when creating slots, many of the social slots are better than what is available in real money, but the huge fixed costs in setting up a good Live Dealer operation is prohibitive.
  • Live Dealer started around 2007 and only became so powerful in the last few years, as the development of Evo shows, while the major social casinos launched what is still their major products when slots dominated (Slotomania and Doubledown in 2010, Jackpot Party in 2011, Heart of Vegas in 2013, etc.). Those products have evolved in terms of product management and the quality of the slots, but the overall products have not changed significantly.

While social casino companies have not seen the opportunity, it clearly exists. Outside of sports betting (which has different underlying dynamics), the social casino space has largely mirrored real money gaming. The various verticals (slots, table games, poker, bingo, etc.) enjoy similar market share in both spaces and see similar behavior from players. The exception is Live Dealer, and the social casinos that learn to leverage Live Dealer will enjoy the same success as the RMG casinos that adopted it early.

Key takeaways

  • Evolution Gaming, the largest Live Dealer provider, recently announced a bid to acquire NetEnt, the largest slots provider for $2+ billion.
  • The deal, in that Evo is the acquirer, shows that Live Dealer is eclipsing slots in the casino ecosystem.
  • For real money operators, they need to ensure they balance resources around both Live Dealer and slots while social casino companies need to figure out the best way to embrace this opportunity.