Animated responses

Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort are often cited as top U.S. destinations to visit. Just the mere mention of going to a Disney park puts smiles on faces, no matter the age. But Disney Parks and Resorts’ success did not come by accident or some happy mistake. One of the secrets behind the magic? Putting consumers at the heart of the business.

As the organization that arguably pioneered the movement of treating customers like esteemed guests, it should come as no surprise that Disney Parks and Resorts’ philosophy – for generating insights and in general – is entirely consumer-focused, dating all the way back to the days of Walt Disney himself. And nowhere is it more important for consumers to feel like cherished guests than in Disney’s own parks and resorts.

“We always try to keep the original vision in mind, which is all about being consumer-centric,” says Joanne Ketchens, manager, consumer insight, at Disney Parks and Resorts in Orlando, Fla.

Seeking the why

Disney Parks and Resorts always strives to be innovative in the way it listens to consumers – constantly seeking the why behind the numbers to inform business strategy and decisions. The organization has sought the consumer perspective for decades to guide its established businesses as well as new endeavors. And just as Disney’s own offerings have evolved to fit into the digital age, so has its approach to insight.

Technology is drastically changing the research landscape as new eye-tracking, social media and mobile solutions come available. Disney Parks and Resorts was among the first few companies to incorporate a new qualitative mobile application to help make its research more immediately useful and more easily digested by the end users.

Disney Parks and Resorts initially began working with Menlo Park, Calif., research company Chatter Inc. to explore and assess the fundamental benefits of a variety of park, resort and vacation initiatives. In this case, Disney had plans to develop a national advertising campaign that featured its two domestic theme parks, Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif.

Prepared to test

By February 2012, with the foundation research regarding the benefits of the initiative concluded, Disney was prepared to test positioning territories for the accompanying ad campaign. “The purpose of the research was to guide and provide insight into our marketing messaging and strategy for Disney’s domestic parks,” says Ketchens. “We were at the exploratory stage of the research, as the positioning was only beginning to take shape. Our team was eager to get the learning and insight from this study.”

Around that same time, Chatter launched Real-Time Chatter, a suite of iPad applications for focus testing. The suite features two apps, one for assessing concepts and one for building collages used in projective exercises. Each app lets focus group respondents mark up and comment on stimuli directly on the iPad and then consolidates that feedback into a report that clients can view in real time, while the groups are going on.

“We created these apps because the traditional way of testing concepts, which is on paper, was monotonous for respondents and difficult for our clients to follow from the back room,” says Dan Lazar, Chatter’s president. “Real-Time Chatter keeps respondents engaged and gives clients a definitive feel for the group’s opinion immediately.”

Lazar demonstrated for Disney the concept assessment tool, which allows respondents to highlight likes and dislikes and rate and rank the concept description. The reporting tool then creates a heat map that shows concentrated areas of appeal and dislike among all the respondents.

This was music to Disney’s Mickey ears. “We saw the demo work in development and our project was a perfect match for the app. We were excited to try something new and innovative,” says Ketchens.

Once Disney decided to incorporate the tool, Ketchens began planning the research, which included a series of five geographically-diverse focus groups across North America in Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston.

One significant difference

Focus groups using the app operate largely the same as traditional focus groups but with one significant difference: The standard packet of stimulus material is replaced with an iPad. After introductions and acclimating the respondents to the task at hand, the moderator instructs each participant on how to use the iPad.

When it’s time to begin using the iPads, respondents are asked to log in to their designated subgroup. Subgroups are often determined by geography. Keeping feedback from focus groups in different cities separate allows the end user not only to look at the data as a whole but by each location individually, which can be useful in understanding geographic similarities and differences for relative comparison.

After the participants are logged in, the concept text to be tested appears on the screen. The app can support an unlimited number of concepts, with each concept appearing by itself on a tab within the app. Using red and green electronic “highlighters,” participants are asked to highlight the portions of text that they like (green) and dislike (red) on each of the concepts (Figure 1). They can also enter comments for each of the concepts to further explain the why behind their markups. Once the participants are finished highlighting a concept on a tab, they can submit their responses and the data is immediately available to those observing in the back room or remotely via a secure Web interface.

The back end

Logged in on the back end, the clients will see the concept’s words and phrases highlighted in various shades of red and green. A deep red or a bright green indicates strong negative and positive reactions, respectively, while paler shades of each color indicate weaker responses (Figure 2). Each word or phrase also has a number associated with it, indicating how many respondents selected the text as something that stands out positively or negatively.

Clients can sort the report findings by market, gender, age and segment, as each stage of the concept testing is recorded and archived for clients to refer back to. This versatility can yield additional insights and trends that the moderator can probe on in the room, while the group is still going on. “It allowed us to see the thought process and observe the respondents’ thoughts in real time,” says Ketchens.

Lazar says that in addition to consolidating respondent feedback instantly, the app also keeps respondents engaged. When using it, moderators no longer have to go around the room tallying each respondent’s reaction to the concept. Instead, the moderator gets an instant read on the room’s reaction and can then dive into the discussion immediately. This limits dead time and keeps the conversation lively.

Pleased with its simplicity

Despite being one of the first companies to use Real-Time Chatter for concept testing in live focus groups, Disney Parks and Resorts was pleased with its functionality and simplicity. Drawing on how intuitive the iPad is to use, this tablet solution aims to increase engagement while making the process easier. There is no need to screen for focus group participants who are iPad users or are familiar with iPads, and the ease with which even senior respondents used the iPad was impressive, says Ketchens.

Laptops, tablets and smartphones – or any device with a Wi-Fi connection – are notorious distractions in most business settings but respondents also demonstrated the ability to overcome the excitement of the shiny new toy in their hands relatively quickly, says Lazar. After a few minutes of being allowed to play around and become familiar with iPad, participants’ focus was restored. “Everyone was fully engaged and picked it up quickly,” says Ketchens.

Lighten the load

Ultimately, Chatter expects its focus group apps to lighten the load for all involved and, in turn, improve results. “Chatter is all about simplifying the research process so that we and the client can focus on the feedback and insights that matter,” says Lazar.

By not having mountains of data to sift through during and after the focus groups, the moderator, researchers and clients are free to focus on the discussion and the findings. And on the topic of results, Lazar warns clients not to be misled by the app’s reporting capabilities. Although the concept-testing feedback is presented in a quantitative-style report that can be segmented and crosstabulated, Lazar stresses that regardless of numbers, the data is still born of a qualitative process. “The reporting features are not meant to be used quantitatively because focus groups are not a representative sample. The final data is meant to be an impression,” says Lazar.

Fortunately for Disney, the impression was a lasting one. The results of Disney’s positioning study met expectations and Ketchens presented the findings of the app-aided focus groups to Disney’s dedicated advertising agency and marketing strategy team. The insights garnered from the research helped shape a multi-year marketing campaign in North America.

All about the consumer

There’s no telling what the next century will hold for Disney Parks and Resorts – or for research – but for all of the changes that may come via new techniques and technology, in the end it will still be all about the consumer. And, with the help of marketing research in all its forms, that’s the way it will stay.