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Every marketing manager would love to know what consumers think about his brand - and why. The problem is that such research requires time and resources that cannot always be allocated. John Kearon, the owner of the BrainJuicer market research company, has found an easy, simple, quick and relatively inexpensive way to conduct a large sample study that will provide quality data.

BrainJuicer developed software for Internet surveys, but that is not the innovation. The difference is in the manner in which the survey's questions are presented. Unlike traditional market surveys, participants in BrainJuicer's surveys are asked interactive free text questions about their associations regarding specific items or terms, and are not provided with a list of options.

Kearon says that BrainJuicer is a kind of Freudian association game. Interviewees are asked for three associations with a particular subject, then they are asked what they meant, and finally are asked to indicate whether the associations they chose were positive or negative (on a scale of +3 to -3).

BrainJuicer takes the answers and compiles them into a map of the participants' conceptions. Kearon says that the innovation in the software is the technique, which "lets us understand what people think, and more importantly, why they think that way."

Kearon explains that in a regular survey among a target group it is possible to find out the reasoning behind consumers' opinions, but such findings have no statistical validity, while a quantitative study does not provide any insight into why consumers think the way they do. "We offer a qualitative survey with quantitative tools," says Kearon.

Selling iced tea

To further explain the technique, Kearon recounts a survey conducted in Britain, aimed at understanding why the launch of iced tea in that country has been unsuccessful. Unilever failed in three attempts to launch its iced tea in Britain, even though Britons drink more tea than cola, and it could have been expected that iced tea would be a dizzying success.

BrainJuicer examined what the British thought about tea, coffee, hot chocolate and iced tea. At the same time the software checked what Italians thought about iced tea, where consumption of this beverage is high, and then compared the results. The survey was conducted among 200 Britons and 200 Italians. Participants were asked to provide three associations with "iced tea," to explain them, and finally to rate them as positive or negative. To gain a better understanding of the participants, the questionnaire also asked participants their sex and age.

The eight most common associations among Britons were cold (30 percent), lemon (15 percent), ice (12 percent), tea (12 percent), simply awful (9 percent), refreshing (9 percent), summer (7 percent) and heat (3 percent). An analysis of the answers revealed, for example, that lemon is a negative association.

One of the advantages of the software is the speed with which it produces results - within three days. Another advantage is that the survey itself is relatively quick, lasting just 10 minutes, and is built like a game. These two characteristics make it more enjoyable that regular surveys, so consumers are more receptive to it.

Kearon says that until now the survey field was conservative and obsolescent, and that one of BrainJuicer's goals was to "let some fresh air into it."

"A study has to be organized and technical," says Kearon, "but that doesn't mean it has to be boring and expensive."

The fashionable and enjoyable image that the new software tries to adopt is evident at the company's Internet site (www.brainjuicer.com). Much thought was also invested in the design of the games, resulting in an interesting experience for the user, who can also access a summary of the answers given by other participants.

What's in a name?

Kearon, who studied law but preferred to work in marketing, founded his company in January 2002, under the name Creative Toolbox. He did not manage to sell a thing for nine months and thought a name change might help. After a few failed switches, he decided on BrainJuicer. It is unclear whether the new name did the trick or whether it was simply luck, but Nike became BrainJuicer's first customer.

Since then Kearon's telephone has not stopped ringing. In January 2003, Unilever decided to invest in the company, buying a 40-percent stake. BrainJuicer now has 23 employees and its client list includes Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble and McDonalds.

Kearon came to Israel to conduct a survey for Tnuva. Hagit Eldar, head of Tnuva's business and marketing division of the dairy conglomerate, said that Tnuva hired Kearon to reevaluate a few of the company's brands. Eldar noted that the survey indeed provided Tnuva with information on "what the consumers think," which will be added to the results of other surveys conducted by Tnuva itself.

"It is amazing how little consumers know about the brand," said Eldar, following Kearon's survey, "a lot less than the information gleaned from the target group."

The Tnuva survey was conducted among 700 people, about 30 percent of whom were Tnuva employees. "The nice thing about the survey is that it combines quality with quantity," notes Eldar. "We obtained a ton of information, although some of it needs to be treated with caution."

Eldar said there were two problems with the BrainJuicer survey: first, it is only for Internet users. "The survey showed that its participants had a higher than average awareness of health and consumerism," noted Eldar.

The second problem is the language. "The survey was analyzed in English, there were 1,200 associations that had to be translated, and some associations did not fare well in the translation," said Eldar. In English, for example, there is a difference between home and house, but in Hebrew there is not.

"There is always a problem with different languages," admits Kearon. Part of this problem will be solved, according to Kearon, via a joint venture with the Israeli company, Sit, which will provide research services using BrainJuicer software in Hebrew, with the results being analyzed in English.