"A Great Program Director" – Follow-Up
Dr Wimmer: Thank you so much. This is everything I remember and actually more than I remember, all good. Now I have a few questions:
1. What does “a champion for P-1 listener wants and needs” mean? Why would you not be a champion for all your listeners? I have been told that growing P-2 listeners into P-1 listeners is actually more important, same with moving P-3s to P-2s.
2. “Puts research to work to stay in touch with her/his target.” Why does one need to stay in touch with the target? Do their wants and needs and opinions really change that much, once you know what they want/need is that not enough?
It is not my purpose to disagree with Mr. Martin, but what is your opinion? - KL
KL: Sorry the process of getting the ad and answering your questions has taken so long, but I have been busy with other things and didn’t have time to get everything together.
Anyway…Here are my thoughts about your questions:
1. Champion: When used in this context, the word champion means “advocate” or “defender.” Knowing David, I don’t think he suggests to forsake the needs of other listeners, but rather that your P1s give you the majority of your quarter hours and you need to pay attention to what these people want to hear.
A radio station has many types of listeners. If you try to satisfy the needs of all listeners, you’ll have a radio station that sounds disjointed. Why? Because you can’t simultaneously attend to the desires of so many diverse groups of listeners. You need to concentrate on a sample of listeners, and the best sample to focus on is your P1s (fans).
This doesn’t mean that you neglect the P2s and other Ps. You must pay attention to them because, as you said, you are trying to convert these folks to P1s. But your focus must be on P1s. This is the simplest approach (Occam’s Razor) and one that allows you to provide a well defined radio station.
2. Target: Does the target change? Yes, the target changes and that’s why you need to regularly check what these people want to hear. Many radio managers falsely assume that the research results will be stable for a long time (or forever). That’s not true. People are fickle and it’s necessary to keep up with their quirks.
You should conduct a research study at least once a year to find out what’s going on with your audience. At best, the results from any research study are good for no more than one year. In my nearly 30 years of experience in radio research, I have seen that the most successful radio stations (just like all successful businesses) continually assess the needs of their audience (customers).
OK, so those are my answers. However, I thought you might be interested in what David Martin had to say about your questions and sent your email to him. This is what he said about your comments:
1. Champion: Building or growing your brand—your radio station—demands that you focus on heavy users. These are the folks responsible for the majority of your quarter-hour contributions. To be successful you need to “hunt where the ducks are,” or put another way, “to catch trout, use trout bait.”
The study of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) is instructive here. In the ongoing battle for beer buyers, each brand targets heavy users, typically males, who prefer beer as their beverage of first choice and accordingly purchase the most beer. This heavy user group decides the winner and offers the best return on investment. Converting the much larger occasional beer buyer group into heavy users is a far more difficult and expensive challenge.
Please allow me to suggest two books. The Responsive Chord by Tony Schwartz and Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves. Reeves states as a “law” the following: “If the product does not meet some existing desire or need of the consumer, the advertising will ultimately fail.” On the other hand, as Bill Bernback once said, “Good advertising only makes a bad product fail faster.” As a practical matter, this means if you are a Country radio station, you need to get as many of the people who love and prefer Country music to love and prefer your brand of Country above all others.
2. Target: Measured media exist in a dynamic environment. The number and quality of choices available to your target is never static. Survey research is a “snap shot.” In the best case, you are able to capture a sense of audience wants, needs, attitudes, perceptions, likes and dislikes reflecting the moment of your capture. The mediascape (or reality) of your media marketplace is much more like a motion picture, constantly in motion.
Put another way, radio is similar to fashion. The clothing presently in your closet will most often be compared to the clothing now available in retail stores. However, what you liked or disliked one year ago may not now be the same. Your preferences are influenced by a set of variables including today’s available choices. “Did I really think that Members Only jacket was cool?” Keep in mind the perceptions, or attitudes about your radio station, are the result of not only how your radio station sounds, but the contrast created by how others sound as well.
One of the greatest challenges for every PD is to put themselves on the listener side of the radio, to grasp this - all that is important is what comes out of the speaker, everything else is a footnote. Listen to your radio station, carefully study your audience and the market, and then ask yourself the most important question of all—WHY? The job of research is to help provide the insights you need to effectively give the audience what they want more often than your competition.
Please note that David Martin’s “A Great Program Director” material is copyrighted, so don’t reproduce it in anyway unless you have David’s permission. You can write to him by clicking here: David Martin.
Programming and GMs
A few weeks ago, you said that GMs have no place in programming decisions. I agree and have opinions as to why that is, but can you spell out why YOU think so in terms that a GM would understand and agree with? - Anonymous
Anon: I might have gone a little overboard in saying that GMs have NO place in programming. Actually, I think they can provide some helpful advice. But that’s the limit—advice only.
In order to explain why GMs don’t belong in programming, allow me to step back a bit….OK, I’m back.
In my opinion, the role of the PD is to construct the radio station’s programming and make sure that it stays on course. In order to do this, I think the PD should rely on his/her experience and talents as well as the advice from other people, like listeners, consultants, researchers, other PDs, and anyone else who understands programming beyond the ability to say “that sucks.” By that, I mean…there are limits to the type of person the PD should consult. Everyone in America over the age of 12 thinks that he/she is a programmer, but that doesn’t mean that every one of these people can offer good suggestions. They can’t.
OK, with that said, here are the reasons why a GM should stay out of programming:
Programming a radio station (or TV station) is a full-time job. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a part-time program director. The GM already has a full-time job that consists of overseeing everything at the radio station. The GM cannot function as a PD because that’s two full-time jobs.
A GM should hire qualified people to run the departments in the radio station—just like a professional coach in any sport. A coach hires the best players, tries to teach fundamentals and guidelines, and then lets the players play the game. Same thing with a GM—hire the best people, teach fundamentals and guidelines, then let them run the radio station.
Among other things, successful PDs learn from experimentation and from making mistakes. If a PD has a GM who is always hanging around looking over the proverbial shoulder to make sure that things are done “correctly,” the PD will never grow. By virtue of the GM’s superior position (THE boss), the GM can have a chilling effect on the PD’s decisions and that’s not good. (For example, the PD won’t try something new for fear of upsetting the GM.) It’s not good for a PD to always look toward the GM for approval for decisions. When that happens, the PD is merely a mouthpiece for the GM—and that don’t be right.
A GM is a significant person in the radio station because he/she represents the radio station, keeps things working smoothly, and provides direction for everyone. But the GM should not try to function as the PD, even if the GM was a former PD. Advice is OK, but that’s the limit.
The PD should view (and use) the GM as “The Godfather” or “The Godmother” who is consulted when help is needed. “XYZ Records won’t give us service? Don’t worry about it, I’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse.” That’s a GM’s role.
Programming and K.I.S.S.
Some programming old schoolers in radio swear by the "Keep It Simple Stupid" principle and I wanted to know how true they are or have ever been. They say:
Cume is a measure of the response to how well promotions/marketing is executed.
TSL is a measure of how good the music product is.
The balance between cume and TSL is how well both are navigated. In other words, create the reasons to get listeners to the radio station and have something to keep them there.
Anon: Well, I guess I’m one of the "Old Schoolers" in believing that the simplest way is usually the best. However, as I have said in this column many times, the idea of simplicity is not mine, nor is it the idea of the programming "Old Schoolers."
William of Occam, probably the most influential philosopher of the 14th century, first formally discussed the concept of simplicity. Willy followed an axiom (or rule) we now refer to as "Occam’s Razor." Willy said, "What can be done with fewer assumptions is done in vain with more." In today’s language, we say, "Keep it simple (stupid)."
The concept of simplicity and Occam’s Razor is appropriate for all areas of life, not just radio programming. However, let’s go to the videotape, I mean, your questions . . .
1. Fundamentally, I agree with point number one. However, I would change the word "measure" to "indication." I would do this because a radio station’s cume is a multivariate (many variable) phenomenon. That is, a radio station doesn’t develop cume only from promotions and marketing, but also through word-of-mouth, accidentally finding the radio station on the dial, and many other things.
I do agree that radio stations should pay attention to their execution of promotions and marketing. Many do not. Many radio station managers air TV spots or put up billboards (and other forms of communication) without testing them with their audience. In many cases, a promotions and marketing campaign can turn people away from a radio station.
2. In point number two, I would eliminate the word "music" because the point also relates to news/talk radio stations. If you have been reading this column for a while, you should expect me to agree with this one because it refers to something I have said hundreds of times: Find out what your listeners want, give it to them, and then tell them that you gave it to them.
Another way to describe TSL is "How much do listeners like what we have on the air?" If a radio station’s TSL is high, it is providing what the listeners want; if the TSL is low, then something don’t be right. It’s as simple as that (Occam’s Razor).
3. I just answered your point number 3 (Find out what people want). However, I would change the word "balance" to "size." In other words, "The size of cume and TSL depends on . . ."
I agree with the "Old Schoolers." If you make radio too complicated, you will be trapped in a quagmire of meaningless nonsense. (That’s "Wimmer’s Razor.")
I have been an APD for a few years, and I’m looking to apply for a PD position. Many job ads ask for a programming philosophy. Should this be a one-page document like a resume, or should it be more detailed? And what are the most important things to include? - Anonymous
Anon: The programming philosophy requested in job ads is asking for your approach to programming. In other words, what guides you in your decision-making? For example, a programming philosophy might be as simple as: Find out what my target audience wants, give it to them, and tell them that we gave it to them.
Or you might say something like, "My programming philosophy is to find out what my target audience wants and present those demands in the most artistic, creative, and entertaining way."
The best thing for you to do is to sit down and write for a while. Write all the guidelines you believe are important for a program director. Then use those guidelines as the foundation for your programming philosophy.
There are no rules for the length of a programming philosophy statement. The length depends on what information you include.
Programming Philosophy -2
Almost every posting for PD openings require you to send your programming philosophy. What are some of the specific things that would be included in this? - Anonymous
Anon: Consider your question this way . . . What things will you do as PD to make the radio station #1 in the market? What ever you say to answer that question is your programming philosophy.
I have never been a PD nor have I ever applied for a position, but if I did, I probably would answer the question something like this:
My goal is to oversee the development of the #1 AC (or whatever the format) radio station in the market. In order to do this, I would follow this simple two-step philosophy:
1. Have an absolute understanding of my target.
2. Find out what the target wants, give it to them, and tell them that we gave it to them.
Progressive Insurance TV Commercial Spokeswoman
Doc: I noticed you identified
the woman who used to do the satellite TV ads, so I thought you might be able to
tell me the name of the woman who does the Progressive Insurance TV ads. She's
the one who usually does something funny in the ad (or tries to). - Anonymous
Anon: The woman in the Progressive Insurance ads is Stephanie Courtney and you can find out about her if you click here. In addition, here are a few photos of her.
Promos - Listener Retention
Dear Doctor, I really enjoy your column. It’s weekly required reading for me (you’re even an action item in my day planner each week).
I’m in the process of putting together some new imaging for the radio station I work at. These are montage type promos where artist #1 will say his/her name, followed by a short hook from that artist, then artist #2 will say his/her name, followed by a hook from that artist. The promo will be tagged with the station voice with the station’s positioning statement. My Program Director wants me to use a core artist and a high profile secondary artist in each promo.
Is there any research that indicates the best placement of the artist clip and hook within the promo? Obviously, we want the core artist and hook to stand out in the promo and be remembered. Is the listener more likely to recall the first artist/hook they hear, or the second?
Thank you in advance for your response. - Anonymous
Anon: I’m glad to hear that you enjoy the column. Keep up with your required reading. On to your question…
I don’t know the length of the promo you’re going to produce, but the answer is going to be the same. If you conduct music tests, the songs you should include in your promo should come from the top 10 songs in your test. If you don’t conduct music tests, then select your artists from your rotation; that is, use artists who are in your highest rotation.
In reference to placement of the hooks in the promo…I have conducted many studies on this and haven’t found one approach that is preferred. The placement varies by format, age, sex, and the type of promo.
So here’s a suggestion: Since there isn’t one approach that’s preferred (or most effective), produce three versions of the promo. Version 1 has the hooks at the beginning, Version 2 has the hooks in the middle, and Version 3 has the hooks at the end. Not only will this cover all possibilities, but it also will add variety and reduce listeners’ complaints about hearing the promo all the time.
By the way, when listeners hear hooks in a promo or commercial, they usually remember the song they like the most regardless of the song’s placement with other hooks.
Promo Placement in Stop Sets?
Hey Roger: Arthur from sunny Perth, Western Australia. I'm still enjoying your column after all these years! What's your thoughts/experiences/research on the placement of produced station promo spots — at the start and/or end of a stop set? Thanks for your insight. - Arthur
Arthur: I'm glad to hear from you again and also glad that you still enjoy the column. I wonder how many thousands of questions you have read? Good for you. On to your question . . .
I have tested your question several times in the past few decades, so these aren't my opinions. I found the best thing to do with promos is vary their placement — sometimes they're at the start of a stop set and sometimes they're at the end. If you air the promos at the same place every time, listeners become accustomed to them and tune them out. I mean that literally — excluding traffic reports, news reports, and a few other things that should be at the same time every day, promos and other "filler" materials should not be aired at the same time or in the same way every day. Variety holds the listeners' attention; uniformity becomes predictable and boring.
Do you have any research on the effective quality of recycle promos that are used to promote morning shows through out the day in hopes of attracting (holding) morning show cume? I have heard many stations use clips of funny moments from the morning show in a :30 promo that usually includes, "Here is what you missed on the morning show." Does this mention of the past really inspire listeners to tune in tomorrow in your opinion? Have you studied these kinds of promos? Thanks so much, Doc. - Anonymous
Anon: Yes, I have studied these types of promos on several occasions, and in every situation I found that they aren't very effective. The reason is that the material may be funny to the person producing the promo, but it may not be funny to a majority of listeners, particularly those who don't currently listen to the morning show being promoted.
In many situations, the "Here is what you missed" approach creates the opposite reaction — Many listeners say something like, "I'm glad I missed it." I agree with the listeners. There is a Rock station here is Denver that uses the approach, and I can't ever remember thinking that I needed to try the morning show based on the, "Here is what you missed" promo I heard. I was happy to hear that I missed what was included in the promo.
Listeners say it's a poor approach, and this is supported by a basic fact in communications theory — People perceive things differently. A better approach to use in a recycling promo is to tell the listeners what they will hear when they tune in, but the explanation should be somewhat ambiguous so that each person can interpret the promo in his or her unique way. An ambiguous message will be more effective in encouraging people to listen to the morning show than a "Here is what you missed" message.
I’m the PD for a Classic Rock radio station in a medium-sized market. I have been begging my GM for advertising and promotion money for a long time, but I always get the same answer—“We have been here for years and everyone knows about us.” Do you have any evidence to prove that he’s right or wrong? - JT
JT: I edited your question a bit to eliminate some proprietary information. I don’t think I changed the meaning of your question. Please let me know if I did.
Yes, I do have such evidence and so does every other radio researcher in the country. There are thousands of research studies to show that your GM is wrong.
I don’t know which market you’re in, but it doesn’t matter, but here are a few reasons why everyone in your market doesn’t know your radio station:
Many people just moved to your market. How many? I don’t know, but you could find out by contacting the chamber of commerce or a government agency.
Many people recently entered your target demographic. How many? I don’t know, but you could find out from census information or a perceptual study.
Many people who have lived in your market for several years have never listened to your radio station and don’t even know it exists. How many? I don’t know, but you could find out if you conducted a perceptual study.
I have heard this “everyone knows us” comment many times and it’s a pile of Vulpes Fulva leavings. There isn’t anything that everyone knows, and if your GM thinks that everyone in your market knows your radio station, then your GM needs to take a reality pill. Your GM is 100% wrong.
Promotion — Continuous or Not?
Dr: I'm thinking of taking a job as a PD at a very successful small market Country formatted station. I saw the Arbitron numbers and they have a ton of cume! However, they don't feel they need to promote the station with any outside marketing (billboards, TV, direct mail, etc). How do I persuade the GM they need to promote to keep that level of audience listening? Thanks. - The Great One
TGO: Here's the deal . . . Commercial radio stations earn money by selling advertising time to clients. Radio station advertising sales reps contact clients and convince them that they need to continually advertise because persuasion is most successful through repetition of a message. Sales reps explain that continually contacting customers and future customers is the best approach for success.
OK, so that's what radio ad reps do. That is what radio station owners and operators (GMs and others) instruct their sales reps to do — explain the benefits of advertising and the need to advertise on a consistent basis.
So what do many owners and operators do when it comes to advertising their own product? Just what the GM at the Country radio station you mentioned in your question said — there is no need to promote the radio station because it's already successful.
That logic makes no sense and gives me a huge indication that the GM in question is probably in a position where he/she does not belong. If radio stations tell clients that advertising is important and repetition of the message is the key, then why in the world would these people not follow the advice they give to their clients? Why do these people think that radio or TV stations are exempt from the rules/laws of communication/persuasion? Quite frankly, that is stupid.
Promotion vs. Ratings
Hello Doc! Have you ever examined the relation between on-air contests and games (quizzes, trivia etc.) and ratings? At our station, we always schedule the contests/games (or rather the prizes to give away) to the monitoring week (the period when the survey is conducted each month). Have you done a research on such this relationship? Does it really bring more listeners, or is there any connection between ratings and this kind of on-air promotion? - Zo
Zo: Hello again to you. You certainly are a curious person.
First, you must understand that radio and TV ratings are a function of many, many variables, not just one or two. I wrote about this several months ago and it’s on my company website. Click here, Wimmer Research, go to the “Readings” section and click on Radio Station Ratings: Where Do the Numbers come from? (or click here.) In that article, you’ll see some of the many variables that may or may not affect a radio station’s ratings. One of them is contests or games. But that’s only one of them.
In the 20+ years of conducting radio research, I have never seen a scientific study investigating the relationship between contests and ratings. What I have seen and heard are indications of the relationship. Someone will show the current ratings where the cume and/or AQH are up from the last book, and say something like, “See! The contest was successful!”
One problem. There is no proof for the person’s statement. The ratings are up, the radio station had a big contest, and the indications are there, but there is no definitive proof. One or more of several other variables could have caused the increase.
As with many topics in radio, your question will be debated forever because no radio company is willing to spend money to conduct the research to know if such a relationship exists. If someone has such a study, I would be happy to see it.
Doc: I finally got the break I have been looking for and I do the midday show on an AC radio station. When I was doing my show last Friday, I mispronounced the name of a local town. After my show, one of the other jocks told me about the mispronunciation and said that I need to pay attention to such things because listeners get upset with mispronunciations, bad grammar, and other things, and may tune out. Is that true? - Anonymous
Anon: You'll notice that I edited your question a bit. I don't think I changed the meaning of your question, but let me know if I did. Your friend is partly correct. Here is what I have heard/seen in the past 25+ years . . .
While the importance of good grammar and pronunciation has faded somewhat in the general population (some people refer to this phenomenon as the "dumbing down of America"), most older listeners (about 25+) tend to expect that the on-air personalities on their favorite radio stations will pronounce things correctly and use, at least, commonly accepted good grammar.
Most younger people (under 25) don't voice as many complaints because they have NO clue as to whether the jock is mispronouncing words or using bad grammar. For example, if a jock says, "Me and Linda will be at Joe's Bar tonight," most younger listeners would probably say something like, "Hey, cool," as opposed to "Did he just say, 'ME and Linda?"
Will older listeners tune out if you make mistakes? Probably not unless you repeatedly make gross errors. Most listeners tend to forgive an occasional mispronunciation or bad choice of grammar, but if the errors are frequent, you can blow a goodbye kiss to a number of your listeners. I can't tell you how many unless you did a research study for your radio station.
One more thing . . . If you do make an error and catch yourself, there is nothing wrong with immediately correcting yourself on the air. Listeners will appreciate your effort, trust me. For example, if you catch yourself saying something, "Me and Linda will be at Joe's Bar tonight," there is nothing wrong with saying, "Wait, did I just say, Me and Linda? I meant, Linda and I will be at Joe's Bar tonight."
In summary, always keep in mind that you are a professional communicator and you should know how to pronounce words correctly and use correct grammar, but don't lose sleep over an occasional mistake—no one is perfect.
Pronunciation - Comment
Roger: The above topic hit home. I hear and see a lot of spots in our market (Las Vegas) that were obviously recorded somewhere else because some things, including our state name, Nevada, are mispronounced. I can't believe that out of state agencies that produce these spots don't check with the locals that they are producing the spots for. I do out of market spots for a major production house and we always check. As ever. - Jerry Gordon
Jerry: Nice to hear from you again. I know what you mean by out-of-market spot production, but you have to keep in mind that most of the people who do these spots are only interested in getting the spot done. They don't care about pronunciation, accuracy, or anything else. In other words, they don't give a rat's tail about quality.
Doc, Would you please explain what “pseudoscience” is? One of my callers mentioned it today and I’d like to know more about the term. - JT
JT: In brief, pseudoscience is a “science” that consists of nothing but claims, anecdotes, urban legends, and so on. The reason this type of stuff is called pseudoscience (also known as “junk science”) is that there is no way to test the validity of the claims, anecdotes, and so on—there is no way to prove the information.
Here is a quick definition” Pseudo = fake. Therefore, pseudoscience = fake science.
Some areas that fall into the category of pseudoscience include astrology, phrenology (study of the structure of the skull), Scientology (L. Ron Hubbard), and many more.
Here are a few links for further information:
And here is a Google search for you for even more stuff: Fake Science.
By the way, pseudoscientific statements run rampant in the radio industry. Here are a few:
1. The order in which songs are tested in music tests will affect song scores.
2. You must use virgin respondents in music tests to avoid “professional” respondents.
3. Syndicated TV spots are equally successful in all markets.
4. The larger the sample used in research, the better the results will be.
5. This [fill in whatever you
want] worked in other markets, so it should work for you.
Public File (FCC)
Can you give me an outline of
what needs to be in a "public file" as far as FCC regulations. Any info at all
would be helpful. By the way, you rock! - Anonymous
Anon: I rock? Thanks. I will alert my wife. On to your question . . .
If you read this column often enough, you know I don't like to reinvent the information wheel. So, everything you need to know about the FCC's Public File requirements is located on this FCC page. When you get there, scroll down to section titled, "THE LOCAL PUBLIC INSPECTION FILE."
Purchasing Behavior (Republican/Democrat/Conservative/Liberal)
Hi Doc: I have seen research in the past that indicates, for example, that Liberals tend to favor Starbucks while Republicans tend to favor Dunkin' Donuts. Two questions:
1. Is there any research that Liberals have a proclivity for iPhones, while BlackBerry attracts Republicans?
2. How valid/accurate is this type of research? - Anonymous
Anon: Hi to you too. I'll try to keep my answer short, but there are a few things about your question that I need to address, particularly in reference to the words "Liberal" and "Republican."
You obviously aren't the only person on the planet who uses these words to describe a person, idea, or philosophy, and in your question, you use them in reference to research you have read. The words "Liberal" and "Republican," along with "Conservative" and "Democrat" have been used for hundreds of years. The problem I have is that the four words, along with the association Republican=Conservative and Democrat=Liberal, is that all of the words are extremely vague—so much so that I can't find a universally accepted definition for the words, especially when it comes to describing political ideas or philosophy.
For example, look at some of the references on the Internet that discuss the differences between the terms Republican and Democrat—click here. You'll also find an equally huge number of discussions about the differences between liberal and conservative—click here.
If you checked some of those references, I think it should be clear that there isn't one universally accepted description of the differences between Republican and Democrat and Conservative and Liberal. That's a problem when it comes to research that uses any of these four words.
To further verify the ambiguous meanings of the words, here are definitions from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, edited for space:
1. One that favors or supports a republican form of government
2. A member of a political party advocating republicanism
3. A member of the Democratic-Republican party or of the Republican party of the U.S.
1. An adherent of democracy
2. One who practices social equality
3. A member of the Democratic party of the United States
Conservative as a Noun
1. An adherent or advocate of political conservatism; a member or supporter of a conservative political party
2. One who adheres to traditional methods or views; a cautious or discreet person
Conservative as an Adjective
1. Of or relating to a philosophy of conservatism
2. Tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions; marked by moderation or caution 3. Marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners
Liberal as Noun
1. A person who is open-minded or not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways
2. A member or supporter of a liberal political party
3. An advocate or adherent of liberalism especially in individual rights
Liberal as an Adjective
1. Marked by generosity, openhanded, given or provided in a generous and openhanded
2. Not literal or strict
3. Broad-minded; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms
What? Not one of the words is clearly defined. Each word is defined by equally ambiguous descriptions, and, as I mentioned earlier, clarity is important in research. Why? Because in order to test or measure anything, the "thing" tested must have a clear and unambiguous definition; an operational definition that defines the item exactly. A reliable (Does the test provide consistent results?) and valid (Does the test/measurement actually test or measure what is intended to be tested or measured?) test or measurement of something cannot be conducted without clear, distinct, and unambiguous words or terms.
OK, with all that as an
introduction, can you see the problem with the research you have seen "in the
past that indicates, for example, that Liberals tend to favor Starbucks
while Republicans tend to favor Dunkin' Donuts?" Here are just a few
questions I would ask about the "research" you mention:
Who conducted the study?
Where was the study conducted?
When was the study conducted?
What is the operational definition for "Republican?"
What is the operational definition for "Liberals?"
What does "tend to favor" mean?
Which statistic was used to verify "tend to favor?"
How many respondents were included in the study?
How were the respondents selected for the study?
How many Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts locations are there in the area where the study was conducted?
I think it's clear that there is a lot missing from the description of the study. Likewise, I think you'll be able to see the problems with your first question, "Is there any research that Liberals have a proclivity for iPhones, while BlackBerry attracts Republicans?" What is a "Liberal?" What is a "Republican?" What is "proclivity?" As the bank robber in Clint Eastwood's movie, Dirty Harry said, "I gots ta know."
I think that discussion should answer your question, "How valid/accurate is this type of research?" If the tenets (rules) of scientific research were followed and all words were operationally defined, then the study may have some merit. If the rules of science were not followed, then the information is completely useless. My problem is that I don't know what was done or how it was done.
Regardless of the situation with the research you mention, the problem with the words Democrat, Republican, Conservative, and Liberal is that they are used everyday by people who don't provide exact definitions for the words. "He is a liberal." "She is a Republican." What do those statements mean? Is it possible for a person to be conservative in some areas and liberal in others? Is it possible for a person to have some beliefs/attitudes that are considered Republican, but also have some beliefs/attitudes that are considered Democrat?
Human beings are very complex, yet some people, like some radio talk show hosts (e.g. Rush Limbaugh), see/perceive the world and other people from only one perspective—everyone is pigeonholed into a category or group. A person is either Republican or Democrat; a Conservative or Liberal. In reality, however, people aren't that simple. This myopic view of the world shows a complete lack of understanding of human beings.
Research about who purchases an iPhone or BlackBerry can be done as long as the study follows the tenets of scientific research. But there are a few other questions that may be important in reference to this type of study: Why is this information important? What can be done with a finding such as, "Republicans are more likely to buy an iPhone than Democrats?"
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