Media or Market Research

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November 2015 is a great month for the Philippine Internet

Last month was great for the Philippine Internet.
No, I’m not going to say our Internet speed is finally as fast as Singapore’s. And, no, this isn’t because we trended worldwide again because of a TV show.
I’ve been tracking what has been read, watched and shared most in the Philippines for a year now.  (You can check out my early compilations here).  Last week, I noticed two things that stood out.

What happened in November 2015 that was so important?

There were two things that got my attention:

  1.  For the first time, all the top Philippine searches were not driven by Metro Manila. Or CALABARZON.

    The second most-searched word in the Philippines wasn’t even in Metro Manila’s top 5.

The second-highest search term was driven by Central Luzon, for two whole weeks in November 2015.


Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 2.46.12 AM
The search phrase that was part of the top Philippine searches, but not in Metro Manila or CALABARZON:
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Yes, Central Luzon looked for Adele’s newest song more than people in or closer to Metro Manila.
Added context:
These were the most searched for phrases in the Philippines that were unique to November 2015 (“Rising keyword searches):
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And these were the search keywords we Metro Manilans were occupied with:

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It was Central Luzon (and to some extent, the Davao region) that pushed the “hello” searches to the top 2 spot for the month.

On to the second new and special thing.


2.  There are now a significant volume of searches in 7 more regions in the Philippines!


In the past years, there wasn’t a significant enough volume of usage for Google to measure Google searches in other areas.
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Until now.

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When I started collecting search data, Google could only measure the rising search keywords in Metro Manila (e.g. Quezon City, Manila, Caloocan), CALABARZON (e.g. Antipolo, Dasmarinas, Bacoor), Central Visayas (e.g. Cebu City, Mandaue City and Lapu-Lapu City) and the Davao Region (e.g. Davao City, General Santos City and the City of Tagum).

Now, it can measure rising searches in 13 Philippine regions.

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Why do these two developments make it a great day for the Philippines?

We’ll start to see the real potential of the Internet in our country, versus broadcast media.


For years, the American Internet / Web (please tell me if there’s a better way to phrase that) and particularly news outfits have been talking about “hyperlocal”.
With broadcast media, you can only do so much to make extremely locally relevant (town, municipality or niche community level) news.  You would need to set-up a formal infrastructure, using company resources just to make sure different towns get content that’s relevant to them.
BUT, the Internet changed that in nations with more widespread internet usage – bloggers, podcasts, websites could be written from anywhere and be relevant to niche communities across the country, and not only be driven by formal institutions in capital cities.

Personal choice (Control) and Distributed power (Reach)

In the Philippines, without enough connectivity throughout the country, most of the online buzz was still driven and controlled by Metro Manila, and Cebu City.
But now, finally:  we really get to see how online media differentiates itself from “broadcast” media, in terms of reach and control (personalization, always-on).
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We get to see how the different regions, cities and towns begin to have their own subcultures and patterns and see how it impacts the country’s media tastes.
I did nationwide qualitative research for years, and I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.  The day I’ll start to see the rest of the country have a voice in what gets shared and what is popular, as opposed to just the “key cities”.  Our country is so diverse, and for me, this just means it’s going to be a pretty exciting year for the Philippine Internet.

Check back week-to-week, I’ll do my best to share regular updates.  And if you want to help create something out of data like this, get in touch.



Content Strategy on a massive, revenue-generating scale: How 30 Rock’s research jokes reflect real-life

Understanding how to engage consumers nationwide, like 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy

This post has been edited, as of July 2015.*

I am lucky.

While it’s becoming cool to predict that this is finally “The Year of the Customer”, I got to work for one of the most consumer-oriented businesses in my country. In an industry that caters to its target market…to a fault, sometimes — media.

I mean that in situations where they need to choose — media companies, like NBC, will tend to prioritize the target market rather than push for a groundbreaking offering which might not result in sales.

And the best thing that illustrates how this works — is NBC’s 30 Rock.

30 Rock is an NBC sitcom depicting Liz Lemon’s life and work as a variety show producer, working for Jack Donaghy — a top boss of on-screen media network “NBC”. In it, you have a behind-the-scenes peek into what life is like for a big TV brand.

Content Strategy ‘00s, or using research to impact the creation of content

Have you seen 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy ask the The Girly Show production team to make changes based on focus groups? For me, that was “content strategy” before I learned about the phrase “content strategy”.

I found those jokes so real because I was a research analyst in an emerging market media conglomerate — there was no “content strategy” job in 2007. But my job was to analyze, plan and help iterate content (from tone, to topics and platform or distribution strategy) to achieve business objectives.

NBC’s 30 Rock screen capture image from

NBC’s 30 Rock screen capture image from

NBC’s 30 Rock screen capture image from

Following the same vein of Kristina Halvorson and Mashable’s advice that “consumers are the real experts; so don’t listen to other marketers”, TV networks, like NBC, have been applying consumer-driven creative for years. Probably because they’ve always been content businesses. This just means they make the most money when it churns out the most engaging content.

They can’t afford to not be engaging.

Research for effective content would mean: qualitative projects and audience measurement for optimizing personalities’ careers, improving “content” (Particularly — the plot, character, relevance or emotional delivery), determining whether the ROI of launching particular pieces of content would be worth the expense of making it, and my favorite among these favorites: facilitating business models (Is there a way to continue making money when the Internet gives everything away?).

Content research answers these questions, not through marketing best practice — we didn’t read “How to create great content” or take courses on Content Strategy. Decisions were based on actual, constantly updated consumer data and business assessment.

What it looks like when a company invests in Consumer Experience

I now realize that reeeeally stable TV networks, like the “NBC” on 30 Rock, are human-centered* companies.

* For those who are fans of Huge, the digital agency — you can look at the parameters of User-Centered Management, established by Aaron Shapiro, CEO of Huge, in his book “Users, Not Customers”.

Cheesy quote brought to you by tumblr and InspirationBoost

Cheesy quote brought to you by tumblr and InspirationBoost

And, I can say this frankly. Because, there is one sure sign of a company’s priorities: what it devotes resources to.

You can’t say you prioritize something if you aren’t devoting resources to it.

NBC’s 30 Rock screen capture, Image from

NBC’s 30 Rock screen capture, Image from

Jack Donaghy’s “General Electric-NBC” made decisions based on what consumers are looking for. Based on ratings and qualitative research. Very similar to real-life NBC Universal (which has its own research division, with periodic publicly shared learnings that help them make decisions).

If a company says it’s “user-centered” or “customer-centered” or has “user-centered design”, but doesn’t allot budget and embed actual consumer conversation in its workflow, you better wonder what they mean.
Embedding consumer insight in the decision-making

I have worked for and with brands that house and manage internal research agencies. The most sophisticated one being equipped with its own statistics specialists, is headed by a statistician, and over half of that office is qualitative research analysts, like me.

Did you think networks like NBC Universal create content and personalities that are left to the expertise and opinion of creative genius alone?

Well, no. It’s strategic; and based on constantly updated consumer insight, that supports the directors, writers, talent managers and business unit heads, which NBC Universal is transparent about.

Next time you complain about annoying things on a TV show. Know that that is probably 70–80% on purpose.

NBC’s 30 Rock screen captures, image from

NBC’s 30 Rock screen captures, image from

Research Effectiveness: Or how to judge whether the research works

I was lucky to work with someone who is, to my knowledge, and I apologize to all the other researchers I worked with — the most brilliant researcher I know. Also, probably the scariest, because of that intelligence.

I learned the true potential of research from her. And what became my standard for excellent data analysis: The ability to predict success.

Or failure, for that matter.

It isn’t enough to be accurate, there’s a need to be accurate about particular things

We were trained to specialize in our own “sub-concentration”.

Like how Liz Lemon leads a particular genre of shows, one of my mine was predicting the performance of new programs. Also, being the go-to researcher of the brand impact of a personality’s behavior. Also, improving variety show stars and segments. Another fun specialization was Japanese anime.

The one that pretty much changed the course of my job (i.e. I eventually shifted to product development) was finding what makes content platforms tick — TV vs. Radio vs. Movies. That was fun.

30 Rock’s Liz lemon meme from

30 Rock’s Liz lemon meme from

Not a lot of people like talking to people to analyze them day-in and day-out and measure the effects. Hence a high drop-off rate at the 6-month mark in research agencies.

Don’t be the red balloon


Screen capture of “The Red Balloon” — from

Research people get told and trained to “not want to be red balloons”. Meaning, research professionals should facilitate and be excellent behind-the-scenes workers, and should not intend to steal the thunder of creators and decision-makers. Which is something you don’t mind as a researcher, anyway.

I feel the need to say this and talk about this type of research work though, because there aren’t a lot of people who dedicated years and much effort to data-driven content on a massive national scale, with very real financial and revenue consequences. Analysts are usually expected to deal with finances, and FMCG sales, but not content. Which 30 Rock repeatedly shows the value of, even as jokes.

I think the most valuable part of that sentence is “consequences”. Whatever research sub-specialty you make work in. Can you imagine the pressure NBC Universal’s researchers are under every time The Voice doesn’t beat American Idol’s ratings?

When the research you do spells the difference between continuing or ending someone’s highly visible, revenue-generating career, you better make sure you do it well.

Think of what you’re willing to give, for legitimate content strategy

That last TV show that trended on Twitter, that hot young personality brands can’t get enough of, that newscaster. Those are the results of regular data analysis given to talent managers and creative professionals, who are also trained in interpreting it.

Media businesses all over the world are too…challenged (by piracy, advertising model changes, competition) to be left to chance and creative vision alone. That’s why it’s backed by data.

And, now that brands are realizing that they need to become publishers as well, or that marketing is now talking about “content” — operations like these become necessary.

The subliminal lesson: content that makes women laugh year-to-year – like 30 Rock – doesn’t happen overnight, and doesn’t happen without research analysis.

30 Rock screen capture, image from

30 ROCK — Episode 704 — Pictured: Tina Fey as Liz Lemon — (Photo by: Ali Goldstein/NBC)

*This post was edited to protect the identities of my friends and colleagues, and represent a more general point-of-view rather than personal experience.

HBR: The Three Scientific (and Quite Surprising) Factors that Make a Message Go Viral

Srini Pillay (Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School, teacher, and author), writes about a study in Harvard Business Review, where an MRI scan is used to test for correlations between neural activity and sharing content.

A recent study demonstrated that we can successfully predict which messages will go viral and which will not. This study showed that the ideas that are destined to spread have a characteristic signature at their origin — that is, quite literally, within the brain of the sender. These messages specifically activate key regions in two circuits in the sender’s brain: the “reward” circuit, which registers the value of the message to the sender, and the “mentalizing” circuit, which activates when we see things from the point of view of the person who receives the message…

…The more you value an idea that you want to spread, the more likely you are to be successful at spreading it.  In addition, the more accurately you can predict how others will feel about the message, the more likely you are to be successful at spreading this idea. These findings are profound because they imply that we can predict which messages will go viral…

…when you also register that your actual value is that you are investing in helping to cure people from their illnesses or shorten their durations of suffering (“y”).  You may not be right all the time, but if this is your genuine reward, your brain’s reward circuit will be activated because this will always be true

How will they feel about the fact that you have a history of success in biotechnology investing? How will they feel about their own investment in the well-being of the world? Do they care about communicating this to their families? Would they be excited about the rapid advancements in this field and seeing the newness of the opportunity? Here again, these different aspects of how your audience thinks will help to accentuate the activation in your mentalizing circuit — where you form a mental picture of the audience’s needs and wants.

it would make a difference if he or she actually wanted to spread the message rather than just passively feeling that the message is valuable. This implies that it matters when you think of how a message can be useful to others rather than simply thinking about yourself.

All three factors (value, mentalizing, and intention to spread) point to the fact that the social currency of a message matters at the very source of the message.

On one hand, my initial reaction is that this is too idealistic.

However, the researcher in me can’t argue with experimental data.  Which is why the article leads me to self-reflect.  Oftentimes, I do blog with the objective of just shouting into the void.  Of curation. Very self-focused objectives.  When, if people (including me) and brands would start growing a sincere interest in being useful…maybe, that is all that really matters.

Upworthy: 10 Most Viral Things from their first year

Just like seeing the beginnings of one of the hottest topics in content publishing in 2013, because of its fast rise and almost “scientific” headline-writing process.

1. Bully Calls News Anchor Fat, News Anchor Destroys Him On Live TV

Curated by Kaye Toal

2. Bullies Called Him Pork Chop. He Took That Pain With Him And Then Cooked It Into This.

Curated by Adam Mordecai

3. Mitt Romney Accidentally Confronts A Gay Veteran; Awesomeness Ensues

Curated by Mansur Gidfar

4. A Tea Partier Decided To Pick A Fight With A Foreign President. It Didn’t Go So Well.

Curated by Mansur Gidfar

5. Move Over, Barbie — You’re Obsolete

Curated by Edwardo Jackson

6. 9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact

Curated by Adam Mordecai

7. BOOM, ROASTED: Here’s Why You Don’t Ask A Feminist To Hawk Your Sexist Product

Curated by Rebecca Eisenberg

8. Some Strange Things Are Happening To Astronauts Returning To Earth

Curated by Adam Albright-Hanna

9. Elizabeth Warren Asks The Most Obvious Question Ever And Stumps A Bunch Of Bank Regulators

Curated by Adam Mordecai

10. If This Video Makes You Uncomfortable, Then You Make Me Uncomfortable

Curated by Rollie Williams

The Drum: What happens in a Facebook minute

The Drum featured an infographic illustrating the actions that take place all over the world, within one minute on Facebook.  via Edudemic

What Happens In A Facebook Minute?

  • 243,055.5 photos uploaded

  • 500 new accounts added

  • $11,700 made

  • 3,298,611 items shared

  • 13,888 apps installed on Facebook

  • 100,000 friends requested

  • 150,000 messages sent’

  • 416 compromised logins


  • Like and Share buttons viewed on 15,277,777 other websites

  • 323 days of YouTube videos viewed on Facebook

  • 50,000 links shared

Thank you, Internet: An Agency Branded App, 10 Popular Algorithms and a Design Course That’s Helping the Philippines

These three articles mattered to me today.

1.  The 10 Algorithms that Dominate Our World

Would you have ever imagined the day where you would read an article like that?

Where you can list algorithms that pervade everyday life?  I’m so happy for mathematicians, data scientists and programmers all of a sudden.

This is a whole new level of relevance.  All the math geeks from elementary school can laugh in people’s faces.

Google PageRank; Facebook News feeds, “You may also enjoy…” – all math. Cool.

2.  How a Small Nashville Agency Used Creativity to Get Worldwide Recognition

I don’t fully forgive you for that clickbait-y article, Fast Company.


I just never thought an agency could make an app that would sell itself.

Continue reading

Shillington Design Blog - MaricorMaricar

5 Ideas I liked (since January): Pie + Creative brainstorming, Google work philosophy, Watercolor Typography, Facebook Userflow

1. One of my favorite ideas in the past year.

Pie + User Feedback or Community Involvement + Design = PieLab

2.  This PaidContent article on the insensitive coincidences of online ads and tragic news stories (e.g. shooting massacre articles and bloody novelty shirt ads).

Screencap by Evan Brown

3.  “Why Google Does Things The Way It Does“, by The Guardian.

Thought-provoking.  Because you keep hearing about how Google is revolutionary, but they’re never as suave at branding themselves as Apple, plus they have weird ideas like Google glass, and annoying decisions like killing Google Reader:

“In its behaviour and vocabulary, Google oozes scientific method. A couple of times recently I’ve heard Google executives say in public, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’. …engineers are trained not to act on intuition. You are allowed to have intuition, of course, but you use it to make hypotheses, which you then test. You act on the results of those tests…

When an experiment is completed, you either choose to follow up on it, or you terminate it and move on to something else. A scientist doesn’t get emotional about this; it’s the way the system works, and everyone knows that it’s all for the best.”

4.  I don’t know which I enjoyed more – the Maricor/Maricar watercolor typography exercises…

Or the Shillington Design Blog “I Love These Guys” category page, where they were featured?

Shillington Design Blog - MaricorMaricar

Shillington Design Blog – MaricorMaricar

5.  Facebook sharing its “Report Abuse” interaction flow.

via slideshare

Link Glut (Part II): User Research

1.  I’m going to start off with a Jan Chipchase blog entry.  He’s one of the flagship user research “rockstars” that got me interested in the whole design research thing, with his global mobile interaction studies.  He now works for frog design, and used to be the most prominent researcher for Nokia.

I like this blog entry because it’s a real-world look into what goes on in a design research process, within a multinational product development agency context.

Often researchers get ahead of themselves and like to talk about the opportunities they perceived after uncovering unmet needs. The fact is in many cases needs are being met, just not particularly well.

2.  On capturing user research data, which is actually a crucial and relatively overlooked process step.

I really love the specialization of the Internet – here, I can learn about and relate to the troubles and advantages of note-taking while on field.

3.  How to tell managers the’re wrong about UX research and still get hired

User experience research isn’t about finding out what people like or dislike. And it’s not about asking users to design your interface. It’s about seeing the difficulties users face when trying to use the design you’ve invented.”

Just because you like a certain author doesn’t mean someone else will enjoy reading the book. You’ll only be able to get the right book if you know something about the person, either by spending some time with them or by asking questions.”

But this doesn’t mean Apple doesn’t do user research. In the famous ‘Playboy’ interview in 1985, Jobs said: “We’ve done studies that prove that the mouse is faster than traditional ways of moving through data or applications,”

4.  This desonance blog, which I came across in an Andy Polaine post.

I love how the author writes, in detail, about his user research and framework-creation learnings.  Really helpful to see process-centric insight like this; you don’t see that every day.

5.  Very good advice on presenting user research from Doors of Perception, also featured by Andy Polaine.

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People vs. Participants: How market research passion impacts an already standoffishly introverted person

[Note: Today’s word for the day is misanthropic.  Let’s say that again – “misanthropic”.]

I’m a user researcher who isn’t doing any user research.

What’s stopping me?

Laziness? Lack of passion or internal motivation?  No budget?  The company isn’t receptive towards user-centered design innovation?  I’m waiting for approval to hire collaborators?

Wimpy-ass excuses.

What’s stopping me is I’m afraid of recruiting participants.

Apparently, to the point of paralysis.

This is my first time working as a one-woman team.  I used to do everything a research project requires EXCEPT recruitment, since I came from research agencies where you hired a team of recruiters to do the respondent-gathering for you.

But, see, user research usually employs “guerilla research” tactics.  Low budget, man-on-the-street type, fast-turnaround time qualitative projects.

Turns out I’m afraid of asking people to participate.

I freeze up.  I rehearse phrases in my head then weakly walk back-and-forth till I work up the courage.

My friends who read this will probably find this really, really odd.

Most people who know me assume that I’m an extrovert.  I’m annoyingly talkative, loud; my hobbies involve performing arts and showmanship, and my profession is “consumer research” (a job that makes you talk to groups of people and establish rapport on command).

You can look at the personality tests I’ve taken, or ask my closest friends and my immediate family — I’m not.

I’m an introvert.  Not in the I’m-a-bashful-wallflower sense, but in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator sense.

I like taking things apart and seeing why they work.  One of my best friends said that you could see that that’s how I am as a researcher.   I’m not an empath, like many of my friends from work.  The energy is really different when they talk to people – they’re warm, almost motherly, you open up to them because they’re like friends you haven’t seen in years.

Me, I get giddy – colleagues who’ve observed me say that my focus groups are “exciting”, but tiring.  It’s like an eating binge – I get this frenzied drive to ask people about themselves to learn about what they like, what they do, how things makes sense.

And that’s why I love consumer research – because human interests are complex, and very challenging to find logic in, but there are patterns and deviations and flows and stories.  It’s beautiful.

I love talking to people.  I naturally have this itch to go up to people and ask about their phones, their clothes, why they like things, what they’re afraid of.  I love that.

But, for the past years, I’ve been trained in a kind of market research that says when you interview people, participants should not be able to “read” you, so they aren’t biased by how they perceive you.  That you should be a relatively “blank slate” — “blend in” as much as possible, so that you don’t stick out and be the point of conversation.  Which is hard for me, because I’m a generally gregarious person.

This is why I’m curious about and want to learn how danah boyd does research while retaining her creative individuality.

Photo by Brooke Nipar

I realized that I freeze up when trying to recruit people for research studies because I’m afraid of how to ask to get them to agree.

I’m afraid of rejection – of the rate of refusal versus the daunting volume of work.

Why be afraid of rejection?  Because I’m looking at approaching people with the mindset that I’ll be asking them to participate in a cultural probe where I’ll be observing your behavior for a period of time blah blah blah

I’m thinking of them as “participants”.  That I have to put on a mask of “normalcy”, and try to establish “rapport” and get them to formally agree to be “studied”.

I’m not thinking of them as well…people.  I love watching and asking friends about what they watch, what they read and what they like about them.  I enjoy watching them use their phones and play games, because I know them, they know me and I’m comfortable doing that.

As a “researcher”, I’ve begun to dwell too much on the formality of all, when in fact, what I love about user research and user-centered design is that it’s needs-oriented, people-oriented.  That it doesn’t just look at individuals as people to sell to, but people to service.

I’m having a hard time because I have this feeling that I’m supposed to switch to some gorillas-in-the-mist mode and be this relatable Everywoman.

Yet again, I am trying to present some studied version of myself, instead of just letting my interest and love for the job drive me.  I should just be able to be me, and still interview people.

Yes, life, I will try to stop over-analyzing.

I hope this helps me.  We’ll see how my studies progress in a few weeks.