Where’s the Leadership Now?

America, We Break It, It’s Gone” was the provocative header for Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed in the New York Times yesterday.  Mr. Friedman suggests that we look to corporations, social entrepreneurs, and local officials as sources for leadership and positive action. He mentions AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson acknowledging Tuesday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that “All of us C.E.O.s have large African-American employee bodies. We owe it to them to make sure we’re speaking to this.…to address what seem to be constant and recurring injustices.”

Corporations and brands in particular have consumer permission to talk about social causes. In fact, according to our research, they’d prefer it over traditional ads. The ARF’s Cultural Effectiveness Council, that I’m a proud member of, has recently produced a webinar on social cause as a way in for advertisers to reach 21st Century audiences.  In fact, many of today’s leading businesses have ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) departments or CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) functions that are already involved with developing and communicating socially responsible programs for employees and the communities in which they serve.

Given the events of the past week, there’s now a clarion call for brand marketing to work in tandem with their philanthropic departments to be relevant, inclusive, and to communicate to the public at large and all their stakeholders about the initiatives they’re taking to combat racism.

When there is a dearth of empathy and action at the highest levels of government our corporations and brands have the resources and public goodwill to use their bully pulpit to speak up and lead.


Written By

Barbara Leflein

Leflein Survey:  Covid-19 Challenging Sales Rep’s Businesses

By Ray Allegrezza


If there was ever any doubt regarding the severity of Covid-19 on independent home furnishings reps, just-released survey from market research leader Leflein Associates, confirms the toll the virus is having on their businesses.

According to the just-released survey, taken by Leflein among 422 members of the International Home Furnishings Representatives Association (IHFRA), virtually all of them—99.8%–admitted losing income, with the average loss coming in at a staggering 73%.

And while more than half—54%–said that their customers have called to cancel orders, a larger number—60%–have reached out to place orders.  And while some of the orders being placed are likely to be re-orders, the fact remains that orders are once again being placed.

Not surprisingly, as consumers continue to abide by stay-in-place recommendations, online sales, already brisk, have continued to spike.  In fact, one-quarter of the IHFRA reps participating in the survey acknowledge that online sales of furniture and related home accessories have kept them afloat as they struggle to navigate the unchartered waters caused by Covid-19.).

When asked to identify online sales of specific product categories keeping the reps afloat, standout categories were accessories (35%), bedding (31%), home office (27%), outdoor furniture (25%), case goods (23%) and upholstery (22%).

Unfortunately, e-commerce- the very platform keeping reps afloat, is out of reach for the majority of the reps polled.  According to 40% of the respondents, their suppliers don’t have a significant e-commerce platform.  For an additional 35%, their suppliers do not allow them to participate in e-commerce sales.

With their incomes severely restricted, 70% of the respondents said that they have turned to government assistance to tide them over.  A majority—52%–reported applying for relief from the Paycheck Protection Program.  For just under 20%, the short-term solution has come in the form of unemployment.

With many retailers still not anxious to have  face-to-face visits, the vast majority of the reps responding to this survey have opted to communicate with their customers via email, the answer given by 95% of the reps.  Reaching out by phone was also a preferred method that reps relied on, with 90% indicating using this method.

Worth noting is that video calls, the method closest to pre-Covid sales calls, is only being used by 28­­­­% of the respondents.  Additionally, while virtual showrooms are being used more often as a result of the virus, the vast majority of reps—70%–only deem them to be somewhat effective.  Another 12% say they are not useful at all, with the remaining 18% believing virtual showrooms to be very useful.­­­­­­

The survey also underscored the notion that reps believe the virus will not have an overly adverse impact on the future of their suppliers.  When asked what proportion of the suppliers they represent were likely to go out of business, the respondents said only 10% would.

And if the reps insights are on the mark, business should open up this summer.  Specifically, they pointed to August as the month when business should open back up.

According to IHFRA’s executive director Ray Allegrezza, “Having a market leader such as Leflein take the pulse of our members gives us and the industry truly invaluable insights and information not available anywhere else.   Now, armed with this timely information, we can effectively formulate strategies to help our members as we all work through this pandemic.”

“And strategy is key to winning back the business for reps, manufacturers and retailers.”  According to Barbara Leflein, President of the research firm who conducted the survey, “We found that nearly half of the reps reported that retailers have contacted them to discuss next step strategies.”  What better way to consult with retailers than to research the end consumer and how she’s changed her buying habits and expectations.”


About the survey:


Using a link to the Leflein survey, 422 (28%) of the 1,500 IHFRA furniture reps emailed participated during the first week of May 2020.

About Leflein Associates:  Leflein Associates is an independent market research company headquartered in New Jersey that was commissioned to conduct the survey and aggregate responses, maintaining participants’ anonymity.

For more information about this survey and Leflein Associates, visit the company’s website at www.leflein.com 


Doing Research During COVID-19 Pandemic

Several clients have asked us whether they should be conducting research right now given that consumers’ eyes, ears and hearts are all focused on COVID-19. Consumers are anxious, many are depressed, they couldn’t possibly tell us about what they’re planning to do when things “come back to normal”; doing research right now would be downright “irresponsible” said one client.

There’s no question we are in a state of flux, even the experts can’t agree on what the new normal will be nor when that will occur. Both qualitative and quantitative research methods will have to adapt. Rather than continue to ask standard research questions in a vacuum, we have to respect consumers where they are right now; for when we do, we find that they want to participate fully in research. 

For respondents, research can be a welcome diversion; it can be fun when it’s gamified, thought provoking when questions are relevant, and of course, there’s the monetary reward for participation. 

For clients there are rewards of a different sort. We know going in that consumers are changing behaviors and re-assessing their values, but how? How are consumers adapting to this new reality, what are their expectations of brands right now? Whether it’s through segmentation studies, tracking studies or virtual qualitative work such as online communities, these adaptations and attitudes can be measured. 

So, is this is a good time to do research? YES! I would argue that in order to nimbly manage change it’s critical for brands to connect with all their stakeholders; consumers, investors, employees and the communities they touch. Consumers have high expectations of brands and reward those that are considerate of their feelings and needs. In recent research with young consumers we found that nearly four out of five (78%) have less tolerance for regular advertising and 86% what to hear about what brands are doing to help. Brands we need you, we need better communication, if you’d only ask. 

Get Your Game Face On! It’s Time to Gamify Your Community

Engagement is one of the most important aspects in creating a thriving and lively online community, and a constant flow of content is the key. However, a strong tempo of surveys, journals, or other activities isn’t going to keep even your most active members coming back. The “if you build it, they will come” mindset is a common pitfall with online communities, as most managers don’t commit to members beyond the activities they complete. It’s important for online community managers to create an environment their members will want to come back to, and gamification can do just that. Gamifying may seem like a hefty task, but it’s really as simple as creating small details in your online community that incentivize your active members, spark competitive thought, and make each user feel special. Keep reading for our pro tips to gamify your community.

1. You’ll Prosper with Points

The best place to start is awarding point values and rewarding members for completing activities. For quantitative activities, like surveys, you should always align the amount of time members are spending to complete the activity with the amount of points the activity is worth. For example – something that takes 10 minutes to complete should have a higher points value than a quick 5 question multiple choice poll. Using the number of questions or basing the point value off of an estimated time to complete the activity can be a foolproof way to stay consistent. But as we all know, time is money so be sure to be consistent. You don’t want members to feel slighted after the fact, so make sure the points value is described before they start the activity. You may even want to consider displaying how long the activity should take, so the member can decide if they have the time to finish.

2. Don’t be Afraid to Make Them Work

For more qualitative activities, like journals or discussion boards, it’s more beneficial to base point values on a word count. For example, putting a requirement on qualitative activities like “your response needs to be 100 words or more in order to earn points” will motivate members to give more detailed and in-depth responses. When gamifications is automated, someone who types “I don’t know”, may earn the full point value. At Leflein, we tend to award points manually for each response so that we ensure our clients are only receiving quality answers.

3. Sweeten the Pot

But points are meaningless without some kind of incentive to cash in and that’s why having a rotating amount of rewards and a diverse webshop can be a game-changer. In fact, rewards are the biggest motivator to get your members coming back for more – so make sure it’s something they want. In fact, Leflein frequently polls its members to see what types of incentives they’d want to see included in the webshop. We’ve offered a full spectrum of rewards including gift cards, exclusive content, merchandise, and signed memorabilia.

4. Money Doesn’t Have to Be the Only Thing Talking

Fostering a competitive environment in your community can also be a driving force for members to participate more. Giving them an opportunity to get the edge on other members and have a unique profile within the community. That’s why creating custom badges that members can earn from completing activities and member ranks that allow members to rank up as they rack up points should be a part of your community. Giving members the ability to earn badges not only gives them a satisfying mark that shows their dedication and effort, but can also give them the recognition they deserve. Not to mention, creating custom badges helps gives your community its own identity and can even give your members that same feeling.

5. Give Them a VIP Experience

Having everyone earn different badges for completing different activities gives them a visual layout that shows other members how special they are. It’s also important to give members the opportunity to earn exclusive badges so that they can flaunt their uniqueness. The phrase “the first five members to complete this earn a special badge” can go a long way and offers more of an incentive for members to complete activities faster. One last aspect can also drive a member’s inner competitor and strive for uniqueness-member rankings. Having a points and badge leaderboard can help members see where they stack up and drive them to vie for that #1 spot. It also helps to give them titles that signifies their progress and gives them a rewarding feeling of moving up in the ranks. Just having the ability for members to rank up from being a “Community Student” to a “Community Superstar” will give them a sense of accomplishment and drive them to be more engaged within the community.

Like I said at the start, engagement is an important factor in having a thriving online community and that’s why having more gamification options can make members more engaged. Just adding these simple features can make your community a lot livelier and boost the amount of activity in your community. So, if you’re struggling to boost your survey completions or just want to spike engagement from your members, gamifying your community is the way to go.


By Tom Moore

Leflein Community Manager

Transforming the In-Store Shopping Experience

Online shopping is like second nature for Millennials; even Instagram is looking more like a shopping app than a social network.  What’s a brick and mortar store to do?  The short answer is to transform the in-store shopping experience.  Experiential retailing can offer low and high tech solutions to better cater to savvy young shoppers.

We asked our 18-34 panel which in-store shopping features they’d like to see their favorite clothing retailer offer.  What they reported revealed that they are looking for tools to make the shopping experience both more personalized and easier.  In essence young shoppers want a personal stylist; they want the merchandising to show them how to put an outfit together and what will look best on their figure.  They are also expecting additions to the store design that are more experiential in nature.  Finally they are looking for more convenient services that can compete with online shopping.

Smart tech solutions would be a welcome addition to the in-store experience such as smart mirrors (33%) and smartphone body scans for precise fittings (30%).  On the low tech side improvements would include such as things as style guides for all shapes and sizes (32%) and replacing numbered or S/M/L sizing labels with body shape labels (23%).



For 20+ years, Leflein has been partnering with leading brands like Coach, Nike, ESPN, and Hulu on qualitative and quantitative strategic research.

Contact MConforto@leflein.com for more info on how we can partner on customized research solutions for your brand.

How Millennial Brand Activism Can Hurt Your Bottom Line

A staggering 80% of millennials said they’d take action against a brand whose advertising mishandles a social issue they most care about; 44% would go as far as to stop buying the brand altogether.

These findings are from a recent study conducted by Leflein in partnership with GenForward Survey of Millennials, a nationally representative bimonthly survey out of the University of Chicago.

Now more than ever, brands need to be pre-emptive, investing in ad testing and taking a TMA (Total Marketing Approach) to avoid the time, resources and embarrassment that goes along with having to rehabilitate their image. “Not only do advertisers run the real risk of social media brand activism to an insensitive campaign, a poorly conceived ad can hurt the bottom line,” according to Barbara Leflein, President of Leflein Associates.

Millennials Take Action Against A Tone Deaf Brand

Should Brands Support or Sidestep Social Causes?

This study comes on the heels of last week’s news of Unilever’s Dove Body Wash pulling its latest Facebook ad amidst social outrage over their depiction of a black woman removing her brown shirt to reveal a white woman.

To think, this is still happening in a year of advertising debacles such as Beiersdorf’s Nivea Deodorant “White is Purity” ad and Pepsi’s now infamous Kendall Jenner protest spot, that are tone deaf to the needs and sensitivities of diverse audiences.

Through this research, Leflein wanted to better understand  what the highly diverse millennial population thought about the relationship of brand advertising and social causes.

Other Key Findings

  • Almost all millennials (87%) cited an issue that they would like brands to bring attention to through advertising.
  • Of the 20 social issues tested, racial equality is the number one social cause millennials want brands to support.
  • African American millennials are three times as likely as white millennials to favor brand support of racial equality as their #1 cause (36% vs. 11% respectively).
  • Other top box social issues millennials are interested in seeing attention brought to include global warming (11% total millennials vs. 4% African Americans), immigration (19% among Latinos compared to 3% of whites) and income equality (12% among Asian Americas vs. 7% of whites).

Skepticism for Brands and Social Causes

Considering all the recent misfires, it is not surprising that not all millennials trust brands to tackle social issues in their advertising. Two out of five millennials (40%) are skeptical; believing that companies only pretend to care (23%) or that brands and social issues don’t mix (17%).

Final Word

Only 10% of millennials report that they are more likely to buy products from companies that tackle social issues they care about compared to four times as many saying they wouldn’t buy a brand’s product or service if they mishandled the social cause.

“This data suggests that brands should very carefully consider and test their ads with diverse consumers before embarking on a campaign that grapples with social causes. There’s more to lose from a poorly executed ad campaign than there is to gain from increased sales,” according to Barbara Leflein.

Apps That Deliver Experts To Your Door

What’s next in the app world?  Maybe just maybe it’s a fleet of live professionals that can deliver personalized expertise to you in privacy and comfort.  We asked millennials about their interest in using apps that would offer these various experts through live chat and the answers were quite surprising.

Meal kits, which are all the rage, offer consumers new ways to save time and money while providing them with an expanded cooking repertoire.  So it’s only natural that the next step is to bring the chef into the kitchen.  According to our latest research with millennials, a plurality (40%) agree that having the availability of a live chat with a cooking expert on their mobile device would be a welcome tool.

Another area millennials would welcome a video chat includes access to a therapist (35%). This is not surprising given the levels of stress millennials report in many of our studies with this age cohort.

What is surprising about this new data is that relatively high levels of young men are interested in beauty/grooming consultations (31%), personal shopping chats with experts (41%) and yes interior design advice (37%).


Leflein presents research on Women’s Empowerment at #NewMR

Leflein participated in NewMR’s International Women’s Day Festival on March 8th and presented a compelling case study they did with WE TV on Women’s Empowerment and Media Choices. Watch the full presentation here:

Millennials’ Affinity For Local Content

While the landscape for targeting the much-coveted Millennial (and Gen Z) audience with digital content is becoming increasingly crowded, an opportunity may exist for enterprising media companies, brands, and publishers to differentiate themselves by utilizing the underserved hyperlocal news format with a purposeful twist.

What is the hyperlocal format, exactly? And what will it take to build a successful content strategy around it? Let’s take a deep dive!


A Hyperlocal Overview

As traditional news publishers continue to shift towards new mobile and digital distribution models to remain relevant with younger audiences, one domain that has not been able to pivot to a lucrative online model is the hyperlocal news market.

Hyperlocal—defined by Wikipedia as online news targeting a smaller, geographically defined community—gained traction during the early stages of the social web as traditional local news sources began to fade due to struggles with monetizing web-based content. A notable example of an early (and successful) hyperlocal network is Patch.com.

Big media brands attempted to acquire and leverage these emerging news platforms with the promise of implementing new distribution and revenue models. Despite initial enthusiasm and interest, however, many of these initiatives turned out to be ill-fated.

AOL infamously lost 200 million dollars from their investment in Patch.com. NBC eventually shut down operations on the local news aggregator Everyblock.com, which struggled with a profitable business model even despite receiving critical praise.


Despite these initial setbacks, the technology and startup sectors have acknowledged that there is still a need for local news and information, especially among younger audiences.


Recently, digital-based media and technology companies have renewed their interest in the local news format within the social space, such as Googles’ Bulletin, Hoodline, and Facebook’s recent algorithm/newsfeed tweaks for local news. Even the resilient Patch network recently launched a new mobile app complete with push notifications. Big media has also jumped into the fray such as ABC Networks’ Localish, and CBS Televisions’ CBSN New York.

The pivotal question is whether these new local platforms will appeal to the audience most likely to engage with them: Millennials.  The largest and most diverse generational cohort in the U.S. also happen to be the largest consumers of online news, according to a recent report published by the Pew Journalism Project.

Can these new hyperlocal efforts effectively gratify a fluctuating young audience, while also validating new publishing revenue models that allow local media brands to scale where previous attempts have failed?

The recent shut-down of Millennial news publisher Mic.com illustrates that it can be a challenging space, but it also demonstrates an opportunity for creative and adaptive brands to seize.


Millennials Affinity with Local Content

A study of Millennial news consumption from the Media Insight Project—an initiative of the American Press Institute—showed Millennials were more likely to follow news about their local community more than celebrity and entertainment news.

Also, a recent unprecedented study published in The Journal of Media Business Studies examined young adults’ multi-platform local news consumption patterns on an audience level, identifying a distinct set of habitual behaviors for the format. The study goes as far as to identify distinct types of young local news consumers, including heavy local news seekers and determined, location-independent news seekers.


Research from the newly hyperlocal publisher ABC Owned Networks suggests that Millennials feel better about their local communities than the world at large, and are eager for content that focuses on personal connection.

As for the behavioral patterns of Millennial news consumers, studies show a steady diet of media and information on various social platforms, including networks like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube,  and Reddit, along with “dark” social channels such as private messaging apps and group texts.

Overall, Millennials tend to be multi-dimensional when it comes to news-seeking and will use any platform available to them, even though some platforms skew higher especially for younger users such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Reddit. Their information-seeking is intermixed with other attributes including social connection, community discussion, problem-solving, and social action, all of which makes them mindful news consumers.

From a behavioral perspective, one possible explanation for the Millennial drive for local news may be a need to reduce stress and anxiety from polarizing and divisive “hard news” topics typical in national news cycles. Local news topics can contain more prosocial and interpersonal themes that are more community-centered, which is an essential characteristic of the “Connected Generation.”

A recent study from the American Psychological Association—Stress in America Survey: Generation Z Stressed About Issues in the News—revealed that younger, up and coming audiences are becoming increasingly emotionally fatigued with hard news topics including immigration, sexual assault, and mass shootings.

This strategy aligns with a rising trend of news storytelling known as “constructive journalism.”


Purposeful Storytelling for Positive Engagement

Constructive journalism is an emerging branch of content creation with the purposeful intent of eliciting positive emotions through solution-based storytelling, taking some of its cues from the discipline of positive psychology.

Not be confused with the innocuous “soft piece,” constructive news stories can address and tackle hard and difficult topics while re-framing the story structure to eliminate sensationalism and negativity bias in current events.

Useful and solution-based journalism is experiencing a surging interest from a handful of savvy publishers—like the Guardians’ The Upside series—as fake-news-littered social-feed algorithms and partisan news outlets continue to lose trust and investment with the public.

The juxtaposition of constructive journalism’s prosocial concepts with the relevancy and demand for more purposeful news content for Millennials can potentially be a winning formula for generating engaging and share-worthy content.


Purposeful Hyperlocal Good for Business?

There is some potentially good news for companies and brands looking to go down this strategic content path. For starters, several studies have indicated that there is an increased engagement with certain types of solution-based news stories, which can gain up to 30 seconds more attention than traditional news stories with text-based formats. Imagine the possibilities of leveraging this insight with the already engaging digital story-based format?

Another benefit is that hyperlocal news efforts are more advertiser-friendly. A recent survey from Digiyday shows that 43% of media buyers report that they avoid news content altogether. This risk-averse mindset towards news advertising could potentially be an opportunity to reach nearly half the population of media buyers with content that is not radioactive to ad-buying budgets.

Lastly, according to the FCC there has been a gap in the local news marketplace that has existed for at least the past ten years, which represents a major opportunity for new hyperlocal outlets.



Only time will tell if this resurgence of hyperlocal news will ultimately prove more successful than previous efforts, but now is an excellent time to explore before the market becomes crowded like other formats.

One thing is for sure: customized market research is needed to ensure a productive run with the hyperlocal format. Primary customized insights and analysis can address key research areas including relevant local topics/interest (particularly for the diverse Millennial audience), best formats (e.g., video length long or short form), best channels of distribution (e.g., Facebook, proprietary platform), and scalable, validated revenue models beyond just subscriptions for gated content


Come join our database of creative professionals to participate in paid brainstorming sessions for media testing and market research. Send your CV and info to Mconforto@leflein.com


Andreas Jackson Strategist





Join Leflein, NowThis, and NAPTE for a Conversation on Solution Based Storytelling

Millennials are avoiding traditional news as it adds to the stress and anxiety they already experience. Despite being stressed, Millennials desire to connect with their community and immerse themselves in the causes they care about. Now is the time to transform news for this generation through solution based storytelling.


Click here to reserve your spot