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Insights with Impact Blog

Alternative Ways to Get Below Top-of-Mind

May 5, 2017

A simple set of 36 different emoji faces. Emotions include happy, sad, surprised, hungry, dead, upset, angry, ambivalent, in love, and so on.
By Julia Valletta

Frustrated by employees’ inability to develop creative ideas for advertising campaigns, industry executive Alex Faickney Osborn began developing methods for creative problem-solving in 1939. He began hosting group-thinking sessions and discovered a significant improvement in the quality and quantity of ideas produced by employees.

Much like Osborn, professional moderators today have techniques to help get their respondents thinking more deeply. In focus groups sessions, your respondents are your data. What they say is crucial. But from time to time, traditional questions and probes can sometimes fail to get deep enough into respondents’ perceptions, opinions, beliefs, attitudes – or POBAs. This is because sometimes, respondents do not have a way to verbally access their POBAs.

Here are a few of my favorite alternative ways to dig deeper during a focus group session:

Deserted Island. Describe the scenario to your respondents (have them visualize or use pictures) – Imagine, you’re being marooned by pirates to live on a deserted island, and you can only bring 10 items. What items would you bring with you, what items would you leave on the shoreline in the event you are rescued, what items would you drop into the ocean to never see again? This exercise allows the respondents to compartmentalize items/attributes (or whatever is being tested) by importance and value to them.
Bullseye. Print-out a bulls-eye, or draw one on a large piece of paper. Stick it on the wall or an easel, and provide respondents with sticker dots. Ask a question or read a statement, then have respondents place a sticker on the bulls-eye in regards to how they feel about the statement/question or how best the statement/question describes an item, new product, etc. Allow for discussion time after. This technique will also help moderators in reporting phase to more accurately describe how a question/statement resonated with respondents.
Happy-Crappy Scale. As moderators, we want to stay away from quantitative methods in our qualitative work. Enter, the Happy-Crappy Scale. Based on the traditional Likert Scale, the Happy-Crappy Scale shows a sad-feeling face at the bottom, and a happy face at the top, with a line connecting the two. Respondents can react to a statement, question, new product, etc. by placing a sticker dot anywhere on the scale. Allow for group discussion after. The purpose of keeping the middle of the scale blank is so that respondents don’t have to feel corralled into “feeling” a certain way. There can be many feelings between crappy and happy, and so we want to represent that in the scale.

Be sure to Follow @ARResearch for more insights into the market research industry as well as our latest news.

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Jennifer Robbins
Co-Founder & CEO
  • Specializes in consumer marketing research, brand and reputation management, and communications research for opinion influencers, executives, clinicians and consumers
  • Designs and directs global qualitative and quantitative opinion research for corporations, non-profit organizations and trade associations
  • Evaluates advertising, public relations and marketing campaigns with her clients and their agencies
  • Began her career at Penn, Schoen & Berland (PS&B), pollsters for President Bill Clinton and Microsoft, among others
  • Received a B.A. in Government from Colby College
    • Active in the Boston business community, making new connections and mentoring young professionals
    • Serves as the Vice Chair for the March of Dimes Board of Directors in Boston
    • Volunteers time at her children’s schools with a favorite role as the “Mystery Reader”
    • Challenges herself with distance running
    • Loves to experience new places, cultures and cuisine, which includes at least one new travel adventure per year with friends or family

    Chris Anderson
    Co-Founder & President
    • Works on significant public policy issues across industries
    • Incorporates quantitative and qualitative research elements for campaigns designed to resonate with clearly-defined audiences
    • Held positions of increasing responsibility with Kiley and Company and Opinion Dynamics
    • Earned a M.A in Statistical Analysis, Public Opinion and Political Science from Columbia University
    • Received a B.A. in English from Colby College
      • Serves as a member of the Fox News election night decision team
      • Has an active membership in the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR)
      • Serves as advocate and former Board Chair for Read to a Child: Boston
      • Enjoys everything outdoors (skiing, running, fishing, hiking) with his family
      • Appreciates time with a good fiction book or listening to live music

      Henry Kanter
      Director of Operations
      • Excels at the “nuts and bolts” of survey research, ensuring methodologies are designed realistically and executed properly
      • Counts 5,000 research studies as the number managed to date, using telephone, Internet, postal mail, interviews, mall intercepts, focus groups, exit polls and door-to-door surveys
      • Ensured research integrity and accuracy at Opinion Dynamics Corporation
      • Began his career as the field director at Cambridge Reports, Inc.
      • Earned a B.A. in Sociology, while studying Research Methods and Analysis at University of Massachusetts Amherst
        • Volunteers at the Mary Ann Morse Nursing Home doing pet therapy for residents
        • Helps transport rescue dogs regularly because he’s an avid dog lover
        • Raised money for the Jimmy Fund for the past 20 years by participating in the Pan-Mass Challenge
        • Appreciates time with his family, which also includes a dog, three cats and two horses

        Lauren Manganello
        • Specializes in concept testing, message development, advertising evaluation, employee research, reputation management, communication research and multi-national studies
        • Manages qualitative and quantitative research for healthcare, financial services, consumer and non-profit organizations
        • Involved previously in global B2B, non-profit and international consumer research with KRC Research
        • Gained experience earlier in her career working at Portland Research, honing her skills in methodology, philosophy and process
        • Received a B.S. cum laude in Marketing from Bentley University
          • Participates in activities for her children at the Waldorf School
          • Enjoys traveling to beach destinations, cruising and exploring the Casco Bay Islands, particularly in the summer
          • Loves spending time with her family, including three young, active children

          Andrew Schwartz
          • Thrives in fast-paced, innovative environments – startups and political campaigns
          • Manages quantitative and qualitative research for political and public affairs clients
          • Cut his political teeth working in field for the Obama campaign in North Carolina in 2008
          • Specialized in Global Political Marketing while receiving a MA in International Affairs from the Fletcher School at Tufts University
          • Received a BA in International Relations from Brown University
            • Serves as a member of the Fox News election night exit poll team
            • Lives in Denver to take advantage of ample craft beer, skiing, and hiking opportunities
            • Loves to travel, highlighted by a six-month sabbatical through South America in 2015
            • Equally happy writing complex Excel formulas or detailing a complex woodworking joint

            Francy Wade
            Vice President, Communications
            • Creates and directs communications strategies for both traditional and social media
            • Named a “Rising Star” by the Boston Business Journal in 2011 and nominated for an Emmy earlier in her career
            • Held a variety of political and media relations positions with InkHouse, Solomon McCown & Co. and the State Treasurer of Massachusetts
            • Began her career as a journalist at WBZ-TV (Boston), WNBC (New York) and NY1 News
            • Earned a B.A./B.F.A. in Journalism and Film Studies from New York University
              • Member of Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of TV and Radio Actors (SAG/AFTRA)
              • Raises awareness and funds for March of Dimes through participation in the Falmouth Road Race
              • Rode the Pan-Mass Challenge
              • Enjoys hiking, biking and swimming with her three children and husband

              Join Our Team


              Anderson Robbins works with diverse clients across a broad range of industries. Some past and current clients include:

              A Nun’s Life Ministry

              Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

              Boathouse Group


              Cambridge Health Alliance


              Carmen’s Union

              Children’s Hospital

              Citizen’s Housing and Planning Association

              Cleveland Clinic

              Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

              Death with Dignity


              Dewey Square Group

              DLA Piper LLP


              Eli Lilly

              Fidelity Bank

              Five Corner Strategies

              Fox News Network LLC


              Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

              Harrington Hospital

              Harvard University

              Heartwood Academy


              Iron Mountain



              Lincoln Financial

              Marriott International

              Mass Food Association

              Massachusetts Association of Health Plans

              Massachusetts Medical Society

              Massachusetts Nurses Association

              Maura Healey Campaign


              Michigan Nurses Association

              Mohegan Sun

              NeighborWorks America

              Network Health

              Ogilvy Public Relations


              PJA Advertising & Marketing

              Racepoint Global

              Right to Repair Committee

              Royal Caribbean

              Screening for Mental Health

              Solomon McCown

              Stand for Children