Begin with the end in mind when it comes to market research for your company.
Whether launching a new product, surveying existing customers or exploring new target markets, corporate executives need to have a clear understanding of what business decision they are going to make prior to contacting a market research firm.
“The information we collect should be very specific to the question management needs answered,” said Lori Mitchell Dixon, president of Great Lakes Marketing, a 43-year-old national marketing research firm based in Toledo. “We can do a better job on a project for our clients if we know what the extent of the decision will be. From there, we help companies decide who has that information, who influences the customer, who influences the kinds of purchases that are made.”
Among other things, companies come to Great Lakes Marketing to help them better understand their customers.
“Everyone can relate to the U.S. Postal Service, one of our bigger clients. They make decisions all the time on how they can improve services to break into your daily business habits because, in theory, you should be mailing every day,” Dixon said. “But you have UPS, e-mail and electronic bill pay, so a lot of things have changed how they do business.
“They have to understand what a business does to be efficient so they can fit in. They come [to us] with the question, ‘How can we meet the needs of a business that sends multiple packages?’ We talk to businesses for them, learn how they can be helpful and more efficient.”
Ironically enough, the market research business — a business that used the technological advantages of the Internet for its research methodologies — has come full circle.
“The Internet allowed research firms to do e-mail surveys. But then everyone realized what a good idea it was. And just like [when] people were getting too many surveys in their mailbox, they were getting too many surveys in their in-box. So the response rates on Internet mail surveys today have really fallen,” Dixon said. “We are now back to doing telephone interviewing, which is the best random sampling you can do.”
Telephone interviewing may be the exception when launching a product to the 18- to 24-year-old population.
“They have no land lines. They aren’t even talking with each other; they are text messaging each other. They chat. They blog. They receive their information from numerous technological sources, so the way they share information with each other is different, and businesses have to understand that,” Dixon said. “And that is the challenge. If they are not answering their phone because they have no land line, how do you talk to them? How do you understand them? What is the best way to reach them? You have to be more savvy.
“Today, we have to go where this target market is. We are at college campuses interviewing and at industry and networking events to reach young professionals.”
“When I was a senior in high school, we didn’t have computers,” Dixon said. “Recently, Great Lakes Marketing did market research for a nursery school chain, and if the parents don’t see computers in that school, they aren’t sending their child. Think about what you use as an immediate source for information versus what your 5-year-old will use for information. I’m running to my bookshelf, and they are running to their keyboard. And that’s how we learn about products.”
The “Do Not Call” list has presented a challenge in the market research industry.
“The ‘Do Not Call’ list was designed to keep solicitors from being able to call anyone at their home. But since we don’t sell anything, we aren’t solicitors and we aren’t affected by that,” Dixon said. “But some people get upset because they feel we shouldn’t have been able to contact them. And they can be aggressive.”
Depending on a company’s business objectives and target audience, there are numerous ways to collect information from customers. In addition to telephone surveys, Dixon said focus groups of 10 to 12 customers that talk about how they buy things provide valuable insight to clients. Such discussions typically take place while the client watches the group through a one-way mirror to avoid influencing the customers, she said.
Dixon said the greatest challenge for the future of the market research industry will be understanding where customers get their information and what their credible sources for information are.
“The way customers go about making decisions in the future will be different,” she said. “And if I am going to get you to buy my product, I need to understand that.”
Kristine Hoffman is host and producer of “Business 360,” which airs every Monday and Friday on WGTE-TV, during PBS’ “Nightly Business Report” at approximately 7:45 p.m. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.