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June-July 2009
ADM logoIndependence Day
This month starts off with one of my favorite holidays: July 4th. It's not my favorite because of barbeques or beaches, but because of what it means.
The United States, for all its worts--and we have quite a few--is still the best place to live. It's the place where the risk-takers from Europe and other places came because they figured it HAD to be better here--even though they were leaving everything they knew. America has become a brand, and its brand personality is informed by the edgy, optimistic, risk-taking people who shlepped here, often under terrible conditions, to re-invent themselves. They have graced this nation with their ideas, their inventions, their intellect, and (perhaps most importantly) their children, for more than 200 years.
Sometimes it seems we are a motley crew; a nation of multiple hyphenates. But I also think that this is what keeps our DNA strong. Happy Birthday, America!!
Research ROI
Dollars on chess boardWhat's In It For You?
In this time of belt-tightening it is more than reasonable to pose the question: What is the return on investment for marketing research studies?
First, we have to ask why companies conduct research to begin with:
  • To test new product and service concepts/components/prototypes, new positionings for established brands and new communication campaigns
  • To test distribution channels, target market segments, and other elements of a marketing plan
  • To determine brand image
  • To find out how customers feel about the products and services they are buying and the companies from whom they are buying them
  • To find out how employees feel about their companies and managers
  • To generate content for a publicity campaign
  • Any other inquiry about how and why consumers or B-to-B buyers make purchase decisions

For each of these reasons there is a risk attendant with NOT conducting the research; a risk that may impact the marketing plan or the company's (or division's) entire business plan. In some cases, the risk has a specific dollar amount attached to it; in others, the risk is qualitative.

  • A company that is rolling out a new product or service, or modifying an existing product or service, generally has a budget for doing so. Suppose that budget is $10 million (including production, sales training, marketing materials, and advertising); the risk of launching this product/service with serious flaws in the product itself, the marketing, or advertising can have significant financial consequences for the company or division involved. Would it be worth $25,000 or even $50,000 (no more than 1/2%) to make sure you have it right?
  • According to the 80/20 rule, 20% of your customers account for 80% of your revenues. If half of those 20% were unhappy with your product or (more likely) their relationship with your company, the impact of losing even one in ten of those customers (1% of your best customers) could be severe. Would it be worth spending $15,000 or $20,000 (1% of sales if these customers account for $2 million in sales) to make sure your biggest customers do not leave?
  • In recent years, companies have begun to realize that their brands are financial assets, in and of themselves. Consumers invest the brands with which they are familiar with qualities that promote loyalty and repeat purchase (or recommendation). If a brand's image is slipping--either because of competitive pressures, negative press, or neglect--sales will begin to fall. Would it be worth spending upwards of $30,000 to assess a brand's image and/or test a repositioning (0.6% of sales for a brand worth $5 million a year) in order to keep the brand fresh and responsive to consumer needs?
  • Employee turnover can be expensive. In a service business, it can also undermine customer confidence. If you could find out how to improve employee satisfaction and decrease turnover, how much could you save in a year--$20,000? $100,000? More? It may be worth spending $10,000 or $20,000 to figure this out (depending on employee size).
  • It is an ongoing challenge to find new ways to publicize a company or brand, and to do it in a way that conveys the key messages you prefer. "Research for Ink" is an inexpensive way (anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000 depending on whether it is a consumer or B-to-B audience) to gain thousands (even tens of thousands) of dollars of publicity.

I have literally seen companies spend upwards of $100,000 on research and then decide NOT to go ahead with the product rollout they were planning, thereby avoiding a multi-million dollar mistake. Rather than thinking of research as "nice to have" but not essential, think about the risks you are taking by being "assumption-driven" rather than "knowledge-driven."

My thanks to Barbara Von Euw (
), an excellent marketing strategist, based on Long Island, for encouraging me to write this article. If you care to see a slightly more detailed version and print it out or pass it along, please go to

Secondary Research

A Good Way to BeginKeyboard cropped 

Not every research effort needs to be a major survey or series of focus groups. Secondary research is often a very good way to initiate a larger research effort, or to suffice, depending on one's information needs.

First, let's define secondary research. It includes anything that is in the public domain. Nowadays, most people feel that a Google search is a good enough way to begin an investigation on a market or product category. Sometimes it is, but most of the time it's just a "toe in the water" when you probably need to get wet up to your knees.
Professional librarians in corporations and ad agencies know that secondary research can result in a substantial briefing dossier, including:
  • Market size for a total category and sub-categories (e.g., coffee, ground coffee, whole bean coffee, decaf, flavored coffee, instant coffee)
  • Major competitors, including regional, national, and international brands (e.g., Maxwell House, Lavazza, Douwe Egbert)
  • Alternative products/brands that can be competitors (e.g., Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks)
  • User groups by age, income, region
  • Trends over the past few years and extrapolated to the next few years
  • Spokespeople, advertisements, public relations campaigns, cause-related marketing, etc.

It is important to state that not every secondary research effort is able to uncover everything on this list, or on your list. It depends on the product or brand (I chose an example that is widely covered), whether there are trade associations or publications that track it, and how accessible the information is. However, the resources available to a professional can yield a surprising amount of information to analyze.

The resulting briefing document can set the stage for a more targeted primary research effort; or it can stand alone. Secondary research can be used to develop a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats); or it can help marketers develop strategies based on market intelligence rather than speculation--yet another way to become KNOWLEDGE-DRIVEN!
Upcoming Events--Beginning A New Season
First, I am pleased to announce that I am the newly elected Vice President and Brand Champion of the  International Association of Business Communicators-Long Island. Our incoming Board of Directors has a lot of fresh faces and fresh ideas, so we are looking forward to an exciting new season of programs and networking. If you would like to be a speaker at one of our programs, please send me a brief description of your topic and approach and I'll present it at our summer planning retreat.  
July 22, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Just for fun, try to come to "Ladies Who Laugh," a comedy night featuring five comediennes, presented by Women In Communications, Inc. (WICI). Last year's event was really funny, and who couldn't use a good laugh these days? It's being held at the NBC Studios at Rockefeller Center. For more information and registration, visit:  
July 29, 5:30pm-8:30pm   
Society of Marketing Professional Services-Long Island is holding its annual "Meet and Greet," a networking event, at Westbury Manor, Westbury, Long Island. This event is free for members and a nominal fee for non-members. This is a great opportunity to network with marketers in the A/E/C industry on Long Island. For more information and to register please visit
July 28, 6:00pm-8:00pm
The New York Chapter of the American Marketing Association is presenting "ESPN Profile: Seven Principles for Evaluating Your Cross Media Performance."  This program introduces attendees to a new way of measuring media across the various new platforms that exist today, including digital platforms. The venue has not yet been determined, but you can find out more about it at:

I hope to see you at one of these events.

This practice is dedicated to helping companies become knowledge-driven, rather than assumption driven about strategic and tactical decisions concerning lines of business, branding, communications, and various marketing activities. For more information about how we do this, case studies, frequently asked questions about marketing research, and testimonials, please visit our web site:

Ann Middleman