Welcome to the October 2009 edition of The Marketing Dialog. This month’s guest marketing leader is Vicki Gordon, the Managing Partner of The Collins Gordon Group, LLC. Collins Gordon works with for-profit and non-profit organizations to link public policy and community outreach to organizational strategy to achieve strong business results as well as sustainable positive social change. Vicki is an experienced marketing and community affairs professional.
To thank our guests for their participation, Polaris will make a donation to the charity of their choice. Vicki has chosen EnAble of Georgia. Vicki says, “EnAble provides residential and personal support services for adults with developmental disabilities. I have been involved with the organization for over 10 years because of my personal interest in helping individuals with developmental disabilities reach their full potential. Initially, involvement meant small personal donations, then attending special events, then volunteering for Board service. In January of 2010 I’ll become Chair of the Board of EnAble of Georgia.”
We invite you to make a contribution of your own or to learn more about EnAble of Georgia by clicking this link: http://www.enablega.org/
TMD: Thanks for participating in this month’s Dialog, Vicki. Let’s start with the basics: why do you think marketing research is important?
Vicki: My personal experience has shown that often as a marketer of new products or services it is easy to be swayed by internal opinions and operational issues that ultimately influence the final consumer offering. Without the reality check of real consumer insights on the offering, PRIOR to going to market, there is a risk of jeopardizing what could be a highly successful product launch.
An example that stands out in my mind, probably because the same mistake is made over and over by many different companies, is that of programs designed by hotel companies targeting female business travelers. In the mid ‘80s when the numbers of female business travelers truly began to soar many of the major hotel companies began to market rooms and services “designed for the female traveler.” So, many of these programs focused on flowers and chocolates in the guest rooms, special bath salts, etc. Unfortunately, most of these heavily marketed programs weren’t successful. Why? Marketing research reveals that attributes female travelers rate highest when booking lodging is 1) security and safety, 2) good room service, and 3) good lighting in the bathroom.
TMD: And I’ll bet the male business travelers wanted those things as well! From the marketing research you conducted, what information was your company surprised to discover or would not have known without the research?
Vicki: In a major research study conducted for a major hotel brand, brand management was was very surprised by the different views held by consumers regarding the brand – views that were location driven. For instance the brand was perceived as essential to the community in small towns and rural areas, while in urban and suburban markets is was perceived as much more of a commodity. This deeper understanding of varied consumer attitudes towards the same brand drove a much more segmented approach to marketing the brand.
TMD: What were the most important lessons you learned about marketing research in the early days of your career?
Vicki: Don’t be wedded to an idea because it’s your idea. Too often I’ve found that products/services that make absolute sense to me just don’t resonate with a broad enough audience to warrant taking to market. Same is true for advertising concepts, logos, taglines. Consumers see things in visuals and hear things in words that often quite different from the author/artist’s intent and vision.
TMD: How do you get buy-in for marketing research from other executives?
Vicki: Typically the executives I’ve worked with are receptive to the proven point that timely and well-designed market research can often prevent costly mistakes and provide the valuable insights necessary to ensure long-term business success.
The biggest single objection that I seem to encounter is the additional amount of time added to a project to layer in appropriate market research. Therefore, it seems to me that as marketers we need to build that into project plans from the very beginning and secure buy-in up front to avoid getting stalled mid-project.
TMD: What marketing decisions do you think are the most difficult to make without any research?
Vicki: I think pricing is really, really tough without good research that includes consumer attitudes about price/value relationship, competitor price points, market drivers in supply and demand. Too often I’ve seen marketers trying to establish pricing based on cost of goods and generally accepted profit margins. That sometimes leaves money on the table, or flip side, inhibits sales of what would otherwise be a well received product/service.
TMD: Very true!
Vicki, thank you so much for your time. We enjoyed speaking with you.