Archive for the ‘Marketing Research Practices’ Category

Updated “MS vs MBA”

Monday, June 1st, 2009

My 28 May post “MS or MBA” created quite a lot of interesting and valuable discussion over on LINKED-IN. The question: “Would an advanced technical degree be more or less valuable than an MBA to a young professional interested in a marketing / business career in the manufacturing sector?”
Here are some key themes and interesting excerpts:

AN ADVANCED DEGREE IS VALUABLE (Not surprising, since it seems most responders have at least one!), BUT….
“[E]xperience is worth the most in this market…. [U]nless you can get into a top B school … it really isn’t worth it. B school is all about the networking and Alumni network.”

“My MBA has broadened my career opportunities and earning potential. The rigor learned in my engineering training has definitely translated well to the business world.”
“With 2 technical degrees the technical advancement path may be enhanced, while the business community may not be convinced the person has business chops; with a BS and MBA, the business community will probably be more accepting.”
“The issue is really the difficulty in crossing the technical / business barrier [especially] in the large multinationals.”
“To understand the business best, start in a technical role, then shift to the business. It is very difficult to do the reverse.”
“Those who are technically trained can learn business management issues … Someone who has a business background cannot easily learn the chemstry/engineering/technology in a similar manner.”

“In all cases, creativity, attitude, team building, ethic and results amount for far more than advanced degree specifics.”
“I have both – MBA from Rutgers BS and MS in Physics. I would say that nothing can jumpstart your career, these are just tools.”
“With a technical undergrad degree, the advanced degree [MS, MBA] is ultimately less important than the would-be marketer’s curiosity, openness to new ideas and new approaches to business, and sensitivity to the motivations and intentions of key players in the marketplace.”


Here’s text of all the comments.

MS in Engineering or MBA?

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

A reader recently asked my advice about best graduate school direction for someone interested in pursuing a marketing research / business strategy career in the manufacturing sector. This particular reader had a BS degree in Chemical Engineering and a couple of years of marketing experience in the chemicals / plastics industry.

The question is “MS or MBA?” to complement an undergrad engineering degree – and the answer is not an easy one. It boils down, I think, to making some subjective judgments about which degree will confer upon you the most credibility and stature among the industry audience you’re trying to influence. In US industry, I sense that (predominantly MBA educated) managers have a substantial bias against the technical degree. Perhaps in other geographies – India, for instance – the MS might carry more prestige.

In a large sense, my experience and intuition suggest that the degree is ultimately less important than the would-be marketer’s curiosity, openness to new ideas and new approaches to business, and sensitivity to the motivations and intentions of key players in the marketplace.

What do you think about the MS vs MBA issue? I’m prepared to be proven wrong on this, but I think those of us in the MR trade should pass on some of our hard-earned wisdom to those entering the profession.

Know Thy Customer … To Become a More Successful Supplier

Monday, May 18th, 2009

No matter who you are – a doctor or lawyer selling your expertise, a giant corporation selling industrial equipment or telecomm services, a shop owner selling latest fashion to upscale teens – the most successful competitors in your business are typically the competitors who most nearly give the customers what they want.

“Well, duh,” you might say, “I don’t need some outsider to tell me that, or to tell me what my customers want. After all, I talk to them every day.”

Unfortunately for most business leaders, from the smallest one person shop to the mega corporation, those customer conversations are usually dominated by immediate, urgent priorities – fixing a problem, collecting an overdue invoice, negotiating a price, scheduling a meeting or a delivery. In these discussions, too little energy is directed toward creatively discussing the future – to contemplating product development, offering enrichment, and growth strategies.

Companies grow and prosper by identifying and satisfying customers unmet needs. Seems simple enough: if you don’t already know what your customers need, then just ask them. Problem is, it just isn’t that simple. Ask the question “What are your unmet needs,” and you’ll likely hear “Lower price!” and “Hmmm … That’s a good question.” The truth is that unmet needs are unmet NOT because we ignored them, but because they are so hidden and ingrained in the way the market does things that we never recognize the possibility of a better way.

Uncovering and explaining those hidden issues is the role of marketing research. Whether you do it yourself, rely upon your company’s market research department, or bring in an outside consultant, digging into your customers’ business environment and developing honest, dispassionate insights about the world they live and compete in is the key to serving your customers better – and to making your business more a desirable and successful supplier.

Value-Adding Services in B-to-B Markets

Monday, May 4th, 2009

A writer posed a general question of the role of value-adding services in B-to-B markets, particularly in an industrial context. While there are, of course, service components intrinsic to every sales transaction, sellers often use additional services to make their offering more attractive. There are many possibilities for value adding services that most customers would be happy to accept, for example:
– services related to a specific order or customer relationship: payment or delivery terms, custom packaging, warehousing, partial shipments, consignment, etc
– technical services: analytical lab service, applications design assistance, facilities engineering help, etc
– market development assistance: joint application development, market research about your customer’s customer, co-funding of advertising, trade show, etc
– business support: health/safety/environmental expertise, HR expertise, etc.

Services such as these are expensive, however, and the provider must carefully assess the cost / benefit implications by addressing three fundamental issues:
1. Which services are most interesting and valuable to particular customer segments and which are less relevant?
2. What is the actual Dollar value of the additional service to each customer segment?
3. How can you capture that added value from your customer – as a premium price, as an additional invoicable event, or as some other contract obligation?

There are good, workable answers to these questions, but finding and confirming them will typically require careful, intense evaluation of each particular case. This sort of investigation would include in-depth conversations with many people in the customer / end user space, a healthy dose of competitor analysis, some detailed economic assessments, all leavened with business judement and a touch of practical psychology.

Engaging an independent consultant is often the best way to address a large, one-of-a-kind task like this.

Marketing Research – A Day in a Boy’s Life

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Imagine paying good money to follow a 12 year old to school and through the mall, rummage through his room, and quietly observe how he interacts with his friends and family. Then imagine repeating it with dozens of other 6 to 14 year old boys. That is exactly the sort of marketing research Disney is doing to try to learn how to attract more boys to their audience and to the Disney brand.

Regardless of what you’re selling – movies, games and clothing to kids, the house on the corner, a railroad car full of industrial plastic, or an evening at a fancy restaurant – understanding what makes your customers tick is a large part of your success. A few gifted sales people seem to have a unique instinct, but for most businesses, marketing research provides vital insights into why customers behave as they do – insights about where they choose to spend their money, and why.

Marketing research comes in many forms, from the simple and informal to large, highly structured large formal studies. Today’s New York Times reports on Disney’s use of the marketing research technique “ethnography” to gain a candid, day-in-the-life experience of what 6-14 year old boys are really like.

The Times reports that boys “hop more quickly than their female counterparts from sporting activities to television to video games during leisure time. They can also be harder to understand: the cliché that girls are more willing to chitchat about their feelings is often true.” Big ‘duh’ to any of us who have lived with 12 year olds, but Disney’s insights likely run a lot deeper than that.

It will be interesting to see how the Disney brand and programming evolve to add more boy-focused appeal to a line-up heavily tilted toward Hannah Montana and The Little Mermaid. Perhaps …

– Some outdoor adventure themes
– Outwitting the older crowd to right a wrong
– Helping smaller, younger girls and boys figure how to handle a tough situation
– Learning a new skill – from klutz to competent

How would you like to see Disney appeal more to boys?