Client Point of View--With Jon Last

September 28, 2007

What is your most memorable research project you have ever worked on?

What's that adage about always remembering your first time? My first exposure to MR was where we conducted a study of top level executives for a conference center client about the effectiveness of meetings. The goal of the project was to generate publicity for the client, and the "shout it from the rooftops" headline that we derived was that these execs felt that over half the time spent in meetings was wasted. We quantified the dollar value that was wasted and garnered incredible amounts of press for our client. It was this project that flicked on the lightbulb for me that marketing research could be incredibly powerful on multiple levels.

On a lighter note, I will never forget some focus groups we were doing when I was in the cruise industry. On a check-in, I went to the back room to find our CEO, incredibly enthused by the input of a particular respondent. He begged me to let him come into the focus room and address the group. I tactfully explained why this was a bad idea and then pulled the rest of my team aside, encouraging them to watch him and hold him at bay. Of course, it was to no avail. Just as I was wrapping up the group, he came bursting into the room and started "selling".

How would you categorize the state of online research?

It has become "the great equalizer"...both friend and foe. For those that maintain sound methodology, sampling discipline and a focus on action generating analysis, it can bring speed and cost efficiency to a client and enable you to accomplish more with less, thus growing the stature of MR within the organization. However, there are so many possibilities for abuse and misinformation, that it's incumbent upon both suppliers and clients to know what they are doing. We all hear the cries and questions about data and respondent quality. I believe that these concerns have legitimacy, though I'm fortunate in that we typically get around that because of the size and quality of our house file.

Is Ethnography playing a bigger role in your research plans? If so, how?

Conceptually, it remains appealing, and I've dabbled with it. But the costs are still too restrictive to deploy ethnography with any regularity.

What do you think is the greatest need in the market research industry?

As I've said before, and I dedicated a large part of my presentation at IIR to this, I'm upset that many in the profession are too complacent and fail to embrace the true opportunity that we have to be strategists and consultants rather than just passive users or dumpers of data...often like a drunk uses a lamp post... for support rather than illumination. Of course, the fact that not enough people understand and practice this, can be a great source of competitive advantage for us, but the fact that this situation continues, hurts the overall credibility of the profession.

What type of research are you most frustrated with regarding it's ROI?

I'm not a big fan of a lot of the syndicated audience measurement currency. I'm particularly appalled by some of the newer product that purports to measure advertising ROI and effectiveness by asking consumers directly whether a particular advertisement prompted them to think differently about a brand or take a specific action. Respondents' minds don't work that way. We push our clients who insist on trying to measure this, towards experimental design---specifically blind pre-post perception and awareness studies with verified samples of control and exposed populations. At least in this fashion, you can look at changing attitudes over time and begin to assess the overall impact of an entire marketing campaign.

How would you characterize the quality of the deliverables in 2007 vs. previous years?

Realize that we're a full service provider moreso than a research our deliverables were among the best work we've ever done and our data collection suppliers continued to perform at the highest quality levels. As for syndicated product or third party work that we purchased, I'd say that quality continues to wane both on the customer service side and the efficacy of the research.

From your standpoint what is the hottest trend in market research?

A lot of the current "buzz" seems to be centering around word-of-mouth, scraping the blogosphere and utilization of dedicated online communities for insights. It has my interest given the social nature of our endemic categories (golf/leisure), and we've already lined up some work with our clients for 2008 that will delve into these modalities.

What research conferences do you think you will you be attending in 2008?

I'll attend both national MRA conferences and probably go to IIR. If I am in town while ARF is here, I'm sure I'll stop by there as well. This year, I spoke at TIA's market outlook forum, and will also consider returning to that.

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