Growing Up in Idaho: A Market Research Story
I grew up in the state of Idaho in a city of 50,000 called Idaho Falls. Idaho Falls is not very well known. It has a lot of rural area, farms full of potatoes and a Budweiser plant. The main employer in the area is the Idaho National Laboratory, which hires about 8,000 employees and stores spent nuclear fuel. I wasn’t very adept at storing spent nuclear fuels (God forbid, I’m in charge of THAT … we’d all be doomed), so I got involved in market research.
If you’ve ever traveled north on I-15, you may have passed through Idaho Falls on your way to Yellowstone National Park. Growing up in a fairly small town had its ups and downs. Generally, aside from dollar movies, we were forced to find our own forms of entertainment. We do not occupy our time with the “luxuries” of today, that is, video games (it only took a while to beat Pitfall), computers, the Internet, mobile phones, text messages, and so on. They seem to suck every spare minute from today’s teens. We spend a lot of time exploring our surroundings, playing sports, and getting into trouble.
Funny how things change. When I was young, I spent time in a pool and waterslide called “Thunder Ridge” that was located in the foothills on the east side of the city. My high school prom was held in this pool. The prom had to have been one of the last major events at Thunder Ridge because within a year after the party, the operation was closed.
For many years after its closure, Thunder Ridge and its waterslide continued in an increasingly deteriorated condition. In an attempt to find something to do, my friends, brothers, etc. And he used to go to Thunder Ridge and go down the slide on a skateboard and a block of ice. This is how it worked. We would go to the slide at night (the police would kick you out if they found you there) and we would sneak silently to the slide (the neighbors would call the police if they saw you there). We’d make sure we had a couple of items of safety gear …
Converse All-Stars, Levi’s 501 jeans, long-sleeved flannel shirts, gloves, and a flashlight. The flashlight was placed on the bottom of the slide. You will recall from your own experiences with waterslides that at the end of any waterslide there is a fall into a pool. It was extremely important to know when he was about to end his journey so that he would not be shot from the ledge into the empty, muddy, abandoned pool (it happened more than once). We would walk to the entrance of the slide and lay face down on the skateboard. First we lowered the skateboard by the tail, placing the ice block under the tail so that we did not have a “deadly wobble”. The ice block was slippery enough to allow for turns and transitions on the waterslide.
We would ride the skateboard / ice block combo upside down so that we could hold the ice block under the skateboard while riding (wearing the gloves). Levi’s long sleeve shirt and jeans were important to avoid road rash if / when we fell from the fast screaming contraption. The Converse All-Stars were used as brakes. The instant he saw the flashlight at the bottom, or accelerated too fast, he dragged his All-Stars onto the edges of the slide. You can imagine how scary and fun this experience was when we screamed down the slide at a million miles per hour, hoping we could stop in time to avoid being shot at the end … falling four feet on muddy, dirty ground full of garbage, pool.
While managing and working in your business or for your employer (be it a market research group or any other type of company), while conducting your market research, your health research or operating your MROC (Research Online Community of market), while surveying your customers or patients, etc. Have you ever felt like you have been put in a business situation like this? Have you ever gone through your business life feeling like you are being dragged down a path that is going too fast and that you can only hope it turns out well in the end? If so, I have some suggestions:
* Slow down: many of us take on A LOT of too many things at once. At some point or another, we have all done this. Slow down and focus, prioritize and get the items that will have the most impact on your business first, especially if they are the easiest to eliminate. When you’re learning to skateboard down a waterslide, it’s important to slow down … at least the first time so you understand the process.
* Learn to Drive: You can actually ride a skateboard and a block of ice. Have you learned how to run your business? Market research will help you make informed decisions. If your company sells a product or services to a customer (we all do), collect customer feedback, understand your patients’ satisfaction, research the product. If you are involved in a market research organization, work on your market research techniques so that you can effectively deliver your market research data collection results in a concise way that responds to your clients’ research needs.
* Wear the “Right” Gear – Just as it’s extremely important to wear gloves, jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and sneakers on this type of “walk,” it’s important that you wear the right gear when conducting your market research. There are some really great market research products and services available in the industry … and there are some really bad ones. The shitty ones will steer you in directions you don’t want to take, gather information that doesn’t represent your target audience, and lead you to decisions that may not have the impact on your business that you expected. For those of us who are involved in market research, it is extremely important for us to have stable platforms that produce accurate results and deliver what is expected. We must evaluate our platforms to determine if they “fit” regularly.
* Check for obstacles: I am ashamed to admit that I did NOT check the slide for obstacles on one occasion. Idaho Falls has a tremendous amount of wind. As he aged, the slide became dilapidated and the wind blew one of the upper pieces of the slide into the slide. I ran into this “slippery part” at a million miles per hour breaking four fingers. The best team in the world couldn’t make up for my own stupidity. The obstacles you need to consider when conducting market research projects are your market research methods. It is important that you understand the method that will best answer your market research question.
If your market research study should use quantitative market research vs. Qualitative market research depends on what you are trying to achieve. Should you collect customer or patient surveys vs. conducting a focus group vs. Using an MROC (Market Research Online Community) depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you should use online vs. face to face vs. Telephone or IVR methods also depend on what you are trying to accomplish. Don’t automatically assume that a specific method “fits” your research question … simply because it is a “hot” collection method at the time. Each collection method has its obstacles and advantages.
* Use the buddy system: it is important that you surround yourself with people who know what they are doing and who have in mind what is best for you. When I broke all four of my fingers, my “friend” had to take me home. Not all market research companies are the same. Each has a specific set of methods, experiences, and focuses. Has your market research provider ever said “No, I don’t think we are the best fit for that particular project?” Surround yourself with a group of people you trust and who can deliver, and who will be honest with you when they can’t. Market research companies should be that partner.