Researchers need to market better

Claude SirslyDirector, Marketing ResearchStentor Resource CentreMontreal Q. What types of research does your company commission?A. Just about any of the various categories you can imagine.Stentor Resources is one of three units of Stentor Alliance, which regroups all of the major telephone...

Claude Sirsly

Director, Marketing Research

Stentor Resource Centre

Montreal

Q. What types of research does your company commission?

A. Just about any of the various categories you can imagine.

Stentor Resources is one of three units of Stentor Alliance, which regroups all of the major telephone companies in Canada.

It has pooled all the service and product development resources from these companies, both marketing and engineering.

And that’s basically what we will be doing, developing and bringing to market new products and services which telephone companies will then commercialize as they see fit.

Stentor Resources covers new concept testing, product pricing and demand estimation, market trial design, new concept testing and advertising and promotion effectiveness, plus evaluations of existing products and services.

Public opinion

To some extent, we also do public opinion measurement of various critical issues, program performance evaluation, that sort of thing.

Q. In your experience, what types of research do we do well in Canada?

A. I think that we do most of them well. We have a pretty solid research community.

In our case, we have an in-house market research staff, so that we don’t necessarily commission entire studies, but portions of studies. But, in general, we are reasonably well-served.

Q. In your opinion, what could we do better?

A. Probably, from a research industry point of view, what could be done better is packaging of their services, maybe being a bit more creative and aggressive in marketing their services, with a better focus in their sales promotions.

Specific tools

I think there are some firms that do that well. They have specific tools or research techniques they try to sell to specific customers that they believe have a specific application, but I believe more of that could be done.

I don’t have any particular criticisms of the level of work or expertise.

Q. What needs of yours are not currently being served by the market research services available?

A. Very few. The area where some needs are not completely fulfilled are in the areas where some approaches or techniques germane to a competitive telecommunications market are at issue. In some cases consultants from the u.s. have been used.

Their expertise is greater in those areas, of course, because they have lived through the opening up of the u.s. market to telecommunication competition, before we have. So they have had the benefit of time.

But, again, it’s more on the management consulting side, not the research side.

Q. Where would you like to see more research being done?

A. In the area of estimating market demand for technology-based products.

That is one area where we do quite a bit of work, but it’s also a difficult area, if nothing else, because of the speed with which technology becomes obsolete.

Q. If you lived in an ideal world, in what ways would you change the field of market research?

A. I guess to some extent, and this is only on a limited scale, there are practitioners that sometimes should be more circumspect in taking contracts from prospective customers.

More prodding

They should do a bit more prodding and helping the customer better define his needs, as opposed to just accepting the mandate as presented by the client.

In some cases, the client is simply not capable of making the proper assessment of the type of research he requires.

So, I think more consultation and advice at the start of research mandates would be helpful. But, again, it’s a limited shortcoming.

Q. In what ways could the reporting of information be improved?

A. My answer to that deals specifically with the research design and limitations of the research.

Invariably, you see reports with all kinds of footnotes and asterisks, with the indication the significance was at a certain level, or it wasn’t a reduced sample size, and so forth.

But I think sometimes people tend to take just the top line results or the banners, things that would make headlines in the newspaper occasionally, and forget about the limitations the study really contains.

Sometimes, the results are interpreted more widely and more generally than they should be.

So I think there would be an improvement if those limitations could be presented in a fashion that would be equally attention-grabbing as the results themselves.

Sometimes, clients will pick up on what they want to hear, or would like to hear, and because of that, they don’t pay enough attention to the limitations.

It’s the consultant’s role to make sure the results are properly framed. Otherwise the wrong conclusions could be easily drawn.

Q. In your opinion, does the market research available in Canada support your decision-making to the extent to which you would like?

A. I think so, but this is more an issue with the client side of the relationship; to what extent management will accept research findings, and to what extent it will base its decisions on those findings.

One element

Occasionally, management might decide to pursue an avenue that research indicated was not the best route to take. One must not forget that market research is just one element in the decision-making process.

The extent to which market research is used is a factor of how much management trusts the process and the individuals involved.

Q. How would you rate the efforts by Canadian market research companies to market their information services? You mentioned packaging of services earlier. Are there any other comments you’d like to make?

A. I think there should be a better understanding by the market research industry of their client base. And as a consequence, there would be packaging and research product development more in line with those clients’ needs.

That is the strength of many of the larger international companies, American ones included, that are able to develop research tools that are easily sold and are useful, of course.

Maybe we have too much generic, straightforward research activity as opposed to specialized research.

Q. How do you determine the reliability and stability of a research company?

A. On the reliability issue, because we have an in-house group, and a well-developed approach to doing research, we follow our suppliers very closely and will look at every step of a research project, even if it is only a partial project we have commissioned.

Every aspect

We evaluate them on every single aspect – creativity, accuracy, quality of the interviewing staff. We also check with the respondent as to his reaction to the marketing research agency performance.

We are a difficult customer, that’s true, but we are able to be, because of our own internal expertise. Many clients are not because they can’t be.

On the stability side, we tend to look at agencies over time and see how the performance changes, if indeed it does.

There’s also the issue of rollover of personnel, especially critical members of the staff. That is usually an indication of how stable the agency is.