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Consumer Research & Beyond -

A Reflection on History

June 29 , 2006 - by Robert E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail:

Early in my Research & Development career at Procter & Gamble, actually in my first year, it was obvious that there was a need for a different type of consumer research than that which we had available. At that time, P&G had the typical door-to-door market research program aimed at evaluating the market potential of new brands.  The state of the art was in all cases the paired comparison blind test. The typical test took months to get into the field and months following the field before results were available.

My first experience with our Market Research Department involved a sensory test designed to assess consumer noticeable levels to be used in establishing quality control limits. I was informed that it would take nine months from the time I had an approved request until the report would be available. These were not exactly ideal conditions for on-going product development.  As a result of the above experience, we decided to set up a consumer research group designed specifically for R&D. The new group was positioned as "The extension of the laboratory into the home." Despite this positioning, we were met with opposition from the MR Department. Fortunately for us, as the R&D community became aware that they could have access to the consumer where a test could be placed in the field within two weeks and the results were available within 24 hours of field completion, there were volumes of tests being requested and completed.

It was not too many years before requests were being made for research beyond the home environment. We had teams conducting research in restaurants, dentist offices, car washs, hotels, dry cleaners, beauty shops, hospitals, nursing homes and beyond. As one of our managers said, "We are no longer the extension of the laboratory into the home, we are the extension of the lab into the Real World."

Why am I writing about this particular program within P&G? I think there is a lesson to be learned. The lesson goes beyond marketing and market research. It goes to personal and career development. If you want to expand your value to the company and your bottom line, follow the lead of brand development, that is, expand your market base. In brand marketing, you can increase your bottom line by taking market share from your competitors or you can expand the market. To increase your personal value or the value of your group, increase the scope of your services. Understand the benefits or services you provide and how these benefits might be of value in other areas.

Where would the rail companies be today if they had realized earlier that they were in the  transporation business rather than the people moving business? Or where would Ma Bell be if they did not focus on conversations between individuals and had considered their business to be communication?

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