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The Origins of Marketing Research

Posted by Matt Skobe

Thu, Nov 13, 2014

cmb, marketing researchHave you ever considered the origins of marketing research? Recently I’ve been pondering this. Some professions, such as construction, have been in existence since the dawn of civilization, meeting the basic human need of shelter. The (relatively) recent rise of the computer programmer marks its starting point in the early 1980s with the advent of the personal computer. But what about market research?I did some digging in order to answer my question, which led me to a book entitled A New Brand of Business: Charles Coolidge Parlin, Curtis Publishing Company, and the Origins of Market Research by Douglas Ward. This book focuses on Charles Coolidge Parlin (1872-1942), who is recognized today as the “Father of Marketing Research.” Parlin worked for Curtis Publishing Company, which was one of the most successful and influential American publishing companies of the early 20th century.

The pivotal moment for creating formalized marketing research was when Curtis Publishing made a principle-driven choice to ban medical, cosmetic, financial, and cigarette advertisements—and thus their accompanying revenue—from its magazines. To make up for this lost revenue, the company adopted a smarter business approach that focused only on the company’s existing clients, which would allow Curtis Publishing to become experts in its clients’ businesses. This novel idea went as follows: if Curtis Publishing could better serve its clients, those clients could in turn benefit Curtis Publishing with increased advertising revenue. In order to do this, the company sought to learn as much as possible about each client’s profit margins, territories, possibilities for expansion, and competition. In short, Curtis Publishing needed a clear view of each client’s marketplace.

With this impetus, Curtis Publishing created the Division of Commercial Research (1911) right here in Boston in what was formally known as Pemberton Square and is now known as Government Center. This was the first marketing research organization in the United States. The company had the notion to move forward on logical and statistical rule rather than intuition, and it strived to gauge public sentiment, evaluate changes in consumer tastes, and turn consumer wants into corporate profits. This newly founded “market research” would eventually become "the rudder on the ship of modern corporate capitalism.”

Parlin’s studies at Curtis Publishing led him to remarkable conclusions that were not readily apparent otherwise. For instance, Parlin calculated the strong influence that women had over family automobile purchases and foresaw that the automobile industry needed to reduce the number of models offered. Insights such as these eventually led to increased—and smarter—advertising as companies attempted to stay ahead of the curve.          

Interestingly, marketing research has the same purpose today as it did back then—it provides a way to improve marketing and business decision making. Parlin’s studies were typically hundreds of pages long with hand drawn charts, maps, and graphs bound in black or red leather with gold embossed lettering, and while we might do things a little differently now, we still need to create an informative narrative backed with charts and graphs aimed at getting to the heart of business decision making. Ever increasing amounts of information are available today, but distilling the most interesting and the most useful facts remains the ultimate challenge. I think Charles Parlin would agree, don’t you?

Matt Skobe is a Senior Data Manager at CMB. His passions include spending time with his wife and kids and mountain biking (day and night).

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Topics: business decisions, consumer insights, advertising

Tablet Purchase Journey Relies Heavily on Mobile Web

Posted by Chris Neal

Thu, Oct 16, 2014

consumer pulse, tabletsWe all know the consumer purchase journey has changed dramatically since the “mobile web” explosion and continues to evolve rapidly. In order to understand the current state of this evolving journey, CMB surveyed 2,000 recent buyers of tablets in the U.S. We confirmed several things that we expected to see, but we also busted a few myths along the way: 

1. TRUE: “Online media and advertising are now essential to influence consumers.”

  • Reading about tablets online and online advertisements are the top ways in which consumers learn about new brands or products. [Tweet this.]
  • Nearly everyone we surveyed does some type of research and evaluation online before buying—most commonly using online-only shopping sites (e.g., Amazon, eBay, etc.), general web searches, consumer electronics store websites, review websites (e.g., CNET, Engadget, etc.), or tablet manufacturer websites.

2. TRUE: “The mobile web is becoming more important in the consumer purchase journey.”

  • Over half of buyers use the mobile web during the research and evaluation phase, and nearly 40% of buyers do so as a part of the final purchase decision (although very few people actually purchase a tablet using a mobile device). [Tweet this.]

3. FALSE: Mobile applications are becoming very important in the consumer purchase journey.”

  • Although the mobile web is now highly influential, very little purchase journey activity actually happens from within a mobile application per se. This could be because tablet purchasing isn’t something that happens frequently for more individual consumers (high-frequency activities lend themselves better to a dedicated app to expedite and track them). [Tweet this.]

4. FALSE: “Social Media is becoming very important in the consumer purchase journey.”

  • The purchase journey for tablets is indeed very “social” (i.e., word-of-mouth and consumer reviews are hugely influential), but precious little of this socialization actually happens on social media platforms in the case of U.S. tablet buyers. [Tweet this.]

5. FALSE: “The Brick and Mortar Retail Store is Dead.”

  • The rise of all things online does not spell the death of brick and mortar retail in the consumer electronics category. In-store experiences (including speaking with retail sales associated and doing hands-on demos of tablets) were one of the top sources of influence during the research and evaluation phase, regardless of whether they ultimately bought their tablet in a physical store. 
  • Next to ads, in-store experiences were the top source of awareness for new tablet brands and models. 41% of those who learned about new makes/models during the process did so inside of a physical retail store. [Tweet this.]
  • Half of all buyers surveyed actually bought their tablet in a physical retail store. [Tweet this.]

6. TRUE: The line between “online” and “offline” purchase journeys is becoming blurred.

  • Most people use both online and offline sources during their purchase journey, and they typically influence one another. People doing research online may discover that a tablet model they are interested in is on sale at a particular retailer. At the same time, something a retail sales associate recommends to a shopper in a store may spur an online search in order to read other consumer reviews and see where they can get the recommended model the cheapest and fastest. Smartphone-based activities from within a retail store are just as common as interacting with an actual salesperson face-to-face at this point. 

The mobile web is undoubtedly here to stay, and how consumers go about making various different buying decisions will continue to evolve along with future changes in the mobile web. Here at CMB, we will continue to help companies and brands adapt to these shifts.

Download the full report. 

For more on our mobile stitching methodology, please see CMB's Chris Neal's webinar with Research Now: Watch the Webinar

Chris leads CMB’s Tech Practice. He enjoys spending time with his two kids and rock climbing.

Topics: technology research, mobile, path to purchase, advertising, Consumer Pulse, passive data, retail research, customer journey

Sponsorship Advertising: Odd Couples That May Succeed

Posted by Kate Zilla-Ba

Wed, May 28, 2014

advertising sponsorships

We are constantly talking with companies about how their positive and desired brand messages—from all possible sources—need to match up with the experience their customers have when interacting with them.  Our approach to brand tracking is based on the premise that movement along the customer journey is driven by customers’ perceptions and is informed by what is promised as well as what is delivered. However, some experiences are obviously more in the control of the company than others. And one place where a company can really have impact is via sponsorships in advertising—and some of these partnerships aren’t always as straightforward as beer and football.We’ve all seen unusual pairings.  One recent example is Meb Keflezighi, the 2014 men’s Boston Marathon winner, who is now sponsored by Skechers.  This has drawn some attention as Skechers has not historically been a brand associated with running—much less elite running.  In fact, some might associate Skechers as more of a soccer mom brand. (Remember those rocking walking shoes from a few years back?)  But this new partnership certainly has the makings of a game changer for their “GoRun” line now that Keflezighi has catapulted them onto this new scene.

Here’s another seemingly odd-ball combination that is hitting the stage this summer.  The Colorado Symphony has a three show concert series coming up sponsored by the cannabis industry (which was recently made legal there for recreational use).  They already have numerous concerts that look to be targeting a younger demographic, such as a Harry Potter themed concert and their “Beethoven and Brews” series. This new concert series called “Classically Cannabis” appears to be just another attempt to draw in a new audience while keeping their art alive and kicking (not to mention that the cannabis industry has increasingly deep pockets).  It has certainly drawn media attention, and their online explanations via an FAQ are thoughtfully done, regardless of your stance on this issue. 

But what does this new series do to the Colorado Symphony as a brand as it currently exists? Presumably, they have researched whether or not this will cause damage to their brand image by alienating loyal customers, and moreover, whether this will in fact be appreciated by those loyal listeners as well as expand their existing audience with new listeners. 

Let’s shift to the world of high fashion. Fashion Week has both some expected and perhaps unusual sponsors.   Mercedes—check.  Office Max—huh?  Apparently, the latter had some “fashionable office supplies” to put out on the runway.  According to reports of those who work with Fashion Week sponsors, those brands do need to have a relevant story to tell, which in this case may well be true.   Understanding the impact or ROI of an ad sponsorship can be tricky, but should always happen and be taken into consideration.

There’s also outer space—the final frontier.  We’ve probably all seen or heard about the private rocket companies (e.g., SpaceX) that are building and sending people or satellites up into the nether sphere.  But one of the most outlandish companies may be Mars One, a non-profit company with plans to “establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.”  This venture is to be funded through crowd-sourcing, TV rights, and sponsorships. 

The plan is to launch teams of four on a one-way ticket to a pre-established mission, which will begin to be set up in the next few years with the first manned launch currently planned for 2024.  So we could see Pepsi on Mars, although most sponsors thus far are technology firms.  Taking the hypothetical (at the moment) notion of cola on Mars:  what does that potentially do for the brand sponsor?  Perhaps it could be a way to reinvigorate their brand with a sense of adventure or a way to evoke emotions of excitement.  

How about Mars candy on Mars?  Of course, I am not the first to make this connection.  Though I strongly suspect that the rockets sent out on that journey will be stocked up with water and nutrient-rich supplies instead of candy bars—or so I hope for those brave enough (some may say stupid enough—but they probably said the same of Columbus or his fellow “explorers” once upon a time) to sign up.  Apparently, there have been many to volunteer—upwards of 200k of which 700 or so are still in the running. 

It will be fascinating to see what unexpected brands might sponsor Mars One over time.  However, once arrived on the red planet, there’s no guarantee that the participants will keep the cameras on and the sponsored items in view.  Now there’s a risky proposition. 

Maybe Mars One could look to the example of the Colorado Symphony if they really wanted something unusual.   And, if they want CMB to measure the degree to which that is compatible with their overall strategy and goals—BEAM ME UP!  

Kate is a Project Director, working with clients across many industries at CMB. She has been known to perform in local musical theater here and there, speaks three languages well and a few others passably, and would never sign up for a Mars mission. 

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Topics: advertising, marketing strategy, brand health and positioning

Diet Pepsi Gives (and Gets) Some Love on Valentine's Day in Boston

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Fri, Feb 15, 2013

By Athena Rodriguez

CMB fun fact: our little street in Boston has enjoyed a few moments on the silver screen, perhaps you've seen the great moment in cinematic history known as Bride Wars, or maybe Surrogates starring Bruce Willis as a cop from the future, filmed in our lobby no less. I know, as if market research wasn't glamorous enough! All this to say we’re kind of used to strange goings on outside 179 South Street, so I wasn’t initially interested in the guy, standing in a pick-up truck outside the office, handing out cans of Diet Pepsi, I’m usually a Diet Coke drinker* anyway. However, as a marketer I have a soft spot for a good campaign and I’m not too proud to turn down a free soda.

Diet Pepsi VdaySo what’s blog-worthy about free soda? Two deceptively simple things stand out. First, there were some very cute details—the Pepsi logos were heart-shaped in honor of Valentine’s Day—pretty adorable. The whole website was done up for Valentine’s Day and there was also a contest to tweet about what you love, it was a perfect and simple tie-in with the brand and a chance to win something. Lesson: promotions don’t need to be too complicated to be really appealing.

Along with the can of soda, they handed out coupons for a free 2 liter bottle, as well as a Boston-specific flyer with little allusions to the Red Sox, Patriot’s Day, Newbury Street, the Charles, and the North End, all stuff that's very appealing to locals (and those of us who’ve been here awhile). Lesson: it's tough to lose when you're appealing to hometown pride. Just make sure it's not written by someone who's only seen your town on Google Maps.

And if all else failed, they really couldn’t go wrong with the life-sized Sofia Vergara cut out available for a photo opportunity.

Diet Pepsi VDAY

*Note, I make an exception for Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi which beats both Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi by a mile.

Athena is a Project Director at CMB, she's only just forgiven Pepsico for pulling Crystal Pepsi off the shelves.

Topics: advertising, marketing strategy, customer experience and loyalty, retail research

CW's Revenge: Ads that Tell a Story Hit Their Target

Posted by Athena Rodriguez and Caitlin Dailey

Wed, Nov 28, 2012

From the giant cups of Coca-Cola featured on every America Idol, to the two and half hour GM car commercial Michael Bay called Transformers, product placement can provoke a lot of eye-rolling.  There’s something so inauthentic about it, and really if something looked inauthentic in Transformers, that’s saying something. And behold Stephen Colbert, reading a memo from sponsor Wheat Thins, detailing how he could incorporate the crackers into his show:

Yes it can be bad, really bad.

However, we are forced to admit to enjoying how Niemen Marcus and Target promoted their joint holiday collection during the November 11th episode of our guilty viewing pleasure—Revenge. The retailers were the only sponsors for the whole show and the long-form commercials were in effect a “story within a story,” featuring the show’s actors. In each spot a character was sent a fancy piece of clothing and told to meet at a secluded location revealed in the last ad, and both of us watched each and every one.

So, why did two people, with DVRs and a dislike of product placement, sit through what amounted to roughly ten whole minutes of commercials?

  • Athena says: The ads really looked like part of the show. I didn’t speed through them because at first I wasn’t sure they were commercials at all. Making the ads so seamless clearly took a lot of effort; the retailers partnered with the show’s writers and designers and it really showed in how the ads were staged and shot.

  • Caitlin says: Because I’m already invested in the characters on the show it wasn’t a stretch to watch the commercials. The character, Nolan, who turns out to have sent the gifts, is a millionaire, but very young, quirky and a nice guy. The rich but accessible angle fit perfectly with the Neiman/Target partnership.

target revenge ad 2And we both agreed they did a great job focusing on the items from the collection. The tissue paper in the boxes had the logos, and the clothes looked like clothing the characters would really wear, especially the Lela Rose dress worn by Charlotte.

Ultimately the ads worked because they told a story, both of us genuinely wanted to know how the story ended, and after the show Athena Googled the collection to take a closer look. Now that we have so many ways to avoid ads, it takes something special to make people stop, watch, and maybe as Target and Niemen’s hope, even buy something.

Athena is Team Director for CMB’s Financial Services practice. Caitlin Dailey is a Senior Associate Researcher on our Retail practice. They’re both looking forward to shopping the collection, which debuts on December 1st and finding out if Jack and “Amanda” make it through the holidays.

Topics: advertising, television, digital media and entertainment research