As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Ken Hodges made frequent trips to the National Aquarium, housed in the basement of the Department of Commerce. Only it wasn't the fish so much that caught his attention, but the population clock in the building's lobby. â€œMaybe that's when I got hooked on demographics,â€? he says. Now that he's all grown up, the 50-year-old Hodges, who has a Ph.D in sociology and demography from Cornell, lends his services to one of the nation's leading market research firms, Claritas, based in San Diego, as its director of demography. Recruiters for Claritas wooed Hodges away from a competing research firm back in 1993 and charged him with the task of producing annual population estimates for small geographic areas. It may not sound like much, but businesses are heavily dependent upon private firms like Claritas to make such estimates because official government numbers are released only once per decade, after each decennial census.
Recognized as an expert in his field, Hodges is called on to make numerous trips from his home in the Finger Lakes region of New York to the nation's capital. There, he sits on a number of boards and committees, including the Council of Professional Associates on Federal Statistics, the Association of Public Data Users and the Decennial Census Advisory Committee.
If there were an Arthur Fonzarelli of the market research industry, the rebellious character of Happy Days fame would likely be played by Gordon Black.
As an associate professor of political science at the University of Rochester in the 1970s, a young Black was moonlighting as an independent market research consultant for local companies. But when his mom-and-pop consulting practice started to take off, so did he. In 1975, he left the security of his day job to build his own business, the Gordon S. Black Corporation.
In the mid-'90s, after decades of conducting polls via telephone, Black became interested in conducting surveys via the burgeoning Internet. He believed that through careful weighting, online surveys could be projected to the national population, and projected accurately. Critics of the idea â€” and there were plenty â€” said it was impossible to produce accurate results from a biased population. But he pushed on. â€œA part of me was always designed to be a rebel,â€? he says. â€œI didn't mind being out on a limb, especially if I thought I was right.â€?
In a very public test, Black's company, now called Harris Interactive, announced its predictions of the 2000 elections based on online polls. It turned out that Black's Internet surveys had predicted the outcomes of more races than most telephone polls. â€œI think in the history of Internet polling, the 2000 election results will be seen as the pivotal moment in which Internet polling became acceptable,â€? says Black.
The real revolution of Internet research, however, may not be the increased accuracy (which, even today, is a matter of debate among many in the industry) but the ability to conduct surveys through a visual medium. â€œBy using the Internet, you can show consumers pictures, show them packaging and even play videos,â€? notes Black. Online, respondents can see the question and all the choices available to them without having to ask the interviewer to repeat himself, whereas many telephone surveys push respondents' recall to the limit, he says.
Of his success in bringing market research to the Internet, Black says, â€œIt will go down as the most fun I ever had.â€?
Setting sail on Long Island Sound as captain of his own 42-foot yacht, Alain Tessier may seem like the perfect picture of a successful semi-retired businessman, but the 69-year-old Burlington, Vt.-native wasn't always so sure his voyage would be so smooth.
In fact, the humble conditions at the San Carlos Hotel in midtown Manhattan â€” where Tessier and his business partners, Philip Wenig and Timothy Joyce, first set up shop in 1979 â€” seemed to suggest a less-than-auspicious future. But the trio was determined to start a company that would give advertisers a reliable measure of Americans' habits of media consumption, primarily of magazines.
Even though their company, known then as Magazine Research, Inc., was not the only firm with such an agenda, the founders made it clear from day one that their operation would be different from the competition's, namely in its methodology. At the time, the primary data collection technique for studying magazine readership involved asking individuals whether they read specific issues of select magazines. But with the rising number of consumer titles forcing door-to-door data collectors to tote around an increasingly heavy stack of magazines, it became obvious to Tessier and company that another method was needed. The technique they eventually employed, â€œrecent reading,â€? asked respondents if they had read select magazines titles, rather than specific issues, within a given period of time. MRI is now one of the nation's leading consumer research firms, providing clients with detailed information on consumer magazines' readership as well as readers' responses to advertised products. The combination has made MRI a veritable one-stop shopping source for marketers.
In 2000, Tessier stepped down from the helm of MRI. And though he still is chairman of the New York City company, he doesn't foresee a long future with MRI. After all, his boat is waiting.
In His Own Words
In my view, the most profound effects on society in general and media behavior in particular have been those wrought by women working full-time. In 1979, full-time working women comprised 35 percent of the nation's female population. By 2002, 45 percent of women worked full-time. The rise of career-oriented women has shaped the content of television programs and program scheduling, changed the editorial direction of their favorite magazines, and generated readership for many new titles.
For the future, I look to the effects of technological innovations, which have already accelerated, and will continue to accelerate, the transmission of information. The ubiquity of cell phones and the rapid and continuing development of the Internet have completely altered the way we talk to each other, the way marketers talks to customers, the way customers shop and the way media reach their audiences. Almost every magazine and newspaper today has a Web site, as do many individual TV programs. Customer service and satisfaction surveys are the rage. Company Web sites are better known than their geographical address.
Market researcher Tom Danbury just may be demographics' biggest fan. He is responsible for revolutionizing the way market researchers draw random samples for telephone surveys. In fact, there are few polls conducted these days with samples that Danbury or his Fairfield, Conn.-based company, Survey Sampling, didn't help select.
As a general manager of research at Donnelly Marketing in Stamford, Conn., in the early 1970s, Danbury recognized that company listings of names, addresses and telephone numbers, taken from the nation's white pages and keypunched into Donnelly's computer system, were an untapped resource for pollsters. While the original use of the database was for direct mail, Danbury realized that the computerized listings could also be used to generate random samples for telephone surveys. Up until that time, random samples were crudely generated, â€œusing a phone book and a ruler,â€? he explains. Someone would measure, say, 2 inches down the page, draw a line and call the person whose phone number intersected the line. The process would continue until the desired number of people were polled.
At first, Donnelly executives agreed to let Danbury experiment using mathematical formulas to randomly select names from the vast database of phone numbers. But eventually, they abandoned the idea. Danbury, still confident that his concept had legs, left Donnelly and started Survey Sampling in 1977. Today, his company provides samples for the majority of surveys conducted in the U.S., including those fielded by Gallup, Harris Interactive and Procter & Gamble.
After 15 years with Survey Sampling, Danbury retired in 1992. The 67-year-old now divides his time between his homes in Kauai, Hawaii, and Venice, Fla. That is, when he's not visiting his grandchildren in Chicago.
In His Own Words
Over the past two decades, America has seen an unseemly and undemocratic wealth gap between a handful of very rich people and the rest. The poor have little left to lose, so our historic middle class is apt to give up assets to the super-rich. Mass marketing requires mass consumption, but if, for example, health care commands a fifth or a fourth of the average family's income, there will be greater competition for their remaining disposable dollars. Unless the concentration of wealth is stopped and reversed, America will no longer be able to support its traditional Democratic values. Perhaps Jefferson was right when he said he welcomed revolutions from time to time.
It didn't matter if Daniel Yankelovich was helping industrial designers build a better oven or the State of Arizona develop a new health care system, his goal throughout his 51-year-long career has been to make institutions more responsive to the people they serve.
In 1952, Yankelovich accepted his first job in market research, for industrial design firm Nowland and Schladmut in Greenwich, Conn. His role at the firm, whose employees designed household appliances, was to help the mostly male design team serve the needs of the typical 1950s housewife. After six years with the company, Yankelovich left to start his own firm in New York City, Daniel Yankelovich, Inc.
At that time, a war was brewing between the two schools of market research. One side focused on quantitative research, in which large numbers of people were polled; the other believed that more could be learned from in-depth conversations with small groups of individuals. â€œI didn't want to choose between a hammer and a screwdriver,â€? says Yankelovich. So he created ways to integrate the two, using qualitative studies to develop hypotheses about consumers and then quantitative studies to verify and quantify the hypotheses.
Yankelovich realized that if he could track social trends on a continuous basis, he would be able to serve multiple clients without conducting multiple research projects. From that idea came the â€œYankelovich Monitor,â€? a longitudinal research study that has tracked shifting consumer values and social trends on a continuous basis since 1969.
But Yankelovich had even loftier goals. In addition to helping businesses reach consumers, he also wanted to make politicians more responsive to their citizenry. Hoping to stimulate public engagement in political issues, Yankelovich â€” along with former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance â€” founded Public Agenda, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public opinion research and citizen education organization based in New York City, in 1975.
At age 78, Yankelovich says his contribution to the market research industry is far from complete. He recently moved to La Jolla, Calif., to found the research firm Viewpoint Learning, which studies where people stand on some of today's toughest issues. The problem, says Yankelovich, is that â€œpolls and focus groups do a good job on issues where people have made up their minds, but there are a number of â€˜gridlockâ€™ issues laden with complex trade-offs that people haven't thought out.â€? His method gives participants the opportunity to spend a full day struggling over gridlock issues like Social Security and the environment. Through Viewpoint Learning, Yankelovich has recently helped the State of Arizona and the Canadian government grapple with some of their toughest health care problems.
In His Own Words
The past 25 years? In the 1950s, the American ideal was uniform and homogeneous: a suburban nuclear family with a breadwinner father, a homemaker mother, two or more children and a pet. Over the last 25 to 30 years, however, a dizzying array of other lifestyles have gained mainstream acceptance, and this trend shows no signs of abating. While this freedom has enlarged individual choice, autonomy and diversity, it is also linked to a very assertive form of individualism, a sense that my needs come first.
ones to watch
Amy Symens Smith and Nicholas Jones
Data on America's multiracial population was perhaps the most anticipated information to come out of Census 2000. Amy Symens Smith and Nicholas Jones, both statisticians in the Population Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, were among the first to get their hands on the hard numbers. Symens Smith (age 32) and Jones (age 30) have cowritten and copresented numerous papers on the topic of multiracial Americans, including â€œI Wanna Be Like Tiger Woods!â€? and â€œWho Is â€˜Multiracialâ€™? Exploring the Complexities and Challenges Associated with Identifying â€˜theâ€™ Two or More Races Population in Census 2000.â€? As the nation waits for more news about its growing and increasingly important multiracial population, look to Symens Smith and Jones for more insight.