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Automakers are expected to spend at least $300 million in event marketing this year. How can they be sure they are reaching the right audience with the right message and products?

Dohring Co. in Glendale, Calif., which specializes in market research, thinks its patented TrendTrak device is the answer. The TrendTrak, which is about the size of a portable cash machine, lets participants push a button to respond to questions about everything from brand preference to their feelings about a promotion. Their choices are fed into a giant data bank.

"TrendTrak is quick, fun and an anonymous way to get information from consumers," says Doug Dohring, the company's CEO. "We found that people really love to give their opinions, but they don't want to spend a lot of time answering questions on a survey."

Chevrolet has used the devices at concerts it has sponsored with country-western singer George Strait. "Chevrolet found out that the concerts were attracting truck and sport-utility buyers and that sponsoring Strait's concerts was creating a positive image for Chevy," says Jim Callahan, Dohring's senior analyst. Land Rover used TrendTrak machines at the Los Angeles Auto Show four years ago to survey sport-utility buyers.

The Detroit Auto Dealers Association hired Dohring in 1995 to poll North American Interna-tional Auto Show goers about everything from purchase intentions to what they liked about the vehicle displays. Dohring says TrendTrak found 60 percent of those polled intended to purchase a sport-utility. "That's when the sport-ute market was in the 6 to 7 percent range," Dohring says. "We remember thinking that the sport-utility market is really going to take off, and it did."

Dohring says TrendTrak is more cost-effective than the telephone and about equal to the cost of mail surveys, but much quicker. Clients pay about $5,000 to use five TrendTrak machines for four days, yielding about 1,000 interviews. Dohring estimates typical phone interviews cost about $80 to $90 per usable interview.

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