Relevant Research: Bringing the Mountain to Mohammed

The Browning of America Challenges the Marketing-Research Industry

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The market-research industry practices need a bit of an overhaul.

Carol Watson Pepper Miller
I am amazed that, given all the buzz surrounding multicultural, diversity, ethnic, urban and the "Browning of America," the market-research industry has yet to step up and meet the need to better serve the marketing and ad communities.

Market research -- particularly consumer research and its function to collect and analyze data from a variety of resources and publics -- is essential to the marketing and advertising industries. Yet, its current practices fall short of connecting insights, needs and desires of many valuable yet underserved ethnic consumers to competitive marketers and advertisers who are in constant search of the big idea.

The majority of market-research studies are conducted in the same way -- phone, internet, direct mail, focus groups and, if one is fortunate to have a decent budget, a few ethnographies. To be clear, I'm not knocking any of these methods. The majority of our business was built and is sustained by standard qualitative research methods. But the industry also needs to incorporate more nontraditional practices that "meet or serve people where they are." Susan Gianinno, chairman-CEO of Publicis, was on the money when she said, "The best research is not only revealing; it's stimulating and provocative."

Stimulating and provocative research is inclusive, welcoming and disarming so that respondents are encouraged to participate with honest information and insights.

Many standard research studies exclude the opinions among a majority of people of color -- the underserved. Marketers believe that including two persons of color in a focus group, or including a small (and often unreliable) sample of ethnic consumers in a quantitative study among predominately white respondents, constitutes representation. I think not. In fact, cultural nuances are often missed in mixed race studies.

Another big mistake in the market research arena is associating the word underserved exclusively with low-income and the unlearned segments. Many educated African Americans, Latinos, and Asians are more likely than whites to be distrusting of big businesses, and they don't have a full understanding of the market-research process and how it works. For example, I can't tell you how many times I've been misintroduced by my educated African-American friends:

This is my friend, Pepper. She has a ________________ (fill in the blank: public relations, advertising, marketing or financial-planning company.)

Thus, to get the most from ethnic respondents, market-research requires utilizing traditional and non-traditional methods.

David Morse, CEO of New American Dimensions a full-service market-research company serving African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Youth and GLBTs, has the right idea. David, who is a white male, hired a black male moderator and took cameras into a barber shop in the Black community to talk to Black men. The information obtained from the men was beyond rich!

Too many marketers and market-research people stay within their comfort levels when planning research. David, however, did not let his whiteness stop him from meeting people where they are.

Karl Carter, fellow Big Tent Blogger and Director of Market Innovations for GTM Marketing, along with his GTM team, conducted Un-focused focus groups -- traditional groups in nontraditional settings and venues that are more relevant to the lifestyles of their target audiences.

Many marketers have jumped on the Internet bandwagon. However, there are a number of ethnic consumers who are not online or are online but not very likely to participate. Jack Neff's video Online Market Research Crisis reminds us of the importance of reliable, validated nontraditional practices, specifically the internet.

So, a few pointers to marketers and market researchers who want to better meet the needs of a changing America:
  • Be open minded
  • Employ people of color from the field to senior management research positions
  • Build trust with ethic consumer groups by understanding the nuances and mindset of various population segments
  • Increase outreach and resources in ethnic communities
  • Develop standards and validation for non-traditional methods

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