Cris Cohen: Market research is kind of an all-encompassing, big umbrella term to me. I'm wondering, how do you describe what Ulta does?
Marcia Cubitt: If you're looking for answers to questions that you have about your business, then we find the people that will share their opinions to help formulate your ability to run a successful business.
You are absolutely right. Market research is a huge umbrella of different things. Our piece of that pie is making sure that we have the people in the room, the people online, the people in the interview process… to answer the questions that our clients might have, so they can make better products, so they can formulate things about the political world we live (in), so they can talk about social issues that might be impacting communities.
Cris: I think that's an interesting point, if only because nowadays, no matter what the business is, everyone says it is the technology that's the answer. “You have an issue? Oh, we'll just tweak the technology, improve the technology, create a new app.” But, the insights that you guys are able to provide, that depends on the connection to the people.
I think a lot of people put too much stake in the technology and not enough stake in getting people in the seats, so to speak.
Marcia: It's really interesting that you said that, because that is definitely the case in a lot of different fields, but especially (in) market research. We like the bells and whistles, and the graphs, and all of the details that go with a market research project. They are important. They absolutely are, but… if you don't have that human connection, you don't have the revelatory experience that you might think you're having with your graphs, and the technology that you have.
We need to get back to talking to people in a neutral setting. Let's face it, there are a lot of ways for people to share opinions out there in the world with social media, email, cell phones.
To actually have it in a structured environment and make those people who are sharing those opinions feel valued and (that) what they are doing is important, kind of gets to the heart of what market research is.
Most often, (our clients are) trying to understand how their product could help a person's life, or how talking about something in the community can impact that community. By bringing people in and having these lengthy conversations about things that matter to the company, the community, and to the people that they are servicing is kind of a tried and true recipe for success.
We (all) talk quickly, in soundbites. You might think you have an answer. But until you actually talk to people, spend some time with them, and see (their) body language and some of those things that might get lost in other quick technology, you may not have the total story.
People Will Surprise You
Cris: It seems like you guys are this kind of translator between actual people and the messiness of their thoughts, emotions, opinions and stats. Is that accurate?
Marcia: One thing I can tell you -- and I see it all the time -- people will surprise you. Having set thoughts about what you think a certain person's going to say or do can definitely hurt a client's ability to roll out a product or talk about a social issue. You have preconceived notions. But people will surprise you. That's why what we do is so important, because we bring people together within the demographics our clients are asking for, but then they share their honest feedback. It's always fascinating.
When people hear “market research,” or they get a phone call, people are suspicious these days. Right? It's like well, what's this?
Marcia: What we have found 100% of the time is once a person new to market research participates, they love it. They are like, “Sign me up for the next one!”
We are in a rush, rush, rush society right now. Not a lot of listening (going on).
(But) people feel heard by the time they leave these groups.
Cris: I never thought about that. But now that you bring it up, you might be some of the few people actually listening in today's world.
Marcia: Right? It is empowering. People walk out of the groups and say, “You really listen. That was great.” Once people are part of market research, they are like, “Okay, sign me up again. That was fun. I'm getting paid to get a free product to test. I'm getting paid to shape a community issue.”
Market Research VS Going With Your Gut
Cris: And then, from the perspective of a client, a business, someone who hires you... what is your argument for doing market research, as opposed to going with your gut?
Marcia: With market research, you get to hear other people's perspectives. If you are going with your gut, then you are going with what you feel is best. When you are going with your gut, you are rolling the dice. With market research, it takes away the rolling of the dice.
Cris: What types of businesses could really benefit from market research that have not taken that leap, necessarily?
Marcia: Great question.
Big companies use market research a lot. Big corporations use market research continuously, ongoing, because they know and understand the value of having that touchstone with their customers. We also do a lot with law firms, because we do mock jury trials, where we simulate a court case, so that they can understand the mindset of a potential real jury.
We do a lot of those, nationwide, and people always find those fascinating.
We also do a lot of medical research projects. We are talking directly to the professionals, to the doctors, to the pharmacists. “Do you prescribe this particular drug? How do you feel your customers like it?”
Cris: That's something I didn't think of, personally. When I hear market research, I tend to think about products and the general public. But what you are talking about here is that you guys can focus in on particular professions, people with particular specialties, and get opinions and insights just from that targeted vocation.
Marcia: Exactly, and it is very powerful.
But people who could truly benefit from market research and probably don't take advantage of it are the smaller companies or companies that are just getting going, or an entrepreneur who has an idea.
And I understand cash flow is something that you have to think a lot about. But market research in the long run saves those people money.
For instance, you might decide that you are going to offer free shipping, because that's what you think your customers will want. (But) you might end up talking to people who see a true value in what you are offering. They say, “I don't mind spending that kind of money on shipping, because I'm getting something that's really special to me.”
You don't know those answers and you're losing money. If you just took some time to think, “What do we want to know? Who is my customer, and if I could talk to them directly, what would I want to know the answer to?” It can save a lot of heartache and money in the long run.
Knowledge is power. If you have the information with you, then you know how to begin to structure things for success.