Written by Doug Baker, Senior Vice President
Let’s say you’re considering working in market research. You really like the idea of asking questions, uncovering motivations, and finding solutions. But can you handle the spontaneous, quick-thinking, survival-of-the-fittest world of market research? Think I’m kidding? Over the course of my 20+ year career in market research, I’ve learned to value two things above all else – soundness of methodology and speed in reacting to crisis.
“Can you show me your license please?” I asked in disbelief. According to this Parisian driver, he could get me across the city and save me an hour in the process. My international flight had been delayed and I wanted to get to my hotel as quickly as possible. Much to my amazement this man’s license was indeed legitimate (as far as I could tell), so I decided to take him up on his offer to get me to the hotel in under an hour. Suddenly he pointed to the back of a motorcycle as he pulled open the straps on the rear fender. “Excuse me?!” I thought to myself as I awkwardly accepted his offer. I shoved my computer bag into his side compartment and I held on tight to my other belongings.
Moments later the kickstand was thrown back and off we went – fast. To me it seemed really fast. Between cars, so close you could reach out and touch them on each side, to the beat of hip hop music he was playing. Earlier I had wondered how he planned to shave an hour off the time. Now I knew, and I was certainly glad I found out during the experience instead of being warned up front. This probably wasn’t the safest thing I’ve ever done, but the fresh air and bike ride through Paris was fun. In market research as in theater, the show must go on!
Lesson learned: Market research is certainly fast paced – and not just the deadlines!
Despite the madness of taking a cab across town in inclimate weather, everything was going according to plan. I finished the focus groups in New York the previous evening and sent the rest of the team ahead of me to the next research facility in the Midwest. As the train pulled out of Penn Station I was relieved to know that I was on the last train to escape the blizzard hitting the city. I looked out the window watching the snow fall hard against the grey skyline. “Thank God, I made it,” I thought. But a few hours later my luck started to turn as the lights dimmed and the train slowed; we were stuck en route to DC. As I accepted a cold complimentary sandwich and coffee, I smiled and thought to myself, “Maybe I was better stuck in my hotel?”
Eight long hours later I’m back in Baltimore, but all the roads are closed and a state of emergency has been declared. Fortunately for me, luck struck again as I was able to catch a ride with some pharmaceutical reps that were headed to the hotel nearby in their four wheel drive cab. I arrived just in time to view the night’s Midwest focus groups online. I had to pat myself on the back for sending the team to the next city the night before to make sure the groups took place.
Lesson learned: Some market research escape plans require their own escape plans.
Then there are times you have to be quick on all four of your feet, like when you’re called on short notice to drive 1,000 miles to focus groups in a remote location and you can’t arrange a dog sitter. The solution was fairly obvious – I headed down the highway with my dog, Onyx, lying on the back seat wondering where we were headed. Three days, two roadside hotels, and several people who spoiled Onyx with attention, and I was back to running focus groups. Nice to have a buddy along for the ride.
Lesson learned: Market research is dog friendly.
I scrambled for my phone in my Singapore hotel room, as it had been ringing for a few minutes. “Doug, we have a problem – the moderator is stuck in traffic due to an accident and will be 30 minutes late.” I shook my head in disbelief. There wasn’t much I could do to help, given that the moderator was across the continent in Moscow. Clients spend a great deal of money on international groups, so as with any project you want to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. This client phone call wasn’t going to be easy. After some discussion, I managed to convince the client to shave 30 minutes off our discussion guide. But as soon as I hung up, I received another call to say that the moderator would only to be a few minutes late after all, and we didn’t have to make any cuts at all. I breathed a sigh of relief, thrilled that it was going to work out.
Lesson learned: Sometimes luck comes through.