TAKING IT TO THE MAX
COMPETITIVE MARKETPLACE, CHANGING CUSTOMER NEEDS MAKE MARKET RESEARCH MORE VALUABLE THAN EVER
by Debbie Coakley, Contributing Editor
While scientific research is credited with discovering how the active ingredient in Callisto controls broadleaf weeds in corn, it was market research that contributed significantly to the herbicide's successful launch.
"Callisto is a good example of an integrated approach to using market research," says Pat Willenbrock, senior market research manager for Syngenta Crop Protection, Greensboro, N.C. "Market research was utilized at every step along the way - from development to brand personality, name, logos and refinement of positioning."
Market research added to the company's understanding of the corn herbicide market and helped pinpoint the needs of growers. "A really successful product launch rarely happens without good market research," Willenbrock reports. "It adds to the collective knowledge of the organization. We have many people at the company who know a lot about corn herbicides and the corn herbicide market. Market research helps us ensure that the growers' wants and needs are fully understood and folded into the equation. I like to think of our role in market research as the 'voice of the customer.'"
Callisto is just one illustration of the value market research has in a competitive marketplace. And even though market research departments at agribusiness companies across the board are leaner than in the past, their staff members are more positioned than ever to play a critical role in a firm's strategic marketing. (Note: For details on Callisto's multimedia campaign, which recently garnered the National Agri-Marketing Association's Best of Show - Advertising award, see the April issue of Agri Marketing at www.agrimarketing.com.)
IN THE KNOW
Agribusiness companies rely on market research in a variety of ways to help them better understand the marketplace and their customers' needs.
New York-based Pfizer Animal Health Group utilizes market research and intelligence to investigate the needs and opportunities for in-line product growth, new product introductions and market expansion. "We try to turn data into information," says Kevin Ryan, global director of marketing research. "We want to provide insights into customer needs and behaviorism and make actionable recommendations to our marketing clients."
Market research is a part of all stages of product development at Pfizer AHG. The market research team is involved in each step and has sitting members on all new product development committees, launch committees and in-line product marketing teams. "Market research is identified as a strategic part of our business and is part of our overall strategic marketing plan," Ryan says. "We're one of the key groups active in both the scientific/development side and the commercial side."
For BASF Corp., Agricultural Products Division, its overall strategy in the marketplace is working with distributors and retailers to move products through the channel. "Our market research assisted in the development and support of our channel marketing approach," says Chuck Benson, manager of market research for U.S. crops for the Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based company. "To be successful in today's marketplace, you need to identify a strategy and aggressively move in that direction.
"Our research results continue to point us in the direction of channel alignment," he continues. "This is just one example of the critical nature of effective market research."
Syngenta has always conducted market research at all levels with all stakeholders, Willenbrock reports. "We do research with distributors and retailers in addition to end users because they are an integral part of the crop protection industry," she says. "We also research influencers such as pest control advisers and university extension specialists. It all depends on where we are in a product's life cycle. For instance, if an idea is still a numbered compound in the lab, we may talk to university exte|sion researchers or a few growers one on one. It might be more of a market intelligence gathering exercise at this point."
She adds that competitive intelligence has become increasingly important for Syngenta as the amount of information available continues to explode. The company's market research and competitive intelligence groups are separate, but they often share information.
"Market research tends to focus on actively interviewing and understanding customer needs and wants. These customers can include growers, channel partners and the research community," Willenbrock explains. "Competitive intelligence tends to be focused on digesting large volumes of secondary, publicly available information such as financial documents or EPA-type filings and then sifting through the data to determine business applications."
WORTH ITS WEIGHT
The importance of market research has increased in recent years, particularly when introducing or repositioning products.
According to Benson, the decrease in technical product differentiation also has played a role. "It's much more important today than 20 years ago to make subtle but important changes in the product value proposition and then market a product accordingly," he explains. "By asking the right questions to our customers, we can extend a product life cycle, strengthen a product position, exit a market segment or even develop new service options."
Integration within the agricultural industry is another key factor. "At the end of the day, market research attempts to understand the decision-making process at all levels. This has become more complicated as you involve a seed company, the retailer, processors, farm managers and others," Benson explains. "You need to use research to understand the influence at each level. In many cases we collaborate with our channel partners or other influencers in the channel to execute market research projects that benefit both parties."
Ryan notes that market research and intelligence is particularly valuable in the animal health industry because of the changes that occur in the market when new products are introduced. "Getting a product to market first is important, but if you're not first, getting there right is key. We need to make sure we have a product or a service that addresses a customer need - a solution - whether their need is met or unmet or expressed or unexpressed."
Willenbrock points out that as the marketplace becomes more crowded and competitive with a mix of conventional chemistries, biotechnology products and generics, marketers need to help customers find their way to a product. "It gets more difficult to find the perfect niche for a product," she explains. "Where are the unmet needs? Where can we add value? Where can we give something new to growers? That's what market research will tell us."
She adds that when market research works well, it is a valued member of a company's marketing team, which includes brand managers, regulatory, communications, sales and formulation people, and others. "The best market research is a good, collaborative process," Willenbrock says. "The more that we in market research understand the business, products and markets, the better we can design the market research. Ideally, we translate a business need for information into a focused, targeted study. We also need to make sure that the results are clearly communicated and understood by the team so that the best business decisions can be made."
Consider all of the people at Syngenta who contributed to the success of Callisto. "As the product took more and more final shape, market research in multiple studies helped us refine our approach," Willenbrock notes.
Market research departments, especially those that have been scaled back, utilize outside research firms to help them get the results they require.
"The reliance on outside suppliers has gone up significantly because of the reduction in the size of the market research staff at most companies," Benson says. "We don't have the same time available to scour the data and develop the methodology for all of the different projects that we manage. We need our suppliers to take the lead in methodology, execution and pulling together the results in a usable form. My job is to develop the objectives of the project and then ensure that the results are properly interpreted and implemented."
For Syngenta, suppliers are an extension of the market research department. "We've developed great relationships with suppliers we can trust to do quality work and understand what our internal customers need and how to tailor their approach and reports to those needs," Willenbrock explains.
She adds that Syngenta also brings in new vendors for particular project needs. "As much as we love working with our most preferred suppliers, no one supplier can be the best at everything. We like to keep up with new and different approaches to tough research problems."
What's more, Willenbrock says, while it is wonderful to have trusted suppliers who know the company and its business, occasionally bringing in new vendors adds objectivity. "We work so closely with some of our suppliers that they are members of our 'Syngenta family,'" she notes. "Sometimes we need a second opinion from someone with a little distance from the people and issues."
Pfizer looks to develop partnerships with its market research suppliers. "We rely heavily on vendors' expertise, market insight and analytical skills," Ryan says. "There are many instances where a vendor's background, understanding of the market, expertise in analyzing data or communication of actionable conclusions has helped us expand opportunities or focus the launch of new products." AM
Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.