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Market research has long been an essential ingredient for companies looking to boost product identification. Whether companies aim to introduce a new product or reposition an existing product, market research is often used as the guiding light to reach customers.

While an important tool, market research can be a tricky for research analysts. Since it applies to such a wide breadth of products, the data collected may be difficult to interpret. Two companies, Syngenta Crop Protection in Greensboro, NC, and Elanco Animal Health in Greenfield, IN, have consistently used data collected from market research to place their products ahead of the pack.

Syngenta spokesperson Susan Morris says the company uses all available types of market research, including syndicated and proprietary (customized), to meet the demands of each inquiry.

"Our organization utilizes marketing research for many efforts, including concept testing/concept development, branding, positioning, naming, logo testing, etc., prior to launching new products and programs, as well as pricing and re-positioning of existing products, measurement of success around various marketing efforts, ad testing, market segmentation, customer satisfaction, use and intentions — you name it!," Morris reports.

Elanco Global Market Research Manager Cynthia Sanchez says market research is best used in different periods of product development and commercialization. Research should bring insights that fuel management decisions as well as functioning as a benchmarking tool.

"Most of the market research we use is customized," Sanchez ex-plains. "The groups will plan the market research needs out of their yearly planning process and share the key decisions they need to make and objectives to accomplish.

"Then the market research team will help the commercial or research and development (R&D) sides setup the methodology, select vendors, track study and provide the findings, implications and recommendations to those who commissioned the research. Most of the research is also primary research."

For an accurate assessment of any research, it goes without saying vendors must be knowledgeable and reliable.

Morris says choosing the right vendor not only depends on their talent and resources, but in their ability to resonate with a specific market and bring new ideas to the forefront.

"It varies by project, but generally we are looking for vendors with a thorough knowledge of marketing research methodologies and knowledge of our markets," Morris says. "We also look for vendors to bring new methodologies to the table and to help us match best methodologies to address our specific marketing issues."

Sanchez agrees and says a vendor should be upfront with their capabilities, or lack thereof. "The main expectation from vendors is expertise and experience in the area that we are trying to assess. An honest assessment of their capabilities is very well perceived, some vendors have more expertise in some areas of business or geographies than others, Sanchez says."

A definitive approach promises to bring the best results, Sanchez explains, along with a plan to move forward based on the findings.

"The most successful market research is the one that has clear objectives, specifics of what key decisions will be taken as a result of the findings, it is presented back to the teams with not only the findings, but also the business implications and what the market researcher recommends the team to do to address them," Sanchez says.

"We have several successful projects and also some that have not been successful. The most common scenario of a non-successful project is when the team commissioning the study is not clear of the impact that some of their tradeoffs about the study will have on the final result."

Morris says it is difficult narrowing down the most successful market research project during her many years in the field, but a particularly challenging project did come to mind.

"So much depends on the importance of the issue, what new insights are gleaned from the research effort, and how actionable the information is," Morris said. "I would have to say one of my most challenging issues was to come up with new ideas for conducting a pricing study on a major new brand that allowed us to do market simulations that allowed for market influences, impact of programs, and shifts in prices."

A major concern for the project was about prices recalled by growers versus prices actually paid. To address the problem, Syngenta brought in two different vendors charged with discussing the issues and coming up with a methodology that would address all of their concerns. The extra effort paid off, Morris says.

"In the end, we had two proposals with new approaches, and we opted to implement both in different areas," Morris continues. "It was all about clearly communicating the issues and concerns, being open to new ideas, and, of course, making resources available to test the new methodologies."

For research analysts, interpreting data sometimes resembles an artisan's touch rather than the clear methodology of numbers.

Morris, who has worked in marketing research for many years within several industries, says a distinctive approach must be used in each project. "More and more I find that marketing research is as much an art as a science, and often you have to abandon your 'purist' tendencies to find ways of obtaining the information you need," Morris said. "People are so busy today, with so many different preferences in terms of how to communicate, you really have to look at each situation and determine the best way to approach each effort."

Sanchez warns that even with the collected data, researchers should not become too reliant on the findings. Clear directives are essential to interpret the data objectively.

"Market research is an art and a science. It should not be over used for every single decision you need to make, it should not be used in every single situation and it should not be interpreted as the absolute truth," Sanchez says. "It is an important data point within many others, for which the quality of the output will depend greatly on clear definition of the objectives, correct setup, the right vendor to conduct it, the best interpretation and followup of the results."

Dan Kelley is a freelance writer based in Chesterfield, MO.

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