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Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 8, 2000. All rights reserved.
Market Research: Know Your Customers
Keeping up with technological innovation has kept business
people so busy that they may have taken their eye off the proverbial
ball: their customers. Who are they? What do they want?
Business owners may ask themselves these questions all the time, but
they really need to be asking their customers instead, says John
Lasley, a market research consultant and veteran of Opinion Research
Corporation. "General Motors spends millions of dollars every
year on market research," says Lasley. "Other companies may
not spend very much, but in my opinion, the ones that spend money
on market research are more successful."
"Market Research: Where Are My Customers?" will be Lasley’s
topic at the Princeton Chamber meeting on Wednesday, March 15, at
8:15 a.m. at the Nassau Club. Call 609-520-1776. Cost: $21.
After a 39-year career with Wirthlin Worldwide and Opinion Research,
Lasley divides his time between serious fishing and doing consulting
for worldwide companies. After attending Yale and Columbia universities
and working at ORC, Lasley headed up the Princeton office of Wirthlin
Worldwide, the market research company in McLean, Virginia, before
retiring five years ago. He and his wife, Kay, have four children,
and their daughter, Janet Lasley, has a successful construction business
(and was named Small Business Person of the Year by the regional Small
Business Administration last year).
No matter how well a business is doing, market research is still a
valuable tool, says Lasley, who recalls doing focus groups for a successful
restaurant that was thronged with crowds waiting in line every night.
"The owner wanted to know what he was doing right, and what he
could do better," says Lasley. "So we stood in the lobby of
the restaurant and asked people what they liked best about the restaurant,
and got them to rate the food, ambiance, and service."
Improving a product or service is just one of the fruits of market
research. Through interviews with customers, businesses can learn
how they are perceived by the public, and how important their corporate
image is to customers.
Today, more than ever, people are interested in patronizing "socially
conscious" businesses and organizations, says Lasley. "More
companies are interested in being good corporate citizens," he
says. "Look at Philip Morris — five years ago they would have
told everyone to go to hell. Now they’re saying maybe nicotine should
In a tough marketplace, management can also use research to retain
employees. For example, Lasley headed up a survey for his daughter’s
construction business aimed at finding out how employees felt about
their working benefits.
This may be economic boom time, but the key to growth is still getting
customers, says Lasley, in a marketplace that is constantly transforming
itself. "Just because everyone is selling everything they can
and people are buying everything they can, you think — why do
market research? But people always want to know more," he says.
"I’ve got a million dollar business, how can I make it a two million
dollar business. I got a wonderful coffee shop, how do I open two
Still, some things never change. Twenty years ago, Lasley did a study
on what people in Princeton liked least about their community. The
answer: too little parking, too much congestion.
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