By Patrick Williams, BottomLine contributor
Every shopper has experienced that gotta have it moment - walking into a store and there, almost as if centered in a spotlight, is the perfect athletic shoe. Or watch. Or car. Or . . .
But how do those wily companies know exactly what consumers want and when they want it? Could here be someone behind the curtain, if not pulling, then anticipating those 'buy me' strings?
Yes. And the power is not based on lucky guesses; it's based on marketing research.
Marketing research is conducted every day, and companies using these techniques often have a competitive edge. These companies and organizations know what people want or what they want to do - often before they know it themselves. There's no magic formula to the process. It's all based on research and work.
At Utah State University, Stacey Hills teaches a marketing research course in the Department of Business Administration in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business that lays the foundation and provides the skills necessary to contribute to a successful product launch or business venture. It's done through creative activities that go well beyond the confines of a textbook. The course is intended to give students as realistic an experience as possible in putting together a marketing campaign. To that end, she engages students in real-life, hands-on learning with actual companies.
In her marketing research course, Hills provides this realistic experience by assigning students to work with a client on a marketing campaign. Through the course of the semester, students develop, implement and evaluate marketing research as part of a campaign for the clients. Through the experience, students enhance their communication, analytical, organizational, leadership and interpersonal skills - skills necessary for a successful career following graduation.
Early in the semester, the class is divided into marketing agencies to work with the clients. Each agency conducts marketing research, designs a marketing campaign, then writes a comprehensive marketing plan to be pitched to the client in a formal presentation. The goal is to meet the objectives set by the client.
"To do that, students need to draw upon not just what is learned in this class, but all previous learning," Hills said. Students draw upon their skills in marketing, advertising, Management, public relations, sales promotions, teamwork, public speaking and business writing.
Her course begins with lectures but quickly moves to a number of activities. First, the student teams start with the issues, questions or problems voiced by the client. Then they get to work. There's time spent in the library learning about the business or industry. They design research instruments, learn to conduct interviews, lead focus groups and more.
"Through the class I want to show the students not what to do, but how to do it," Hills said.
There's data collection and analysis. That gives students a chance to apply what they learned in statistics. They design and put into practice an advertising campaign for the client, then collect data from the advertising campaign to see what is working and what is not.
Finally, in a capstone experience, students present the information and findings to the client.
One client for the spring 2007 class was the Logan franchise of Beat the Bookstore, owned by Eric Corrington. As the name implies, the business buys and sells college textbooks.
Corrington wanted to raise awareness of his business on campus and with students. Through the work of the students in the class, Corrington would learn how students heard about his business.
During the first weeks of the class, students receive training and are certified to conduct interviews and gather information. Following that training, Corrington met with two student teams. He was joined by the CEO of Beat the Bookstore, who was very interested in the project and wanted to be involved.
"At that first meeting I wanted to make sure we were on the same page so the students could begin their research," Corrington said.
Throughout the semester he met with the teams multiple times, and many e-mail exchanges took place.
At the end of the semester he met with the student teams for the final presentations. Gathered on the top floor of the George S. Eccles Business Building, the students laid out their findings in a corporate board room setting. Each team had 25 minutes to summarize its work. There were charts, graphs and PowerPoint presentations.
"The final presentations were very good, and I learned a lot," Corrington said. "What I assumed had been effective advertising wasn't. I've already re-evaluated my advertising, and the students' research shows that more non-traditional advertising is better. The research showed how people heard about us, and that's what I wanted to know. Concrete changes will come from this new information."
Corrington said the research is especially valuable because it was conducted by students. Information provided to students by students is probably more honest, he said.
"This experience has been extremely valuable, and I give kudos to the students for their drive and effort," Corrington said. "I'm also impressed by Stacey Hills. She has the right personality for this, and she challenges the students. She gives them the real-world experience that will pay off following graduation."
Corrington spoke highly of Utah State University.
"As a business owner, I'm glad I became involved, not just with this project, but with the university as a whole," he said. "I think that other businesses should get involved - on many levels - with the university. There are good things happening at USU, and Stacey Hills and her classes are a part of that."
Hills's outstanding teaching was recognized during the spring 2007 commencement, where she received the Teaching Excellence Award for the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business .
"Dr. Hills goes out of her way to inspire, influence and guide her students to a greater understanding of business and marketing," a student said.