Up Close and Personal

Article excerpt

Modern marketing research is employing Information Age tools to learn about individual customers

Scenario One: Marketing Research Yesterday

You are wandering the aisles of Bright Lights Casino in search of a lucky blackjack table when a smiling woman with a clipboard stops you. "Could I have five minutes of your time to ask you a few questions about your visit to Bright Lights Casino tonight?" she asks. "We have a special gift for you if you'll participate in our survey."

Scenario Two: Marketing Research Today

You walk through the revolving doors at Bright Lights Casino and present your Platinum VIP Frequent Guest Card to the greeter. While you get a VIP-style welcome, your card is being run through a scanner that records the date and time of your visit. As you use the VIP card throughout the night, Bright Lights is compiling a record of which games you played, how much you spent, how much you put back into the machines, and other data. By using the VIP card, you get free meals, coupons, a line of credit, and other "perks." What the casino gets is valuable information about how you use its products and services. It's marketing research that's fast, unobtrusive - and accurate.

Scenario Three: Marketing Research Tomorrow

No one is sure yet. What we can be sure of is that new technologies are changing forever the way businesses learn about what their customers want and, in turn, how those businesses develop and market products and services.

The Platinum VIP Frequent Guest Card is an exaggeration - but not by much. A recently-opened casino in Louisiana is using its frequent guest card for marketing research, and so are casinos in nearby Tunica, Mississippi.

Today, marketing research is moving from tools and techniques that collect attitudinal data - What do you think about this product? Do you think you might buy it? - to collecting behavioral data - information on what people actually buy and how they buy it. It's part of a revolution in marketing research that has been developing over the past two decades. Our ways of learning about consumer preferences and behavior have changed radically during the last 10 years - and so has the American consumer.

Smarter consumers

In a special issue in the fall of 1993, FORTUNE magazine focused on "The Tough New Consumer" who is making marketing more challenging for American companies today. FORTUNE called the new consumer busier, shrewder, better informed, and more demanding that ever before. Among the factors that FORTUNE cited as giving rise to "the new consumer" are:

* Increased global and domestic competition that has affected pricing and quality standards;

* An economic recession in the U.S., during which time consumers became more purposeful in their shopping habits;

* Lifestyle changes, particularly more women in the workforce, that have meant less time for shopping for the average consumer;

* The Information Society that has created better-informed consumers.

Changes in the buying habits and attitudes of American consumers have come on the heels of other changes that have profoundly influenced the way products and services are marketed today.

Exit mass marketing

Remember the era when companies developed one product and aimed for the "mass market"? That day is over. Consumers are no longer a homogeneous group that can be classified according to age, sex, or other characteristics. The market has become fragmented; those "tough new consumers" behave as individuals.

While the consumer has been changing, communications technology has changed also. Once you could reach audiences by buying on the three television networks; today, there are dozens of cable channels, and there'll be more tomorrow. Special-interest publications, direct mail, promotional newsletters, and multitudes of other communication channels are available which allow companies to target more narrowly-defined consumer groups than in the past. …