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Market Research with Lara Fordis

Market Research with Lara Fordis

Market Research with Lara Fordis

Do you know your target market? Is there a market for your product? Lara Fordis, a Market Research expert, knows how to find the answers!

Lara Fordis started her career doing market research for Fortune 500 companies.  After many years of high-end research, she developed a passion for helping small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.  She has extensive experience with CPG, food, beverage, cannabis, better-for-you category, and app development clients. Lara has a strong reputation for outside-the-box strategic thinking and problem-solving skills.

Website: www.FordisConsulting.com

LinkedIn: Lara Fordis

Email: lara@fordisconsulting.com

Listen to the podcast here:

Read Along as Karla and Lara discuss Market Research

Karla Nelson:  And welcome to the People Catalyst Podcast, Lara of Fordis.

Lara Fordis:  Hi there.

Karla Nelson:  Hello. All the way from Denver, Colorado. Did I get that right?

Lara Fordis:  Yes.

Karla Nelson:  Okay, that was my memory for the last time.

Lara Fordis:  I’m from Broomfield, right between Denver and Boulder.

Karla Nelson:  What a gorgeous, gorgeous part of the world, the best skiing ever is in that area.

Lara Fordis:  Oh, yeah. Actually, I’m embarrassed to say that I have not been taking advantage of the mountains and I haven’t been skiing, but I love Colorado. I moved here in 2018 from California, and it’s a completely different climate and I’m really enjoying it.

Karla Nelson:  Yes. I just spent a week at Estes Park this last summer and it was probably one of my favorite vacations. So, it’s definitely a gorgeous, gorgeous part of the world. So, I’m super excited about what we’re going to talk about here today, which is really cool, Lara, that somebody is excited about market research, right? Because it’s this critical aspect of marketing, and we need to understand consumer insights and you being a research strategist that a lot of times business owners jump over this aspect before they actually start talking about their marketing strategy and then rolling out the marketing plan. I mean, really this is the nucleus of all of those things that you need to have in the data and information to be able to then market your business.

So, first of all, I always like to ask the question in regards to your entrepreneurial past, like, how did you get here or how did you end up getting passionate about market research and then ultimately creating your own business?

Lara Fordis:  Well, market research definitely wasn’t one of those “When I grow up, I want to be a market researcher.” It’s definitely not-

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, I think they had that one in kindergarten, right?

Lara Fordis:  A career path, but I did end up going into market research and pursuing that. I started in 1996 after I went to grad school and started out at a focus group facility and training. I worked for market research agencies that catered to fortune 500 companies for most of my career. Then in 2013, I guess my version of a midlife crisis, I decided that I really am not so into just focusing on fortune 500 companies and big organizations. What I really care about, what I’m passionate about is helping entrepreneurs. More specifically, making it clear that market research doesn’t have to be super expensive. There is a middle ground between $15,000 for a project and the $30 version of SurveyMonkey and such. There’s a whole middle ground that is affordable and that delivers return on investment.

Most small businesses and even medium sized businesses don’t think that it’s affordable or accessible to them. So, they keep doing their marketing and throwing spaghetti at the wall. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but they never take a chance to pause and look at, who is my target customer? Is that assumption accurate? How can I understand their pain points so I can make sure that I’m meeting their evolving changing needs and have my product or service and its message and messaging, marketing materials, sales materials reflect that and in an optimized way so that I can do things smarter and not just in greater volumes?

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. I love that. The big thing about marketing and market research that is so critical is that you can’t change the market, right? The market is the market. So, all you can do is meet the market where it’s at. I think a lot of entrepreneurs, they have this passion right around, “Oh, I want to do this.” So, can you share … I know you’re laughing because it’s true, right?

Lara Fordis:  Yes. Yes. It is very true.

Karla Nelson:  Can you share with us why that is a completely bad idea? Now you have to have your passion overlap your market. By the way, a lot of times, you can align it with something, but it might not be what you think. Can you share with our listeners a little bit about either a story with that or even starting out with a big picture of it’s not like you want to be passionate about what you’re doing, but you also want to make sure it’s aligned with a market or a specific demographic instead of just going, “Oh, I’m passionate about this, so I’m going to put my … open a business or I’m going to start an online marketing fill in the blank.” They haven’t done that market research and how that is just a completely bad idea.

Lara Fordis:  Yeah. Well, what’s really painful is when you see someone that is so passionate about something and that passion is fueled not only internally but by their family, by their friends, by the people in their orbit and so-

Karla Nelson:  Then they give them money.

Lara Fordis:  Yes. So, then those people invest money and support them. The person maybe quits their job and dumps their life savings into something. It’s only after that, that they discover that, well, their idea was a good idea. It wasn’t profitable. It wasn’t going to be something people pay for sure. Everybody loves Aunt Becky’s carrot cake and people will come from near and far and look forward to it and say you should sell this. Then, Aunt Becky decides, “Yeah, I’m going to have Aunt Becky’s cake shop.” Then when she gets into it, she realizes that everyone loves her product, but that doesn’t mean that they’re willing to pay what it costs to make that product let alone in the frequency and at the volumes. So, you see a lot of very passionate, well intentioned people in food service-related businesses-

Karla Nelson:  Which is one of the hardest businesses too well. I know this because my background’s in finance. Restaurants are one of the most challenging and anything food related. It’s like a T-shirt company, right? You better done your market research, know exactly who’s going to wear whatever it is that you’re creating. So, it’s interesting you say that, that you see that with types of foods. So, could you give us a real-life example without obviously stating any names or?

Lara Fordis:  Yeah. I did some work for a beef jerky entrepreneur, very well intentioned, very passionate, great idea. Beef jerky that was free of the sugars, additives, and preservatives, and also had a different texture, a softer bite to the texture than the typical ropy rip your teeth out beef jerky. So, that sounds like an awesome idea. Who doesn’t want something-

Karla Nelson:  It does. Actually, that sounds pretty good. I’m a beef jerky connoisseur.

Lara Fordis:  It sounds really great.

Karla Nelson:  It’s so hard to find one that doesn’t have those things, right?

Lara Fordis:  Yes. So, there were some hypotheses that I had in the back of my mind and over the years, I’ve discovered that just because I think it, doesn’t mean it’s true or it’s going to bear out in the market. I try to convey that to entrepreneurs and startups. It turns out … like I had hypothesized that the people who come to beef jerky like that chewiness, but it turns out that the texture was very appealing. The idea of free of sugar was very appealing. What was discovered is that people weren’t going to buy in the frequency and volume that was needed to sustain a beef jerky company. Because of the lack of preservatives, it would have a shorter shelf life.   So, things like distribution that consumers don’t even get into was going to become an issue. So, that that product hasn’t gone away, but it’s definitely on hold while he course corrects and figures out, how can I leverage what through this market research I just discover to be the most salient benefits, the difference in texture, absence of sugar or absence of artificial preservatives with the differentiating element, being the texture in this case.

Karla Nelson:  How powerful is that information? I mean, instead of spending all that money running around town trying to sell your beef jerky, right? Identifying that and solving the problem before you’re spending the money.

Lara Fordis:  Yes. It also has to do with, yeah, as we know in life and our personal and professional lives, managing expectations. People liked the idea of a differentiated texture, but most people who buy beef jerky have an expectation of that texture. So even though the people surveyed happened to like the softer texture, it wasn’t a match with their expectations. So then, you have to look at market research on the packaging and the messaging so that people know that it’s going to be a softer chewier product before they taste it, because we’ve all had that experience where maybe we’ve picked up a different drinker our friends … my husband’s drink and it looked like coffee, but it was diet Coke. It’s not that I have anything against diet Coke, but when you’re expecting coffee-

Karla Nelson:  No, but it hits you really quickly when you’re just like “Whoah.”

Lara Fordis:  Yeah. So-

Karla Nelson:  Because your expectation was it was going to taste like one thing and it tasted completely different.

Lara Fordis:  Exactly. So, there are a lot of nuances to it. The problem that I see besides the initial feedback is someone says, “Well, I’m going to do market research. I’m going to take my free SurveyMonkey account. I’m going to design a survey. Maybe I’ll even use one of their templates, which suck by the way. I’m going to put it on my posts by … I’m going to post on my Facebook page or some social media feed and then I have a survey, but they don’t have the expertise to know the importance of sampling. So, not only do they get data that’s bad or flawed and can give them misinformation, they don’t know that. So, then they end up making decisions, often very expensive decisions, based on faulty data and they don’t even know that they’re doing it.

So, I try to stress the importance that there are some things that I can help empower people to do themselves, but for the most part, it tends to be a shortsighted savings by not having some level of experience and expertise in it. Because if you have your data and it’s all from the people in what I call your immediate orbit, your friends, your family, people who know your friends and family, there’s going to be a commonality to them that’s not going to be representative enough to extrapolate and make decisions to your greater target population. So, that’s a common misstep for small businesses.

I’m really big on the importance of differentiating. I do a lot of work actually in the cannabis space and in the CBD space. There’s tons of companies. Also in consumer packaged goods companies, tons of them. There can be lots of good products. It’s not so much about being the better or the best because a lot of times that’s very subjective, but it’s about what are your key points of differentiation or we talk about the USP, unique selling proposition, that are going to help you stand out on a competitive landscape and help you succeed so that you can play into not just the product or service itself, but how you’re going to market that product or service.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, think about Blue Ocean Strategies, right? I mean, if you go back and read that book, it clearly defines if you want to take a huge market share, you have to be different. I mean, that’s what you’re talking about the differentiating factor between you and everybody else.

Lara Fordis:  I mean, people always talk about the cliché. If you’re old enough to remember VHS tape, DVDs and Betamax and all that kind of stuff, everyone said that Betamax, that that was a superior product, but they didn’t do as good a job of making into the market and eventually they went away and VHS at that point.

Karla Nelson:  That’s a great example.

Lara Fordis:  That kind of thing happens all the time. You can’t put all of your passion and energy and money into the product or service without thinking about how you’re going to market it and manage the financial aspects of running a business.

Karla Nelson:  Absolutely. Going back to the sampling, because I chuckled when you said not only SurveyMonkey but then you put it out to your orbit as you would say, but I wouldn’t guess that when you even do sampling that’s not, right? You’re doing the market research like you do, I’m sure that there sometimes don’t you have to weight the data even with that, with the correct sampling? There’s got to be some things that people report on. I know this just because we’ve got a validated assessment, but just somebody’s mood can change kind of how they answer that data. When you have that, how do you weight data sometimes, or give us an example, might be a little easier thing to do, like with the beef jerky. I’m sure people … I don’t know-

Lara Fordis:  Yeah. Like self-reported, when you ask someone about what they intend to do or would do, like how much would you pay for this jerky? How often would you buy this jerky? You’ve got to take that with a grain of salt, because people tend to over-report what they’re willing to spend and over report, how much they’re … and how frequently they’re going to spend on something. Then there are certain … I want to say cultural factors that sometimes play into research. I have a pretty heavy background in multiethnic research, and we used to joke and I was the only non-Hispanic at this particular company, that there’s a Hispanic positivity bias. Hispanics in general tend to say nicer and kinder things and then I happen to be Jewish members of my tribe. We’ve got the negativity bias, like there’s certain culture-

Karla Nelson:  That’s hilarious. I could totally see that. Well, just because of your cultural background, you’re going to see things differently, right? It’s just the lens by which it’s nature and nurture, right?

Lara Fordis:  Yes. I hate to use the word stereotype at all, but it does become a joke that there are just certain cultures, certain ways genders speak, certain ages. My husband might say, “Oh, that’s not bad.” Well, that’s code for “it’s excellent” whereas I’m a literalist. To me, not bad, that’s not a very good endorsement.

Karla Nelson:  Mediocre.

Lara Fordis:  Yeah. It sets for some people not bad is synonymous with good. So, you have to choose your language very appropriately. A big problem in surveys and I was just talking about this with the market researcher who would I have hoped would know better is that people ask questions that people aren’t qualified to answer because of the answer choices available, presuppose something, like which brand of athletic wear do you like best? Lululemon, Nike, Adidas or whatever a fourth one might be if they have a fourth option. Well, that presupposes that one of those fours is their favorite. Now, if you asked to give among the choices you have, which would be your preferred, that would make sense, but people tend to ask it like a beauty contest. Like, which is your favorite? That presupposes you have a finite list of everything that could be someone in the universe’s favorite. That almost is never the case.

Karla Nelson:  When you have that and you’re doing those questions, I know sometimes, and it depends on what market research is being done and why, how do you manage having the other box, right? Because one of these interesting things I was working with, with a gentleman who was really high up in the California legislature. He would say that when they were doing research before they were working with candidates, and he wasn’t exactly a lobbyist, but he knew the landscape extremely well. He would say that that other box often with constituents brought out so many more things, because if you only gave him certain answers but it was their biggest concern was the electrical PG&E lines that were behind whatever in this particular area that they often found out other very unique things by asking that either open ended or other based question, but how do you manage that data?

Lara Fordis:  Yeah. I mean, that has changed over the last 20 years, the way in which we use what’s called the other box or open-ended questions with an open-ended data. I was always very big on open ended questions and these sort of other specify option because theoretically it makes sense. Of course, you’re going to get unprompted answers that could be much more illuminating. The problem is in the survey world, that’s a big pain in the butt and you have to get into coding and other things that are complicated and thus expensive and put you at higher risk of making a misstep because it’s math.

Karla Nelson:  That’s exactly why I was asking the question, Lara, because I was like, “Okay, it seems like it’d be a good idea, but if you’re managing thousands of responses, then how do you actually scrape the data”?

Lara Fordis:  Yeah. I mean, if you … there are creative ways. Like for instance, it’s a one-word answer, then you can do what’s called a word cloud and things pop, but if you get into anything like sentences or phrases, then it becomes a hot mess. So, what I’ve changed to doing over time is taking a pause and doing focus groups or in-depth interviews or some sort of qualitative research. The reason being is that you can solicit feedback from what you can narrow the scope of your questions and you can fill in most of the likely responses. Then when you have an other specify, you have a smattering of options instead of this unwieldily amount of options.

Karla Nelson:  Got it. So, you can narrow the focus a bit initially before you do that. How do you put those focus groups together, by the way?

Lara Fordis:  It depends what they’re comprised of. If I’m doing consumer focus groups and it’s a general population type of a product, that’s very easy to get people to participate in. Especially in this age of COVID, it’s actually been really a boon to that aspect of my business because people are much more available and much more willing to give you their time and charge less for doing it in the case of incentivizing people, but there are all sorts of, for quality, for focus groups and in depth interviews, there are ways of getting people. Now, when it’s general population, it’s very easy. When you have a project like I’ve had where you’re looking for Hispanics with plaque psoriasis, that’s not being treated with injectables in Houston,

Karla Nelson:  You just made my … I was like, “What?

Lara Fordis:  Then you got to get 29 vendors and coordinate that and then you have like I do like PTSD from the difficulty of finding these needles in the haystack, but it is doable with the amount of … with the right time, money and persuasion. I’m a kind of make it happen person and I can do that.

Karla Nelson:  Oh, I hadn’t noticed, Lara.

Lara Fordis:  I’ll find it. If it is there, I will find it and I will make it happen somehow, but more typically like right now I’m doing interviews with Budtenders, which for people who don’t know, those are the people who are the sales associates at cannabis dispensaries either medical or recreational. There tend to be industry associations or organizations where they gather, and I can get it that way. For something that’s really diverse, there are different companies that specialize in different types of populations, whether that be people with medical conditions, high net worth investors, whatever it is. Over 20 years, I kind of know who to go to. For surveys, what they do is they use things called panels, which are companies where they’ve had people opt into take surveys for points or money or relatively small amounts of compensation, but it does add up and it’s an innocuous way to make a little extra money.

The problem with them is that a lot of people don’t pay much attention when they’re taking surveys. I’ve had this hypothesis for a while that the percentage of people who are not reading surveys is higher than companies are reporting. So, I actually just recently, and I hope the vendor I use isn’t hearing this or maybe I do care that they should hear this. I actually put in at a third of the way through the survey and a two thirds of the way through the survey, not a trick question. I’m very upfront, like in this case, I asked a question to test if you’re reading the survey. Is it about, A, cannibals, B, canisters or, three, cannabis? You You would be surprised by the amount of people who didn’t get that right.

Karla Nelson:  Okay. So, at that point, you chuck those, right?

Lara Fordis:  Yes. So, I discard that data. I’m into having bulletproof data. I don’t want someone to make a huge monetary decision because of something that I told them was the case and then find out that the data quality wasn’t good. The vendor came back to me and said, “Well, it was kind of a trick question. It kind of looks the same.” But, I mean, I prefaced it by saying to see if you’re reading. So, I’m like, “Okay, I’ll try this again.”

Karla Nelson:  Absolutely. No, I think that’s absolutely valid and it’s a great idea to be quite honest with you.

Lara Fordis:  The next time, two thirds of the way through. On a similar topic, I asked that question a third of the way through and at the second two thirds of the way through, I said, “When humans smoke, do they, A, inhale, B, exhale, C, both or, D, neither. Again, I got a big chunk of people not getting that right. So, what I do is, and they were really mad at me for doing this actually, because it did make them look bad. So, what I do is I take anyone who answered incorrectly to both, no question. We’re humans, we make mistakes, but if you get both wrong, if you’re answering that you believe that this survey is about cannibals who exhale only, I don’t want you in my data set, you know? For real.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, absolutely. I think that makes complete sense and it’s really cool. So, as we wrap this up here, obviously, Lara, market research is necessary and it doesn’t matter where you’re working, how you’re working, what type of company, large or small, but can you share with our listeners a couple of tips of how you can ensure you’ve got a great market researcher that you’re working with because it’s definitely something that’s typically outsourced. I would guess as most companies don’t have a full-time market research. They’d have to be a decent size and even the larger ones, I think often outsource.

Lara Fordis:  Well, of course I would first go to what’s free which is find someone in market research who’s willing to consult with you, give you 30 or 60 minutes of their time for free to talk through what if any market research they need that can be cost justified, that’s going to get them the return on investment. I would recommend they go to someone, ask if they’re what’s called methodologically agnostic, meaning they do qualitative research and quantitative research. Because just like if I have a problem and I go to an orthopedic surgeon, they’re probably going to tell me I need surgery. Ideally, you want to go to someone that doesn’t have skin in the game for advising you on one or the other.

Karla Nelson:  Can you repeat what that is? That they do quantitative and qualitative.

Lara Fordis:  Quantitative research and qualitative research.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. You said ask if they are … there was a word, something agnostic

Lara Fordis:  If they’re methodologically agnostic.

Karla Nelson:  Methodologically agnostic. I knew what those words were separately and now I’ve learned something.

Lara Fordis:  Yeah. I mean, people don’t … it’ll catch them off guard, but at least they’ll know that you know of what you’re speaking with and you’re one of … If they just say, “Oh, I moderate focus groups.” or “Oh, we just do surveys.” Then they’re probably going to guide you to what it is that they do. So, even if it means setting up an appointment with one of the big players and agency that does both, you’re better off finding out what the array of options are so that you can make sure you’re on the right path and getting the right advice than going someplace where they’re going to tell you a solution that’s in their wheelhouse.

Karla Nelson:  Uh-hmm (affirmative). Awesome. Well, this has been exciting. I know when you say market research, you actually make it really super exciting and fun and cool, because most people are like, ah, they want to get busy in doing and it’s really a great idea to stop like you said and pause and ensure that you’re on the right track so that you can have a cost effective not only in the market research and making sure you’re not wasting money, but then also in your product and/or service and who it wants it, where are they, how do you find that ideal client and then you get to the point, “Okay, how am I going to promote to them?” I really think without this nucleus, that is pretty much like you said throwing spaghetti against a wall and see if it sticks.

I always say a blind squirrel finds the nut every once in a while, but if you actually look at it, Simon Sinek talks about this in his Ted talk, Start With Why, that when he talks about in the Law of Diffusion of Innovations 110 years of marketing research, that’s what our assessments based off of largest body of marketing research ever, you can trip over 10% of the market just because they get it or you can end up completely not understanding it and lose out like Betamax, right? So, understanding that and so that you can really focus on the market itself and be able to take as much market share as you can by differentiating your product based off of what people want. Lara, sorry about that. Earlier we said old people always say our names wrong and then …

Lara Fordis:  Okay.

Karla Nelson:  That’s funny.

Lara Fordis:  All these years, I’m very used to it. I’m just-

Karla Nelson:  Oh, you know what? My maiden name was Lyngvar. I don’t think anybody my entire life said it correctly. I was like, if it just sounded wrong, I just answered to it. My first name is Karla with a K. I’ll even say Karla, K-A and people will write C. It’s like I don’t fault them for it, it’s because that’s the way it … You see it often and frequently, but how can our listeners get ahold of you, Lara?

Lara Fordis:  Well, I would encourage them rather than going to the website and calling me, I think email’s easiest. So, I’d say Lara, which is Lara, lara@fortisconsulting.com. My mission is to get people the ROI they need. So, if for whatever reason I cannot help them, I can certainly get them in touch with a resource who can and at least guide them in the right direction, because I just believe we all want everybody to succeed. My success shouldn’t mean someone else’s lack of success. If people did a better job of differentiating themselves, I think that more people could succeed in this space and do so ethically and cost-effectively and feeling good about what they do when they go to bed at night. They’re not attacking someone else; they’re just highlighting what makes them special and different.

Karla Nelson:  Well, that’s awesome. Thank you again so much for being on the show, Lara. This was awesome.

Lara Fordis:  Anytime. Hey Karla, if you have any questions whatsoever, don’t hesitate to call me. I really love being a thought partner and I’m happy to talk to you or anybody.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. I’ve got a feeling we got a couple of deals we’ll be working on.

Lara Fordis:  Okay, well, sounds great. Thank you so much.

Karla Nelson:  Thank you again.

Lara Fordis:  Have a great day.