Surprisingly Human Research

Volume 137, No. 25 - Friday, December 14, 2012

In the final installment of my series on real Market Research, I went to someone who knows about as well as anyone can. Brooks Carder has done research for a living for a while now.

Surprisingly perhaps, he favors instead, good person to person questioning from someone who knows how to get “the real goods” from people who may not yet be sure themselves over hard statistical research.

Dr. Carder is a principal in Carder and Associates LLC and a consultant to major corporations. He received a BA from Yale and a PhD in experimental psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. His career spans several years on the psychology faculty at UCLA, followed by over 30 years in various senior executive positions in small businesses. During the entire period, he was engaged in consulting as well.

In the late 1980s, Dr. Carder became acquainted with the work of W. Edwards Deming, and, with Dr. Deming’s encouragement, wrote articles on the psychological aspects of quality of the Quality Progress.

Dr. Carder has authored over 50 articles in scientific and professional journals. His clients have included Kraft, Monsanto, Bayer, GE, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Rhone Poulenc, and Abbott Laboratories, among others.

Me- How does Market Research differ from what most manufacturers perceive as market research: asking their customer what they think, online surveys and suggestion cards?

Brooks: The first question is what’s the market look like currently: who’s buying what at what price points? I would expect this is available from a cheesemaking association. If they’re not, they should be.

The second question is why are people buying what they are buying? That’s a question best answered by focus groups. One of the reasons to use a focus group is that the people may not know off the top of their heads why they’re buying something. A little exploration may be necessary.

The third question would be what can be provided in your marketplace that would make an impact. Again I see that as a focus group issue testing the response to products, price points, packaging, etc..

To me market research is a question of how people make decisions. It’s not a statistical issue for the most part. I do not see market research as a primarily statistical operation. Statistical market research said the Edsel would succeed and the Walkman would fail. It’s usually done best with patient questioning by a knowledgeable and intuitive questioner.

If you hand somebody an iPad, a person who has never seen such a thing, and show them a bit of how it works, and you do that with a few people, I don’t think you need statistics to know this product will be hot. I don’t think Steve Jobs did a lot of market research in order to create his designs. He may have done some research on how they would be accepted, and on price points, after he did the design.

Me- Why is it to their advantage to use someone like you rather than just buy a book online and try and do it themselves.

Brooks- What do I add to this process? One, I have a pretty good knowledge of food. Second I have some skill at questioning in a way that gets to deeper motivations.

Now I can get the client into to “if you can get this product at this price and people buy once they’re likely to keep buying it.” To the extent that it takes advertising or promotion to get the consumer to take that first step, I’m not an expert. I can make some suggestions, but there is that whole world of controlling shelf space in supermarkets.

We did a project for one of the largest food companies in the world. The product manager wanted to launch a new line of condiments into the US market. The products were established in markets in other countries but not in the US. In his case we wanted to know how to position the products. How could they be used? Did consumers like the product when used that way? What should be the price point?

Again, we did this all with focus groups, and not too many of them. The focus groups were around the use of the product. I actually prepared recipes using the product and brought them into focus groups. (I actually created a couple of the recipes which continued to live on the company's website for years).

Applying this to cheese would mean that rather than have them just taste a piece of cheese we would have them taste it in the ways they interact with it in the real world. They would taste cheese and crackers, or macaroni and cheese, or cheesebread, or pasta with cheese, etc., not just cheese.

The key is in knowing how to ask the right questions, empathetically, to be able to help them express things they may not even have been fully aware of beforehand, and that takes training, practice, experience and time. This launch was successful by the way. I believe it was successful because we had positioned the product properly.
Plus it was a good product line.

In Industrial Safety we did something similar. Working with a client, Patrick Ragan, who was at Rhone-Poulenc's North American chemical business, we developed an improvement process based on an employee survey. Yes, a survey.

The improvement process is described in our book, Measurement Matters; How Effective Assessment Drives Business and Safety Performance.

Me- Working with people, whether in safety or in market research for cheese, helping people to understand what makes them choose one thing over another to help you, the manufacturer, gain a competitive advantage, requires special skills in questioning and reading people. If interested, you can contact Brooks directly, I highly recommend it.

For more information, contact: Brooks Carder, PhD, Carder and Associates, LLC;; 858-350-6708. DS

Dan Strongin is managing partner and owner of Edible Solutions, a consulting company focused on helping companies making great food make a profit. He will be writing a monthly column in Cheese Reporter. Strongin can be reached via phone at (510) 224-0493, or via e-mail at You can visit and blog with Dan at

Other Strongin Articles written for Cheese Reporter

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dot Start From Where You Are
dot Learning About Your Customer
dot The Vision Thing
dot Customer Service? NOT!
dot Collaboration: The Road To A Better Future
dot Resolution
dot Water

dot In Memoriam: Ignazio Vella 1928-2011
dot Of Cheese, Seals, And Deming
dot In Their Own Words: Lettie Kilmoyer
dot In Their Own Words: Fritz Maytag
dot In Their Own Words: Paula Lambert
dot Show Me the Money: Cost Accounting
dot Cost Accounting Chokes, Part 2: Inventory

dot Cost Accounting Is Choking Your Business, Part 1
dot It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over
dot Raw Reason
dot A Story For The Holiday Season, Part II
dot A Story For The Holiday Season
dot Truth In Labeling
dot This Too Shall Pass or "What were we thinking?"
dot Marketing Language That Resonates
dot When Will We Ever Learn?
dot Cheese Competitions In The Context Of Marketing

dot Economy
dot Even The Best Laid Plans Go Astray
dot Root Causes: Communication
dot Partners
dot Diamond Cutting:
It's What You Don't Know That Can Hurt You
dot Integrity and Ethics
dot Pricing:  The Perceived Value
Designing the Effective Sell Sheet
Common Sense
It All Begins in The Mouth
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As Our Industry Evolves, So Should Our Terminology:

Other Cheese Reporter Guest Columnists
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