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Walking the Farm & Market Research

March 30, 2006 - by Robert E. Stevens, GENESIS II(The Second Beginning) E-Mail:

A friend was telling me recently about the time he went with his uncle to look at a farm he was planning to purchase. His uncle casually looked at the farm house and the barn while spending a little more time checking out the milk house.  But spending almost all of his time walking the farm. He asked his uncle why he did not check out the buildings more rather than spending all his time walking over the property. The uncle's reply was that you can always tear down a building and put up a new one, but you cannot throw away the land and have new land installed.  His point was that it is the land that is important not what was on it. The land is the reason for the purchase regardless of the intended use. He was going to use it as farm land but even if he was going to develop a subdivision, it would be the land that he was interested in.


How does this relate to market research? I believe that it has a lot to do with how we approach market research. We need to separate the land from the building. In the case of laundry detergent the land is the cleaning ability of the detergent. After all, that is the purpose of the detergent. The buildings in the laundry detergent example are attributes such as fabric feel, odor of the cleaned items, whiteness and even color brightness. These items are "Tie Breakers" and not the fundamental purpose of the product. How do you walk the land of a laundry detergent? Walking the land of the detergent world involves personal observations of the task by real homemakers. It also includes Habits & Practices research. It is all about the Who, What, When, Where, and How things are done and under what conditions.


One of my more memorable experiences of walking the farm happened while doing Laparotomy Pack research in the operating room. In my research program, we not only obtained product evaluations from both the scrub and circulating nurses but also all the surgeons involved in the procedures. At this particular time I was testing the packs in western states for the first time. Actually up to this time all my research was conducted in states east of the Mississippi River. Within the first two days it was obvious that the surgeons in the two western hospitals were performing an abdominal hysterctomy, the most frequent laparotomy procedure, differently than what was usually seen in the eastern and midwestern hospitals. In the western hospitals the surgeons utilized the Pfannenstiel incision. In the eastern and midwestern hospitals the common practice was to use the midline incision. The two incisions are radically different from one another in regards to the ideal lap sheet design.


The lap sheet design used by all manufacturers was ideal for the midline incision but not for the Pfannenstiel. At that time the Pfannenstiel was relatively new and the net result of the shift to this new incision meant that the commercially available lap drapes functioned considerably less than ideal.


By walking the farm, we fell into an early competitive market advantage.  Walking the Farm concept fits well with Hewlett Packard's MBWA concept, Management By Walking Around. Remember the poorest view of the world is from behind your desk.

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