Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Researcher's Story (fiction)

“Failure is an orphan while success has several fathers.” anon

Antony Barriga was the brand manager who shepherded Project Aquila to a success. The project was about the launch of Glee a new brand in the highly competitive toilet soaps market. It was greeted encouragingly by the trade and the market that in no time at all it achieved a twenty five percent market share after a month and a half from introduction in a highly competitive field. Market share was still growing and the only hindrance it had was the lack of stocks to sell into the trade. The results of the electronic test market, a simulated market pre-test predicted failure. This caused the marketing team to be a bit tentative and had a soft launch. They didn’t produce large amounts of products for the sell in and the support effort in media and promotions were cautious and measured.

During the post assessment meeting which was called by no less than the chairman himself all the major participants in the project were invited to take stock and trace the work that led to the success, learn from it and to talk about initiatives which should take advantage of the initial gains and the momentum started by the new brand. Everyone in the company was excited about Project Aquila and fittingly, a record of the activities which led to the successful launch must be chronicled for posterity. Also, it would help in creating a model to serve as a pattern for future developmental work.

Naturally everyone, especially Antony Barriga, the brand manager and head of Project Aquila, who had something to do with the project were enthusiastic to attend so that they can talk about their participation and contributions to the achievement. Naturally these would include embellishments and exaggerations for this was rare opportunity given to them to shine in front of the chairman.

All but one was in high spirits. Rod Dorado, the research manager, analyzed the data gathered from the test market research had predicted failure and was very vocal about not launching the brand. He had good reason to dissuade the group from aborting the project. Earlier product tests did produce encouraging scores but when it was tested with the final product with brand name, in the package design and in the context of its advertising platform, it fell dismally short of the standard that was set for the brand to launch. The electronic test market which was designed to provide market share predictions indicated that it was to achieve a mere five percent. The Glee team was not enthusiastic about the brand after knowing the results of the electronic test market. It did seem that it was a case of back to the drawing board for the ad men, the technical development boys, the promotions people and the sales manager. At that time they were ready to retreat from the project as if in disavowal of any participation in it.

But not Antony Barriga. It would be difficult to dissuade this brand manager to abort the launch of his baby after months of nurturing, planning and development work. Antony was bull headed and he chose to set aside the findings of market research. He threw caution to the wind notwithstanding the below standard market share expectation of five percent. He declared an all systems go for the project. He argued that research is helpful at development stage, when one is developing the product but not at the point of launching. He believed that research at this stage should not lessen the resolve of the marketing men to drive and push their brand with all the wherewithal at their disposal. It is true that in some cases in past launches, it was the drive and resoluteness of the marketing man that spelled the success of a brand. Brand management depended, to a large extent, on the personality of the man running the brand’s enterprise. He argued passionately to have the launch of Glee push through and the chairman impressed at such ardor and determination, approved it.

Of course, the fact that the competition, the brand leader had problems at the time of the Glee launch was glossed over. An uncanny coincidence with the Glee launch was the extraordinary problem that competition and current brand leader, Engarde, was beset by. The stocks of Engarde had to be recalled from all trade outlets and from all the warehouses of wholesalers and distributors because they were afflicted by moulds. Greenish, cloudy encrustations soon appeared in the Engarde soap bars and the manufacturer was pressured by the dealers to recall all stocks in their warehouses. With this exceptional advantage Glee did not encounter any resistance at the wholesalers and distributors during the selling in. The vacuum in the trade spelled the success of the selling in activity. Even at consumer level the absence of Engarde in the shelves allowed the new brand to attain immediate and extensive trial by erstwhile Engarde users.

The sell in of Glee was awesome. The stocks built up for the launch were all sold within a week’s time. The production line had to double time to catch up with the demand of a hungry trade. But they could only hurry so much because newly produced products have to have proper aging before these are released for sale. The estimated extra tonnages of products that could have been sold were really substantial. This, among other opportunities was lost outright.

The chairman, Serafin Garces, was on his desk rapt in concentration at some sheaf of papers on his leather framed writing pad. The various department heads streamed in and in no time at all filled up the available chairs but for the one at the head table which was reserved for him. There were excited exchanges among the early comers but these were in murmurs as the formality of the chairman’s room dictated it. Seeing the table completely occupied he rose from his black highback leather chair and approached the group of eager and smiling faces.

“Good afternoon gentlemen, I am glad that you could all come at such a short notice.” He looked around the table doing a mental roll call. “Are we missing anyone…everyone here?

After a wave of wagging heads, much like dog figurines with bobbing heads on car dashboards, the group intoned almost in unison “yes…think so” this was followed by another wave of head wagging.

Serafin Garces settled his widely girthed rear on the head table chair, placed both hands flat on the table and said “Congratulations to the team for a successful launch, please give ourselves a hearty hand,” he led the clapping and the group seemed tp have relaxed a little with the agreeable start of the meeting, “very well, let’s get started.”

Antony was quick to seize the opportunity to lead the discussion. No one contested this as he would be most deserving of it being the brand manager who doggedly pushed for its launch.

“Sir, I will make a brief update on the inroads and gains Glee had achieved then from there Joe Creus here will talk about the sales situation, Enteng Agno will then talk about the progress of our promotional efforts” he went on to mention the ad agency, the technical development people who were all attention, eagerness and poised to report on their participation. Market research was mentioned last by Antony, “ and of course a word from market research to talk about post launch researches, perhaps a little on what went wrong with the simulated test market research.”

Joe Creus with a stentorian tone talked about the high morale of the sales staff, and how they have creamed the sales force of the competition, some anecdotal heroics in the field, the distributors clamoring for bigger allocations and how much more they would have sold were it not for the out of stock situation in the bodegas, making sarcastic remarks on the inability of the sales forecasters to do their jobs…and the market research mistake and praising Antony Barriga for his grit There was a slight allusion to a problem that competition was experiencing in the trade but this was smothered to obscurity by the animated recounting of the battles and skirmishes won in the field.

Mike Regis, the head of the forecasting team did not take kindly to the insinuation that the sales forecasters botched their job. “What do you expect us to do? Market research gave caution…” the chairman halted him with a wave of his hand saying

“I thought I made it clear that what I asked you guys to do is to give me your ideas of what to do next. What follow up activities can we do to ride on the momentum of Glee. I know of what you have done from the thousand reports I have seen on its success. You guys should refrain from wagging that accusatory finger. Blaming will be taken up in private and not at this forum. It would be unproductive to talk about it here. Now, I reiterate, for this meeting, just limit the discussion on what you intend to do this week, the next and so on.”

It was difficult to dampen the enthusiasm of the report makers who despite the admonition of the chairman to limit it to planned activities they had managed to mention their contributions to the successful project albeit much more abbreviated than what they would have wanted. The occasional sarcasm directed at Rod could not be helped.

In all the discussions, the fact of not having enough stocks to sell was the culprit that robbed the enterprise of a much bigger success. The production people mentioned that they were just following the production orders coming from marketing and the sales forecasters. The ad agency did not miss a beat and accused market research for the half hearted media support that was given the brand at its introduction. They said that a great opportunity to embed the brand image on the target market was missed when an all out media support was withheld because of the poor performance expectation of the brand. The strong trial and retrial would have cemented the desired brand image early in the audiences’ mind. They referred to it as a virgin quality, a new brand with no historical baggage gaining immediate acceptance with repeated trials paving the way to easily implanting the desired image securely in the market’s awareness.

If there was blaming to be done the most logical was to point at market research for weren’t they the ones who said that the launch should have been aborted because their test market findings pointed to a possible dismal performance.

“It will fail” Rod didn’t mince his words.

A measly five percent market share prediction would not inspire confidence to produce a surplus of sell in stocks nor would it warrant increased investments on media and promotions…and now they own a quarter of the market and could have been more. This made Antonio Barriga a bigger hero who despite all the warnings and dissuasion coming from market research persevered and prevailed upon everybody in the team to launch.

“Good thing you didn’t listen to the prophets of doom in this company” they said in reference to Ron.

These, of course, made Ron Dorado a bigger heel in the eyes of his team mates. Buffeted by all the criticisms and the snide remarks directed at him and towards market research he remained steadfast in maintaining that the numbers that came out of the research were reliable and the results had unassailable integrity. Some, kindly, suggested that perhaps the wrong methodology was used. Others, taking a modern luddite argument said that perhaps we should not rely too much on electronic housewives to give us a feel of the consumer’s attitude after all they were no more than unfeeling and unthinking electric impulses inside hi-tech casings.

There was something common about what the other team members planned to do. All of them, in fact, planned on stepping up the level of activities as a reaction to the missed opportunities. The Sales group planned on doing a saturation drive of all possible outlets as soon as product stocks have been built up, promotions presented several follow up promotions, the technical development guys talked about formulating new variants which could be launched in four month’s time and the ad agency mentioned that they have already started work on post introductory ad campaigns including a tactical testimonial campaign from entertainment celebrities and a long shot idea of using a political figure who was a talked about as a presidentiable.

When it was Rod’s turn to speak, he said that the usual market monitoring will be employed to check on the brand gains as well as to find out where improvements can be made to further pursue the initial gains. He said that he will recommend a research covering the trade to help explain the phenomenal sell in success of the brand, to find out what was done right and what more could be done.

He had to admit that Antony did the right thing by insisting on the launch despite his misgivings and vehemently expressed counter view. It was expected of him to give some explanation as to why the research prediction went so far away from the mark and all ears seemed alerted as to the first words of an explanation, apology, perhaps. He had to explain but apology was not what he had in mind. He will not apologize for the stance he took. He was playing his role as research manager and decided on the evidence of the findings before him.

“Market research does not deal in certainties, it talks about probabilities of outcomes in the normality of things, and there have been instances, such as the most recent one on Glee, that actual experience had proven it wrong. It could have been a fluke, an outlier as we say in statistics’” he needed to be careful and deliberate as to what was to follow and paused the explanation for a while.

“Antony had the courage to set aside the research findings and trusted his gut feel, his acumen and went full steam to launch. I have always told brand managers in the past not to use research as a crutch, as the only basis for decisions but to look at it as a guide, to make an educated guess, to narrow the odds. At the end of the day with the piles of research data on his desk the marketing man must make the decision by himself. Antony did just that and was rewarded for his intrepidness.”

The chairman was visibly annoyed with Rod’s words, “Are you telling us that all that money spent on that expensive simulated test market could not be relied on? And that all that hi-tech talk is just mumbo jumbo? How are we to regard you and your work from now on?”

That was an unfair statement, he thought, how could somebody like him, with all his experience make a statement that discredits a discipline like research. The boss was entitled to be highhanded sometimes. He may not have fully meant what he said about research but he was truly annoyed at the situation. It would have been easy to explain this miscue to anyone except that it was the chairman of the company that he was explaining it to and no amount of technical jargon would be deemed satisfactory. Rod knew all the aspects and instances where it could have gone wrong but the fact remains, it gave a prediction so way off which led the company to staging a half hearted launch effort for Glee. Yet, he was sure that the research was correctly done. The rigorous protocol of sampling, the stringent supervision of the fieldwork, the use of an almost templated questionnaire from successful researches of the same methodology, faultless data processing and all the necessary preparations that followed a strict procedure faithfully as in an ISO exercise. He was certain that this was impeccable research work and yet proven wrong in actuality. In his mind he could not concede a failure of research

All he can say was “I am sorry that despite our efforts to do a superb job on the research it failed to give the right prediction. There may have been variables that we did not take account of which played a strong influential role in the equation. This is an instance that I am happy to have been proving wrong. The best I can do at this point is to review the research thoroughly to ferret out the bugs.”

“Well, that’s that, I am cautioning you, Rod, to be more discerning and to be more cautious about the use of these new fangled technical innovations in research. We do not mind paying big money for such stuff but we expect that they should at least display a reasonable accuracy because decisions made on them involve money, time and resource big time.”

Rod had weathered the meeting. He had to take in all the snide remarks and the blames on the chin. Had he taken a strong defensive stance he would have been clobbered from all sides. They would all have ganged up on him like sharks in a feeding frenzy, besides, he didn’t want to be the wet blanket for the all the elation that Glee’s success had brought to the company.

It had to come. A week after the meeting the news about the mould problems that competition had became full blown. The sales team could no longer hold back the full extent of the news and it spread with the help of reports coming from other sources. In the market research department exploratory field investigations in line with the trade research about to be started got hold of the news about the mold problem. At that point it was already at an epidemic magnitude. It was quite obvious now why Glee had a successful launch. There was no competitive resistance and there was a hungry trade who had been starved of toilet soap stocks for some weeks now. This was vindication for him.

Antony Barriga called for a meeting. He asked the chairman to attend as the matter was of great importance. The department heads were also invited to the meeting.

“Sir, I guess by now you would have heard of the mould problem that our competition has been troubled with. After we met with you two weeks ago we started to revise our plans according to the positive outlook we had for Glee. We have committed orders to our suppliers for more raw materials to conform to the new forecast and sales targets have been raised in expectation of a good reception by the wholesalers and distributors. I am now advocating that we pare down our forecasts to a much more realistic level, hold back on raw materials orders and plan out a new trade strategy. We know that Engarde has the capability of bouncing back once they have sorted out the mould problems.”

“How come it took us a long time to know of this problem? Don’t we have people in the field? What about the sales people, surely they were in touch with our dealers and should have known about it sooner.” The chairman was visibly controlling his anger at the situation. “Now we are faced with the prospect of having inventories of raw material stocks at disastrous levels and have incurred costs for all sorts of development work in anticipation of Glee becoming a runaway success. My god, we are a company of the deaf and the blind. I can’t believe this.”

It was not true that the problem was not reported on early in time. There were some sketchy reports from the field agents but with the euphoria of the successful launch the reports were all but ignored. The sales manager would not allow small things such as this take away from the phenomenal success of the Glee sell in. The other department heads were equally guilty of not making anything of the competitor’s problem. They joined in on the elated atmosphere that pervaded the entire company.

The chairman was hard up in his attempt at maintaining his equanimity. His face was as blushed as if in embarrassment and his fists were white with clenching. “Well, Barriga I hope you have something sensible to say on this.”

“Yes, yes sir. As I was saying I have talked with the purchasing guys for them to review the orders we have made and to see if it was not too late to revise them with lower orders. I have suggested to the sales forecast team to lower their projections by more than half. I told Joe Creus here to take stock of what has transpired in the trade and to consolidate whatever gains we might have gotten out of this. As for the ad agency I have advised them to hold the development work for a new campaign that they started as of two weeks ago.” Antony seemed unfazed despite the sternness of the chairman’s voice.

“It seems to me that we are at panic button,” uttered Mike Regis who found opportunity to edge into the discussion, “I think it was foolhardy of Antony not to have heeded the simulated market test.”

“And, also, I discussed with Rod to hasten the research that he had planned to do among the trade. The finding of this would be useful to us when the situation at the trade level normalizes” Antony felt obliged to include Rod and market research upon hearing what Mike had just said.

“Didn’t I say that it was back to the drawing board for this project when the results of the test market came out. Antony wouldn’t listen to me. I guess it was a case of launching for launch sake.” Lito the technical development manager was quick to sidle to safety.

“Antony, I remember mentioning the mould problem to you early on. I guess I should have been more explicit for you to have acted on it.” Even Joe Creus has tried his version of hand washing.

Jim Ano, the account supervisor of the ad agency diffidently said, “We just do as we are told. I think there is still time to cancel the advance media placements that we booked. We will also review the current media schedule with a mind to lower the frequencies a bit.”

Antony looked at the faces around the table. Only a few weeks ago these were the same guys who would have carried him on a sedan chair proclaiming his bravery and courage to launch Glee successfully despite opposition. They were no longer dog heads bobbing in unison but each one of them fixedly looking at him in dismay. “Hey guys, we are all in this together aren’t we?”

Only Rod broke the moment of silence, a silence signaling the passing of the short lived alliance that Antony had with the others.
“I don’t think the situation is all that bad,” Rod opined, “Let’s look at the positive side, We have easily gained extensive trials for Glee and that is one advantage we can build on. The early product performance testing we did have shown that it is an acceptable product. It was only in the test market where it failed. Perhaps we need to review the brand positioning and the communication strategy. Engarde was a very strong brand and it would take a stronger alternative proposition for its users to switch over to Glee. I think the mould problem gave us that opportunity.”

The chairman nodded in assent to what he was hearing, “Rod has a very good point there. We should really think of this not as a debacle but an opportunity to establish Glee in the market and hopefully dislodge Engarde from its leadership position. Antony’s foolhardiness has caused harm but by some uncanny stroke of fate became opportune.”

He seemed pleased as he was given a chance to practice a chairman’s prerogative to sermonize and to give good judgment on vital corporate issues. His role, enhanced more than ever, as a sagacious and astute leader of the group.

“Of course there has been some damage done. All we can do now is minimize them and for the costs already incurred there is nothing much you can do but log it as an item in wastage allowance and as a costly experience. The brand is off to a great start; let’s see if we can build from there.”

As they were about to leave the room the chairman told Rod and Antony to stay, he stood up and went over to shake the hands of the two. “Good work Rod” and turning to Antony he said “You’re a lucky son of a gun, you know that. Now work closely with Rod and make Glee the success it is destined to be.”


a.k.a. selenakyle said...

hi mr. roa!
hope you still remember me from your nielsen days.
great work! very prolific. you know, this piece on the researcher reminds me of my recurring wish for a movie that features a character who's a field interviewer. i might write one myself if nobody comes up with something soon. hehehe.
ps- hope you don't mind if i'll link your blog on my blog list.
best regards,
- glady rosales

wayfarer said...

Hi Gladys!

Of course I remember you.Thanks for dropping in and reading some of my posts.
When you do write the movie please send me a copy.