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Students and Clients Win With Poole’s Marketing Research Course

From helping fitness centers navigate COVID concerns to working with local nonprofits to support individuals with special abilities, graduate students in Poole College are on a mission to make marketing research matter.

Partnering with clients across the state and beyond, students in Poole’s marketing research class (MBA 562) work on small teams to conduct in-depth, relevant marketing research that helps organizations respond to real-world management decision problems. 

The course not only helps clients better understand consumer behavior and make data-driven marketing decisions – it also helps students gain practical, hands-on experience and learn how to put theory into practice.

“Working with a real-world client and management problem keeps students engaged and gives them a glimpse of what it is really like to conduct marketing research in industry,” explains Stefanie Robinson, associate professor of marketing and co-manager of NC State’s Consumer Research Laboratory. “It also helps them see first-hand the importance of marketing research in decision making.” 

To address a client’s particular management decision issue, students begin by identifying a specific marketing research problem. They then conduct secondary research, followed by qualitative work – such as focus groups and/or one-on-one interviews – to glean important insights to inform their quantitative research. After creating a quantitative survey, students collect and analyze the data to draw out meaningful insights. Finally, at the end of the project, students write a report and present their findings, conclusions, and recommendations to the client.

“It’s very much the think and do process. First, I teach students the specific marketing research concept and then give them the various tools and exercises to study and practice it. From there, they apply what they have learned to the client project,” Robinson explains.

“For survey design, for example, I begin by teaching the art and science of crafting a survey. Students critique a survey in class and practice crafting a survey of their own. Then, taking all that they’ve learned in the classroom, they develop surveys for their respective clients’ marketing research problems. From there, it’s usually an iterative process. Students turn their surveys in, I provide feedback to help them make necessary tweaks and we continue this process as needed,” she continues. 

Over the years, Poole marketing research students have worked on a wide variety of projects, including projects with local and global companies and organizations in both the business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) sectors.

“It’s extremely rewarding seeing our students gain hands-on experience while also benefiting our client partners in practical and profitable ways,” says Patrice Nealon, Poole senior lecturer in marketing who teaches the online section of the MBA 562 course. “Recently, one of our clients was able to secure a military government contract as a result of a team’s research that analyzed potential target markets for anti-chafing spray. We have seen so many amazing success stories like this over the years. With every new semester, I look forward to seeing what’s next.”

Leveraging Research for Good

According to Jon Shafeei, owner and operator of 9Round Kickboxing Fitness in northeast Raleigh, N.C., participating in the marketing research project empowers him to be a more responsive business owner. For three years, Poole MBA students have worked with 9Round on a number of marketing research problems, including consumers’ fitness facility preferences, exercise motivations and attitudes about COVID safety precautions.

“It’s been a great experience both ways. It gives students the opportunity to engage with things in the real world, and it helps me get local, relevant data that helps me make better decisions as a business owner,” Shafeei says.

“When I talk to gym owners from other areas, I recognize that their market is completely different from mine in terms of consumer behavior and demographics. So even though I can comb through the data in our organization’s CRM software and different club publications, it’s extremely helpful to have access to local data,” he continues. 

In addition to gaining access to local data, partnering with Poole College also allows Shafeei to make the most of his marketing dollars and better serve his customer base. When reopening after COVID shutdowns, for example, Shafeei used the data insights and recommendations to make informed decisions about how to best meet his customers’ preferences and needs. 

“Amidst all the uncertainties of the pandemic and a tough political arena, it was difficult for businesses to know how to move forward with reopening while also making people feel safe,” Shafeei explains. “For me, it was extremely valuable to have these data insights and student recommendations when it came time to make those tough decisions. If you want to be a relevant business, this kind of opportunity is a gold mine.” 

And for Gabi’s Grounds, a three-tiered nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals with special abilities find meaningful employment, the project provided meaningful insights Gabi’s Grounds can leverage to continue advancing its mission.

“Students helped us determine customer preferences and purchasing behaviors from businesses that have their own social initiatives or businesses who sponsor social causes,” explains Mary Angelini, co-founder of Gabi’s Grounds. “They also worked to pull consumer insights on patronizing businesses or seeking services that employ people with special abilities.”

With these insights, Gabi’s Grounds can work to develop innovative solutions and build new partnerships with local businesses to expand employment opportunities for people with special abilities.

Leaving an Impact

For Jenkins MBA candidate Kara Gravinese, mastering the marketing research process is an important part of making a difference in the world.

“I worked in the human services nonprofit sector as an outreach and communications manager for a number of years and realized there are a lot of gaps in this industry and in my own skill set. I came to NC State to fill those gaps and help my organization achieve its mission better,” Gravinese explains.

“Specifically, I realized how important data is for communicating the need and impact of an organization, but it was not clear how to get this data or understand it. I was paralyzed. But now, because of the marketing research course, I’m equipped. When faced with those same problems again, I’ll be ready to collect the relevant data, clean it, transform it and analyze it.”

Through the marketing research course, students get exposure to multiple tools – like SPSS and Qualtrics – and learn to read statistical analysis.

“I really appreciated how the course armed us with skills that would be relevant in the workplace. I have hard skills I can carry with me,” Gravinese says. “Before, I would read research papers and the statistical details wouldn’t make sense to me. Now, those details have come to life.”

And for Gravinese, the opportunity to learn the marketing research process with a real-world application is invaluable.

“The marketing research process is incredibly rigorous and detail-oriented. You need a high level of coordination to ensure you don’t miss anything and you also have to know what level of detail is enough. Going through this process was so beneficial for my own professional development,” Gravinese says. “But the best part was the business impact. To support a client’s goals with quality, rigorous academic research and give them answers that substantiate why they do what they do – that’s the biggest thing. In a short amount of time, you get to do something meaningful and see the fruits of your labor.”