Emily P. from Saskatoon, Canada writes in with a question: “How did Budweiser figure out that people wanted lime added to their beer?” An excellent question and one that bring us to a favorite topic: marketing research.
Marketing research is all about gathering information. The client, in this case a beer company, either has an in-house market research department or hires an independent firm. The researchers interact with consumers to find out what people like and dislike. Sometimes, marketing researchers help a company evaluate a new product. Other times, an existing product with a new feature is tested, or consumers are grilled about what new products they would buy. The information gathered in this manner is applied to the marketing mix (i.e., the price, features, distribution and promotion) of a product or service.
Think of marketing research as applied sociology, in which consumers are questioned or observed (either in their natural settings or as part of a controlled experiment). If the researchers are trying to make quantitative measurements, they will use random sampling techniques and draw statistical inferences from their sample subjects.
For example, a beer company may desire to broaden the audience for their product by adding additional ingredients to make a distinctive variation over their basic beer. They would assign the problem to a marketing research team, which would start a qualitative study to see what flavor match-ups might entice beer drinkers. Study groups and surveys are common tools used for such research. Also, brokers who sell leads could be engaged to identify target consumer sub-populations. By careful questioning, the researchers will develop a preliminary list of ingredients that consumers believe would enhance beer. After some initial taste testing, the beer company might winnow the list of possible add-ins to half a dozen, and then conduct quantitative studies to test whether any of these additions actually create demand.
While we have no information on the Budweiser research project, we imagine that taste technicians and brewers worked together to come up with experimental samples of different-flavored beer, and that lime was on the short list of real possibilities. The beer company would then set up a testing environment to consider the hypothesis that consumers would like a lime-flavored beer. Market researchers would perform taste tests under control conditions and gather data as to consumers’ reactions. They might try to correlate ethnic or nationality information to consumer choices to ascertain whether certain segments of the population were especially drawn to lime-flavored beer. Armed with this data, a marketing plan could be created to target identified population segments to the joys of lime-flavored beer, and one or more geographic locations would be rolled out for testing. Should sales appear promising, the beer company would then have to decide whether to create, produce and market their new product regionally or even nationally.