In case you aren’t aware, our Fourth Quarter member spotlight, Richard Spreng:

  • Has a B.A. in Communications (teaching interest in retail management, services marketing, principles of marketing, sales management, consumer behavior, marketing research); an M.B.A. in Marketing (teaching interest in customer driven strategies – consumer behavior, services marketing, marketing management, marketing research); and a Ph.D. in Marketing (teaching interest in consumer behavior).
  • Has written more than 30 articles published in academic journals.
  • Has authored or co-authored almost 40 conference papers.
  • Is a dedicated advocate of the MR profession.
  • Has numerous manuscripts and other works in progress.
  • Has earned so many academic honors, awards and grants that we can’t list them all here.

Amy: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Since I’ve been editor of Alert!, you are the first professor to honor us as a Member Spotlight. Let’s warm up by getting some background information. How long have you been Director, Master of Science in Marketing Research at Michigan State University, and what was the path that led you there?

Richard: I have been the director of the MSMR program since its inception. About five years ago we were talking internally about developing a master’s program, and about the same time Michael Brereton, CEO of Maritz Research began talking with us about the need for additional graduate programs in marketing research. In a number of discussions with Michael we came to the conclusion that there would be demand for our students, and that we had the competencies to deliver a high quality program. Our goal, from the beginning, was to develop a program that was grounded in traditional MR tools, but to also provide exposure to leading edge MR techniques. This meant that we needed to spend lots of time with MR professionals and, with Michael’s assistance, we were able to develop a great advisory board. The board helped us with the program design, and has helped us during the first three years to make numerous improvements to the curriculum.

Amy: You are also the co-founder of a marketing research firm that specializes in customer satisfaction measurement. Tell us about the company and how it has changed over the past decade.

Richard: I was approached about 15 years ago by a friend who owned a hospitality company to do customer satisfaction research for his firm. My academic research was on customer satisfaction, and this was an opportunity to test my research in the "real world." For example, as a result of my academic research, I knew that managers often struggled with what to do with satisfaction research reports. My goal was to provide tools that helped managers focus on the most important areas for improvement. He really liked what we did and, when he sold his firm, asked if I wanted to form a firm to do satisfaction research in his former industry. When we first started working together, we were still using pencil and paper surveys. The obvious first change was the move to online surveys. A second change has been in developing tools to further help implement changes and improvements based on the research results. Finally, we have expanded into a few other industries.

Amy: We consistently hear about the challenges research professionals face. Of course, as the Association serving the entire MR profession, we are constantly working towards solutions that ease these pain points for our members. Please share what you believe are the biggest challenges for the MR profession in 2013 and beyond.

Richard: Given my position in education, I would say one of the biggest challenges is in the area of educating the next generation of marketing research professionals. While it is important for students to understand the traditional basics of MR, there are so many new techniques today that they need to be exposed to. Trying to provide both in a one-year master’s program is a challenge, but we are trying to do so in a variety of ways.

Amy: What are some feasible solutions in addressing these challenges?

Richard: We are addressing this issue by having a close relationship with our advisory board. We ask for their advice, and many members guest lecture in classes. The board members are able to bring to class the issues and concerns they are dealing with, and allow us to tap into their expertise. For example, earlier this year our students were able to manage an online MR community, donated by one of our board firms, Gongos Research. Each team of students had to make a sales call on an internal client (broad college administrators), develop a proposal, get the proposal approved, create a research instrument, manage the community for a week, collect and analyze the data, and write and deliver the report.

Amy: Research companies and departments are struggling to identify and hire new employees with promising backgrounds, and then provide job satisfaction to retain them. Part of the issue stems from a lack of ability to locate and train new professionals straight from undergrad or grad school. Do you believe the industry places enough of a premium on new talent entering the profession? What can and should be done to solve this on-going challenge?

Richard: We certainly have seen a high level of receptivity to our program and students from the MR community. We started the program because of prodding by Michael (mentioned earlier), as he was concerned there were not enough programs turning out MR professionals. But, part of the challenge is that most students don’t know about MR as a career option. In support of our program we have been running a “Career Exploration Event” every fall in which we invite students from a variety of majors around MSU, and from other Michigan universities and colleges. The purpose of the event is to promote MR as a career among students who often have not considered this. Our advisory board members have been very helpful in attending to talk with students and make the case for MR as a great career.

Amy: We are also hearing a lot from corporate researchers about the challenge of internally promoting the value of MR to their organizations. What are your thoughts on this?

Richard: It has been said many times before – MR must help managers with the decisions they have to make. The positioning of our program is that we want to produce client-centric thinkers who generate insights to drive business impact. In support of this, we have courses that go beyond research techniques and work on helping students understand the marketing and business problems that research tries to address.

Amy: What are areas of MR that are changing in a way that allows for new opportunities?

Richard: The plethora of new tools means that there are multiple ways to get to the answer of a management problem, and this will provide a richer, more complete story than any single method.

Amy: What do you believe is the outlook for market research in the next decade?

Richard: I am optimistic that the market research industry will continue to grow in the U.S. In addition, China represents a huge opportunity in MR, as there has traditionally been relatively little research conducted in China. Our program has had 5 to 7 Chinese students each year, and they are finding great jobs back home. In fact, this summer I met with one of our first year graduates who just returned to China after working in the U.S. She received 10 job offers. So, I think China is an area of opportunity for marketing research, and there are clearly not enough well-trained MR professionals there.

Amy: You’ve been an MRA member since April of 2011. What inspired you to become a member? What do you need from the Association in order to help you succeed?

Richard: As the director of the MSMR program at Michigan State, I wanted to develop relationships with research practitioners. I also wanted to be exposed to the challenges the MR industry is struggling with, and the solutions they were developing, so that our students are well prepared to start their careers.

Amy: It is always fun to learn about our member’s hobbies, passions and family. Please feel free to unabashedly share a little about these areas of your life.

Richard: I have been married to my wonderful wife Pat for 31 years, and we have 4 children. The two oldest (boys) are currently at MSU, and the two youngest (girls) are in middle school and high school. I love to snow ski and backpack. For the last three years I have led a study abroad program in China, and I really enjoy China.