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Interview: Kathryn Korostoff, founder of Research Rockstar

Research Rockstar is an online training company that shares education on marketing research topics. This interview with the founder conducted by Dana Stanley shares insights on the most popular classes, including how to hire the right agency or which research method to use.

I had a chance to speak with Kathryn Korostoff, founder of Research Rockstar, when I was in San Diego to present at the MRA First Outlook Conference in San Diego last week. Research Rockstar is a service providing online education on marketing research topics. Korostoff previously founded Sage Research and also worked as an in-house researcher at large end-client companies.

You can find the audio podcast of this interview here or use the player below:

 

Dana Stanley: Thanks for taking some time today, Kathryn. It’s good to talk with you.

Kathryn Korostoff: Thanks, it’s nice to meet you in person, finally.

DS: I’m glad you could take some time because I think people will be pretty interested to hear about Research Rockstar. So, tell us what Research Rockstar is.

KK: Research Rockstar is an online training company dedicated to the field of market research. Really, the essence of it is that there are a lot of people today, not necessarily even all full time market researchers, who really need to understand the best practices in conducting market research. Now, obviously there are a lot of options for people today who want to learn about market research, but really most of them are in person. I wanted to take it online to really make sure that market research training was very easy and simple and widely accessible.

DS: What are the types of training that are available through your company?  

KK: It’s all web-based, so basically somebody comes to our site and they can sign up for free membership, or if they want access to all of the classes, they can sign up for a VIP or higher level membership. And then basically they log into their membership page, and they see a list of classes. They just click and view. It’s as easy as using YouTube.

DS: And what kinds of companies are using your service now?

KK: Most of my clients right now are end-user folks. So, not people who work at market research agencies. Because honestly a lot of those people will send their staff to, say, Burke for more intensive training. And there are definitely some topics that are definitely better to be trained on in person. For example, I would never do focus group moderator training online. I do believe that that’s a topic that really needs to be done in-person. But for a lot of topics, the people I’m dealing with are folks that really just need a quick, easy introduction to a topic. For example, a lot of the end-user folks who, maybe they have experience doing customer loyalty tracking, but have been tasked for the first time to do some product concept testing or some message testing. So they’re knowledgeable about market research, but maybe not that particular topic. Well, they can come on to the Research Rockstar website and in between 20 and 55 minutes watch an online class on the topic of interest. So they’re getting the jargon, they are learning enough to be able to either write an RFP or get started on planning their research in-house.

DS: What if they have follow-up questions?

KK: Oh, we are definitely accessible. In fact I get a lot of email dialogue, a lot of telephone dialogue going with customers. Which is actually great because very often their questions will give me ideas for new classes.

DS: What are some of your most popular classes?

KK: Right now the ones that are most downloaded off the website are the customer satisfaction class, the message testing class, and one on how to hire market research agencies. So, the one on how to hire market research agencies, I think is really interesting because that was really borne out of feedback I’ve gotten from a lot of end user folks who said you know, I’ve hired market research agencies before and it hasn’t always gone perfectly well.

DS: I’m shocked!

[laughter]

KK: Either they had a bad experience with the agency they hired or the process of getting everybody in their organization to buy-in what the project was about and then hiring an agency, reviewing the proposals ended up taking up so much longer than they expected. You know, people these days, they think about—especially in the world of online research—‘oh we’re going to do online research, we can crank out in that out in a few weeks.’ But then, they forget that it can take two to three weeks just to hire an agency. And so this class was actually was based on feedback from questions people are always giving me about how to write a market research RFP, how to hire an agency. And so, in that class I give very practical guidance on, literally, how to define your objectives, how to define the scope of a project so you can write a great RFP. You know, frankly, if you write a crappy RFP the proposals you get back aren’t going to be very helpful. You’ll get a lot of people making different assumptions, you’ll get, you know, it’ll just be all over the place it will make comparing proposals and choosing proposals very hard. But I provide some very specific guidelines on here’s what the RFP should look like, here’s what it should include, so you do get proposals back that are going to be very meaningful. You can make a decision much more quickly.

DS: You’ve also written a book.

KK: Thank you, yes I have. The book is actually on the same topic. The topic is, the title of the book is “How To Hire and Manage Market Research Agencies” and it is available on Amazon, and I also have seven or eight reviews of it that are online now on Amazon. And the book has been a real fun project for me because I love to write. I’ve always written a lot of articles, I’ve always published a lot. I’ve never done a book before, so it was fun to take a lot of my ideas and really get them down. I guess not really so much on paper as on the computer keyboard, but it was a really great process. I enjoyed it.

DS: Great, well, congratulations. Now, what qualifies you to do this kind of training? What’s your background?

KK: Thank you. I’m glad you asked. I’m really glad you asked. So, I’ve been doing market research for 25 years, and I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been an in-house market researcher and I’ve also been on the agency side. Early in my career I did market research in-house, including at Motorola, and we had a pretty nice-sized market research department there. So, I really understood the pain of being an in-house researcher. I understand the challenges people have. You know, especially when you’re working in a company with a very diverse client, an in-house client base. You know, if you’re doing market research on the client side, you’ve got a lot of clients internally you have to deal with, many of whom are not educated about market research. In fact, some of my clients at Research Rockstar are market research managers who sign up for memberships because they want their in-house clients to watch the courses.

DS: Interesting.

KK: So, because, I mean, how many times have you heard market research managers inside the client side complain, ‘Well I just spent $100,000 or $200,000 or more on a big study, and I couldn’t get my internal clients to use it? It just collected dust. It was just too much for them.’ Well, have them watch the 40 minute class on product concept testing so they understand why certain methods were used and what the pros and cons are of different methods, and what they can do with the research once it’s in. So, I really do understand the client side issues since I did my time on that side. Later, I ended up starting my own research agency, Sage Research, which I owned and operated for 13 years. We were a full service market research agency, quant and qual targeting the high tech space. So our clients were big high tech companies like Cisco and Hewlett Packard and British Telecom and other big techy sorts of companies, a lot of software companies. Some tech companies that I can’t name because they have policies against that but I will say very large handset manufacturer and a very large both high-tech b-to-b and consumer electronics manufacturer and, in the course of Sage Research, I personally directed over 600 primary market research projects. I have personally moderated hundreds of focus groups and personally done a lot of quant work, although in the later years of Sage, my staff wouldn’t let me touch SPSS because I wanted to program it in syntax and they all wanted to use the pull down menus.

DS: That sounds like a great service. With the cuts that so many companies are having, not just to their research function, but also their marketing function, I can imagine there is more demand than ever for this type of content.

KK: Well it’s interesting, because online training as an industry is really booming. I mean the statistics I have seen from many studies, and as you can imagine before I started a new business, I did extensive research, gathering all the information I could and the growth in the online training space is really phenomenal, and some industries have done a really great job of providing a wealth of information online. In the market research world, there are a few organizations, I won’t name names, that have some online training, but if you actually look at the content, most of it is basically a webinar that was recorded and stored. And that’s fine, that’s valuable content, but it’s different than actually planning a class from start to finish. It’s a very different feel, so our classes at Research Rockstar are basically, it looks like an animated PowerPoint that’s fully narrated and has user controls, so you have a clickable table of contents. So if you are on a slide that is on a topic that’s a little off point for you, you can click to another slide that looks like it would be more interesting. And you also have user controls, you can stop, start, go faster, go slower, that sort of thing. And when you are looking at a stored webinar, you are listening to questions that are being asked from audience members that may not be relevant to you. Sometimes, frankly, in a webinar the speaker may be pontificating extensively on a particular subject that could be off point. So it is a different quality of experience. There really isn’t a great source up to now for online training in the market research space.

DS: Great, and do you have plans to expand your content?

KK: Absolutely, I am always getting great ideas from folks and of course, you and I are here at the MRA Conference in San Diego and I have gotten some really great suggestions from people here. So right now, there are 12 courses that are available online. There are three additional classes that will be available - that will be added by probably about three weeks. They are all in process right now. I am hoping to have 20 classes, total, by the end of 2009.

DS: And do they all currently target end-users, or is there content for research companies, data collection companies, etc.?

KK: That is a great question. Well, what is interesting is I actually do have a couple of agency-side clients, and what they have done is they are using some of my content with their newer employees as a way to you know, maybe we are not going to necessarily send you to a $3,000 class on customer satisfaction training yet, but at least for this week, let’s have you take a 45 minute class online and at least get you the basics for now. But I would love to do more topics that are more geared towards the agency-side folks. Yeah, the thing is, I think that the agency-side folks, some of them do do their own in-house training for their staff. What I am really interested in with the agencies is working with agencies who want to educate their customers. So as an agency, somebody needs to run an agency, I know how challenging it is, when, for example, you get an RFP from a client that wants to do a big say market segmentation study. But you can tell from their RFP that they don’t know anything about market segmentation. It’s hard because, on one hand you want to educate them so they can get a better end product for themselves. On the other hand, you know, it can almost a feel a little too salesy, too aggressive, if you try to educate them too much. And obviously there is always the suspicion of yeah, you are ‘educating’ me so that I will buy from your agency and you know, are your motives pure and is the information I am getting pure? So what I would like to say to those market research agencies is, ‘If you feel like you need to educate your clients, on the client side, so that they can be better customers, then you can point them to Research Rockstar and have them take the relevant class.’ Who used to have that old tag line, an educated consumer is our best customer. Is that Syms?

DS: I’m not sure, but it’s a good quote. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about one of my favorite subjects and one that I know that you are fond of which is social media. and you ‘re a big user of social media and Twitter in particular. Share some of your thoughts about how you have used that to grow your business and what successes you may have had.

KK: Yeah, I have - Twitter has been huge for me. I just started in February of 2009 and here we are early November 2009, and I have over 800 followers and it’s all organic.

DS: And for those who don’t use Twitter a lot, that’s a lot.

KK: That’s a lot. I think that makes me - I am in the top 10 of market research Twitterers, which astounded me and so, in terms of the number of followers. Twitter has been great on two sides. One is I have met some really great people like yourself on Twitter. And sometimes, this has led to interesting joint ventures and joint opportunities. For example, I met Jeffrey Henning of Vovici on Twitter and just a few weeks ago we ended up co-presenting a webinar on multi-lingual surveys.

DS: Fabulous.

KK: It was a great topic, it was something that I was really interested in. He was doing the webinar anyway, and he met me and said ‘Oh, why don’t you co-present this with me, since it is a topic that you are knowledgeable about as well’ and it was a lot of fun. So sometimes, it has been those sorts of ventures that have come out of it, and then, frankly, there have been some clients who have found me on Twitter, I can’t say a ton, but there have been some and actually, one in particular, who has become just a huge advocate for Research Rockstar and spreading word of mouth for us. So there is a segmentation model there, I suppose. People who are on Twitter, who become your customers, are more likely to advocate, I don’t know. There’s something there that deserves some research.

DS: It’s a testable proposition, I suppose.

KK: I’m sure it is. And then I also do a lot on LinkedIn. I’m active on the various market research groups on LinkedIn, and I just try to use it as an opportunity to spread knowledge and best practices about market research, which is something I am really passionate about. Just making sure people are doing market research in a way that is really responsible in terms of ethics and also really high quality in terms of the methodology choices.

DS: Excellent, and if people want to get in touch with you, what is the best way?

KK: Well, on Twitter, I am available as @researchrocks. And of course my e-mail is just my name which is a long one, kkorostoff@researchrockstar.com.

DS: Thanks very much for your time.

-November 2009

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