There was a time when management gurus would advise clients to make a decision about which of three fundamental orientations they wished to organize. Firms could seek to be a quality leader, a price leader or a company that was quickest to market with new products. The admonition given was that no company could occupy all three positions.

In the 1970s, however, a “quality” revolution took place (first in Japan) around the world. Statistical quality control became the watchwords of every manufacturer. The Baldridge Awards for quality were established. ISO standards were promulgated with the imprimatur much desired. Further, in the marketing arena the Marketing Science Institute found evidence that quality was the key ingredient to brand success because it was related to market share, customer satisfaction and profitability.

In a sense then, quality was taken off the table as a point of differentiation because everyone offered quality. In fact, during this time period it was common to hear someone say: “Speed. Quality. Price. Pick two.”

Price and speed were still options though. The price position is a tough one because first a stream of research running back several years indicates that only a third or less of most markets are driven SOLELY by price (not that many firms would mind if they had a 33 share). Second, the commitment to be the price leader requires an almost ruthless level of concentration that few seem capable or willing to make. All you have to do is fail to have the lowest price a few times and the game is up. Ask Kmart.

Speed is quite interesting because it does not work in every market. Speed to market does not seem like a viable strategy in the furniture business, for example. But it can be quite differentiating in other markets. Witness how Motorola missed out on color screen, clamshell phones and had to scramble for a couple of years until its introduction of the Razr model.

Every once in a while a marketing phenomenon appears, a product that seems to offer all three advantages at the same time. This is NOT too good to be true. Take the example of how Toyota and Honda captured their shares of the US auto market. In their early years they were introducing new models every two years instead of the three or even four-year cycles the US factories were using. They certainly were priced lower (and today still maintain an excellent price/value reputation). Then JD Power started showing they were much better built than the domestic competitors. Q. E. D.: Speed. Quality. Price. Pick three. And indeed we did.

In the market research arena (now you know why I’m writing this), there’s another example of a product that offers all three—speed, quality and price—advantages over its competition. In B2B research it is becoming more and more difficult to use the telephone for data gathering. First, in many cases, if you do not already know the name and extension of a desired respondent, e.g., “the person responsible for ¼,” you can’t find it out. There are no operators just automated systems. Second, even if you did know the name and number, rarely will that person be found sitting in the office waiting to be interviewed. And, if you left a voice message asking them to return the call to be included in a research study, well ¼ . Moreover, some are screened, most are in meetings, many travel. Third, Do Not Call lists also apply to B2B customers and some research houses will avoid these numbers even though the law does not preclude research.

Similarly, in the consumer arena, in some cities as many as third of households are unlisted and another 30% or so of consumers don't even have a land-line phone.

But there’s a much better method—use of the Internet. Certainly, this will work for captive lists, e.g., customers, prospects, distributors, etc., where, presumably, email addresses are known. Increasingly, too, however, purchased lists like those from industry publications and compiled lists from brokers are available with email addresses. Then, too, massive, reopresentative national panels are available for consumers, some business titles and even teens and young adults.

We strongly recommend using the Internet as a data-gathering tool. The superiority of this method over mail cannot be overstated. The methodology is faster, it costs less and it produces a higher quality result. That’s why, according to a Find/SVP report, by 2006 the volume of all research (B2B and consumer) conducted via the Internet is expected to exceed that conducted on the phone, which is now the most used method. (Update: now in mid 2008 this has already taken place and on-line has about a 35% share of all US market research.)

The Internet is faster than mail because there is no printing lag, because there is no mail out lag, no response lag, no mail lag in return, and no data entry lag.
The quality of the data is better; data are more accurate because no error creeps in from misinterpretation by editors nor are there human errors in data entry. The interactivity also leads to higher completion rates/fewer drop-outs (partially answered questionnaires).

The Internet is less expensive because there are no printing charges, no outbound mailing charges, no return mail charges, no stuffing and handling charges (or hand signing and hand stamping charges, if they are used to increase response rates). There are no data entry charges (except for coding/editing open ended questions). And it’s less expensive because only respondents are offered incentives, not everyone who receives the invitation to respond.

Q. E. D.: Speed. Quality. Price. Pick three.

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