Quinlan students take first place in national market research competition
By Amanda Friedlander | Student reporter
Not only are Meghan Adams (’17), Maddie Doering (’17), and Patricia Zhang (’17) just the second Loyola team to take first-place in the GfK "NextGen" competition, they’re the first all-female team from Loyola to win.
The competition, which is in its seventh year, is sponsored by market research firm GfK. Each year, GfK releases a list of pre-approved research topics on its website that are available for any student to pursue. Projects revolve around original market research that the students conduct using their own resources. Students can work individually or in teams, and must submit a research proposal by mid-November to be considered. If selected, the students spend the next four months creating a report of 10-25 pages, as well as a comprehensive presentation that recommends a strategy to solve a marketing problem based on their selected topic.
Any student can independently participate in the competition, but many learn about the opportunity and develop the skills they need to compete by taking Senior Lecturer Stacy Neier Beran’s market research course. The course allows students to work with real clients to understand how to design proposals, collect data for exploratory questions, understand what the clients’ needs are, and find ways to meet them. Understanding data and being able to interpret it to solve problems is especially important in “the year of the mobile,” Neier Beran says.
This year’s winners met in the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, and they decided to work together to capitalize on their strengths and varied experience levels. Adams and Zhang both fell in love with “bringing data alive” through analysis and storytelling, while Doering and Zhang were fascinated with marketing in the fashion industry. Since Zhang had participated in the competition during her junior year, she had some insight into the process of submitting a successful proposal.
After discussing the various marketing briefs outlined on the GfK NextGen website, the women decided to explore how cobranding and brand loyalty affect each other in the context of omnishopping. They investigated whether consumers reacted better to cobranding online or in-store, and predicted how that would affect brand loyalty in the long-run.
To answer this question, they created a survey to determine big-picture perceptions about shopping behaviors. They then asked 10 people to participate in a simulation game, which required participants to shop at a store of their choice and take pictures of their experience. Finally, the students sat down with participants and had an extensive in-person interview to learn more about how they felt during and after the experience.
The students found that cobranding and brand loyalty programs influence each other, and that consumers are much more responsive to cobranding efforts in-store than online.
“[We found that] cobranding was very effective in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, but cobranding efforts online are just not as strong as you would anticipate them to be,” says Doering. “Most of the time when people would online shop, they weren’t paying attention to cobranding efforts at all, but in-store it was really important to bring in new people.”
Though the proposal took less than a month, the extensive research and finalization process proved to be difficult at times. Finding correlations in the data, sticking to a strict schedule, and finding time as busy second-semester seniors to fit in a meeting were crucial to their success. At some points, they even briefly considered quitting.
It became especially challenging to work over winter break when all three women were in different corners of the world—Zhang in her hometown of Beijing, Doering in Arizona, and Adams in a remote town in Ireland.
“I had to go to my aunt’s house for wifi,” Adams says. “We did a lot of FaceTime calls, lots of Facebook messenger. Because we were all in different time zones, we had to schedule in advance what days and times were best.”
Their careful planning and hard work paid off when they received the call they’d been waiting for. Coincidentally, they were all in different places when they found out they’d won. Doering and Adams remember hearing of Zhang’s reaction from others who were sitting in Schreiber Center and witnessed Zhang and Neier “jumping up and down, hugging and screaming,” Doering says.
As part of their prize, Neier Beran and the team received an all-expense-paid trip to New York’s financial district, where they met with NextGen mentors from some of the largest corporations in the country, including Eli Lilly and Nestle. The mentors provided valuable feedback on the team’s final paper, as well as industry insights and experiences.
Adams, Doering, and Zhang credit their success to Neier Beran’s class, which laid the foundation for them to compete in NextGen, and to the values they’ve learned at Loyola.
“It comes down to curiosity and empathy,” Neier Beran says. “They are curious enough to ask questions and gain multiple perspectives, and empathetic enough to treat subject as humans rather than clinical survey-takers. I call it ‘breaking the mirror’: if you’re not digging into someone else, then you’re not digging deeply enough.”
When asked for advice for students who may be deciding whether or not to compete next year, Adams, Doering, and Zhang seem to be on the same page: “Do it.”