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Member Spotlight – PHILLIP LANKFORD

21 Feb Posted by in Cactus Call | Comments Off on Member Spotlight – PHILLIP LANKFORD
Member Spotlight – PHILLIP LANKFORD

Phillip Lankford

Title: Director of Consumer Insights

Company: Central Garden & Pet

City: Phoenix, Arizona

What’s your educational background? After college (Arizona State University), I pondered what I was going to do with my life. This was the late 60s and I was part of a generation with big ideas: there were wars to be stopped, social injustice to be address
ed, a dawning recognition that Mother Earth deserves more respect, and an awakening to the idea that the meaning of life was more than keeping up with the Joneses.

So, what did you do?

Naturally, the first thing I did was stick out my thumb and start hitch hiking: I had no destination and no plans; just a desire to explore life and be an active participant in the promise and energy of the times. During the years of my quest, I worked, among other jobs, as a coal miner in Virginia, a taxi driver in Manhattan, a motorcycle riding instructor in Miami Beach, and a construction estimator in Austin. Years later, when I mentioned some of this to another researcher, she told me, “Interaction and insights into all walks of life! That sounds like the perfect education for a Marketing Research job!” And it was.

With that résumé, how did you get into Marketing Research?

Somehow along the way, I got exposed to computers and databases and got hooked. Bear in mind that this was when PCs were new; the first computer I ever used in a job had no hard drive, just two 5.25 inch floppy discs; no graphical interface, just a blinking dot prompt waiting for you to type a command. At some point I stumbled across a MR firm looking for someone to manage a database and do a little report editing. I discovered I could write analysis as good as what they were cranking out—this was in the days when a MR report was little more than a data dump—et voila! I was a Marketing Researcher!

What brought you to your current job at Central Garden & Pet? It was animals! After several years in the profession, I saw a posting for a job to do research on pet products. I have always loved dogs and cats and I immediately knew I had found my destiny. My job today is part of an in-house MR department where developing consumer insights on horse products, for example, means going out to a barn and having a horse owner use a product on her horse while you ask questions standing there in the heat, the dust and the flies. Real world research—I love it!

What’s it like when you are not in a barn? Nielsen came to our office last year and filmed an interview with a couple of us about a Nielsen product that we had used. When I showed the video to friends and family, no one said “Great job on the interview.” Instead, they all said “You have dogs in your meetings at work?!” That’s right, every day at my office is “bring your dog to work day!”

Does it get any better than that? So you prefer to work in an in-house research department?

Being in-house gives you the opportunity to develop your career as a true consultant to the business, not just being the guy who reports survey results. In my case, I work with R & D on a daily basis, I work with the Marketing Teams on a daily basis, and I work with Creative Services frequently. Keep this up and, over time, you develop a breadth of brand knowledge that few others in the company have.  So in addition to doing research, I get invited for new product brainstorming; invited to help develop testing protocols; invited to participate when we brief an ad agency; invited to provide input for packaging makeovers; and invited to help plan brand positioning.

Are you saying today’s researcher does more than research? A lot of companies claim they are consumer-driven, but only some of them are. The researcher is the one guy in a company who has the most insight into consumer thinking, so today’s researcher has an opportunity to play a large role in making their company truly consumer-driven. For example, in 2010, I was drafted as a core member of a New Product Development Team tasked with inventing a new-to- market pet product. There was a lot of qual and quant research involved with that project, to be sure, but there was also a lot of work with design, engineering, packaging, and marketing plans, all of which benefitted from having someone on the Team with a consumer focus. It was two years in development, but when we launched the product, it not only doubled sales but also won an industry Pet Product of the Year award. So yes, a MR career today can be more than SPSS and PowerPoints.

How does the MRA fit into all this? I want to go on record that I owe a great deal to the excellent instructors at the Burke Institute. I also learned a lot from the MRII Principles of Marketing Research course. And I regularly accumulate credits to keep my PRC standing. But once one learns the fundamentals, one has to keep growing. This is where the conferences hosted by the MRA and the SWMRA really deliver. I attend the CRC or the ISC or a chapter conference every year. These conferences are a great way to get exposure to thought leaders and exposure to the evolution of the MR profession. If it wasn’t for the MRA offering a platform for the beautiful idea that MR reports should “tell a story,” we would all still be doing those “data dump” reports. With this service alone, the MRA has done more to improve the profession than all the new technologies combined.