The key players on the research team, NFL style

The key players on the research team, NFL style


Nov 05, 2013

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November is here and that means we are well into the NFL season. As I spend Sundays watching the games, checking the stats, listening to the halftime and post-game interviews and reading recaps and analysis of the games, I can’t help but see the similarities between one of America’s favorite past times and my profession, market research.  Crazy you say? Quite possibly. But when I start looking at the individual components and break it down like Ron Jaworski , it seems like key players and components in both industries have a lot in common. 

Offensive & Defensive Coordinators /Programmers
When you pay attention to the logistics of the game, you realize it takes an enormous amount of precision and planning to run an offense and prepare a defense to combat such offenses.  The hours of sophisticated construction it takes to output a stack formation or a bubble screen or a half back dive reminds me of the complex work our programmers do.  The advanced logic, the segmentation algorithms and various components to make a research survey function are, in my world, comparable to the intense planning these brilliant coordinators do before each game.

Head Coach/Project Directors
When I think about what an NFL head coach must prepare for, it makes my head spin. Not only do they have to coordinate strategies and plays with all position coaches, but they are responsible for motivating the team, handling the key players and fielding all media inquisitions. Being able to manage all those pieces requires a massive amount of organization and superior communication skills.  The same can be said of project directors. In addition to liaising with the client on a regular basis, on any given day they have to work with sample managers to target the audience, programmers to set up the survey/screener and moderators to ensure relevant qualitative insights are captured.  All of this, as well as preparing the analysis for delivery, are usually done under the pressure of a tight timeline. If you ask me, this necessitates similar leadership, communication and organizational skills to those we see in the NFL’s head coaches.

The results of the game provide you with a mountain of information much like you would get in a data set for a completed survey.  You may see that a team passed for 375 yards, while in research, 375 people might have positive feelings about an ad.  Moreover, in both worlds there is a tremendous opportunity to slice, dice and interpret information. For instance, you can compare Peyton Manning’s completion percentage in his 3 receiver vs.  4 receiver sets. We can also look at the cross data for someone who might not prefer carbonated soft drinks, but would buy it if it were offered under a certain price. Both sets of information tell a story and provide useful insights to help plan for the next big game or the next big marketing initiative.

Stadium Crew/Sample Management
One of the least visible and underrated teams in the NFL are the stadium crews. These unsung heroes make sure the field conditions are ideal, all the seats are ready, concessions are organized, scoreboards, lights and all electronics are checked and working, and that the stadium is clean. Just as these crews are hard at work making the stadium ready for both players and fans, sample managers make sure that the study is appropriately stocked with consumers. In advance of “game time” they work diligently to uncover the right sources to recruit the the targets and work with programmers to make sure the study is ready to go. Without sample managers doing all the prep work behind the scenes as well as ongoing maintenance, studies would falter.

Media /Moderators
The media’s job is to probe deeper and get the real story. Why did the coach go for it on 4th and 1? Why did the quarterback call a fullback draw when there were 8 in the box? The media uncovers valuable information that you just can’t get from the statistics. The parallel here is an easy one. In many studies, moderators are there to find out why. Why a consumer is not likely to purchase a product even though they liked the concept of it. Why an ad does not fit with the image of the brand. Like the media, we trust moderators to ask the hard questions, gain insights and distill the story in a way that is meaningful for the audience.

So, while there is typically no tackling, penalties, or touch down dances in market research, there are clearly similarities between the NFL and our beloved industry. What other comparisons can you draw?

The results we received from the iModerate one-on-one, in-depth conversations were much more enlightening than what we typically garner from open-ended verbatim responses. The live moderator offers us the ability and flexibility to probe deeper on certain points, enabling us to get stronger, less vague information. That unique capability has proved extremely valuable to us, and has made this IM-based platform an integral part of our research toolbox.

Colleen Hepner, VP, C&R Research