Not Just Numbers

Rediscovering the Promise and Power of Marketing Research

By Lawrence D. Gibson

Pub Date: November 15, 2016
Not Just Numbers
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-938548-62-8 / 232 pages / $29.95
ePub ISBN: 978-1-938548-63-5 / $21.99
Kindle ISBN: 978-1-938548-65-9 / $21.99
ePDF ISBN: 978-1-938548-64-2 / $21.99

• Provocative book challenges marketers to change the way they do marketing research to be successful
• Author is former Director of Corporate Marketing Research at General Mills, Inc.
• Offers a clear, step-by-step approach to doing marketing research the right way

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In this provocative and insightful book, highly regarded marketing research expert Lawrence Gibson argues that the multibillion-dollar marketing research industry has largely failed. Today businesses desperately need help with their marketing problems, problems that truly scientific marketing research functions would have addressed long ago. Evaluation and control of advertising, more creative idea generation, early assessment of new product potential, valid predictions of the effect of marketing decisions, and simpler, more general theories are precisely the areas where research could have contributed.

Not Just Numbers shows exactly why marketing research has failed – too much focus on gathering and analyzing data – and how it must change. Gibson asserts that businesses need a different way of looking at marketing research, both more scientific and more practical. Marketing research needs to help solve marketing problems and capitalize on marketing opportunities and not merely be a source of data.

The logical steps required to solve marketing problems and realize opportunities are simply and clearly explained in the book. Cases from the author’s experience show how this problem-solving approach has worked in real-world situations and demonstrate the dramatic sales and financial gains produced when marketing research is properly designed and used.

This book also provides practical guidance for researchers to enhance their problem-solving and political skills as well as their knowledge of scientific methodology.

Finally, the book will help the marketing research profession earn the respect that should be accorded a scientific discipline, one central to marketing management, and one that helps corporate leaders identify more profitable actions and make more profitable decisions.

About the Author

Lawrence Gibson

Lawrence Gibson has had a long and highly regarded career in marketing research. He was Director of Corporate Marketing Research at General Mills, Inc., for 20 years, an advertising agency researcher, and a consultant to such clients as General Motors, Amoco, and Motorola. He is currently a consultant and speaker.

For many years Gibson led the American Marketing Association’s Introduction to Marketing Research program at Notre Dame, and he is a frequent speaker at AMA and Advertising Research Foundation conferences. He has served on AMA’s National Board and chaired its Marketing Research Committee. He was a member of the Marketing Research Editorial Review Board and has published many articles in professional journals.

Gibson was a Trustee of the Marketing Science Institute. He’s chaired The Conference Board’s Marketing Research Council and the Association of National Advertisers’ Research Committee. He also served on the Business Research Advisory Council of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Table of Contents


1. The Myth of Data
2. Recognizing Problems
3. Defining Problems
4. Generating Ideas to Solve Problems
5. Idea Generation, Creativity, and Research
6. Evaluating Ideas
7. Opportunities
8. Learning
9. Summing Up
10. Making It Work
11. A Unique Advertising Research Program
12. Market Segmentation
13. What’s Important to Customers?
14. Quo Vadis, Marketing Research?

About the Author



Total Cereal

Sales of Total followed the classic life cycle trajectory. Total was the first ready-to-eat cereal with a complete assortment of vitamins. Sales grew rapidly when it was introduced and it became a significant brand. After some years, sales topped out and then declined steadily for five years. A succession of product managers tried to turn Total sales around with a variety of advertising and promotion ideas but all their efforts failed.

General Mills didn’t automatically accept the idea that a product’s declining sales meant its inevitable demise. Instead, the product manager assigned to such a product was given two challenges: first, maintain profits, and second, turn sales around. Usually the managers failed to reverse the sales trend but, if they maintained profit and developed and tried a few plausible new ideas, they weren’t penalized. Rather they were transferred, perhaps even promoted, and new managers were brought in with the same dual assignments. Every so often the new managers would succeed in reversing the trend and turning sales around.

A New Product Manager

When Steve Rothschild was assigned as product manager for Total he came up with a new strategic insight. He believed that granola had co-opted the concept of a cereal that provided a nutritious breakfast even though Total was actually more nutritious. His insight may or may not have been triggered by a group interview in Minneapolis, where he was struck by the fact that some consumers overestimated the nutritional value of granola and underestimated that of Total. In either case Rothschild’s insight wasn’t based on any detailed, data-based analysis.
Rothschild directed his advertising agency to create a new TV commercial showing Total’s nutritional superiority over granola. The agency responded with a dramatic demonstration commercial named “Actress Respondent.” This commercial opened with a woman eating a bowl of Total. A male voice challenged, “Bet you can’t guess how much granola it would take to give you the same nutrition you have in that bowl of Total.” A huge pile of the leading brand of granola was then unceremoniously dumped on the table.

A Controversial Commercial

“Actress Respondent” caused a classic organizational controversy. It was criticized for focusing on the direct comparison with a specific competitor, for disparaging that competitor, and for making that messy pile of cereal.

The defenders of “Actress Respondent” knew they needed a logical rationale to win the argument. They couldn’t just say that Rothschild came up with a great personal insight or that he got the idea from a group interview in Minneapolis. They argued that granola was the natural target for Total, pointing out that granola sales had grown at the same time Total sales had slipped. They then asserted that granola’s gains had come from Total and that those gains were based on a misperception of nutritional superiority.

The defenders’ rationale sounded reasonable but it was actually pretty shaky. The opponents countered that cereal brands compete almost randomly, that neither Total nor granola had as much as a 5 percent share of market, and granola couldn’t have caused Total’s losses. Further, the “evidence” of nutritional misperception was flimsy, at best a few comments in a single group interview in Minneapolis.

Actually the entire debate was irrelevant. The opponents’ argument was based on personal taste and conventions of the time. The defenders’ argument was a post hoc rationalization of Rothschild’s earlier insight. Both arguments were designed to convince others in the organization and win the internal organizational debate; neither had anything to do with convincing consumers and winning the real battle in the marketplace.

Fortunately, the “don’t directly disparage a competitor” argument, which had escalated to the highest level of both corporations, disappeared when Rothschild happened to find a Quaker ad disparaging a General Mills product.

Meanwhile the rest of the strategic debate with all its imaginative but irrelevant arguments was bypassed. It was resolved by simply testing the effectiveness of “Actress Respondent,” not by surveying the validity of the opposing arguments.

The test results were dramatic. “Actress Respondent,” modified by pouring the granola neatly into bowls and calling it “natural cereal”, tested very well in our standard copy test. It later tested extraordinarily well in a real-world copy test. One additional exposure of “Actress Respondent” tripled Total’s share of choice the next morning among the 15-minute program audience that could have seen it. Both tests are fully described in Chapter 11, “Advertising.”

“Actress Respondent” was a stunning success in the market. Within a few weeks after this commercial was first aired, Total’s five-year sales decline was reversed! The incremental profit from this commercial amounted to tens of millions of dollars a year. For years every Total commercial was a lineal descendant of “Actress Respondent.”
Here’s another example of creativity in rejuvenating a declining product in a completely different market.

Praise for Not Just Numbers

I highly recommend Larry Gibson’s Not Just Numbers to marketing and marketing research managers. In it, Larry presents a uniquely practical – and more scientific – view of marketing research. Using cases from his own broad experience, he shows how this way of using research can help marketers solve their problems, realize their opportunities, and increase their profit potential.
CHUCK CHAKRAPANI, Ph.D., President of Leger Analytics, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ted Rogers School of Management, and Past President of the Professional Marketing Research Society

Larry is a critical and visionary thinker extraordinaire with passionately held views about the way marketing research is defined and practiced and its unrealized potential. This book will articulate a needed viewpoint developed and honed over a long and successful career in the trenches. He doesn’t shy away from controversy. This book will be provocative and will make an important contribution.
WILLIAM ETTER, Ph.D., Director, Customer Loyalty and Equity, Research International

Larry Gibson’s superior intellect and knowledge of consumer behavior were instrumental in making critical insights that led to successful marketing campaigns.
STEVE ROTHSCHILD, Former Executive Vice President, General Mills

Early in his long and storied career, Larry recognized marketing research was falling far short of its potential. Underutilized by marketing managers and misdefined by marketing textbooks, research often focused on the wrong activity at the wrong time in the decision process. In this book he describes an approach to research he has used successfully that is both intellectually appealing and intuitively sound. It should be required reading for all marketing managers and marketing researchers.
MICHAEL J. ETZEL, Emeritus Professor of Marketing, University of Notre Dame