The Other Side of the House: Corporate Affairs Research vs. Market Research

At the Marketing Research Association’s Corporate Researcher Conference in St. Louis, Edward Largo, Ph.D. of Altria and William Stewart of Povaddo discussed corporate affairs research, which “moves beyond the consumer and into the realm of the general public, including corporate responsibility strategy, stakeholder engagement, corporate branding and communications, corporate social programs, public policy and legislative advocacy.”

Altria Client Services is a support company to other Altria companies, which include tobacco and wine brands. Ed might be the only corporate researcher at the conference, William said, who is solely responsible for focusing on corporate affairs. It’s an emerging focus for corporate research.

Corporate affairs research can help with PR crises. As companies innovate quickly and cost-effectively, they can raise unintended issues. Protestors against Monsanto, disgust with Apple’s Chinese labor practices, concern about Wal-Mart’s low wages, McDonald’s struggles with concerns about obesity. For companies in general, this can take the form of general issues, such as the green movement and environmental sustainability.

Philip Morris went from being the second-most admired company in America in 1990, according to Fortune, to the “most reviled company in America” in 1999, according to BusinessWeek.

Applications for corporate affairs research include:
Stakeholder expectations
Issues management
Corporate responsibility program development
Corporate communications and brand
Public policy

“We use research to go deeper and understand issues and engage actions and our communications,” Ed said. “Some programs are designed against specific responsibility focus areas, such as our underage tobacco prevention work.”

Audiences for corporate affairs research go beyond customers to the general public:
Voters and engaged citizens
Opinion leaders and policy influencers
Government leaders

Instead of the traditional 5Ps of consumer research (Product, Price, People, Place, Promotion), corporate affairs research looks at the factors that impact a company’s product in the marketplace: social acceptability, regulations and restrictions, responsibility expectations, fiscal and tax policy, and stakeholder activism. Instead of customer research it’s societal research.

The more dynamic the space, the greater the need for corporate affairs research. Can you conduct corporate affairs research to identify trends that might negatively impact the brands you are responsible for before they become widespread?

Corporate affairs projects take the form of:
Landscape analysis
Message development
Materials testing
External advocacy and engagement
Campaign tracking

The value of having in-house talent for corporate affairs research is similar to the benefits of an internal market research department: synthesizing knowledge and sharing it throughout the organization, acting as an SME (Subject Matter Expert) within the organization, and informing business decisions. More companies would benefit from conducting corporate affairs research, and it represents an area of growth and expansion for corporate researchers.

William challenged listeners with these action items:
1. Start an informed discussion about corporate affairs research within your organization
2. Broaden your vision beyond the consumer to the wider societal viewpoint.


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