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Local companies use USFSP Consumer Insight Lab to reach millennials

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As the times change and technology continues to alter the ways in which consumers make purchase decisions, companies must adapt to consumer preferences.

Younger demographics (millennials, in particular) have been shaped by the Internet and technology so as to feel most comfortable on their computers, tablets and smartphones. As millennials wield more buying power, companies must find the best ways to reach them.

Enter the Consumer Insight and Sales Lab (CISL) at the Kate Tiedemann College of Business at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP).

Since last July, the CISL has hosted focus groups for consumer research and led sales trainings in sales role-play rooms. The lab itself is a state-of-the-art facility, featuring one 90-inch HD monitor, two HD cameras and seven embedded microphones in the insight room where focus groups meet. The facility also feautures two 90-inch HD monitors in the room next to the insight room, where companies can watch the focus group session being conducted.

According to Elliott Wiser, coordinator of the lab, the primary goal of focus groups is to discover “what people say about you, your company, your product, when you’re not in the room.” Wiser said that typically, companies conduct focus groups at the beginning and the end of their business plans in order to “validate [their] decisions.”

“It’s really a deep dive. …That’s what a focus group is. It’s qualitative research,” he said.

Eighty percent of the companies involved in the Consumer Insight and Sales Lab are Pinellas County-based, says Wiser. The lab works with the Tampa Bay Rays and other well-known organizations in Tampa Bay to conduct focus groups that Wiser moderates. While the focus groups occur, USFSP Professor Ed Hoeppner sits in the adjacent viewing room with companies to help them glean consumer insights. An hour-and-a-half, eight-to-10-person focus group session costs $6,300, but community partners – i.e. organizations that are already affiliated with the university in some way – receive a $500 discount, making a session $5,800.

After the focus group occurs, Wiser prepares a six to seven-page report that summarizes the session’s key findings. Wiser said the Tampa Bay Rays have participated in two focus groups so far, as a result of which they brought back an in-stadium organist whom focus group members had missed.

The demographic that companies are most interested in, said Wiser, is millennials.

“[Millennials] have entered the workforce,” he said. “They’re at an age where they’re starting to buy homes. They’re starting families. So you look at the earning power of millennials, it’s amazing.”

Although baby boomers’ relative seniority has allowed them to accumulate more wealth, millennials are fast becoming a lucrative demographic for companies to target. The challenge, however, is reaching them.

“Millennials do have a different thought process because they grew up with a computer,” Wiser said. Similarly, “The Z generation is the very first generation that grew up on mobile,” he added, making the Z-generation of current college-aged young adults true digital natives, having been raised more on smartphones than computers.

For this generation, “Everything is short and to the point, because it’s on a phone,” Wiser said. “As the Z generations graduate, as they go into the business place, how’s that going to impact not just how you sell to them, but how you communicate with them?”

Companies have sought and found answers to those questions and others in the insight room, where USFSP undergraduates (from Generation Z) have spoken for other members of their generation to help companies get into the minds of the youth.

The Consumer Insight and Sales Lab is on the third floor of the Tiedemann College of Business, in room 325. Those interested in booking a focus group session should contact Elliott Wiser at 727-873-4019 or ewiser@mail.usf.edu.

USFSP Consumer Insight & Sales Lab

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This is the viewing room where companies can see students participating in focus groups.

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