Reaching one’s eighteenth birthday is a milestone―the threshold of adulthood. At eighteen one is autonomous; your vote counts.
Eighteen years ago, I was sitting in my spare bedroom, or office at the time, in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. I had made the leap from senior executive for a Honomichl 50 market research firm to unemployed―I knew a business model focusing on ‘high touch’ bespoke research that took the time to transform complex and often abstract client objectives into actionable research studies had a place in the business world. Up until then everyone I encountered on the supplier side was too focused on “business” aspects, and not the research itself. I was disillusioned; I had to find my own way. W5 was born.
I still get the question: “What does W5 stand for?” So once again: who, what, when, where, and why. Journalism 101―make sure you include all five elements in your story and the reader will understand what’s going on. Though I’ve never taken a journalism course, it made sense to me. Besides, it was easy to write and tough to mispronounce. Right away I began traveling the globe for a Fortune 50 technology company and parsing insights for a hot emerging advertising agency. It just kind of ‘happened.’
Shortly thereafter I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to take advantage of a larger airport and a bevy of sharp college grads from UNC, Duke, and NC State avidly seeking careers in consumer behavior, which was coming into vogue. Who knew? From there I quickly became “we” and W5 flourished. Marty Molloy, Andy Willard, and Tristan Shook joined in succession. A few years later, Amy Castelda née Mock, came on board―over 75 years of experience among partners. They joined in their 20s and never left.
In market research, like most professional services firms, it’s the people who make a great company, not a hot product or newfangled technology. As my former boss Rich would say, “who’s going to write the report?” Besides, if you have a preferred approach, you’re no longer open to a range of methodologies to meet clients’ varied needs, i.e., “if all you have is a hammer, all the world is but nails.”
Over the years I think the reason W5 has been a trusted research partner to many companies and their advertising agencies is that as primary market researchers we’re “approach agnostic.” There is no “W5 way.” No secret approaches or proprietary hidden algorithms. Instead there are a series of probable approaches to achieve a set of desired outcomes. Such is the world of custom primary market research―to utilize a series of tried and trusted tools and techniques, yet acknowledging those tools are secondary to the expertise of the market researcher utilizing them.
The trick is choosing the simplest, and therefore elegant, approach to capture the greatest amount of insight within the parameters of a study’s design. Market research is the reporting on human consumer habits, practices, and thought. People, while complex, remain fairly reasonable creatures. Overly complex research, or research with a prescribed design, I find, is often more of a vanity project and rarely serves the purpose it set out to achieve.
In closing, I’ll mention the best thing about being a custom primary market researcher at W5 is we’re jacks of all trades, but an ace of none. We revel in novelty; we learn from one category and apply those insights to another. Our specialization is our plurality; we remain true polyglots. One year, healthcare research will be disrupted and suddenly in vogue, omnichannel strategies the next, etc. I can only imagine the effect COVID-19 will have on market research, perhaps rewriting all the rules and making past research initiatives out of date.
For nearly two decades, W5 has been in the middle of many new discoveries, often with a seat at the head of the table, moderating focus groups or leading research implementation workshops for clients, as well as speaking at global research and advertising conferences. We’re already laying the groundwork for new paths to guide clients and their audiences. As we enter a new epoch, leaving our homes and moving forward, W5 endures.