Rex Repass, a native West Virginian, is President of Research America Inc. In this blog and podcast, Rex tells us about his life-long interest in the effects of media and marketing on consumer decision making – from the cars they drive to the candidates they support. He has an interesting story to share from his first market research venture in the early 1980s to now leading a Top 50 research firm in the U.S.
Matt Cummings: What about some of the more challenging topics that you've been asked to research?
Rex Repass: A lot of that has to do with the corporate reputation, organizational reputation work that we've done. Good companies have challenges all the time. It may be a product recall. It might be something that has happened with the company in terms of a problem that has occurred or an employee situation or a negative that takes place. Fortunately, we've been able to help companies repair their image and their reputation by really understanding stakeholders and what stakeholders think and how they feel about the issues and what the brand strengths and equities are of that company. When they're damaged by a crisis of some kind, we can go in and help them repair over time by doing thorough and transparent research and then sharing that with the marcom team to help them repair and build forward after a negative situation that's happened to an organization.
Matt Cummings: How does advertising, in a nutshell, impact how we think about brands and how we think about organizations?
Rex Repass: If you think about the linear approach, how do consumers become aware of a product? First, it's some form of communication. Obviously, what generates the most awareness is paid advertising, whether that's now in traditional or digital media. Building that awareness is the first step in the continuum that eventually leads to consideration and purchase of a product. Purchase can be anything from buying a car to shopping in your grocery store to making a decision about a health insurance provider that may be available to you. The first step is really building that brand ID, building the brand awareness, and building it around attributes that are unique to that brand. As marketers, they're certainly developing campaigns around the strength of a brand and what we're doing early on is evaluating what messaging is persuasive. What graphic elements are persuasive? Which ads are most likable? And then building that awareness which leads to consideration, which then leads to purchase intent which, if satisfied, then leads to repeat purchase. That is really the continuum from testing and ad concept, testing lots of different ideas, copy points, graphic elements, and then building the campaign and then evaluating the campaign based on recall of ads, but also based on return of investment. And then ultimately, how is it impacting purchase intent and ultimately purchase?
Matt Cummings: Why take the route of an entrepreneur versus working for a large corporation?
Rex Repass: After graduate school, I had that opportunity to go to work for a large company in the automotive space. I did that for a year and I felt trapped. I felt like I will never get ahead. I always had this desire to do something unique with this degree that I had. I've always been driven that way, from almost day one of after finishing my formal education. It hasn't all been success and it certainly hasn't been easy. It's tough working with financial institutions, particularly during the financial crisis and making sure that you had the line of credit necessary to meet your demands every month and to basically growing and hiring employees and growing business. I'm competitive. I think being an entrepreneur, you have to be competitive and you have to win. You have to put the losses behind you really, really fast. We lose an opportunity with a big organization and we lost it to a worthy competitor. I'm upset about it. I don't like it because I'm competitive. But I'd turn that around really quickly the next morning and start over. "Okay, where do we go next?" So that's part of it. It's also looking at small business. Most of my business career has been relatively small business. Small businesses have a tough time succeeding. Only about half of them make it after the first year. Few of them, I think less than 10%, ever have billings over a million dollars. So that was always a goal. Can I make it to a million dollars in revenue? Can I make it to the next level and the next level? When I was in my late 20s I put together a list of personal and business goals, about 40 of them. I've met some of them. That's how I think how entrepreneurs are successful and they roll quickly with the punch when you've had a bad news outcome.
Matt Cummings: What advice do you have for them and especially for someone who might be interested in getting into market research and consumer insights
Rex Repass: First of all, understanding that the journey is long, but don't be distracted by a barrier that comes up early in your career. We've all had them. You've got to have the strength to overcome them. Make sure you love and are passionate about what you do. Make sure you're a lifelong learner, that you're learning about new techniques. I know the marcom world is changing daily. It's hard to keep up with. We're inundated with messages every day and it's hard to break through. But, be a lifelong learner.
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