For the first time, Roosevelt University fielded a team of undergraduate students to compete in the 2018 GfK Next Generation (“NextGen”) Competition, now in its 7th year. The hands-on market research experience gives student researchers the chance to test their marketing and research knowledge, while learning from industry professionals.
GfK, the fourth-largest marketing research firm in the world, rewards the winning team a $1,000 cash prize and a two-day immersion trip to its New York City headquarters.
Despite this being their debut performance, Roosevelt’s duo of recent graduate Matthew Spahr and senior integrated marketing communications major Bennet Lanzerotti had no reservations in thinking the reward was theirs for the taking.
“They told me there’s a free trip to New York and ‘we’re going to bring you along,’” said Lawrence Fisher, associate professor of integrated marketing communications, who served as their advisor. “I asked, ‘Well, don’t you have to win to get there?’ They told me they’re going to win.”
Spahr and Lanzerotti’s confidence paid off, as they won the online competition on April 20.
The pair took a multi-method approach to the competition, which calls on teams to address critical issues facing today’s marketers through in-depth research projects. Final participants are narrowed following a review of proposal submissions.
Spahr and Lanzerotti chose to study “third-wave” coffee shops — privately-owned, artisanal coffee shops with higher-priced, hand-crafted brews — and how they connect to young consumers.
Combining observational, qualitative and survey research in their study, titled “Helping Artisanal Coffee Shops Connect to the Now Generation,” Spahr and Lanzerotti emerged with some key findings that could prove to be beneficial for boutique coffee shops.
“We did a lot of qualitative market research, getting deep insight from … interviews with coffee shop owners and managers, observing customers and target audiences, and we helped identify questions to qualify our quantitative findings,” Spahr said.
The depth to which the two students delved into their project may have even surprised those who knew neither were particularly keen on market research prior to participating in this project. That impression switched after their immersion trip in New York, where they were able to meet GfK’s president, CEO and many of the client mentors who evaluated this year’s reports.
“Personally, I was not interested in marketing research before the competition. Once we were immersed in it, though, I started seeing it as an enjoyable path,” Lanzerotti said. “Once we actually went to New York and met all the people in market research, my mind has been switched a little bit. I would definitely be more interested in exploring a career in market research.”
“Same for me,” Spahr added. “But in the industry we’re entering, it’s good to have a solid understanding of almost every discipline and subject in marketing. We decided to test our skills and learn a bit more about this segment of our industry.”
Fisher was especially pleased with the pair’s maturity, composure and professionalism while in New York. Many at GfK were also impressed by Spahr and Lanzerotti using some of the company’s own data findings to supplement their project.
“I think [the trip] was profound for them. The host company went out of their way to compliment them and expose them to what they do,” Fisher said. “They took them very professionally and so they saw themselves as professionals. My first job was to manage their expectations, but they were just sky-high. Everyone they met was really impressed with what they did.”
Spahr and Lanzerotti were taught by Fisher in a marketing research class about two years ago and credited his “extremely extensive background” for helping them through the project. Entering GfK’s NextGen Competition one-for-one, Fisher is hopeful Roosevelt can continue to field teams in the future. Spahr and Lanzerotti agree on its usefulness to complementing a traditional education.
“Students should definitely take initiative and enter these outside competitions, where they can actually implement their academic learning into a real-world environment,” Spahr said.
“For me, academic learning only gets you so far — it’s important to take everything you learn in the classroom and translate it to outside experiences that help sustain your knowledge of your chosen field,” Lanzerotti added. “That’s really the best way to take advantage of your academic experience.”
Spahr will move on to earn his real estate brokerage license and attend John Marshall Law School. Lanzerotti is slated to graduate in December, prior to which he hopes to acquire a full-time job through a paid internship this summer. He is weighing several offers.