Blog: John Gongos

John Gongos is the President and CEO of Auburn Hills-based Gongos Research. Moving from neighboring Ohio to Birmingham in 1987, John has seen his company flourish in the struggling economy. He'll be writing about why diversification is important, how to leverage emerging technologies and how to keep and nurture young talent.

Post No. 3

Leveraging Technology to Gain Competitive Advantages 

There has been widespread discussion about Michigan companies turning to technology as a way to regain market leadership, hoping to eventually solve our economic woes. Advanced technology will not only bring new clients to our businesses, but will also attract the top young talent that I talked about in my first post. Young people entering the workforce have grown up with technology, are attracted to technology, and will many times judge the potential of a new job opportunity by how technologically savvy a firm is.  

Leveraging technology to gain competitive advantage has been a major focus in our company for the past six years and is one of our "Top Five" long-term goals. The most obvious benefit of leveraging technology is that it has allowed us to develop unique marketing research tools and services that are attractive to both our current clients and prospective new clients. 

Some of the new tools we have developed include:

  • Online Research Communities
  • Virtual Shopping (online model of store environment)
  • Active Intercept (in-depth probing during Online Respondent Surveys)
  • Virtual Focus Groups (online application of traditional focus groups using webcams)
The Online Community environment has been the biggest breakthrough and is providing enormous benefits to our clients. Our communities are, in essence, groups of people (anywhere from 300 to 5000 people) with a common interest.  The community members have agreed to share their opinions for an extended period (often 6 months or more) through a secured website. Each site is customized for our client’s target audience and topic. Members of the community are given a small incentive each month based on the number of discussions and surveys that they participate in. 

It is basically a hybrid approach to online social networking and marketing research. 

In order to demonstrate our platform, test new features --and additionally, offer philanthropic research support to the SE Michigan community-- we created and funded an internal Online Community called Consumer Village.  It currently hosts over 12,000 consumers nationwide and over 1,200 Michiganders.  

I thought it would be interesting to throw a couple of questions about "living in Michigan" to our in-state community members to reflect on some of the hot topics in Michigan. 

Some of our results include: 

  • Over 71 percent of the in-state members like (somewhat or very much) living in Michigan compared to only 17 percent that dislike living here (12 percent felt neutral). The most common things that people like about living in Michigan include:
  • Being near family and friends
  • Change of the seasons
  • Plentiful lakes, rivers, and beaches
  • Scenic nature and wildlife
  • Outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing and hiking
  • Watersports activities such as boating, swimming and canoeing
Some exact quotes extracted from our research include:

    "I like Michigan because of the vast natural resources we have with the lakes, forests, and wetlands. I enjoy being outside in any season, even in the winter. It is wonderful to take a walk looking for little critter tracks or watch how the ice forms on the branches. Some of my best pictures were taken after a fresh snow and the sun glistening. In the summer our family enjoys boating on an inland lake." 

    "Michigan offers its own unique synthesis of urban and rural cultures with most of the population concentrated in an east-west orientation from the Detroit metro area to Grand Rapids. In that zone is a combination of rust belt cities and Midwestern farms. North of that, Michigan quickly becomes more like Canada than Cleveland - scenic, wooded, and sparsely settled. That kind of diversity makse the Great Lakes State a great state. I never want for something to do."

Not surprisingly, the most common dislikes about living in Michigan centered around more current issues, such as the state of the economy, unemployment rate, housing market, and dependency on the automotive industry. 

A secondary theme emerged related to road conditions and construction in our state, and dealing with the winter conditions.

    "What's wrong with Michigan is the job situation…with the auto industry causing a domino effect on all businesses. And if you are really small business (like the mom and pop stores) which I am one of, the economy means you are working for about $3/hour if you're lucky. And if you think it is possible to go out and get a "real" job that pays more, look around, there are none. Michigan is leading the way in the recession this country is in, and for the politicians and polling people who say we are not in a recession, let them live in Michigan!”

    "The economy has been hit hard in Michigan - we have poor government leaders that seem to only be interested in lining their pockets instead of redirecting it to places that it could do some good to help the state. The auto industry has gotten greedy - unions and management have priced everything so high it allows the foreign imports to come in and take over the market. People are now leaving the state for better jobs. Students, my daughters included have left to be educated in another state and will not be back because of lack of employment. Yes we have considered moving - we cannot afford it because of the decline in house prices. We would love to stay - it depends on what happens within the next 2-3 years."

My biggest take-away from these insights is that the challenges Michigan is facing are temporary in nature (economy and job situation) and will someday be overcome. 

On the flip side, the most compelling reasons to live in Michigan (family, change of seasons, natural beauties, outdoor activities) are long-term blessings that cannot not be taken from us.