For some things, Columbus is still the best test market

Columbus has been historically known as a test market. That’s for sure. But what isn’t as sure is whether the city is still a powerhouse for test marketing because it doesn’t represent U.S. demographics as much as it did in the past.

For example, the 2010 U.S. Census found that Hispanics comprised 16 percent of the total population, but only 5.6 percent of Columbus’ population.

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Shashi Matta

Despite these differences, Shashi Matta, clinical associate professor of marketing at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, says Columbus still has a strong history in test marketing because large retail and food companies — both industries that rely on test marketing — are headquartered in the area. Proximity helps keep expenses down.

You also can find experienced market research agencies and partners in Central Ohio.

“Given its rich history of being a test market, given the strong presence of retail and food in the region, it still continues to be a good test market,” he says.

That’s not to say, Columbus still isn’t very representative, beyond race.

WalletHub recently looked at the 379 largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas to see which most resembled the U.S. When considering sociodemographics and statistics in housing, economics and education, Columbus came in fourth.

Up close and personal

Even in today’s technology age, test marketing still plays an important part in product development.

“It’s an expensive proposition,” Matta says. “Test marketing is not all that simple, but it’s still less expensive than making a costly mistake after you launch the product nationwide.”

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Melody Leidheiser

Melody Leidheiser, manager of OSU’s Sensory Evaluation Program, sees market testing as more viable than ever when you can get people to physically test a product. That’s especially true for food testing because people have such a personal relationship with it.

“I’m not in favor, myself, of internet studies that are done without any interaction with the product,” she says.

Several times a week, delicious aromas float through OSU’s Parker Food Science building as Leidheiser’s team tests products for food companies throughout Ohio and nationwide.

Each test typically brings in about 100 testers from its 5,000-person database, whether students or people from the surrounding community. Leidheiser says the tests can be segmented, whether that’s only bringing in women or a certain level of income.