Market Research Society of New Zealand interviews Theo Muller

The following interview was published in the November/December 2007 issue of InterVIEW, the MRSNZ bi-monthly newsletter. The interview was conducted by Duncan Stuart. Duncan started his interview with the following introduction.

Theo Muller is Managing Director of MMResearch ™ and his career includes marketing with Lever Rexona and the New Zealand Dairy Board (Fonterra) before founding MMResearch ™ in 1993. That makes his Wellington based firm one of the longest surviving niche players in the industry, and you don’t survive and thrive for 14 years without doing many things right. What clearly works at MMResearch ™ is Theo’s intellect, his innovative thinking and his employment of a team of really talented individuals who are notable not just for their qualifications, but also their diversity. Clearly Theo likes to put alternative and challenging thinkers into a project to see what happens. It’s all about chemistry.

As far as we can recall, at least going back to 1995, this was Theo’s first attendance at the MRSNZ Conference: so we asked him if the chemistry at Rotorua worked for him.


Q: Theo, what triggered your attendance this time?

Frankly, it was curiosity more than anything else. My first thoughts were that I could meet some people and industry colleagues, whose names I had heard so many times, but I had never met them. Rosemary, Jesvier, Ngaire, Jonathan to name a few. I thought that it was high time that I met some of these people after having been in the industry for a respectable period of time and a member of MRSNZ for more than 10 years.


Q: New attendees often feel a bit apprehensive – will they know anybody in the room? Will they connect? So, what was it like for you?

I agree. Whilst I am not the shy type, I guess there was some apprehension. That was soon dispelled when I turned up in the dining room on Wednesday night and Mark Lloyd, who I had met only a few weeks ago, immediately invited me to join their table. What a wonderful introduction and the conference had not even begun! Helping to fill the paper bags with sponsors’ goodies after dinner seemed a natural thing to do. I went to my room looking forward to what was to come.


Q: What did you hope to get out of the conference: what were your expectations?

As I mentioned earlier, my first priority was to meet people. I did not come to the conference with huge expectations, simply because I had not given that a great deal of thought. I could not have been more pleasantly surprised by the quality of the papers and speakers. I learned heaps and my "buttons were pushed" more than once.


Q: Tell me about some of the papers that you found interesting.

Truly, they were all interesting. I could not possibly think of any paper or guest speaker that did not do anything for me. I found Duncan’s opening address inspiring and thought provoking. I really enjoyed John Kirkland’s presentation and his innovative way of "getting inside the heads" of at risk youths. Jesvier’s paper on ethical marketing is a reminder to us all, also in the market research industry, that we are accountable for how we behave and what we promise. Mark McCrindle’s presentation "New generations, New Trends: Engaging with Today’s Respondents", was obviously well researched. It has always been fascinating to me how the different generations go about living their lives and the decision-making process they engage in. If there was one regret, I would have liked to see a paper on social marketing or social research. I think it would be great if we could encourage one of New Zealand’s many social researchers to deliver a paper at the 2009 conference, if there is one.


Q: I can’t imagine that as a researcher you weren’t distilling everything you heard and developing themes. What themes would describe the conference – not just the papers but the whole vibe?

As a non-active member of MRSNZ, I felt enormously welcomed and made part of the team. No questions asked. That was a real eye-opener to me. This industry is alive and well. There is a huge amount of goodwill amongst members and a willingness to share. I also take away from the conference the realisation of the considerable intellectual horse power in the Society. That bodes well for the future.


Q: What were two highlights for you?

One of the highlights for me was meeting the many people I did manage to talk to, particularly during the breaks and social time. Market researchers are full of fun and that is something that I have to remind myself of from time to time. The party was great – even though I miserably failed to dress up for the occasion – half an hour on the dance floor was like running a half-marathon. (Thanks, Ngaire. Baby boomers still know how to join in). The other highlight was the reconfirmation, that the New Zealand market research industry has a huge amount of collective knowledge, experience and professionalism. In my view we are right up there with the rest of the world!


Q: Returning to your desk, are there things you’ll instigate or do differently as a result of the Conference? Did it move your mind?

The conference did move my mind in more ways than one. As researchers we cannot afford to sit on our laurels and do the same thing over and over again. We have to open our minds to new ways of doing things, new methodologies, new approaches – not for the sake of doing so, but in response to an ever changing economic and social environment. The conference, or rather the people at the conference, representing mostly small research companies, brought it home to me that sometimes we need to forget that we compete with each other in the market and look at ways we can work together, feed off each other and grow. The synergy will be phenomenal!

For me, the conference, the people and the papers will continue to raise questions. The answers are probably there somewhere, as long as I am willing to see them.


Q: Last question. Next conference is 2009. On the basis of what you experienced this time, are you or members of your team likely to attend next time? Why is that?

Yes, I will be there. Yes, I will bring some members of my team with me. Yes, I will work on my resistance to theme-dress for the occasion. The 2007 Conference was an eye-opener to me and I live to regret that I have not been to any of the previous conferences. Many thanks to Claire and the conference organisers.

December 2007

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