“My hope is that as the industry matures, the sophistication of how companies use market research will as well.”
In this exclusive interview series, we delve into the remarkable journey of Lara Fordis, an esteemed market research expert and the visionary force behind Fordis Consulting. With a passion for democratizing market research and with over two decades of experience in consumer insights, Lara has been at the forefront of delivering actionable and data-driven strategies for businesses of all sizes, including those operating in the intriguing cannabis industry.
What sets Fordis Consulting apart from other market research firms is their contrarian thinking approach. Lara and her team refuse to accept market research at face value, thoroughly examining all aspects to ensure credibility and relevance for clients. Renowned for their scrappy, creative, and collaborative strategies, they excel in navigating projects that others might shy away from.
Throughout this interview series, Lara provides invaluable insights into the world of market research, cannabis industry dynamics, and the strategic methodologies that have propelled Fordis Consulting to the forefront of data-driven decision-making. Join us as we explore the mind of a visionary entrepreneur and industry leader.
Can you tell us about your journey in becoming a market research expert and especially in the cannabis industry, and what inspired you to found Fordis Consulting?
In 2012, I was working for a large market research company as the Director of Operations. I preferred being in the trenches rather than managing people. I felt philosophically that market research should not be solely available to fortune 500 companies and that there are ways to scale such that companies of all stages and sizes can access market research. I had established pre-existing positive relationships with large market research companies, it was a win-win for me to take the projects that weren’t the right fit for those firms.
With over 20 years of experience in consumer insights and data-driven decision making, what do you believe sets Fordis Consulting apart from other market research firms?
We are contrarian thinkers. We don’t take market research on face value, and look at all aspects to ensure it has credibility and is actionable for the client. We are known for scrappy, creative, and collaborative strategy and execution. We tend to take on projects that are controversial, stigmatized, or serve overlooked populations.
Your expertise covers both qualitative and quantitative research methods. How do you strike a balance between the two to deliver comprehensive strategies for your clients?
It ultimately is dependent on what is going to be in the best interest of my clients. We are very strategic when asking them about their ultimate business objectives. Then I reverse engineer a plan to achieve those objectives using customized qualitative and/or quantitative research techniques. Not all projects warrant one or the other or even both, but we have the spectrum of tools at our disposal so we aren’t locked into one way of execution.
In your experience, what are some of the most impactful ways that data-driven insights have helped businesses enhance their product development, marketing, and brand optimization?
Optimized Target Audiences
Our client was focusing on the wrong group of consumers but our research was able to provide an optimized target audience to augment their marketing efforts.
Product & Marketing Pivoting
Our client was initially going to roll out a single product and was looking to know consumer preferences but over the course of our research, we discovered that it was truly a personal preference between the two. Rather than exclusively rolling out one product, they developed two options and supported their customers by matching their preferences to a product offering.
As a strategic thought-partner, how do you collaborate with your clients to design research plans that lead to actionable and results-driven outcomes?
By beginning with the end in mind, we strategize and execute through the lens of the end goals. By doing so, the recommendations we make are not only relevant but actionable for the client. Curiosity without actionability is a waste of resources.
In 2018, you expanded into the emerging fields of CBD, THC, and cannabis-related products. What led you to venture into this area, and what unique challenges do you face when conducting research in this industry?
I was referred in early 2019 to an agency that specializes in the Cannabis space since I’m known in my ecosystem/network as being passionate about working with stigmatized and controversial topics. It was a hemp delivery concept project. My initial thoughts running through my mind were “Wow! I’ve enjoyed working with start-up clients and this certainly takes it a step further.” I thought of this as a fun opportunity.
As a stigmatized and legally controlled substance, it provides unique challenges different from typical consumer packaged goods. That’s what makes it both complex and intellectually challenging. However, we are passionate about creative problem solving, so it’s a perfect fit for our approach.
Your work spans a diverse range of methodologies, from national surveys to virtual focus groups and in-home product testing. Could you share a specific project that showcases the value your research brought to a cannabis company's growth and decision-making process?
One of our cannabis edibles research projects designed for sleep was executed as an in-home usage test followed by a trial run with the brand’s employees. The employees really enjoyed the product potency, but the innovation team lead had concerns it hit too hard. The team lead turned out to be correct. After testing on mainstream consumers, they had poor sleep quality. As a result, they adjusted the potency and dosage for mainstream consumers.
This is a common problem we see with cannabis companies–reliance on anecdotal feedback from employees rather than consumers themselves. The vast majority of product testing we see being conducted with internal employees and occasionally friends and family of the employees creates an inherent bias. Through our work with countless cannabis companies, we’ve developed legal and safe ways to conduct product testing with the general public that enables brands to make more strategic decisions that result in happier customers and healthier bottom-lines.
For businesses looking to make informed, consumer-driven decisions, how do you help them harness the power of data effectively and integrate it into their overall strategy?
Harnessing the power effectively means knowing what your data can do and when to use it. For instance, retail data is powerful when you need to look at purchasers, but is the wrong tool for looking at consumers. In other words, it’s part of the overall strategy, but not the only substitute for all market research. This is a common mistake you see among cannabis companies, but not with most large CPG companies.
My hope is that as the industry matures, the sophistication of how companies use market research will as well. For now, we take the approach of empowering companies with the knowledge and tools to know the possibilities and limitations of the data that is available to them. Furthermore, we help them gather the right data that doesn’t currently exist to add to their repertoire.
It was a great pleasure to have this conversation with Lara Fordis, Founder & CEO of Fordis Consulting. Readers who wish to keep up with what the company is doing are invited to do so through the company's website.