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Edward B. Keller, C'77, ASC'79
Representing the Voice of the Consumer

In market and public- opinion research, it's no longer enough to have your finger on the pulse of the nation. As president of Roper Starch Worldwide for the past year, Edward B. Keller, C'77, ASC'79, monitors the vital signs of the industrialized world.
   Roper Starch, famous for scientific sampling since the 1930s, recently released its latest global consumer study, which Keller calls the most comprehensive of its kind. More than 35,000 people from 40 nations were surveyed extensively about their consumption habits and values. The data are projectable to two billion consumers -- roughly half the world. "We were trying to [see], are there different types of values on a global basis, and in which countries or parts of the world do they really dominate?'" Keller says. In Latin America, for instance, one of the largest groups identified was "the altruists," for whom social justice and environmental protection are dominant values. In America, the largest group found was "the intimates," who most value stable personal relationships, family security, romance, and love.
Illustration by Hal Mayforth

   Originally planning a public policy career, Keller entered the market research field by pleasant happenstance, networking with an Annenberg School alumna soon after graduation. He joined Roper Starch 11 years ago.
   Although he sees Roper Starch as "the voice of the consumer," it's getting harder to convince U.S. consumers -- weary of aggressive telemarketers -- to answer questions. Keller says market researchers must ensure "customer satisfaction" for respondents as well as clients, and "distinguish ourselves from people who are trying to sell things."
   Here are a few trends he sees shaping the United States in the early 21st century:
   Growth of self- reliance. Anger over the last recession has given way to a sense of personal responsibility, affecting how "politicians need to relate to voters, markets interact with consumers, and employers interact with workers." Consumers are more confident and know how to find the best deals in the marketplace; Americans are shifting their focus from national to local issues; and more people are using technology to help balance work and families.
   Search for civility. People are trying to bring "a new sense of order" into the way they interact. "There's a new social contract being written about how politics will be conducted, education, marketing ... "
   A Run on Nose Rings? "Everyone is talking about the impact of aging baby boomers," Keller says. "What people aren't focusing on has been the boomlet ... As we look out toward the year 2005, the number of people in their teens and twenties will be increasing for the first time in a number of years." Although they won't have quite the impact that boomers did, numerous commercial products will emerge to target young people.
   "We're getting older and younger at the same time." Keller predicts this will create interesting opportunities -- and tensions -- "because [along with] a celebration of youth there is also a suspicion of youth. Boomers today are in a lot of ways as their parents were: 'What's with this body piercing ... Why do you dress the way you do?'"
By Susan Lonkevich

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 9/25/97