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3 Things you can do today to be more relevant

Being relevant has been a big topic of discussion online and at research conferences over the past year.  It seems that many researchers are worried about how their colleagues view their role as partners in the business.

Last week, MarketResearchCareers.com released results from their 2010 survey of Market Research Professionals and it contained a bit of a surprise. The results showed a rather stunning turn-around in research buyer opinion.

78% of respondents said that they viewed research suppliers as partners, up from 54% in 2009 and reversing a 4-year downward trend.  While it remains to be seen whether this is a short-term blip resulting from the gutting of client-side research departments by lay-offs or a more permanent change, it is clear there is an immediate opportunity for researchers to step up and become valuable members of the team.

We can’t afford to let it slip away.

The feeling among researchers that their marketing colleagues lack respect for their opinions and regularly neglect to include them in decision-making has many roots. Some of them can simply be chalked up to cultural differences between “left-bran” researchers and “right-brain” marketers, but some, frankly, are our own fault.

Perhaps the most visible symptom of the disconnect between researchers and marketers is the ubiquity of the 300-slide PowerPoint data dump masquerading as a report.  Researchers are genetically programmed to love data and tend to assume everyone else does, too.  Unfortunately, marketers and executives don’t want data – they want answers.

The result?

Researchers end up being seen as data grunts who don’t “get it.” Not surprisingly, then, they don’t get a seat at the table to discuss implications and plans.  This forces many researchers into a reactive role rather than a proactive one that would deliver much more value to their colleagues and to the organization overall.

The situation is more pronounced when we’re talking about external suppliers than internal research staff. Don’t get me wrong, there are research consultants out there doing very interesting things that are driving the entire industry forward. However, the majority of research companies, particularly those focused on field service, lean far too heavily on operational efficiency as their differentiator, resulting in an industry full of “me-too” positioning strategies.

You could summarize these companies’ marketing strategy simply as “we’ll do it a day faster, a dollar cheaper, and make one less mistake than the next guy.”  The only thing accomplished by that approach is an ever accelerating race to the bottom on price. In that environment, it’s no wonder the marketers we work for don’t see much value in our contributions.

There are three fairly simple steps researchers can take today to improve the situation for both their personal brands and their company’s brand.  Best of all, you can do them right now.

  1. Change your mindset from that of a scientist to that of a marketer
  2. Educate yourself about your (internal or external) customer’s business
  3. Raise your game when it comes to communicating results

Over the next three weeks, I’ll be exploring each of these in more detail. Stay tuned for ideas how you can successfully accomplish all of these things. Don’t miss it, subscribe to Random Sampling now.

About the Author

Ed Erickson is the President of Erickson Research, a Chicago market research consulting firm. You can find Ed on LinkedIn and .


  1. As a business development/marketing person who turned market research analyst (financial services) – I agree with much of what you have said.
    I function primarily right-brain; I see the problem out there as a picture and try to solve it using data for verification; but I believe we have to build a picture of what the solution looks like and the rest goes into an appendix.
    From the standpoint of the data driven research people; I drive them nuts! I can massacre a spreadsheet in a nanosecond. I believe a person who DOES do this well is an integral person on the team who I can bounce the picture off of and verify the results. Holistically I depend on information that is not necessarily number-driven to answer questions.
    Data can be manipulated to show a number of viewpoints – it is the creative analysis of the data supplemented by an in-the-trenches practice that best serves the end client.
    Thanks for your paper!

  2. Yes, I completely agree that it is important to have both the “right-brain” picture approach and the “left-brain” data approach to a problem. The key thing is that the right-brain person and the left-brain person have a common language so they can communicate.

    Since in many cases, the right-brain person is the client, it is mostly the job of the left-brain researcher to translate what they have done into terms the client can easily understand and use.

  3. Ed –

    I enjoyed the article on being more relevant. I myself have shifted to MR after 15 years in Direct Marketing (Chicago) and fully agree with you on educating yourself on your customers business as it goes along with shift to a more consultative relationship in the industry as a whole. Your right in stating Google is a powerful and very useful tool in doing so. It’s a matter of making that extra push to be the best choice for the project at hand.

    Thanks again, enjoyed.

    Joe Strampp
    AOS Research Services
    Wilmington, North Carolina

    • Thanks for the feedback, Joe.

      As an industry, researchers need to become more consultative in order to survive. Once upon a time, companies could be successful by controlling access to resources (big call centers, lists for sample, technology, etc). The explosion of easily accessible tools/information over the past several years have all but removed that old industrial-age approach to competitive advantage. Today, the one of the only ways to gain/keep an advantage over competitors in the research business is to deliver more value. That means being much more consultative than many in this business have ever been before.

  4. Ed-

    Yes! Somebody said it “300-slide PowerPoint data dump masquerading as a report”. I love Statistics, data analysis, and all those geeky things. But like most people, I like a good presentation. After the 25th slide, you lost me. I need visuals, results, and something I could take away and apply for the business, i.e. something I can remember. Five years ago, I worked as a marketing analyst at Allstate. Vendors came and did their research only to return the “300-slide data dump”. My job then turned into “mining the PowerPoint deck”, uggh.

    When doing the research, as you say, the researcher’s focus is on the client’s customer. When the researcher is providing the results, he/she needs to focus on the audience (executives, marketers, etc.).

    Thanks for the great post!

    Jaime Brugueras, Ph.D.

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