We identify new market and product opportunities to help companies grow.
Call us: 312.276.5140 Email: info@ericksonresearch.com

Marketing Researchers need to think like marketers

Last week, I started to talk about how marketing researchers could make themselves more valuable within their organizations or to their clients.  Today, I’ll expand on the first action item from last week’s post.

The problem comes down to this – many marketing researchers like to think of themselves as social scientists.

Don't think like a scientistIn and of itself, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s an issue because these people are doing commercial market research, not social science research. As commercial marketing researchers, their clients — the people paying the bills — are marketers.  Like any customer, they expect that their needs will be met.

Marketers, as a group, tend to be a creative, pragmatic bunch of people. Their job, simply put, is to sell more stuff. What they want from you, the researcher, is information that will help them accomplish that, not a lecture on the wonders of Bayesian statistics.

To be an effective part of the marketing team, you need to be willing and able to get outside of the rigid beliefs about “the way it’s done” and come up with solutions to get the information marketers need.

(For the record, there’s more than enough room to be creative within the bounds of sound statistical methodology.)

The best way to do that is to think more like a marketer.

When I say to think more like a marketer, I don’t mean that you need to go out and get a complete education in product and brand management, advertising, and other marketing disciplines, although a good working knowledge of the subjects is certainly beneficial.

What I mean is that you should place much more emphasis on starting at the end. Start with a thorough understanding of exactly what decisions your clients will make and what courses of action they will pursue based on the information you produce.

In other words, put yourself inside your client’s head.

I know this sounds obvious, but it’s distressing to see how many researchers don’t do it. Instead, they start with the methodology, or the survey instrument, or the sample design. Essentially they start at the beginning instead of the end.

So the next time you get involved in a market research project, try this:

Make that first meeting all about what the marketers want to do. Actively keep the conversation away from anything related to research methodology. Instead, ask your clients what questions they are trying to answer. And whatever you do, don’t accept their first answer. Apply the age-old qualitative technique of asking why. Once you’ve done that a few times, you get to what they really want to know.

Then use a similar approach to probe on what they intend to do with the answers they get. By forcing your clients to think through potential courses of action based on the research results, you can eliminate the extraneous, nice to know stuff and focus exclusively on producing actionable information.

Only after you’ve done these two things is it time to think about the research design, analysis steps, data collection methodology, or the questionnaire design – in that order. This is the part where you can let your inner scientist come out a little. That’s ok as long as the marketing needs are very clearly guiding your efforts.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the second thing marketing researchers can do to become more valued – get educated on the client’s business.

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.

The two biggest issues in market research

As the dust settled on 2009, vigorous debate about where market research was going could be found everywhere; blogs, discussion forums, conferences, and surely endless personal conversations.  From all of the discussions that I’ve been a party to, two big themes emerged.

  1. Relevance
  2. “Next generation” market research

Researchers have been asking the question of how they can be more relevant for some time. Many discussions at last fall’s AMA Marketing Research Conference (and others, I’m sure), dozens of blogs and discussion forums, and countless personal conversations have centered on the idea of how researchers can get some respect within their organization (I’ll avoid showing my age with a Rodney Dangerfield reference here).

This is a topic that I’ve written and spoken about many times before (see some examples here and here), and in the coming weeks will post a short series detailing what researchers can do about this seemingly perennial problem.

And then there’s the whole notion of the next generation of market research, which for many is a much sexier topic than relevance.  As social media really came into its own in 2009, just about any conversation of next generation market research is really about “how do we do research in the context of social media.”

This is an important issue to be sure, but I don’t necessarily believe it’s the end of research as we know it, as some have suggested.  Nor is it some shiny object – a fleeting distraction from “real” research, as others have called it.  I am convinced that it will cause a permanent shift in how we think about research and data gathering, much like the telephone and the web survey did in their time.

We’ve been working on some test projects here in the Erickson Research labs to explore how social media can be used to deliver practical, actionable research insights.  Expect to hear a whole lot more about what we’re finding in the coming weeks and months.

What do you think?

Page 20 of 29« First...10...1819202122...Last »