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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Don't go changing

Over the past decade I’ve been involved in multiple conversations about whether market research needs a new name. I’ve always considered this the height of folly. People in a marketing-allied profession should recognise that changing industry names is difficult and rarely addresses underlying concerns, and the strategy usually fails even as a marketing gesture.

Our industry’s feints in the direction of a new identity, expressed through agency brand launches and client job titles, haven’t been promising. ‘Consumer insights’ was faddish and excludes large swathes of the industry, such as business-to-business research. Variations on the theme of ‘prediction’ set a very high bar and again exclude the many facets of MR that are less than predictive but more than reportage. Various attempts to describe research in management consulting terms projected a slightly embarrassing sense of industry insecurity.

Folly it may be, but I do sympathise with the concerns and longing that hide therein. Indeed, I’ve long harboured a secret desire to co-opt the phrase ‘decision support’, which to me seems to encapsulate our end product (business decisions) and our proper role (supporting complex corporate ecosystems).

Sadly, that term is already taken by an actual, well-defined area of theory and practice in computer-based information systems, but it cheered me to see Google Trends showing a decade-long decline in the use of ‘decision support’ as a search term. Perhaps the ranks of computer scientists focusing on decision support are so thinned and embattled that we could stage a takeover and just appropriate their discipline’s name?

Then I looked at the Google Trends numbers for ‘market research’ by way of comparison (see chart below). I can only conclude that (a) we would sacrifice a tremendous familiarity advantage by doing away with the name and (b) replacing one ailing search term with another is ill-advised. (And on the plus side, journalists seem to love market research, according to news reference volume.)

Click image for larger version

Click image for larger version

The nail in the coffin for my secret rebranding plan is that market research is both an industry and a profession. Any new name has to work when used to describe us collectively and individually. And let’s face it, ‘market researcher’ rolls off the tongue much more readily than ‘decision supporter’.

Perhaps it’s not so bad after all.

Theo Downes-Le Guin is chief research officer for Market Strategies International. This post originally appeared at the FreshMR blog

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