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Monday, 20 October 2014

How to 'market' market research

Craig Scott knows the importance of research. He’s now a director at Brand Learning where he advises companies on how to build their marketing capabilities, but before that he held research and insight roles at Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly Clark.

“I’m a huge enthusiast of market research and insight,” he says. “Many industries claim to be undervalued and under-appreciated – but, in my opinion, this one certainly is. With over 15 years’ experience in market research, I’m in constant cheerleader mode to do what I can to challenge this mindset.”

So why are market researchers undervalued? We’ll let Craig take up the story:

As a group of professionals we are generally technically superb at what we do – applying the core functional research skills to understand consumers. But it has always struck me that we are not very good at packaging up and communicating what we do. We don’t market market research well.

To use Theodore Levitt’s brilliant phrase, ‘People don’t want a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole’. Marketing teams don’t want research projects – they want knowledge and insight. As market researchers, we make wonderful drill bits but sometimes package them poorly.

I was asked recently why internal clientside or agency research debriefs seem to take nearly two hours to get through, when news bulletins can tell you all you need to know about the world in half an hour. Is it because those who are good with data are not good at planning and engaging an audience to share what they’ve learned? Is it because they think knowledge sells itself and therefore they don’t value the communication aspect? Maybe the research is planned, but the experience of communicating that research in a compelling and engaging way isn’t. Maybe it’ll cost the client more and take longer. The truth is probably a combination of all of these reasons.

A more provocative idea is that we don’t think it’s our responsibility to excite our audience about what we have to say and, therefore, it can appear that we don’t, as an industry (clientside or agencyside), want to be creative. Reasons for this could be that: it’s not valued by clients; agencies don’t want to spend the extra time and effort paying for it; that client researchers take a conservative, play-it-safe approach and don’t encourage agencies to be more creative. Why? Because they’re afraid it will go wrong and they fear that risk more than the joy (and effectiveness) of getting it right.

If the above is correct then we are all complicit. But, for those willing to stand out, to be brave and develop their capabilities, whether clientside or agency, here are my top tips on how to better market what we do:

  1. Don’t do what you have always done. Pause, think and plan an engaging experience. If you’re clientside, what different pre-engagement activities can you do prior to a knowledge-sharing event? If you’re an agency delivering a debrief, consider different formats and content to keep it fresh, lively and memorable.
  2. Know your audience. And be creative. A research team at Procter & Gamble knew their senior managers were keen to learn about their consumers but were also time-starved. The team recorded the key findings and delivered them on CDs that could be played in the car on the way to work – an effective win-win piece of communication.
  3. Be unexpected and surprising. Famously, when pitching the idea of the Animal Kingdom theme park at Disney, the team brought a live tiger into the boardroom to demonstrate how exciting animals can be. They got the go ahead. That meeting has become folklore and has never been forgotten. What’s your tiger?
  4. Create enthusiasm and anticipation.Communication doesn’t have to start at the meeting. You can create a teaser and build interest. I’ve seen a video invitation, created by clientside researchers and hinting at new knowledge, being recorded, edited and sent via email to their attending colleagues all on a smartphone in under ten minutes. It doesn’t take a lot of time or expertise to generate enthusiasm.
  5. Most importantly… link it back. No matter what the findings, the research will only break through if it’s positioned in a way that links directly back to the overall business goals and needs. Highlighting a specific connection between the insights and recommendation to the greater corporate goals is the best way to demonstrate added value and to market market research.

The good news is that pockets of excellence do exist in the industry; I’ve seen client and agency teams get it right in the way that they engage their audiences. You hear it instantly in the language they use, see it in the imagery they choose, feel it in their energy and the effort they make to not just be correct but to be compelling. They use emotion and passion and they’re not afraid of being themselves – both personal and professional.

Craig Scott is marketing capability director at Brand Learning. Read more of his thoughts on Brand Learning’s Capable Marketer blog.

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Readers' comments (7)

  • Brilliant article! I think all researchers can relate to it.

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  • Two main reasons methinks. First, the industry has tied up itself in knots trying to be 'scientific' and bogged down in the minutiae of significance testing rather than creating real business insight. Two, bean counting and penny pinching. You don't get many ad agencies on out of town industrial estates. The whole industry needs an image change and a bit of glamour.

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  • Good article. At their best (and within a margin of error), market researchers can essentially read consumers' minds and/or predict the future. Even the worst salespeople among us should be able to spark some excitement by reminding clients that's what they're ultimately paying for.

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  • Fantastic piece!

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  • Great article and encouraging for all those who purchase and provide market research. I will try to make my next written communication as engaging as Craig's text.

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  • An exciting article, which will be guidelines for all the market/business researchers.

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  • A very educative post that indeed revamps my perception on the market research. A very detailed and apt explanation of the topic.Thank you for helping by posting such stuff.

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