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OPINION17 April 2012

Corporate insight leaders: their most pressing needs

Ian Lewis presents the key takeaways from a recent Market Research Council roundtable of corporate research leaders, including Johnson & Johnson, Estee Lauder, Sun Products and Chase.

The Market Research Council (MRC) was chartered in 1927 to promote the field of market research. MRC members are senior research executives, and MRC meets monthly to host presentations and discussions with research leaders.

Monica Wood (J&J Diabetes Care) recently moderated a terrific panel discussion with three corporate research leaders – Jack Lee of Estee Lauder; Jim Nyce of Sun Products (formerly head of insights for Kraft); and Trish Rainone of Chase.

What were the key takeaways?

It’s about anticipating and inspiring action that fuels growth and profitability.

Jim opened by saying: “We’re here to make the business grow and be more profitable. Without that we’re just a cost.” He went on to say: “Getting ahead and anticipating what the company needs to know is critical”, and Trish added: “It’s about how to have answers before they have the questions. 4-6 weeks doesn’t fly. We’re trying to be thought leaders.” And it’s about inspiring action.

“Taking learning out in a way that’s so inspirational they can’t help but act on it. The time for people to pay attention to us is smaller and smaller” [Jim]

“We cull down to 3-4 pages that are sent in advance to our CEO, and then the CEO may have one question and then talk about recommendations. We don’t do research presentations any more to the C Suite.” [Trish]

Synthesis is huge 

“There are vast amounts of data coming at us. Proprietary, secondary, social media. Data is a commodity. A searchable repository is not good enough.” [Trish]  

Jim noted: “Accountability for organisational learning is at least as important as the learning (from studies)”. Jack added: “We’re looking everywhere for insights, e.g. social media, customer complaints, more. The role of MR is to synthesise it all. It’s less specifically about the research, it’s more about what we know, what it means.” None of the panel would trust a supplier to do it completely because suppliers lack deep knowledge of their business. They want suppliers to synthesise the learning from all the studies the supplier has done for them, but that’s as far as they want the supplier to go.  

“Project management orientation doesn’t cut it. Suppliers ought to be doing cumulative learning.” [Jim]

When addressing the question, “What makes for a good synthesiser?”, Trish answered: “Curiosity. I look for someone with a Master’s degree who sounds curious and asks good questions. A drive to know and learn.” Jack concurred, adding: “I look for curiosity and drive to learn and look across different areas, to be able to think across categories.” Note to suppliers – synthesis is a huge client need, and a huge opportunity for suppliers who can understand their client’s business in depth.

Suppliers need to step up

Jack led with: “Suppliers need to understand what my business partner needs to know. It’s never reliant on a single piece of information. I want suppliers to come with a POV, be willing to disagree, challenge the way I think, stand up in the boardroom and present difficult facts.” Trish has some preferred suppliers, who she expects to learn and grow with. She wants preferred suppliers to reach out and touch base – a lot of suppliers don’t do that even yearly. Jim noted: “I can’t manage the quality of the research product. I pay for that.” Making a different point, Jim stated: “You (supplier) can’t communicate with the CEO. There’s been a huge desire to do the things you can’t do (i.e. present to CEO).”

They need help with social media

Everyone recognises the need to do more and to get more help from the supplier community. Trish spends a lot of time tracking social media – providing texture around quant data, especially on brand health; and volunteered that “the engagement piece is where I get lost”.

Marketing ROI is currently unmeasurable in the new era

Jim provided an excellent historical perspective: “We became very, very good at measuring the ROI of traditional marketing programs, so much so that it was irresponsible for companies to be making significant marketing investments without serious assessment of the productivity of that spending. As a discipline we delivered tremendous value to companies through this work. Now, however, we are leaving that world and entering a new era in which the vast majority of brand exposures which consumers will have are not through intentional, targeted, context-controlled media delivery by the brand owners, but rather through incidental online encounters, and through discussions and pass alongs via social media. That world, including the branded creations which will populate it, is currently unmeasurable and not currently amenable to marketing productivity assessment.”

A closing thought, on mobile

“Mobile’s coming. We know we have to start. We have to figure out how to do it.” [Trish]

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