OPINION10 March 2011

Credit where it’s due

Opinion

Research doesn’t have an image problem – it has a ‘lack of image’ problem, says Relish Research’s Monique Drummond. For the industry’s sake, clients and agencies need to do more to promote the contribution research makes to the creation of successful ads, products and strategies.

But how often do we talk about them publicly? Are we as an industry afraid to come out and highlight our achievements? Or are we being kept quiet in the name of ‘confidentiality’?

Two years ago, my company worked on five stages of a major award-winning campaign for a food client. It was great fun: stimulating, challenging, and we lived the brand for a number of months – from selection of the ad agency right up to last-minute groups a fortnight prior to launch. But afterwards, no one would think to ask ‘Who contributed the insight behind the campaign?’ We were not merely reporting back what we had seen and heard, we were guiding, advising and coming up with ideas to improve the final output. The agency and client spoke of how they conducted extensive consumer research to ensure the campaign’s success, but as so often happens, they did not name the research agency or the individual researchers behind the campaign.

We can all name brilliant advertising agencies, creative teams and planners – not to mention those clients who demand the very best. I’d like to see the profile of research agencies, and individuals within the business, raised to a similar stature. The research world is full of creative and talented, people who care passionately about brands and the role they play in developing them.

An element of our work is out there on shelves, on our TV screens, in our homes and in the brands we encounter every day. Surely our clients cannot be concerned about the confidentiality of every project we do? Or are we all too frightened that if we do speak up, rivals will copy our approach, or will try and poach our clients?

Whatever the reason, our low profile as an industry means we’re overlooked as a career choice by young people. I’ve recently met quite a few marketing graduates all asking how they can launch a career in advertising or brand management or marketing consultancy. They ask to come and see me hoping I know a brand or agency that can offer them an internship – not because they want to work in market research. Those careers have achieved ‘sexy’ status – market research has not. Students have no real idea that this is a creative, fun, exciting and demanding business.

But lack of awareness among graduates isn’t the only problem we face. Our own, or our clients’, reluctance to talk up the crucial role research plays in the creation of successful ads and products means we have very few good, publicly available examples we can point to when critics of research wheel out the far better documented cases of when research “gets it wrong”, à la the New Coke fiasco.

We need to correct this imbalance. It is up to us to promote our industry in collaboration with our clients, so that such ‘good news’ stories appear not only on our own websites and credentials documents, but in the wider marketing arena.

@RESEARCH LIVE

11 Comments

9 years ago

Good point, research is much sexier than people imagine! I've done some really fun and fascinating stuff and I've also done some work that has made a real difference. That's what keeps it interesting. Sadly we're often limited in what we can tell people about what we do.

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9 years ago

Couldn't agree more. I think it's up to clients to show some appreciation for the sterling work research agencies do.

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9 years ago

I agree too. But it's worth pointing out that the AQR's Prosper Riley-Smith award is getting more and more entrants every year - although I suspect not quite the 100's that the 'big' MRS awards get... I also wonder whether our own tendency for secrecy lets us down? I know, foolishly, that I can tend to be on my guard when talking about methods and approaches to my friends who are quallies in other agencies because I have a stupid fear of disclosing anything that helps set us apart from the competition. So it's not about client confidentiality as much as preserving what little differentiation we try to have! On the other hand, I am loving having close friends and associates in companies that are technically, our closest competition and I'm naturally more inclined to opening up than closing down. Lots to think about....

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9 years ago

That's such an interesting blog post, and thanks for sharing! I have told quite a few people in the past few months that I have had plenty of experiences where I feel like I just hit a hole in one at the golf course, only to realize I am the only one there. Bound my confidentiality in all directions, I feel obligated to NOT say anything that could be (mis)construed as a breach. Sometimes it's frustrating because it feels like another type of glass ceiling. But, as I consider the researchers with whom I have worked, I can't recall a whole lot of glory hogs. However, I think it might be time for a dialogue to figure out how research can be thanked a bit more publicly for its role, and how researchers themselves can advocate for this recognition and still stay true to their position in the process.

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9 years ago

My impression is that MR has changed radically over the past few years - technology, neuroscience, implicit research techniques going mainstream - that in fact it's more exciting than areas in marketing such as eg branding which hasn't changed much over the last, er 25 years. The image is lacking - I agree - but we only have ourselves to blame.

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9 years ago

Hi, I agree that market research is not widely regarded as ‘glamorous’. I think there are still certain misconceptions about market research, such as thinking that everything revolves around quantitative work, number crunching and – oh, the horror - arcane statistical analysis, whereas creativity and original thinking are happening somewhere else. This may be the reason why many graduates don’t regard market research as a top career option. In terms of clients, my experience is that some of them - not all - see research as a valuable tool for specific situations, but not as an integral part of their long-term strategy. That is, in my opinion, one reason why market research encounters such difficulty in getting credit for contributing to clients’ successes. Maybe we should emphasise more often in front of clients and future professionals that market research is mainly about listening to customers, to understand what they are and are not telling us, and what are we going to do about it. I would say this is the really exciting part of our job. The rest is just tools to make life easier (nothing wrong with that, though) and the work more consistent. P.S.: For an example of the general assumption of what market research professionals are supposed to do, you only have to check Season 1 of the TV series ‘Mad Men’. In it, the Head of Research at Sterling Cooper is a stern woman with a Central European accent whose detailed findings are regularly dismissed by Creative Director Don Draper in favour of his own (only in appearance) out-of-the-blue inspirations which, of course, wow the client. OK, I know it’s for the sake of drama and that the show takes place in the 60’s, but I think it summarises quite well the perception that market research is a dull, not too useful activity. Things improve in season 4, however, when Frau Doktor gives way to an attractive, young market research expert. Not only she helps the agency to win clients, she also gets to date Don Draper. I wonder whether this would be a good or a bad endorsement for market researchers in general? (Just joking)

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9 years ago

Monique, what an interesting take on research! It is true that what we have is a 'lack of image' when it comes to letting the world know that industries and businesses come to us for market intelligence. However in some parts of the world, we also have a 'negative image', one in which people seem to think that market researchers are a nuisance to society. It is time for both researchers and clients to step up and get the word out.

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9 years ago

Monique, I think one of the key problems with MR perception, probably a crucial issue is mentioned outright in your piece: > we lived the brand for a number of months (third para in your blogpost) Brands are not born to live for a number of months. Every parent wants her "child" (brand in this case) to live reasonably forever. As long as MR will position itself as short-term passengers in a brand's (or a client's for that matter) lifespan, it will be perceived as a relatively necessary evil. And I would disagree with your initial statement that MR's problem is "a lack of image". On the contrary -- it has exactly the image you indicated: the come-and-go-ASAP image. This is why about ten years ago I have (more or less successfully) managed to position my company as a marketing consultancy, where MR plays an integrated, but not dominating role in the service structure. There is marketing activity before, during, and after MR. And this is the bad alternative. The good one is: MR is a constant activity, with peaks and downtimes, but never ending. The trick is to prove added value while you are selling this concept.

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9 years ago

Hi Monique - I too was reading the article and thinking of Mad Men's season 4 with the sexy market researcher! The first one was horrendous. I dont think that MR is publicised enough; I dont think that the industry has as much of the 'clipboard on streets' image that it used to (although maybe I've just been involved in MR for so long I'm out of touch) but I'm not sure what has replaced it. Definitely feel more promotion is required. I recently highlighted a poll somebody had done on how people found their way into MR, and generally its down to luck. It was suggested that market research agencies are teh only ones who can change the perception and promote themselves. After all, advertising agencies, PR agencies, branding specialists who are involved in promotion constantly dont seem to have an industry awareness problem do they? The fact is that many jobs have good 'glamorous' and bad elements, and the good ones in MR of being able to ask lots of questions, travel and meet people, deal with some of the worlds biggest companies without actually being in them, dont seem to come across. I often wonder whether the occasional academic leaning to developing methodologies etc is a problem?

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9 years ago

Pick up ANY case study from IPA effectiveness awards or successful brands, and all of them have NEEDED market research to prove their success (tracking, retail). Whats missing however is how the brand and campaign were arrived at - usually sketchy details are shared, and no strategic research are mentioned. Even for the research I have carried out, when I seek permission from clients to use them as case studies or even masked case studies, the answer is a strong NO. Monique's column was a good one - but we need client support to share with the world what an exciting world we live in.

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