OPINION21 September 2011

Failing to sell yourself

“If you’re going to come in and tell me how to make my product acceptable to consumers, then please, please, please think back again about your own product,” says Reckitt Benckiser’s global research boss.

“If you’re going to come in and tell me how to make my product acceptable to consumers, then please, please, please think back again about your own product.”

That was the message for research agencies from Reckitt Benckiser’s global research boss Lorna Walters at Esomar Congress yesterday. The industry is full of great minds and great methodologies, she said, “but then there’s the actual product.”

“Everyone of you turns up on my doorstep every day at Reckitt Benckiser and talks to me about our product, talks to me about how Reckitt Benckiser needs to work harder to connect with consumers – not to spend so much time on functionality, not to spend so much time talking about our ingredients, to think about design, to think about how engaged the consumer is with it. That’s what you tell us every day. So why does that not apply to the product of the market research industry?”

Walters shared some examples of particularly unimpressive research she has been presented with – including some eyewateringly complicated charts and a “phase one summary” document that ran to 278 pages. “I can run a marathon in the time it would take me to read that deck,” she said.

Part of the problem, Walters believes, is that the research industry specialises in complexity. “I think that we struggle with simplicity. We like everybody to know how difficult it is at times to do the things we do. I think it gets in our way.”

In response to a question on whether clients should take responsibility for relationships with agencies that lead to poor outputs, Walters said: “It is absolutely not my responsibility within the client company to make your product great. I don’t think it is any one of my consumers’ responsibility to take Dettol soap and make it the shape they want or fragrance they want – it’s my responsibility. And it’s your responsibility to give me a product I can use quickly and easily to improve my business outcomes.”

If we fail in this regard, she said, “we’re an industry that’s got a target on our head.”

Joan Lewis, global consumer and market knowledge officer at Procter & Gamble, voiced similar concerns. She said the industry faces a choice between being “inspiring or irrelevant”.

“It seems to me that this is the most exciting time to be in the market research industry. There are so many ways to learn, so many sources for insight. Consumers want to tell us what they think. They are not waiting for us to send them a survey or knock on their doors.

“This should be a time when young people should be flocking to the industry. This should be a time when we should be really energised. This is not the time when we should be arguing about which methodology is right and which one’s wrong. Over the next 20 years methodologies are going to do lots of things we can’t predict, and we’re going to have to ride with them and find ways to turn them into insights.

“When times are difficult in the world, research is the first place people turn.”

Lewis said research suppliers needed to be willing to try different techniques, and not to be “ideological” about methods. She even asked for agencies’ help in moving away from traditional research products. “I would like help from you to shift that balance, because we’re not moving fast enough and I feel this acutely every day,” she said. Survey research in particular will decline substantially over the next few years, she said. “Survey research isn’t dying because we don’t want it, necessarily – I don’t think consumers are going to do it. This is not the world that consumers live in. I’m thinking in five years it’s going to look very different.

“We need to not become the case study of the industry in disruption that didn’t notice it,” Lewis said. “We need to become the case study of the industry in disruption that drove it to a greater place. And I think we’ve every reason to be able to do that, and it won’t be by trying to put narrow definitions on the industry. I don’t care where insights come from. If they come from niche players, if they come from technology companies, if they come from media and publishing companies, if they come from analytics, if they come from consulting, that’s OK with me. What we need to bring to our clients or our business partners is the best insight.”

6 Comments

9 years ago

I get a little tired each time a speaker (usually a clientsider) demands more from the industry, and makes it sound like they'd happily try any innovative approach and would not complain about cost. Usually such speakers rarely offer solutions themselves or can offer case studies where they tried something new. It sounds like a broken record - those whining for the sake of demanding more. Those who do try new techniques instead present it as a case study or chose to remain silent, instead encouraging their research partners to innovate further.

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9 years ago

Tricia, you got it wrong, it's not the client's job to tell you how to improve your product...

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9 years ago

If big organisations were willing to look beyond their rosters of huge machine-like agencies, they might find inspiring, creative solutions. I bet the 278 page summary didn't come from a small agency and it would be interesting to know whether the agency that produced this monster summary is still working with the client.

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9 years ago

I agree with Tricia. Their points are valid, but particularly with the first few comments - nothing new. I agree completely with the latter comments. It is a bit odd that there is a claim that consumers do not play a role in shaping Dettol - I thought that is what millions are commissioned to MR for - so that companies know what consumers think about their products and shape them accordingly. I feel over the last 10 years that there is a lot more motivation in MR agencies to spruce up their act. There is much to be improved, but I see a change. I would argue instead that the quality of work MR Manager in Client organisations remains poor. Perhaps it is the people in the Client Side research who lack the understanding, creativity and nous

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9 years ago

I personally have been a Market Researcher for a bit over a decade now and I find this post particularly interesting because I, myself, wrote about a very similar topic in my most recent blog entry. I labeled it “A Challenge to My Fellow Research Community”. You can find the full post here, http://goo.gl/p9He1 but if you do not have time I will quickly sum up my thoughts… I am noticing a shift in how the client-side is buying research. I sense a growing amount of hesitation (which is, of course, the researcher’s job to justify the investment) but it’s our job as an industry to listen to these hesitations and deliver on something that will make our potential customers say “Wow”. As far as I can recall, I don’t think the “Wow-factor” happens often enough in the research industry, prohibiting MR from standing out as a key component to business success. I do agree with Maggie's insight to look beyond the big names for the more creative and innovative research thinking. The smaller agencies often have more leeway to think outside the box and bring on the “Wow-factor”.

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9 years ago

It has never been my job to justify the "investment" of research to a client. Millions are spent developing new products/service and research is either in or out of the equation. And while qualitative methods will provide "insights," it's the well-executed quantitative research that tells the decision-maker to hit the forward, pause or cancel button. If the research process has a wow-factor, it's probably not very good research.

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