OPINION18 September 2013

Four thoughts on preparing research for the future


Edward Appleton recently hosted a round table to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing market research in Europe’s two largest markets. Here he shares his key takeaways.

“The goal was to share views about the challenges and opportunities facing market research in Europe’s two largest markets, the UK and Germany, and to understand in more detail what activities MRS is engaging in and how these might be re-applied in Germany,” explains Appleton. Here, he outlines the key takeaways from the discussion:

Appleton group

From left: Edward Appleton (Avery Zweckform), Hartmut Scheffler (TNS Infratest), Jonathan Gable (BrainJuicer), Jane Frost (MRS), Raimund Wildner (GfK) and Michael Bartl (Hyve)

MR needs to pro-actively reposition itself, not let events overtake it

Shifting perceptions of what research is about is extremely important – MR is a powerful instrument, but as practitioners we have been lousy about singing our own praise. 

This becomes a real issue when powerful newcomers with disruptive business models and large marketing budgets capture the broader imagination and seriously challenge the status quo by delivering on core client needs, such as “faster” and “cheaper”. 

All of us (including clientside researchers) need to act, embrace change, present ourselves differently and expand our toolkits. If we don’t, we risk becoming smaller, less influential and bypassed. 

Research needs professional marketing

As an industry, market research needs professional marketing to help us re-position ourselves. Much as we may excel at diagnosing others’ problems, we need outside experts to help re-shape our profile – people that have done re-positioning exercises before, who have a bias to action, are adept at shaping a PR campaign, and understand branding and the marketing and communications mix.

These are – in my view – not MR’s strengths. We may not feel that we have the budget, and simply engaging in DIY marketing doesn’t cut the mustard. It results in low or no impact. We need to be creative in accessing top marketing talent.

Jane Frost, for instance, is a very senior marketing person, having worked for Unilever, Shell,  BBC and the UK government. We need more people like her to help us do the right things (like being effective) rather than constantly trying to do the same things even better (being efficient).

Fair Data is a powerful USP 

The MRS Fair Data initiative – a quality seal to help foster trust and ensure data integrity – is a core pillar of the new MRS strategy. It delineates professional market research from “chugging” and “sugging”, reassures the general public concerned about data privacy, and helps gain the attention of senior corporate decision makers in IT departments who routinely might not consider MR an area of relevance. 

Given that MR is increasingly being confronted with new competitors in the broadest sense, the value of an industry-wide, quality-focused and trust-enhancing USP makes huge sense.

MR visibility is a must for MR influence 

It may seem obvious – banal even – but it is a point that is often overlooked: visibility is half the battle to being taken seriously. To quote Daniel Kahneman: “What you see is all there is.”  

Frost’s view is that MR suffers badly from a lack of visibility. How many famous market researchers can you think of, for example? 

Improving visibility is something the MRS is working on with very encouraging results – engaging on new initiatives, finding and projecting a clear (and unified) voice, and talking frequently to senior levels of both industry (our traditional focus) and government, which helps put MR on their agenda.

Some of Frost’s assessments about the state of the MR industry were critical, especially relating to our dominant personality type – introspective – but also our way of communicating, which she described provocatively as “selfish”: we choose to determine our own idea of what’s important rather than those of our clients. She also pointed out how overt gloom and self-doubt destroys energy, and is in fact not warranted given the wealth of talent and intellectual capital residing within our collective community. I couldn’t agree more.

On a brighter note, Frost was optimistic about MR’s chances of thriving in future. Her central positioning for us as a group was: a hub of intellectual and creative capital, one that is outcome-focused. 

The elements of this proposition are cogent and challenging – no mention of analytics or methodology. Creativity is a new word for many in MR, but one worth aiming for.

For anyone interested, the 2014 MRS Conference seems like a continuation of this theme. Entitled ‘Impact 2014 – Ideas to shape You, Your Business and Society’ it sounds exciting. They are currently calling for contributions (click here for details).

Edward Appleton is senior European consumer insights manager for Avery Dennison


11 years ago

I know these are just summary takeaways, but this to me is a good example of another aspect of our industry that must be addressed. I have lost count of conferences and events I have attended with "best in class" speakers, only to be relentlessly disappointed by listening to the same old stuff, wrapped in a slightly different way. I have the utmost respect for the people who participated in the roundtable, but where's the news?

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11 years ago

Thanks for your thoughts. I'd say the question is less: "where's the news?" but "why is so little happening to address what to me at least are very relevant questions"? The objectve was to stimulate debate, engage in cross-cultural learning.

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