OPINION9 December 2016

Should market researchers aspire to be more like marketing and advertising?

Leisure & Arts Media Opinion UK

It’s time for market researchers to work harder at promoting the value of the work that they do argues Research Now's Chris Dubreuil.

With the explosion of data within many organisations, our industry associations have talked even more than usual about the need to demonstrate the importance of data in strategic decision making.

It’s time for our industry to prove its worth. Often, marketing and advertising are used as examples of industries that are perceived as ‘sexy’ by businesses and the public alike. But it always felt to me that the aspiration to be like those more ‘creative’ industries smacked a bit of ‘the grass is always greener’ syndrome.

Earlier this year, we carried out a study to better understand the perceptions of marketing in British and US business. We asked 650 non-marketing employees of companies with marketing teams and 50 or more full time employees what they thought the main roles and responsibilities of the marketing team were, and what their value within the organisation was.

We found that generally the value of the marketing team was well established. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said the marketing team was essential to the business, although sales ( 94%), customer service ( 92%), and manufacturing and operations ( 85%) were all deemed more vital.

The most interesting data emerged when participants were asked about the roles of the marketing team. The perception of marketing is rooted in what is tangible, in particular in creative output such as advertising, PR and brand management. Fifty-four percent regard advertising and promotions as the top marketing activity, followed by 47% for brand management and development, 34% for organising events, and 39% brochure production. Fifty-six percent of participants said that web management and SEO have increased in importance within the marketing team in the past couple of years.  

On the whole this is fine. After all, these are some of the key activities of the marketing. (Though I might question the quantity of brochures the study indicates are being produced by marketing teams – it is the 21st century after all). The common thread with these activities is they are very public. The product is often the face of the organisation.

But when it comes to the more strategic elements of marketing, the awareness just isn’t there. Only 15% saw customer data analysis as a function of marketing and only 10% said the same for competitor analysis.  Participants also didn’t associate marketing with having any strategic input. Only 11% saw the team as driving business strategy and 16% saw collaborating with other departments as one of its top functions.

While market research is just one component of marketing, I think no one would disagree if I said that researchers are seen in a similar bracket to general marketers. Market research can often be misunderstood. Take The Apprentice television show where market research is often an afterthought and used to validate existing ideas/proposals rather than to drive new ideas/proposals.

Like marketers, we researchers need to market ourselves better and prove that market research provides iterative insight. We need to show that we’re ahead of the game. New technologies are driving this, but the people have to as well.

As an avid fan of Formula 1, I liken the research industry to people working in the factories, trying to create marginal gains in engine performance to make their race team number one. While it tends to be against the inherent nature of the average researcher to shout about themselves, we need to tell those in business that we provide strategic elements rather than simply post-rationalising decisions.

With our dynamic and fast-paced market, failing to acknowledge what is really significant for the customers is a recipe for catastrophe.

How are we to do that? I don’t have a comprehensive answer, but I suspect it lies with the researchers and the associations to push the value of market research to business and perhaps the wider public in general. The research industry has to help guide strategic business decisions by going beyond serendipity, through using insights gained from research in a predictive fashion.

We do research in order to answer the ‘how’s’ and the ‘why’s’ of our clients, but how are we to be taken into account for predicting the ‘what now’s'? What is your best idea?

Chris Dubreuil is managing director, Northern Europe, sales at Research Now

1 Comment

3 years ago

Aaah, the irony. Using research to establish that research is undervalued.

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