OPINION1 November 2011

Tools don't make MR


Jason Anderson works for Blizzard Entertainment, publishers of World of Warcraft, one of the biggest-selling videogame franchises. As director of global consumer insights, he has to understand the needs of the company’s millions of customers – and he could tell you that gamers aren’t backwards in coming forwards about issues that irk them.

But even he was a little taken back by the negative reaction he received to a post written for the Greenbook Blog last month, entitled Eight things I would do if I were a market research company. Two points stood out for me. The first was the advice to “get out of the survey business”. The second was to “sell impact, not methodology”.

The latter point attracted most of the criticism, but the two are really inextricably linked. In a follow-up blog explaining why agencies must move away from surveys, he wrote: “Your clients are now your competitors. There are no longer any technical barriers to entry, and the technology itself will move faster than your ability to remain competitive. You will still be involved in surveys, of course, but this shouldn’t be your identity.”

Anderson’s status as a buyer of research elevates his views beyond the point of ‘merely interesting’ to ‘worthy of serious consideration’. But as if to hammer the point home, we heard the same message coming through in our interviews with some of the fastest-growing agencies in the UK, which form part of our annual review of the industry. The agencies we spoke to by and large credited their success to a focus on delivering real business results, not merely data or the tools they use to gather that data.

But to have an impact agencies need to be in a position to be listened to, and to do that they need to demonstrate the importance of what they do – something that’s often not properly achieved, says Ipsos CEO Didier Truchot.

Telling compelling stories – about consumers, markets, business challenges and solutions – can help, but as Norstat’s Dan Kvistbo says researchers must remember to ground their stories in reality. Anderson’s exhortation to forget methodology and focus on effect is not an invitation to let the story get in the way of the facts. Designer David McCandless might be known for his beautiful data visualisations, but there’s hard science behind them – he’s even working with a statistics tutor to advance his understanding of the field.

No tradesman or woman should let their tools define who they are. The real strength of the researcher is the value they create from the tools and raw material at their disposal. It’s a shame that being reminded of that fact could spark such fury.