Bridging the Gap Between Market Researcher and Marketer

In the first installment of "What's the Question?" with Durk Bosma learn how to bridge the gap between suppliers and users of market research in a changing industry.

Something is simmering the market research world. There are developments that will make sure that the industry will never be the same. A name change, a few years back, was the forerunner. The Market Research department in many organizations is now called Marketing Intelligence or Customer Insights. The Dutch market research trade organization is now called “MOA, Center for Marketing Insight – Research – Analytics”. Important sounding words, but this name change masks a significant development in market research world. The essence of the discipline is getting lost in the mire of big data, gamification and a constant stream of shiny new tools. Meanwhile, the gap between market researchers and marketers is bigger than it ever was.

Monopolies have faded

Internally, the insights departments used to have a monopoly on marketing information. Users of such information, the marketeers, had to go through the research department. But nowadays such information is widely available and marketers can easily do their own market research. More and more tools are available for DIY-research. The dreamed position of the market researcher, at the table where the important decisions are made, seems to be further away than ever.

On the other side, research agencies have lost their monopoly on providing marketing information. Traditional research agencies are substituted by other parties. Just think about how Google could launch a frontal attack on the market research industry with their Consumer Surveys. Think of all the agencies that have developed tools to distill information from everything that is written on social media. The traditional agencies are doing their best to keep track of developments, but only succeed in doing so to a limited extent.

An interesting question is, can the traditional market research world follow these changes? And can market researchers follow?

In some organizations, the answer is yes. The study ‘Customer Insight; Time for a review ‘(2011, Van Ossenbruggen and Voskuyl) showed that some organizations have succeeded in making a change. Marketeers at these forerunners make better decisions because they are fed with the right insights at the right time. This knowledge is the basis for thoughtful marketing decisions at both tactical and strategic levels. The marketing intelligence department thus has a clear impact on the success of the organization.

The gap

However, reality looks different in many cases. Many organizations experience a major gap between user and suppliers of market research. A number of client side market researchers formulated this as follows in an article about the state of affairs in market research: “In many [major research firms] too often a self-developed model is still leading above the actual needs of the clients ‘. According to one marketing research manager at ING bank, agencies – big and small – rather talk about their tools than about what the customer can achieve with those tools. Later in the article the statement is made that many market researchers lack the knowledge and skills to deliver really good consultancy. And that can be expected. Less experienced researchers at the agency often know too little about what really happens within the organization of their clients. And the large number of questions fired at the internal market researchers by their marketing department causes them to be flooded with work, leaving little room for giving proper advice.

Robert van Ossenbruggen (The Commercial Works) described ‘the gap’ as follows:

“.. it is this strict division between providers and users that causes a lot of trouble. Different professionals speak different languages and are equipped with different skills, but are also responsible for different phases in the customer insight process. The consequences of this mutual misunderstanding or even distrust are substantial. Decision makers, or users of customer insight, often overtly doubt the added value of customer insight providers. They tend to qualify the activities as ‘fuzzy’ and accuse providers of focusing on methods, models and figures without having sense of what is happening in the business. On the other hand, researchers and analysts accuse decision makers of putting too much faith in their intuition and using the results of the research department primarily to support existing ideas. Also, they suspect them of being guided by other interests than the customers’ and of being too eager to take projects to the subsequent level, undermining the output of the researcher or analyst.” (Van Ossenbruggen, 2012, Earning A Seat At The Table)

And the outlined problem is not new. Veterans in the industry know that the gap has existed since the beginning of time. However, we see that it has increased by technological developments and not diminished. The new reality requires us to go back to the core as market researchers. Existential questions that each market researcher must answer are: what is the added value of our field? How can I deliver it? These questions are too often forgotten in the discussions about all new tools and possibilities.

Essence of the field

In the past, the answer to these questions was often found in the process: Provide timely answers to requests from marketers within a limited budget. But as researchers, we tend to talk too quickly and too much about our process, tools and techniques. We forget that these tools should deliver results that our clients can use. The marketeer wants to do something with the results. He or she should use them to make solid decisions. Typical examples of studies where this point is often missed are customer satisfaction research and brand tracking. Often executed well and reported beautifully, but ultimately little is done with the outcomes, leading to dissatisfied end users.

The actual added value of market research is not in the process of collecting information. The real added value of our field of study is a clear analysis of the marketing or research problem, resulting in the right research questions and consequently, an advice on the right approach. And afterwards, if the answers are there, present them in such a way that the answers have an optimal impact in the client’s organization. In other words, market researchers should be able to determine what insights the marketer needs and how these insights should be found.

Show off your added value

In a data flooded world, having no clear idea what the added value of our business is, causes slight panic. But we, market researchers, have always been good at bringing order in the chaos of all the information available to us. We do so by asking the right questions and knowing how to answer them. Maybe we’re too modest to show off this essential skill?

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