One of the hottest topics in MR right now is Transforming the Research Industry. That is a big undertaking that encompasses everything from methodologies to business positioning, and one of the ideas bandied about most often is that we must increasingly assume the roles of “Strategic Insight Consultants”.
This issue was brought to the forefront for me recently as I worked on an effort to define a new industry taxonomic structure for one of my own consulting practice clients. Working with The GreenBook, Kinesis Survey Technologies, The MRGA, and Bly& Bly Analysis we surveyed almost 400 MR professionals on how they define their business.
What was interesting was that 41% of respondents selected “Consulting” as their primary identification category, while only 24% identified their firms as “Consultancies” in the firmographic section (the largest segment was 39%: Full Service Research Supplier). The conclusion we reached here is that more and more MR firms are identifying themselves as consultants as their core offering rather than focusing on traditional research practice descriptors (methodology or research application focused). Obviously, a shift in business positioning to consulting is occurring by a sizable component of the industry.
The transition from MR suppliers to consultant sounds simple on the surface, but there is a big difference between designing, fielding, analyzing, and reporting on a given business question and actually recommending specific strategies and tactics to make the insights actionable in order to provide maximum ROI from the research. Researchers tend to be an interesting mix of inquisitive and cautious; we’re good at finding stuff out, but tend to be reluctant in helping clients determine what it means at a strategic level for their business. There are good reasons for that reticence; not only are there potential liability issues involved, but often MR firms lack the needed contextual experience to make the connections necessary to be effective consultants.
Where is the viable path forward to support this transition? Michaela Mora of Relevant Insights posted a great blog entry titled Market Researchers Benefit From Learning Marketing. This dovetails nicely with my own post last week that touched on the same subject. Michaela makes some wonderful points, and her conclusion is this:
Market researchers often complain they are not taken seriously and that too many research reports are used more as dust collectors (the thick ones can support a sofa’s missing leg also) than providers of decision support. I have had the fortune to see the implementation of research insights in action with huge dividends, and all I can say is that after all the correct methodological and data quality considerations has been made, what makes a difference in delivering actionable research is looking at the results from a marketing perspective in light of current market conditions and a client’s financial and capacity resources.
Market researchers, who know the principles of marketing are always in better position to help their clients. They will not do the selling. That’s the clients’ job. But market researchers should provide insights on who to sell, what to sell, why and to some extend how to sell to promote clients’ business growth.
It seems to me that the message here is that in order to become effective consultants we need to act like researchers, but think like marketers. That strikes me as a transition that our industry can make, especially if we begin to bring in talent from outside of the MR space.
The imperative to make this transition, and the potential opportunity if we do it well, is significant. WARC has a report this morning regarding Accenture (which is a great example of an insight driven consultancy) releasing the results of a recent survey of 400 global executives that shows that “Brand owners should emphasize analytics, innovation and rigorously measuring communications effectiveness to find the “sweet spots” that will drive future growth.” That certainly sounds as if they are singing our tune to me! Here is a bit more detail:
These figures stood at 64% and 52% in turn for delivering category-leading innovation, while 41% of growing companies had employed effective digital ads, falling to 25% for their faltering counterparts.
So here we are: clients are demanding that the industry raise the bar on our value proposition and many firms are beginning to change the positioning of their firms in response. Simultaneously, we have a potential talent gap and a required shift in thinking about the role and responsibility of the researcher in the marketing chain. My analysis of the situation is that in order to be successful, we have to do more than pay lip service to being consultants and instead invest in the necessary human capital and other resources to transform our businesses and lead the industry forward. This may not be easy, especially under economic uncertainty, but the path is clear if we choose to take it.
By the way, I am in no way proposing that every MR company become consultants; there will be a natural reordering of the space with technology providers, sample vendors, methodology experts, suppliers of specialized research products, and even a few “pure” full service firms that have very distinct vertical or business issue focuses still in the mix. I do think that the bulk of full service MR firms will be forced to move to a consultancy model in order to stay competitive. If that is the case, the early entrants into the market will have a distinct advantage. Consider the race underway!