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The MR Manifesto: A Call to Action

Jeff Henning referenced the David Bowie song “Changes” in his recent post re-capping the AMAMRC, and nothing could have been more appropriate:

(Turn and face the strain)
Don’t want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strain)
Just gonna have to be a different man

“Turn and face the strain” indeed! The Thin White Duke always was a bit prophetic, but I doubt he had the global market research industry in mind when he wrote that song. Nonetheless, it certainly applies, as both Jeff and I make a case for in our recent posts recapping the American Marketing Association Market Research Conference.

We are an industry in tremendous flux right now, although many either wont admit it or genuinely don’t see it. The forces of changing client expectations on our value proposition, disruptive technologies, societal evolution, economic pressures, and industry fragmentation are forcing MR firms to adapt at a rapid pace. Like any evolutionary shift, some will adapt successfully and some will not; that is the way change works. Being a preservationist at heart, I have been focused on trying to help as many firms as possible understand the scope of the issue and prompt them to embrace the opportunity for growth being presented to us.

And that brings me to the topic at hand; using social media as an instrument of change in our industry.

First, a bit of background. I am really a bit of a newcomer to social media; LinkedIn was my “gateway drug”, then I progressed to Facebook for personal networking and I was content for a while. I posted interesting articles when I saw them, but it was sporadic at best. But then a few things happened that changed my perception of how these tools could be used:

  1. The recession hit and I found myself the CEO of a floundering full service MR firm that was ill equipped to adapt to the sudden change in status quo
  2. My own 2009 Research Industry Trends study was in progress and I started to hear similar stories from colleagues in the industry
  3. I began to analyze the forces that were impacting my business and recognized the macro trends  involved
  4. I realized that the business model I had used so successfully for years was flawed and began work on a radically different idea for what a research company of the future might look like
  5. I started to use LinkedIn as a communication tool and content warehouse with my network of partners working on this new business concept
  6. I started sharing interesting content prolifically on LinkedIn in order to engage my peers on these broad topics as an informal ongoing discussion

While all of that was happening my long-time partners in RIT the GreenBook Marketing Research Directory and the MRGA approached me to help them with some strategic initiatives. I saw the opportunity as not just a way to give back to friends and loyal business partners, but also as a platform for formalizing my thoughts on the future of the industry and raising awareness of the issues & trends that were impacting us. So, in addition to my business priorities I found myself in the position of blogger on issues of strategic importance in MR/editor of this blog and as an adviser to the MRGA in their efforts to build a central social hub for the industry.

Of course, a by-product has been an increase in my personal brand awareness and cachet in our industry and a steady stream of new opportunities to help others achieve their goals while supporting my family in the interim. All in all, not a bad deal at all and I am enjoying this interesting direction my career has taken.

It’s been an interesting journey to say the least. Over the course of 2010 I have seen many others begin to effectively experiment with a variety of techniques to maximize social media on behalf of their brands. The channels used most often are a combination of postings on LinkedIn forums, webinars, tweeting, and utilization of the MRGA as a PR and networking hub. Of course, the “old reliable” channels of directory listings, SEO, and conference exhibiting continue to deliver marketing ROI as well.

Another interesting development has been the rise of the “non-association aligned” virtual event. Ray Poynter has spearheaded the development of the NewMR Virtual Festival 2010 as a way to give firms across the globe a platform to set the agenda for a truly immersive and inter-connected event. The only agenda is to serve the needs of the participants and advance the industry outside of the political concerns of our diverse trade bodies. This is a bold experiment on harnessing the power of social media in a more egalitarian way than has previously been attempted in our space, and I am proud to be involved. I hope many of you will join us in pioneering this new way to deliver value to the industry.

Unfortunately, there is not a unified platform or portal for our industry to engage on. The plethora of overlapping special interest LinkedIn groups, the dozens of global industry associations, the myriad publications/directories/newsletters, the competing agendas of various industry sectors, and the hundreds of blogs make it challenging to tune out the noise and speak with a unified voice as an industry. Social media has created an unprecedented opportunity to even the playing field in terms of branding activities for organizations of all sizes and stripes, but at the cost of efficiency, cohesiveness, and   unity.

I think there is a better way.

As I said earlier, The GreenBook and MRGA asked me to help them with some strategic initiatives earlier this year. I accepted the invitation because I saw it as an opportunity to address these issues that I believe limit our ability effectively navigate the changing tides carrying us into an uncertain, but promising, future. I’ve worked with the GreenBook and MRGA to develop a synergistic platform that effectively functions as an integrated virtual social, PR, marketing, and media hub for the research industry. The goal has been to create a streamlined process that will enable us all to manage our myriad online promotional activities from one portal. In addition, with the introduction of Researchvibes, we’ve sought to make the flood of news, content, and social networking simpler to manage by implementing a single dashboard that allows users to access and aggregate any content or online tools that they find useful. All of this has been in an effort to create an opportunity for the MR industry to come together and work in concert to chart the course of our collective future using the tools of social media.

So, here is my call to action:

  1. Let’s stop using LinkedIn Groups as a catch all solution. The MRGA has separate areas for discussion forums that won’t be cluttered with blog posts, news updates, and promotional activities; it has separate places for all of that too. I call on each of the prominent LinkedIn group admins to migrate your groups onto the MRGA platform. You can still have full control of the discussions with a far better variety of tools to enhance the user experience and manage the groups.
  2. Post your blogs and news on MRGA. You’ll get as much exposure there as you do on LinkedIn, without the need to duplicate post across the fragmented landscape of LinkedIn Groups. I know many of you will be thrilled to not see my name on 50 different groups every day!
  3. Use The GreenBook and MRGA marketing tools to promote your brand across multiple channels: webinars, radio interviews, publications, directories, social sites, news releases, etc.. You can do it all from this central portal.
  4. Embrace Researchvibes as your homepage. The dashboard was created to simplify the management of your online life and content. It’s very cool, very user friendly, and you can stay engaged on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.. all from there without ever losing a thing. I’ve been using it for months as we developed the platform and really love it.
  5. Attend the NewMR Virtual Festival 2010. Submit a synopses or poster. Engage in this event and help us pioneer a new way to get your message out.
  6. Use the central platform of MRGA to deliver a message to our trade bodies. They are there and listening. Rather than have them set the agenda, let’s take control of the dialogue and ensure that our associations represent the interests of the largest possible group of constituents.
  7. Be a thought leader. Put yourself out there. Engage with your colleagues. We all hold some piece of the puzzle of what the future looks like for our industry. Don’t keep it to yourself . You’ll be helping yourself in many ways while also helping others; it’s a win/win.
  8. Be an agent of  change. As we heard so clearly last week from many clients, the game has changed. The old ways of doing business are not enough any more. We are at a cusp in our industry, and we must embrace change in order to reap the rewards waiting for us on the other side.

I have seen the power of embracing these actions in my own life and career as well as the impact they’ve had on others; it’s time that we apply it in our industry as well. I’m not shilling for the the NewMR Festival, MRGA or the GreenBook; if better resources existed I’d be advocating for them instead. Since they don’t, let’s use these tools (and others that will come into being in the future)  to build a better business model for ourselves, a more effective strategy for our industry, and a brighter future for all stakeholders in the global MR chain.  To paraphrase Ziggy Stardust himself: it’s time to turn and face the strain; just gonna have to be a different man.

That is my manifesto. Obviously I think it’s pretty good; but what do you all think? Will you join me in making it better?

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