A few weeks ago a mysterious new voice joined the #MRX Twitter community that has grabbed the attention of many and provided some very pointed (and often humorous) views on the state of research suppliers from the client perspective. This anonymous agent provocateur calls themselves Angry_MR-Client and although many are uncomfortable with their views and approach, based on my experience I suspect they are speaking for a great many clients. I reached out to them to see if they would consent to an interview and he/she they agreed.
Angry_MR_Client will also be a guest on Radio NewMR next week, so be sure to tune in next Monday to hear more wit, wisdom, and hard truths from this great new participant in the online discussion community; it’s sure to be fun!
We conducted this interview via “secure encrypted email” over the course of the last few days. I think you will enjoy this one very, very much.
LFM: Thanks for agreeing to talk with us! As background you recently came on the MR Twitter scene and have generated quite a bit of excitement with your brutally honest (and pretty darn funny!) critiques of the supplier side of the research industry. Judging from your bio (So fed up with all the MRX agencies that fail to embrace innovation, can’t connect the dots and most importantly, lack common sense!) it seems that, to borrow a slogan, you’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. What made you decide to start this crusade?
AMRC: Thanks so much for the invitation Lenny! Before I answer your question, I need to make a confession: I hate flings! And lately, I’ve been having way too many of them. I’m always open to try out new agencies if I believe they offer something interesting and useful, but unless they wow me, I will move on to the next one. And that was the trigger to join the #MRX conversation on Twitter and have my frustrations heard. Now I know I’m not going to be able to change the market research industry, but big changes come from small steps. However, if based on this initiative, one person will do one thing differently, then I will be a @happy_MR_client. Oh, and there’s one more reason: it’s fun.
LFM: So it’s fair to say that when it comes to your supplier partnerships, you’re a serial monogamist (or polygamist, since I suppose you do have a roster of favorites)? What are the early warning signs that “it’s just not going to work out”?
AMRC: Never thought about it like that, but you’re spot on.
Talking about early warning signs, the flashing light and siren sign comes on when I hear the “we do everything” pitch. Unfortunately, no one can be good at everything, so I consider a missed chance of showing off the agency’s competitive advantage, a lack of one. I always appreciate agencies more if they are honest about what they can, but especially what they can’t do. Another early warning sign is a messy proposal. The proposal is an agency’s first shot at impressing me. It’s our first date. If the proposal does not address my brief in a clear and convincing way, then most likely, the project deliverable will miss the point as well. And then there’s the Copy/Paste Syndrome which is another big NO NO for me. I will never go for an agency that is trying to push a generic approach (emphasizing the methodology rather than its benefits), as it shows they don’t care about (or understand) the specifics of MY project. Oh and limp handshakes – they disgust me.
LFM: I’m guessing that your anonymity is important to you, so with that in mind what can you tell me about your background and current role? And as a follow-up, why the secrecy? Many client side researchers are active in social media and don’t seem the worse for wear, so why have you chosen to be anonymous?
AMRC: My background is white, haven’t you seen my profile picture? My current role is interviewee.
To answer your second question, I believe that with the rise of Twitter, everyone can now have a voice, this means there are lots of voices to compete with. Still, people will always be intrigued by stories, entertainment, and mystery. Add to that the irresistible possibility to find out clues on how to win a client’s heart and you might get something quite tempting. I think that Angry_MR_Client has more potential (than my real name) to do that. I’m just trying to apply what I’m preaching. My anonymity hopefully adds to the mystery.
LFM: You’ve posted several times about how disappointed you are with many suppliers: describe your ideal supplier for us. What qualities, capabilities, etc.. would they be made up of? As a follow-up, what turns you off from most suppliers you encounter?
AMRC: I think the words that sum up my ideal agency would be “strategic partner”. Which means they understand my business and how their work contributes to my company’s growth. They go beyond their core role of “market research provider” and work together with me to really understand the areas to address that will have the biggest impact. They inspire, but also challenge me. Despite what the old adage says, I don’t think that the market research client is always right. I personally find it very refreshing to be proven wrong by an agency. It will take a lot of courage and good logic to do that though (I once threw a stapler at an agency CEO who said gamification is a waste of time).
Another characteristic of an ideal agency is that they have a multidisciplinary team whose capabilities go beyond market research, into fields like advertising, management consulting, and even a bit of theatre. It’s such a pity when great input from fieldwork does not come through in the final deliverable. And this is where skills like storytelling, copywriting, strategic thinking or acting come in very handy.
I also love working with agencies who are as passionate as me. Passionate to understand people and discover how to make a lasting difference to their lives. Passionate to challenge themselves and constantly evolve their methodologies. Passionate to care about the people who participate in research as much as they care about the client who pays for the project.
LFM: What drives you mad more than anything else?
AMRC: What drives me MAD (yes, it needs caps) is what I call “Taxi agencies”. They take you from A to B, without any interest in where you came from or what you will do after you get there. Horror agencies charm me with their proposal, but then fail miserably to live up to their promises. They blindly follow what I ask, never contradict me and hide their lack of opinion behind “flexibility”. They deliver reports that I have to redo before I can share them further. Not to mention slides full of errors or presentations that lack clear conclusions or recommendations.
LFM: Who else makes you angry?
AMRC: Marketers who don’t participate in their focus groups or those who take numbers out of context. Oh, and these words: leverage, synergy, conceptualization and holistic.
LFM: Although I personally think your approach fills a much needed gap in the conversation (similar to the sorely missed MR Heretic on the supplier side), some folks have expressed concern that the “us vs. them” position is ultimately unhelpful and actually creates more barriers to developing a true culture of partnership in the industry. What’s your take?
AMRC: I definitely see the relationship between me and my agencies as a partnership. But the thing with partnerships is, they only work if both parties believe in the same approaches and work together towards a common goal: which in this case is growing my business (because if my business grows thanks to them, their business will grow as well). We’re in this together. The “us versus them” attitude appears only when the two “partners” don’t respect each other’s roles and expertise, when they don’t complement, but overlap each other. This is never the case for me, because why would I pay someone to do what I could do better? So to sum up, my take is, some folks are wrong.
LFM: You’re obviously looking for innovative approaches as well as a more strategic consulting culture; what newer methods or approaches have you most excited and how are you allocating your budget in 2013 to explore them?
AMRC: I’m afraid I can’t answer this question. That’s because I don’t allocate my budget per methodology but per business question. I will get excited though, if at least a few proposals will include some online community, mobile research, or gamification ideas. The method is only a means to an end. And as much as I believe in the potential of these new techniques, they need to be used in the right way and in the right project, so they can prove their power to help us discover an insight we would otherwise miss.
LFM: How are the changes impacting the industry impacting your role? Are the things you are looking for being driven by changing needs within your organization?
AMRC: Lately there’s been a major push in my organization to do everything faster. Including consumer research. What we used to expect to take months, we now expect to take weeks. We’re therefore quite open to experiment with non-traditional new entrants in the industry, boutique agencies and DIY research. Whatever will get us better insights in a faster way.
LFM: Looking ahead 3 years; what is your take on what the industry will look like? Will you be working with more non-traditional players, smaller boutique firms, insourcing more, or…?
AMRC: I think we’ll see quite some successful attempts to make research more “natural”, more seamlessly integrated into people’s daily lives, research that feels less like research and dare I say, more like having fun. That means the rise of passive data collection, quantified self, various forms of gamification and creative ways of engaging with people.
LFM: You know I have to try one more time to figure out who you are so I’ll put the ball in your court and we’ll do a virtual game of “Clue”; give us one hint?
AMRC: OK, here’s your clue. If I ever reveal who I am, some people will be very surprised.
LFM: OK, fair enough! Let the speculation begin… I don’t want to get on your hit list for taking too much of your time, so last question: if there was one thing you would like to communicate to the research industry that you consider to single most critical issue that needs to be addressed what would it be?
AMRC: The biggest opportunity for market research is to become the industry of choice for more top graduates. For that, we need to change its stereotype of a “boring” industry. How many of the top graduates mention market research as their #1 choice? We compete for talent with marketing, advertising, or management consulting, industries which have somehow managed to brand themselves as “cooler” than us. Market research is fascinating, interesting and magical. So why aren’t we showing off more? There are some great examples of initiatives that aim to change our industry’s dorky reputation, but we could do so much more to rebrand ourselves. With all the new methods, we’re now better positioned than ever to show off how cool of an industry we are.