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Marketing Market Research: Finding Your “Secret Sauce”


By Rick Kendall 

I attended GreenBook’s excellent Insights Marketing Day last week. A major theme that ran through the day was that the key to building a market research agency’s brand (whether the agency is one person or 100) is to “find your company’s ‘secret sauce’ – that ability or quality that makes your firm unique and gives potential clients a reason to use you.”

In her excellent keynote presentation, Lucy Davison, Managing Director of Keen As Mustard, graphically showed the trap that many market research firms fall into: The trap of generically describing themselves.  She stressed the importance of finding and communicating that which makes a firm stand out from the others.  “We partner with our clients”, or “Quality is important to us” just doesn’t cut it.  Nobody doesn’t do them.

Great advice – and it was repeated throughout the day.  But, let’s face it, few research organizations really have a unique, brand-building “secret sauce”.   What companies do, methodologically, is pretty much a commodity.  We collect, analyze and report data.  And we all think we do a pretty good job at that.  But saying, “Hire us, because we do that stuff better than the other guys” isn’t the answer because that is pretty much what everyone says.

In other words, while it is simple to say, “Find your Secret Sauce”, how to do it is not so easy.  And, frankly, I came away from the Insights Marketing Day feeling that the ‘How?” question was not really addressed, let alone answered.

IMDAs someone who spent a number of years behind a client desk, my answer to the claim that “We do that stuff better”, was generally, “Oh yea? Then show me.”  In thinking over what I saw as a hole in the Insights program and reflecting on my own client-side experience, however, I realized that the answer had been given – it’s just that no one hung a sign around it that said, “Recipe for Secret Sauce!”

But it was there, hiding in plain sight.  The work an agency produces is its Secret Sauce.  (Unless, of course, you are so big, and been around for so long that your sheer mass pulls clients into your gravitational field.  Those are the few “name brands” who can have as their tag line: “Hire Us and You Won’t Get Fired”.)

For the rest of us, it is about the work we’ve done.  And that was clearly stated by the members of the Client Panel.  “Show me what you’ve done.  Tell me something useful that I don’t know.  That will get my attention.”  Simple.  But not easy.  How do you show potential clients work you’ve done for actual clients – who paid you for it?  How do you give away information without giving away the store? If it is new, interesting and useful, shouldn’t you be getting paid for it rather than giving it away?

Quite simply, it means that the research agency needs to look at every project it does as both a service to the client who is paying for it and as a potential sales tool. It is important to ask about every project, “how can I use this study to provide some useful information to potential clients that will reinforce the image of my firm without violating the trust of the client who paid for it?”  It takes effort and creativity, but it can be done.

These are serious questions without easy answers.  It is hard work to figure out.  And you have to keep figuring it out, because the shelf life of this kind of Secret Sauce is short.  It can go stale before you know it if you aren’t on top of it.

The other hard part about having a Secret Sauce that you have to keep making is maintaining consistency.  What is it about your company that you want the Secret Sauce to convey to clients about you? Answering that is building your brand.  If there isn’t a common theme to your Sauces, they quickly loose their punch.  Again, not easy, but well worth the effort.

The good news is there are more and more ways of getting your Secret Sauce in front of potential clients quickly and efficiently – Email, LinkedIn, blogs, conference presentations, webinars, white papers, etc., etc. etc.  This makes the effort increasingly worth it.

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