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Highlights from IMD 2015: How Researchers Can Become Better Marketers



By Sandra Bauman

As researchers and insights consultants, we spend a great deal of time and effort trying to solve client problems and provide actionable guidance on their brands and products so they can thrive and grow.  But, we can suffer from a bit of the “shoemaker’s children” syndrome where we don’t spend the necessary time thinking about our own positioning and marketing .  Greenbook’s second annual Insights Marketing Day (IMD) provided a daylong respite from our “typical” external focus, encouraging us to look internally at how we can be better marketers.  For the second year in a row, Greenbook did not disappoint—inspiring us with a slate of rock star speakers packed into a fast-moving, eight-hour day.

One theme was differentiation:  if we all have access to similar “tools in the toolbox,” we must work on differentiating ourselves from others in order to be “breakthrough.”  Easier said than done, of course, noted Padmini Sharma of Jester&Genius, who says we need to stop talking about what we do and talk about the how and why. The how helps with distinction, but the why is what compels clients to buy into our brand. It’s the magnet.  Lucy Davison from Keen as Mustard agrees, saying, “You can’t be original if you’re saying the same thing.  You need to find your secret sauce.”  How?  “Researcher, research thyself,” says Lucy.  Padmini suggests implementing a follow-up strategy, a post results check in with clients 3-6 months later to see what resulted from the engagement.  Get metrics and examples about what they accomplished—these make magnetic and differentiating stories.

Speaking of stories, Kristian Aloma of Brandtrust wowed the crowd with his TED talk-like presentation on “Storytelling for the Research Firm.”  Stories create connections between ideas and people that are emotional, inspiring, and memorable.  Humans don’t naturally think in bullets (he posited that perhaps they are called bullets for a reason—they are story killers). Instead, we are influenced strongly by stories because they are relatable, shared experiences and add value through the narrative.  Stories show and let us feel, while bullets only tell.  As researchers we can get in the “weeds” of the data but Kristian provided a “story arc,” connecting the research objective and goals to the What (what lesson(s) did we learn), the  So What (what about the environment, market or business issue make this learning important), and the Now What (what does this mean we can do about it? How do we use this accomplish our goal?).  Getting from the What to the Now What represents the “big idea.”

Another recurring theme throughout IMD was how to move beyond the research transaction to a research partnership model.  If research suppliers want to stop being called the dreaded “V-word” by clients (vendor!), we need to act like partners.  Two panels of speakers—one of clients and one of suppliers—agreed that these actions include:

  • Stop talking about projects (vendors); start talking about results (partners)
  • Stop talking about how the “sausage is made” (vendors); start talking about how you can use it (partners)
  • Stop selling research (vendors); start sharing and exchanging relevant information (partners)
  • Stop self-promoting (vendors); start self-studying as due diligence (partners)

Steven Cook of did a pre-IMD survey among attendees and found that only 42% had a brand positioning statement for their research firm.  For insights companies to truly stand out, we need to stop being the “shoemaker’s children” and ask ourselves how are we different, better, and special.  Then we need to back that up with a client experience that delivers on that partnership.  As Edwin Roman of ESPN summed up so eloquently, we need to remember that, “marketing the research is as important as the marketing research.”

It’s not that what we heard was new information, but IMD succeeded in providing a platform for inspiration so that we could stop and think about these issues, giving ourselves permission to be our own clients for a day of constructive introspection.

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