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What Does Market Research Sell?

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Nielsen ‘Next BIG Thing” event in Cairo. A high-point was the full-day seminar conducted by Martin Lindstrom based on his “Buyology” book and neuroscience findings. In it, he asked the audience: what do you sell?

About a year ago I had the opportunity to attend the Nielsen ‘Next BIG Thing” event in Cairo. I could write multiple posts about the event as a whole; suffice to say that it was fantastic and very inspiring. A high-point was the full-day seminar conducted by Martin Lindstrom based on his “Buyology” book and neuroscience findings; again, I could write droves on that as well but for right now I’d like to focus on a question he asked the audience: what do you sell?


The audience was primarily made up of corporate marketing and insights professionals, and for them the question was obviously focused on their brand’s particular offering. But for the MR suppliers there I think the answer was something different. Sure, we could say that we sell specific products or services and that would be true, but it wouldn’t capture the real value proposition of market research. Do we sell knowledge, insights, data, and consulting? Yes, those things are part and parcel of every research project, but I think the answer is a little deeper than that.

What we really sell is success.

Ultimately the goal of MR regardless of vertical, methodology, or application is to enable our clients to sell more “stuff” successfully. It doesn’t matter whether the “stuff” is an idea, message, product, or brand: the measure of our true value is in how well we help to make that happen. Selling more really is the bottom line definition of business success, isn’t it? So if we accept that as true, then at the core of MR is the selling of success as our true primary purpose. The rest is “how’s”; this is the “why”.

Why is that important? Because often we seem to get tunnel vision and can’t see the forest for the trees. We like to get caught up in discussions of scientific rigor and methodological purity, or focus on why our mousetrap is better than everyone else’s. Of course those are important things to understand and help define the executional aspects of our business models, but when we forget exactly why we exist to begin with I think we begin the slide to irrelevance. And I fear that we have begun to traverse that slippery slope already

As MR evolves to adapt to the rapid changes in global cultures, technology, and business needs it’s vital that we don’t get distracted by minutiae and continue to look at the big picture. If we are to earn our seat at the Board Room table and prove our relevance in this age of easy access to data from a thousand different sources, we need to ensure that we are selling success to our clients. Every interaction should be based on that core absolute. We can discuss how our specific offerings or approaches will enable that to happen, but we should never lose sight of what is really expected of us from those that use what we do.

Now, I know some of you may be thinking I’m crazy here; that is OK, it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of that! Perhaps I’ve arrived at this conclusion because my background is a bit different from many of many colleagues.  Here is my dirty little secret: I don’t consider myself a researcher. A consultant, problem solver, methodologist, strategist, business executive, or even marketer are labels that all fit me far better than “researcher”. I am methodologically agnostic for the most part; for me research is a very cool, wonderfully interesting business and the tools are simply a means to an end; to give our clients success. That being the case, my focus is always on what is the best path available to make that happen, and increasingly that seems to lie outside of the “strict constructionist” view of MR embraced by many others.

To paraphrase the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel: “You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for!”. I don’t propose that the MR industry needs me per se, but I do think we need more leaders who think like business executives and less like researchers. There is an overwhelming outcry from our clients demanding that we prove our value compared to what other companies in overlapping industries like social media monitoring, brand consultancies, DIY suppliers, and business intelligence/analytics provide. In order to effectively compete, we simply must focus on our mission: selling success. To make that happen, we must move away from the idea that we are the tools that we use. That is not a business growth strategy because the “hows” are changing to quickly now and we should not be wedded to the old tools when new tools can do the job more effectively. Instead, we have to embrace an industry vision that is driven by giving clients what they really want: the answer to how to grow their business and brand (sell more stuff). By selling that level of success, we’ll be successful in turn.

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2 responses to “What Does Market Research Sell?

  1. Great! I say this everytime I am asked what MR or SR really means. Of course I acknowledge the fact that it’s Leonard Murphy’s one of many Lennyism’s that I subscribe to. Keep the great ideas flowing. You are doing a great service to a great profession. Thanks. Nasir

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