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Does Market Research Need a Marketing Plan?

What are we doing to manage our Image outside of our narrow confines? Perhaps not enough. I don’t see the wider community picture, concerted efforts to engage in influence marketing – and I’d love us to have the fine reputation we deserve.

By Edward Appleton

Some of you may recall a recent blog of mine lamenting the rather poor image painted of Market Research in the March 2012 issue of  The Harvard Business Review.  I read on today, same issue, different article  – and much to my irritation, the same general negative picture of MR appeared, but with further negative nuances.

The gist was as follows: Research as the enemy of innovation, as shown in a fictitious Case Study. A  Board Member responsible for Innovation is challenging a traditional Company to develop a breakthrough technology, and meets resistance. One roadblock: Market Research, portrayed as a gain-sayer that simply can’t see “the big picture” – in this case, the potential of breakthrough innovations.

A well rehearsed theme – Research as the enemy of creativity and innovation.

Hmm. I’m a little tired of being part of an industry that serves as a convenient punching bag. Isn’t it time for the MR Empire to strike back?

What’s lacking?

Well, here’s my hypothesis: we have a great product with a poor image. We’re in urgent need of a facelift – a classical re-positioning exercise, if you like.

And maybe we need Marketing techniques and tools to go about it.

Let’s imagine our industry were a product – what we do to rejuvenate it? How would we diagnose ourselves?

A SWOT analysis would help, a positioning statement, a Marketing plan, budget and timing.

I’m not going to go into all that a full Marketing programme would entail – but I’d like to touch on one issue crucial to any Marketing Plan: Audience definition.

Who is our Target Audience? It’s broader, in my view, than just MR Agencies and Clients.

Here’s my take:

1. We have multiple audiences.

We need to think way beyond the Client-side Researcher / Supplier paradigm. “Talking amongst ourselves”  isn’t going to get us very far, even if it gives a feel-good factor.

2. CMOs are a relevant audience we do too little to influence collectively. The same is true of General Managers. Budget allocations happen at the top of organizations – we need to ensure we’re well regarded at this level.

3. Influential advisers matter. Analysts, consultants, Advertising Agencies, CFOs – all are vital audiences. What are we doing to reach them with our “message”?

4. Sales folk. We neglect the role of Sales at our peril. VOC is often an ambiguous acronym – who is “the customer”? Trade partners are critical influencers within any organization.

5. Trend Agencies. Another influential group we don’t engage with enough, in my view.

6. Universities. The role of influential Marketing Professors is undeniable.

7. Editorial staff of influential Business and Marketing magazines. There are plenty of them around, all with their own needs and Agendas.

There are more – University students,  the General Public are two that spring to mind.

What do these audiences a) know about us and b) think about us?  Do we have a good understanding of relevant Touch points? What’s our Messaging Matrix? Tool Definition?

What are we doing to manage our Image outside of our narrow confines?

Not enough, I would say. Individual efforts are fine, and I know of plenty of examples where MR is extraordinarily well perceived. But I don’t see the wider community picture, concerted efforts to engage in influence marketing – and I’d love us to have the Reputation we deserve as an energetic, intelligent, innovative industry.

Curious, as ever, as to others views.


Originally posted on Research & Reflect

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7 responses to “Does Market Research Need a Marketing Plan?

  1. Edward,

    I enjoyed this article very much. Thank you.

    There are two things specifically that resonated with me: The first is the need to get the attention of the higher levels of the organization. These are the folks that the more traditional consulting firms (our competitors) are and have always targetted. At the same time the larger dollar decisions are more and more being pushed up the chain to these levels.

    The second is the partnership idea and in particular with Universities. Apple throughout it’s history (even in the down years), invested in schools and education and proved that getting mind share in the formative years is a key factor for long term brand success. We are seeing this same strategy now with IBM and a number of universities; Northwestern is one that immediately comes to mind.

    Finally, I might add an element to the marketing plan, and that is a basic message change. I know this has been discussed ad nauseaum (and perhaps the reason you left it off your list), but I’m still not sure the message is being heard. Leading with “research” does not put firms in a great position. As the classic text Positioning (Reis and Trout) might suggest, the name “Research” holds a specific position in the customer’s mind (and this position is not necessarily a good one these days.) I recently was talking to a company (a good one with some brilliant people) that positions themselves as a “Market Research and Consulting” firm (not unlike a number of others in our space). While I understand that research may indeed be a core competency, so is market analysis; and perhaps leading with something like “Market Analytics and Consulting” (not a big stretch for them) would open a few more doors these days.

  2. Tony
    Thanks for your kind words and thoughts. I can throw a compliment right backatchyou – just finished reading your book “Into the River” – loved it. One of the best books I’ve read recently on MR – a recommended read to anyone, in my opinion.
    So – going beyond compliments – yes, management consultancies are indeed competing for share of attention at a Board Level. I’d say we are at both an advantage and disadvantage – MR has still to come out broadly with a bold “advisory” message, putting it on the table, so to speak, fair and square, whereas many consultancies are at a different stage of “credibility” regarding operational execution of a strategic plan. I’d say we’re on the ascendant slope of the curve.
    To your second point – true, it’s a worn issue, and no doubt opinions differ by industry, company, country….however, I concur with you on the Analytics tag. Suggestive of ROI. On consulting – I would be cautious here, as the word is bandied about a lot and is much used, not to say abused. I think it very much depends on audience and context as to the descriptor that carries the most weight – overpromise with a “big word” like “consulting” and you need to deliver. But by and large, if one simply says “Market Research” I agree that it doesn’t resonate to me at least with the consultative vibes that we should be delivering. Curious as to others’ views and experiences.

  3. Edward,
    thank you very much for the straight-forward and very true words! As a young consumer research/social media professional I have always asked myself why the industry that is supposed to help clients improve their marketing efforts, is it self so bad at “selling” its ways to do this. My first guess is that many people in the market research industry are sometimes quite stricken in trying to be too profound, too correct and too detailed especially in presenting results. The efforts to position itself more as a consulting industry have so far not really brought change. A very good quote here is that we should sell “impact not methods” (cannot remember who said it). And a second problem in my opinion is that the industry is quite self-focused and not very talkative in exchanging ideas- at least in Europe and in Germany in particular I really miss a more vital exchange e.g. in social media. In cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences in Pforzheim we recently mapped the “German market research web” which illustrates this quite drastically ( – We have defined the audience, let´s move on to make a plan.

  4. Rene, thanks for your comments. There are, in my view, pockets of MR energy in Europe usinlg SM tools – and Germany, as far as I can see, is relatively underdeveloped. Building momentum would require an effort on the part of a number of the “players” – including the German Trade association – and a change in attitude. This is to me also a cultural issue – Germans often aim, in my experience for “scientific” “authority” “process” rather than just trusting their instinct -maybe it’s related to risk-aversion. I would happily lean forward to lend a Client side voice to the debate – maybe the University of Pforzheim is interested. However, I have to say having just check out the link you shared – we all need to get to shorter, to-the-point POVs, the piece in question was so long and detailled that I didn’t make the journey to the end of the piece. Mediums are as important as messages, without wishing to sound too retro.

  5. Edward–It scares me how much you and I think alike!

    “we have a great product with a poor image” Yes! So true. My efforts to address this:
    1. I published an eBook called “Think Outside The Survey” to raise awareness that MR is MUCH more than surveys and FGs. I am not dissing those methods, I am just trying to show how much more MR has to offer–so if someone is s survey cynic, fine–but don’t dismiss the entire field! The ebook has had over 1,000 downloads!
    2. I have been gathering votes on MR industry tag lines. Again, to help raise awareness and position the industry–maybe it would help to have a rallying cry? and click “popular” to see the ones with the most votes so far.

  6. Thanks Kathryn. What is that phrase about the characteristics of people who think alike? 😉 Come to think of it, maybe we should renew it to something like – “I’m thinking what she’s thinking”…;) Love your ideas, so in reverse order – just posted my own suggestion for a moniker for “new MR” – Business Insights and Analytics. Right now, I have zero votes, but I have great hopes! Also just downloaded your ebook – congratulations, This is terrific – I’ll help spread the word, and this is where maybe SM is limited – reach. However, every Tweet counts, right? 😉

  7. Bravo, Edward!

    Is this a case of the “shoemaker’s children?”

    I especially like your new moniker – Business Insights and Analytics. Isn’t his what we’ve all been trying to achieve all along? It could even be acronymized to BIA.

    Let me know how we can all help.

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