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Prescriptions for Healing Research Brands

My last post was about the poor efforts so many MR companies make in their own branding, marketing, and sales. Undifferentiated positioning, irrelevant messages, people who are far more interested in promoting what they want to sell than in learning what I need, etc.

Prescription Medication Spilling From an Open Medicine Bottle

Ron Sellers

My last post was about the poor efforts so many market research companies make in their own branding, marketing, and sales.  Undifferentiated positioning, irrelevant messages, people who are far more interested in promoting what they want to sell than in learning what I need, etc.

In the comments section, I got a great message from Steve Needel:  “OK Ron – you’ve got me hooked – do a follow-up piece and tell me more about what would get you interested.”

In full disclosure, I’ve never met Steve and I don’t even know whether he’s coming from the client side or the vendor side, but his comment percolated in my brain until I poured a hot, steaming cup of this blog post.

What do I find attractive or appealing?

An approach or product that’s new…but relevant.  Let’s be honest – who isn’t attracted to the shiny new stuff?  Of course I’m interested in learning about something new.  But there are two caveats here. 

First, it does need to be actually new.  A constant frustration is when I receive communication promoting the Brand Audit Facilitator (or some such attempt at a catchy name) – but upon digging into it, I find it’s nothing more than a conjoint study with an attempt at a catchy name slapped on it.  That not only destroys my interest but it destroys the credibility of the company promoting it.

Second, it needs to be relevant.  This goes back to what I wrote in the last post about companies needing to understand what I need.  Right after that was posted, I got an e-mail from a company promising to revolutionize how I do my DIY research, so that I don’t need to spend the money hiring a research company to do the work.  In other words, they want to try to put me out of business, but they think I should use their platform.  Not.  Very.  Likely.

A hook that’s actually different…but clever.  I have to say I’m a sucker for those silly Fieldwork foam animals.  They incorporate those animals into their advertising, their annual client calendar, and other communications.  I bring them home from their facilities for my six-year-old daughter, and my clients regularly clean the room of them as they leave.  Those have become the company’s trademark.

Do those animals say anything at all about Fieldwork?  About research?  About focus group facilities?  No – but they certainly grabbed my attention.  I can’t see one of those without thinking of the Fieldwork brand. 

I’ve tried to do similar things with the Grey Matter Research brand; clever little touches that stand out.  Every web page and every outgoing e-mail has an attention-getting quote on it  – everything from the meaningful (“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that really matter” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) to the amusing (“Everything comes to those who wait…except a cat” – Mario Andretti).  You’d be amazed how many comments I get on these quotes.  During December, the Grey Matter logo appears with a Santa hat jauntily cocked to one side.  No one is going to give my company business because of a quote or a Santa hat – but that just might get someone’s attention and get them to read just a little bit more.

On the other hand, I get a calendar every year from two different vendors.  One is a generic “American scenery” calendar with the vendor’s name stamped at the bottom in generic block letters.  The other is a shiny reflecting foil thing with a font that was stolen from the 1970s.  Both are attempts to get my attention, but neither is particularly interesting and certainly neither is clever.  And in today’s online world, does anyone actually pin a calendar to their wall anymore?

A brand that’s different…and, again, relevant.  So many research companies say the same things.  How many ways can you describe a focus group facility?  Well, if there are 18 other facilities in your market, you’d better find some. 


I saw a great suggestion from Harpeth Marketing in a recent article:  “Try this little exercise:  Take a look at the Web site of your top three or four direct competitors.  Read through their pages titled ‘About Us,’ ‘How We’re Different’ or ‘Why Hire Us.’  I’d be willing to bet that their words read an awful lot like the words on your own site.  If that’s the case, how can research buyers make a decision? How do you stand out? Why should they choose you over your competitors? Part of your marketing and sales initiative moving forward must be to find a way to stand out from the crowd.”


I can’t say it any better than that, so I won’t try.


Keep in mind that brand differentiation can also come through visuals and language use, and not just messaging.  If you own a focus group facility that’s got lots of high-tech conveniences and ultra-sleek décor, maybe that helps frame your brand (particularly if others in your market don’t offer that).  Also, with thousands of research companies out there, it’s possible you won’t find a brand position or message that’s unique from all the others.  You don’t need to be the only one in the world using it – but you can still differentiate yourself from the masses in some manner.


Ask me questions…find out what I need.  Any sales call that starts with the caller wanting to tell me about his company comes to a pretty quick end.  Any sales call that starts with questions about what I need often gets at least a quick listen.  I know both are from people who want to make a sale, but the first one communicates that he wants to sell me something regardless of what I need.  The second one communicates that she wants to understand what my needs are and see if they offer anything that will help with those needs.  I know it’s rather selfish, but if I’m the one shelling out money for something, I want it to fulfill my needs, not your sales quota.


Understanding whether you’re trying to sell me your brand…or your brand category.  I don’t need someone to sell me on using online panels.  I’m highly familiar with their advantages (and disadvantages).  But eye tracking?  I’ll admit I’ve never convinced a client to do that.


So if you’re calling from an online panel, I need to hear what makes yours unique (and hopefully better).  But if you’re calling from a place that does eye tracking, maybe I need some ideas on how to incorporate the whole concept into a study, or how to sell the idea to a client.  I may not understand enough about the methodology to grasp how your approach is better than those of your competitors. 


In other words, know whether you’re selling a brand or a brand category.  And how do you know that?  Go back to the point above this one – find out what I need.


Approach with confidence…mixed with humility.  I like working with people who believe in what they do.  As Olympic great Carl Lewis said, “If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.”  (Hey, you just might see that quote on a future Grey Matter e-mail!) 


But there’s a difference between confidence and arrogance.  Confidence is, “Our RDD sample is the best in the business, and I’d like to send you a two-page report that proves why.”  Arrogance is, “The other RDD sample providers are idiots and you’ll eventually get burned by them – if you’re not using our sample, you’re making a big mistake.”  Looking back, it’s amazing how often I’ve been told I was making a mistake if I didn’t buy something.  That’s arrogance.


Oh, and as part of the arrogance issue, please don’t argue with me when we speak.  If I tell you I evaluated your product already and I don’t want to use it, that’s my right.  If I listen to your sales pitch and tell you it’s not the right fit for me, that’s my right.  If you start arguing with me, it’s also my right to hang up on you.  And I will.


I tend to do well with transparency.  Let’s say I ask a recruiter if she has any experience recruiting police officers.  Arrogance will answer, “We can recruit any type of person out there – it doesn’t matter.”  Transparency might answer, “Well, not specifically with police, but my brother-in-law is a detective, so I’m familiar with that world.  Also, we have recruited a lot of business people of various types, and last year we did a study with firefighters and paramedics.”  Confidence will add, “So I am confident that with those various experiences we’ll be able to get this recruit done for you.”


Be the right person…and communicate in the right manner.  I get lots of e-mails from overseas vendors written in badly broken English.  Ironically, they are usually trying to convince me how familiar they are with the U.S. market and what a great job they’ll do for me here.  Someone who writes, “We are very so experience with united States market and will goodly job for you” is probably not going to be successful convincing me of that.


At the same time, someone who reads a script in a monotone voice, talks over me to get his point across, or sounds bored when she calls won’t get much traction with me, either.  I recently got a call from a lady promoting her small phone room.  And while I wasn’t interested in her company’s services, I did at least take a moment to listen to her – simply because she was so warm and engaging on the phone that I actually wanted to.  Had it been a service I could use, I would have been open to what she was selling, because she was just genuine, believable, and nice.  In business, it’s surprising how far those skills alone can take you.


Some people have the skills to write a great e-mail or introduction letter; others don’t.  Some people have the personality to be great on a sales call; others don’t.  If you don’t have those skills, maybe you shouldn’t be doing those things.  Get training.  Get professional assistance.  Get someone else in the company to do it.  But don’t get on the phone with me if you don’t really want to be on that call (and it sounds like it). 


So there you have it.  That’s some of the stuff that works with me.  That’s some of the stuff that gets me interested. 


What works with you?

Please share...

4 responses to “Prescriptions for Healing Research Brands

  1. The real problem is that most research companies are wearing their older sister’s prom dress with a different hemline.

    Businesses and consumers are used to interactive communications where they have some part in the direction of the conversation. Most of the solutions (even newer ones) put forth by MR are dependent on mass response, which by definition means a choice has already been made. Those that aren’t are often attempting to simulate mass response by monitoring stimulated response. Companies can create those measurements without a lot of outside help.

    Most companies are looking for ways to measure the impact of their innovation, the impact their corporate eco-system has on purchase and ways to market in a multi-channel environment. They are not looking for news ways to do choice based modeling or new mediums in which to execute. Respondents will barely read a full Twitter message, much less sit through a 15 minute survey unless they are really engaged, which in itself creates a degree of bias.

    By creating environments where respondents can interactively demonstrate their thoughts (and the research execution is done in situ) a lot can be learned without the 30 questions game. The first rule of sales is to listen. The fact that the listening is now in 3D should be viewed as a benefit and an opportunity. There are many ways to accomplish this in a timely fashion where there is a reasonable assurance of the quality of the data, but it requires a different type of researcher who analyzes more that just a data set. The sun may have set on the golden age of research where large companies process mounds of data but it is just rising on companies who want to understand what the data means to the client.

  2. Ellen, I won’t disagree with your viewpoint, but I do think to some extent we’re talking about two different things here. You’re raising methodological issues. Yes, part of sales is listening to needs, but then there’s a whole process of communicating those needs to the people who develop products and services, and being willing and able to develop those products and services. But even if those are developed, they still need to be sold. And if the sales pitch focuses on the desires of the salesperson, fails to listen to what I want, is presented in a monotone or irrelevant manner, or commits any of the other common sins of research marketing, it still won’t be successful (IMHO). No matter how good the product or service is, the sales and marketing processes have to be there to support it.

  3. Hi Ron:

    I see what you are saying and I think you have hit on a fundamental disconnect within the industry. In many traditional MR organizations the models have gone to a cookie cutter research mentality. They often train their salespeople on the products they support, and that is the scope, even when they say they are a custom research shop. Customers/potential customers are often left frustrated and feel the whole effort was a waster of time. The key to that is qualifying the fit before going on site or past the first step; however in many organizations there are quotas for meetings, proposals etc. based on metrics and the salesperson is forced into meetings where the qualification for the meeting is probably less than 50% at the starting gate.

    The second scenario is more common where the sales folks are supposed to hook the prospect and let the MR team do the heavy lifting. The client is left wondering why he talked to the salesperson in the first place as he explains again what he wants again and is then persuaded to look at things from the vendor’s perception of a solution. Those are often the meetings where the client thinks that there was an initial failure to listen to what they want by the sales team. I have personally had internal discussions prior to meetings explaining what a client wants and more than once have had a project team pitch an entirely different solution in the meeting, effectively blindsiding me. Again it seems to be a waste of time to both the prospect and the sales team. The relationship is essentially over and nobody is happy.

    That is the reality. The point I was trying to make in the first post was that the issue is not always with the communication and expectations but more with what the organization is willing to deliver. Certainly not every sales person is gifted but neither is every marketer. That said there is a whole new generation of companies who are very client centric and who have great ideas for the pull marketing world. It is actually an exciting time to be in consultative sales/consulting and I am looking forward to using some of the new and innovative methods that create a more positive environment for sellers and buyers. Being able to provide an ROI and strategic guidance through new MR methods is going to make research more integral to success in the future and my hope is that it finally becomes central to corporate success.w73h

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