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Marketing In Crisis – What Does That Mean For Market Research?

A tipping point will come when all the influential Marketing voices currently arguing against short-termism and the related concept of Shareholder Value gain critical mass. More influential companies will follow the lead of the likes of Amazon: totally customer focused.



By Edward Appleton

In the June 2013 issue of Harvard Business Manager (German edition) there is an article by Prof. Thorsten Henning-Thurau of Münster University entitled “Crisis of Marketing“.

It makes for disturbing reading.

Professor Henning-Thurau’s thesis is that Marketing is taken less and less seriously in a broad range of companies and industries, often being degraded simply to an execution function for other more respected departments such as R&D and Finance. 

He quotes from a 2012 study conducted by the Fournaise Marketing Group ( that only 10% of CEOs really trust their Marketing staff. Only 20% of CEOs of German companies apparently have any experience working in Marketing – the rest being a mixture of Scientists, Engineers, Financial Experts. The work executed by Marketing is negatively perceived as superficial, preoccupied with misleading advertising campaigns, focusing on the short-term, neglecting the central but more longer-term goal of raising Customer Satisfaction. 

Why is this relevant for Market Research?

Simply because if our main Client area – Marketing – is indeed losing status and influence within Companies, that’s bad news for everyone dependent on the Marketing Budget – including Research.

However: as the article points out, delivering on Customer Needs remains the central task of all healthy companies. An opportunity for Market Research? I think so – here’s my take on a few ways MR can become more influential.

1. Document the Impact of Insights

However frequently you do it, making a list of the projects completed, documenting the impact MR had, and then sharing that broadly is a good way of making sure MR is thought of as a positive investment. Particularly relevant when budgets are being discussed.

2. Shine a Light on our Role

It’s important to ensure that our contribution is visible and gets recognition. Being modest is an attractive personal attribute, but it can have a professional downside. Making sure that people with influence know who we are, what we are working on, with what impact is important – it doesn’t have to be seen as showing off. Regular stakeholder updates – quarterly lists, one-on-one sessions, emails – are invaluable. As new people join, ensure they are updated fast.

3. Collaborate Across Boundaries

If Marketing really is under the cosh, as the article seems to suggest, then we need to get close to all the Functional Area leads who are driving decision making: understand their needs better, find a role where Insights could impact positively. Volunteering to work in projects where your role needs shaping beyond a classical MR function is a good way to move into new areas, get people to see you in a new light.Simply asking questions such as “Do we fully understand the Customer perspective?” is a good starting point, and will often be welcomed in my experience.

4. Focus relentlessly on measuring ROI

Research can help Marketing in many ways, but measuring ROI is a key area as it provides justification for budget expenditure. There are plenty of ways of going about this – marketing mix modelling is an established option, attribution modelling is gaining traction. But even a simple approach such as measuring total cost of a given activity versus attributable incremental margin using a test and control method is a good starting point.

One thing all of us need to remember: we’re business people. We are paid to make a contribution to business issues. The more we focus on our own Market Research industry concerns – however valid – we run the danger of being inward-looking. Not many people outside of MR are going to get that excited about respondent engagement or data-protection issues.

On a more optimistic note, I would – boldly, hopefully not foolishly – predict that within the not too distant future a tipping point will come, when all the influential Marketing voices currently arguing against short-termism and the related concept of Shareholder Value will gain critical mass, and more influential companies will follow the lead of the likes of Amazon – totally customer focused. The Voice of the Customer will regain centre stage – and as long as we are well positioned, MR stands to gain influence massively.

Curious, as to others’ views.

Please share...

9 responses to “Marketing In Crisis – What Does That Mean For Market Research?

  1. Just saw a video today that spoke to the CFO’s role expanding and potentially becoming MR’s major customer. I concur that being myopic is not in our best interest. If anything we in MR need to remember to market ourselves with a passion!

  2. My career was born within engineering / R&D departments. In that world view, it IS engineering’s responsibility to create products that satisfy user needs, and part of that responsibility is being able to understand those needs. Marketing is about communicating and managing the customer engagement, but we would NEVER delegate the job of defining our product to a group too far away from us.

  3. I agree with all points made. Marketing, and marketing research, must evolve with the times; and, more and more, the name(s) of the game are accountability and relevancy. If research can’t be directly tied to financial results, budgets will decline to the point of evaporation.

  4. IThe 2012 study conducted by the Fournaise Marketing Group has been roundly questioned as having much legitimacy. It was a convenience sample. I would expect a professor to have delved a bit deeper.

  5. Thanks to all those commenting.

    Question to @brian – can you share details of the sampling criticism? From the link I can only see that they talked to 1.200 CEOs/people in leadership positions across range of countries. Whilst agreeing that Universities should and can take a more idealistic position on sampling, would you then disagree with or simply discount with the underlying findings? I take every piece of evidence and interrogate it for plausibility, even on very small sample sizes, and yes also on convenience samples. Also: he gives plenty of other examples of companies turning away from or even doing away with Marketing functions completely, so this was just one piece of evidence. Does your experience chime or not with this thesis? Curious

  6. An alternate view is as follows : Marketing is in a crisis, the budgets of marketing would perhaps shrink, this puts pressure on marketers to demonstrate proof of ROI of spends, therefore – their spends on research should go up.
    This is based on the assumption that Research spends within the marketing budgets are a small fraction. Therefore, pressure on spends will drive up the spend productivity imperative, which in turn should fuel more market research
    The challenge is for MR to deliver real value – and here, the need therefore is to understand the business in addition to the consumer

  7. In response to Brian Monger’s post: the tracking data mentioned here came from our Fournaise 2012 Global Marketing Effectiveness Program, in which we interviewed more than 1,200 Large corporation and SMB CEOs and decision-makers in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia – using standard hi-quant, statistically-representative sample methodologies. The same tracking data was quoted and used by Marketers, Marketing magazines and Academics across 17 countries worldwide, and its bottom-line was basically the same as what other similar research programs from IBM, Forrester etc. identified to explain the CEO-CMO divide.

    So, at this stage, our advice to Marketers is to either face the problem and do something about it to fix it, or continue avoiding the problem by focusing the debate on the data itself (and run the risk of ending up being less and less relevant in the eyes of their Management).

    Edward, we agree with your assessment regarding MR. Official stats show that MR spending has been decreasing globally, so MR specialists will have to take a good look at the relevance of what they bring to the picture and how they can better contribute to helping Marketers generate better ROI.

  8. @ashwin – you state that MR needs to understand a business in order to add real value – do you think this is a realistic goal for most MR agency providers?

    @katherine – thanks for the detail. Was the sample a convenience sample, as suggested by Brian? If so, how does this sit with your assertion that the study was statistically representative sampling methodologies? Convience sampling has inbuilt sampling biases. Regardless of this issue, I agree with your central thesis: we shouldn’t avoid the debate, and not get lost in details that don’t interest anyone outside of MR. Can you share the stats you mention that say that spending on MR is decreasing globally? MR folk I feel are aware of the sense that they need to contribute for more impact, the question many have – my take – is how. I’ve written extensively on this topic, if you’re interested check out my blogs.

  9. @edward04
    I think MR providers need to understand the business context at the least, if not the business per se. The MR providers that do so should & will corner share from clients. So realistic or not, there is no choice the way I see it – this is the outcome of the crisis.
    For example, research firms in India that are able to nuance out the implications of a scandal ridden IPL (the Indian version of NFL) on their clients’ ad-dollars are more likely to get a shot in the next season of IPL – pre & post tracking so to speak 😀
    At the same time, the global trendlines don’t yet support this auto-evolution. Here is where I believe that associations have a vital role. MR conferences should start talking to business heads rather than only marketing heads, for starters… say via a change in the format, with a full day dedicated to business heads sharing their expectations from the MR community.
    I believe that the disruptive smartphone will push marketers to the MR community again, and a true meeting of minds will occur!

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