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Have We Forgotten What Research Is?

Researchers are not, by and large, an overly emotional group of people. The personality traits that make someone a good researcher do not lend themselves to over-reaction. So imagine my shock upon reading two posts/stories that have my blood boiling.



Dr. Stephen Needel 

Researchers are not, by and large, an overly emotional group of people. The personality traits that make someone a good researcher do not lend themselves to over-reaction. So I read two posts/stories that have my blood boiling and that amazed look on my face that is usually reserved for things like the Cubs winning the World Series.

The first comes from a post on Linkedin by a woman who is a self-styled shopper marketing expert (because we have no shame or humility anymore). This post goes through the reasons why you shouldn’t worry about metrics for shopper marketing activities. The reasons include tedious and costly data collection and preparation, incomplete data, and analyses that are inconsistent and slow to produce.  Her advice could easily be taken as you should forego PEA (post-event analysis) because of these problems. Of course, should you decide you do want to understand the value, or lack of value, in your shopper marketing efforts, she’ll sell you software that may or may not help here.

The second comes from a manufacturer via the early November 2016 issue of the CPGMatters newsletter. A senior director of shopper marketing wanted to make their marketing efforts “more strategic and coordinated”. Who could argue with this? Not me. In a workshop at one of our industry’s self-styled institutes, he looked at where his company was at the time, he noted four problems:

  • Its marketing and branding plans were more tactical and not strategic. “We need one idea everyone can rally around,” he said.
  • Consumer and shopper communications were not consistent. “If consumers of [one of his brands] visited a store, a website, checked an app, looked at a billboard or a print ad, would they get the same cohesive story? No.”
  • The cycle for the sales/retailer/marketing plan was not aligned.
  • The brand department would build the program that other departments would later bring to light.

In short, he figured out that they need a strategy, integrated communications, delivered at the right time, with company-wide buy-in. There’s nothing new here, but there’s nothing bad here either. Right up until he volunteered that, in trying to fix the problems, “We have not yet seen an increase in sales, but I am convinced that we will. And we will see ROI go up.”  Let me translate this for you in case you are confused – they have no data that says any of their actions will actually work! Moreover, they are not expecting to see anything for a year or so.

I pause here while I clean up my laptop because my head has exploded.

Okay, I’m back.

On the one hand, we have a person claiming to be a shopper marketing expert, writing on LinkedIn marketing research sites, saying measurement may not be important because it’s hard to do. On the other hand, you have a senior executive from a major company [with a good-sized research department] telling us they are making major marketing changes and haven’t tried or haven’t been able to measure any impact.

We have lots of tools for measuring the impact of shopper marketing initiatives that are quick and cost-effective – some are free, some are inexpensive (from my company and lots of other companies), especially given the marketing dollars we are talking about. We, as an industry, have the ability to test changes in marketing strategy, tactics, and organizations. Clearly we are not doing enough to educate our client base when experts, marketers, and industry publications don’t think our work can make an important contribution. We need to adopt Faber College’s motto, “Knowledge is good”.

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3 responses to “Have We Forgotten What Research Is?

  1. Hi Steve:

    Knowledge is not only good; it is currency. The issue today is living in, for lack of a better analogy, a dimensional world of influence. When influence was largely drawn through broadcast media and word of mouth we had 2 dimensions to measure. When the Internet became mainstream, we had three.

    Then social media happened. Information flows in a complex network that often branches in unexpected ways and it is far too vast for any individual to comb through for the best available information. The result is we rely much more on our network of associates and on reviews as consumers. Companies rely on dashboards because they are real time. The combination means that strategy is largely a hindsite opportunity.

    Having said that, it seems analogous to me of the days before we had even broadcast media and consumers relied on early adopters and reliable sources to apply purchases to specific problems. We don’t have standards anymore for products; you can’t take the screws out of one door handle and put them in another.

    The real answer is likely in taking a step backward and focusing on the products and services, something we do have control over. If we understand the market, we see the gaps and we see what is working. Building a better mousetrap had never been more apropos.

    Research can do that and do it well. If you contol the root then you control the growth of the money tree.

  2. The problem, I think, is we do not spend long enough defining the structure of the systems that create the patterns of marketing results. The marketing guy was looking at individual elements of the system they had knowingly (or not) designed. I bet he had no explanation or model of how they related to each other. Research can contribute to this and to make it meaningful there is a need for a context creating overall framework. Systems drive patterns of observed data both consumer behaviour and the decision makers research sees to help. Risk, that happens in the future, I think has better chance of being understood when the pattern driving structures are made explicit. Of course this probably helps strategy more than tactics, in the short term.

  3. Thanks Steve,

    It appears that accountability is over-rated. The vast majority of marketing dollars seem to be spent without a real effort to understand their effectiveness. Yes, there are measures, but we all know that the measures are largely self-serving.

    The sad thing is that the first ‘shopper marketing expert’ will find her message well-received because she is telling people what they want to hear. Too many marketers view evaluation as an inconvenience which gets in the way of ‘proper marketing’.

    All the best,


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