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How Persuasive Should MR Be?

By Edward Appleton 

I was reading a thread of a NewMR Discussion – – on optimizing MR Debriefs and was sensitized by Ray Poynter’s comment saying he believed in essence Researchers are truth tellers, not persuaders.

The implication being that persuasion is bad/potentially misleading, and “truth” the core of what MR is about.

I think both Suppliers and client-side Researchers need to correct our approach to be more persuasive, not less – and have a more bold but business-attuned approach to putting our view of “the truth” on the line.

Here’s my take:

  1. All Debriefs will result in Action – something happens. The role of Research is to help shape a more informed decision. Persuasiveness is useful for our findings and recommendations to be accepted, and is particularly important if the potential decision to make is not 100% clear cut.
  2. We need to take the view of the Marketing person we’re debriefing. “Here’s what I would do based on the data” is an approach that I think we often don’t feel bullish enough to take. Maybe we should. So: be empathetic, become knowledgeable and lean forward.
  3. MR needs to be engaged as an active part of an operational team, often with many disciplines represented, not something apart from that. We should acquaint ourselves with other business factors influencing a potential decision and contextualize our findings as much as possible. Suppliers need to ask for contextual data, it’s valuable. This can be supply-chain stuff, sales or channel related, product development, finance – the more we grasp these other disciplines’ issues, the more we will be welcome as business advisers.
  4. We have to sensitive to risk and qualify our findings accordingly. This is different from being risk-averse.
  5. MR needs to be bold and not afraid to speak out if we see our findings taken out of context, misunderstood, or maybe even misused.
  6. Researchers need to build relationships as much as any other commercial disciplines The better we know and understand the challenges and issues surrounding a business decision, the more impact we are likely to have as part of a team.
  7. MR shouldn’t attempt to sit on a high horse. Our “truths” are invariably only part of the picture, something we do well to remember in the presence of people who have a different professional angle. Salesfolk, for example, can tell you about real-time competitive activity through their conversations with their customers that you may well not be aware of from a particular data set.

Is persuasiveness a skill-set you feel you’re good at? Do you have good communication abilities, interpersonal strengths, the ability to influence people?

It’s something that our industry would do well to look at, even in phases where the enthusiasm for new methodologies and tools is running high.

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.


Ask right at the start how the insights gained will be used. Get specific: what actions will marketing take as a result of the research? Bake this knowledge into your research design, and revisit it once you’re shaping the debrief.


Editor’s Note: Want to meet Edward in person and chat with him more? He’ll be one of the great presenters at the Market Research in the Mobile World conference coming up in Amsterdam April 18-19. Register now, seats are going fast!

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2 responses to “How Persuasive Should MR Be?

  1. Edward – can’t argue with any of your points – they are all great. I have no problem in my business with giving a point of view. I’m usually asked for one and often expected to provide one. The difference I see between “truth teller” and “persuader”, and I believe I’m on the truth teller side, is that I don’t have a stake in the outcome. I’m there to say, “we tested this because…”, “we found…” and “this suggest the following action(s)…” My point of view is based on the data I have and any data the client has shared with me. Hopefully I’m persuasive in making my POV clear, but I don’t see my role as persuader, using only the “facts” that support my view. That’s the difference between the two for me.

  2. Edward, in general I agree with much of what you have written. Likewise, Stev’s response.

    Having been on both sides, and recently a long stint on the client side, market researchers are managment consultants and should help with the decsion making process, but should not ‘sell’ their result. This may sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t. We are employed, often, for our independence not our business solution. As you mentioend, research does not have all the information and rarely has the experience to really know what we are doing once the decsions enter the realm of resource allocation.

    On the client side, those agencies which were the most committed to their business solution were dangerious due to marketers mistaking their confidence for wisdom.

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