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Physician, Heal Thyself (and Thy Marketing)



By Ron Sellers

So what can I tell you that would make you want to consider working with Grey Matter Research on your next consumer insights project?

Wait, wait – before you click over to some other article, this is not a sales piece for Grey Matter.  It’s a commentary on sales pieces.  What can research companies, focus group facilities, field centers, online qualitative platforms, or any other research vendor tell you that will make you want to consider working with them?

And why does it appear that so few research vendors are strategically thinking about this question?

The genesis for this post was an e-mail I recently received from a vendor.  I selected this one to comment on, although I’ve gotten e-mails, calls, and brochures essentially saying these same things from dozens of other vendors.  This one happens to be a quantitative field center.  (I’ve changed a few of the details to make it impossible to identify the company.)

After introducing the name of the company, the account executive writes “I am very interested in getting into your bid process.”  Strike one.  As a potential client, I don’t care what you want or what will benefit you – tell me what will benefit me.  Why should I continue reading your e-mail – because of what interests you?

Next up is a list of what they have to offer.  Frankly, it’s what many field centers offer:  75 CATI stations, ability to dial cell phone sample, ability to conduct multi-modal studies (web and phone), a web portal for online studies, ability to recruit for qualitative research, etc.

That’s it.  Nothing special.  I can open the Greenbook directory and without effort find probably two hundred companies that fit this description.  Why choose this one over the other 199?

Finally, the e-mail gives me a special offer.  I can get 5% off the CPI (with no guarantee that they’re not pumping the bid up 5% and then giving me a discount), and the last five interviews of my project are free.  Whoopee – if I’m doing 1,000 completed interviews, they’re going to give me five of them for free.  For the qualitative specialists out there, that’s one-half of one percent off the price.

If you get marketing messages from research companies (and if you’re in research, you do get marketing messages from research companies), you recognize the basic form of this e-mail.  I could just as easily have written about messaging for qualitative firms:  “We’re the premier focus group facility in (fill in the market).  Two focus group rooms!  Quality recruiting!  Great golf courses (or fill in other attractions) nearby!  Convenient to the airport!  You’ll love our project managers!”  In short, the same thing most facilities feel they can say.

Research advertising is much the same thing.  Consider some of the following primary messages from ads in a recent edition of Quirk’s:

  • We do both online and in-person qualitative research.
  • Our services can assist you in all phases of research.
  • The premier online panel (Well, if you say it in an ad, it must be true.)
  • We do social media monitoring.
  • Social media monitoring is like eavesdropping for your brand (Really?  I was going to do it and I didn’t even know what it was).
  • Your one-stop shop for fieldwork worldwide.
  • Your one-stop shop for fieldwork in Europe.
  • We have 18 years of experience.
  • Celebrating 20 years of conducting research (I guess that’s more than 18 years, at least).
  • Our facility has been open for 25 years (Better still!).
  • Researchers have been using us since 1995 (Great, now I need to do the math myself).
  • We help our clients be profitable based on how people think and behave (In other words, they do research).
  • People trust our telephone research experience.

(Then, of course, there are the ads which are nothing more than stock photos, the company name, and a list of services.  Have you ever seen a gorgeous, Armani-dressed phone interviewer in a real phone room?)

I’m always amused and frankly rather saddened at receiving direct marketing messages emphasizing expertise or services I don’t use.  Companies want to tell me how good their moderators are.  Well, I’ve done about 1,200 groups – I’m really not looking for a moderator.  Or I receive voice mails from someone (badly) reading a prepared script with generic information, who will later leave me a second or third voice mail expressing surprise that I haven’t called them back.

While in Atlanta recently, I got a voicemail from someone selling qualitative video services.  In a monotone voice, he described the services his company offers, then asked whether we use such services, then asked whether we outsource those or handle them in house, then…well, I don’t know what else he asked, because I deleted the message before I even finished it.  Why in the world would I take the time to return his call when the only thing he did was ask questions that benefit him, rather than me?

At least that voice mail was easy to delete.  The call I answered yesterday featured someone rushing through his prepared script.  When I tried to interrupt him to register my disinterest, he just talked over the top of me (but faster, trying to get in as much of his spiel as he could).  Ah, people skills…

Before you send that next e-mail or make that next call, stop and think:  are you telling me anything I actually care about?  Are you differentiating your brand or your services in any manner?  Is the focus of your message on my needs, or on what you want to sell?  If it’s direct contact, have you taken even a modicum of time to discern what my needs might be, or am I just the next name on your list?  Are you giving me any reason at all to read or listen to what you have to say?

Over the years I’ve received some very clever, meaningful, and/or memorable marketing messages from research vendors.  Unfortunately, they’ve been the minority.

As researchers, we’re in the business of helping our clients figure out how to brand their companies and market their products and services effectively.  Why can we so infrequently do for ourselves what we claim to do so effectively for our clients?

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5 responses to “Physician, Heal Thyself (and Thy Marketing)

  1. Nobody ever said that the folks running or owning field services or moderating facilities were very creative. However, Ron’s point is well-taken since even full-service Research companies are not very good advertisers or differentiators from the competition. The truth is that most research companies don’t have really creative types, innovators, or are visionary.

  2. Nobody ever said that owners or operators of field and moderating centers were very creative. However, Ron’s point is well-taken since many full-service research firms are not good marketers either, or are easily able to differentiate themselves from the competition. In truth, research companies generally don’t include creative types, Innovators or are visionary.

  3. Steve, interesting idea – my concern is that what would get me interested may be a total flop for most other people, and I don’t have any actual research about what types of things would get people in general interested. However, I do have some ideas about how to handle this issue – stay tuned…

    Ironically, not long after posting this, I got an e-mail from a research company telling me how their services can help my corporate team do its DIY research more effectively. So in other words they sent me an ad for how they want to try to put me out of business. Nice.

  4. Ron, you make an extremely valid point. I recently joined the Business Development Team of our company, and I’m charged with marketing and making those dreaded cold calls. I’ve constantly been asking myself, “What differentiates us from our competitors? And once I discover that how can I consicely convey this to a potential client? What need does my company meet for this potential client?”

    In classroom teaching, where I spent the last decade, the overriding guideline is “how will this benefit student achievement?” In marketing we are so anxious to sell our services we forget to establish that equivalent overriding guideline: “how will this benefit a potential client?”

    I’m glad that so many are so lousy at this, in your estimation. It leaves that much more room for me!

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