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How Business Savvy a Market Researcher are You?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the concept of delivering an insight that leads to a better marketing or business decision. But to what extent do we MR professionals really understand the realities of those making the decisions?


By Edward Appleton

I often hear and read how much Research Agencies wish to make an impact on a Client’s business.

I don’t see too much detail on what shape or form this might take other than the somewhat standard phrase of “actionable insights”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the concept of delivering an insight that leads to a better marketing or business decision. But to what extent do we MR professionals really understand the realities of those making the decisions – in marketing, sales, finance and general management, to name a few?

Independent of sector expertise, I think it’s critical for MR professionals to be business savvy in order for our voice be accorded the weight it deserves. Meaning that we should not just aim to impress with our methodological know-how, but have a good grip on how research findings fit into the larger context of a business decision.

Here’s a very short list of things I think we could improve on:

1. Understand financial metrics

Every company will have different core financial metrics in its take on the P&L and the balance sheet, but here’s a few perhaps worth checking out:

  • Run rate
  • EBIT
  • ROTC (Return on Total Capital)
  • Free cash flow
  • Net Present Value

At least a basic understanding of key financial metrics could help all MR folk link our KPIs – Top Box Scores, NPS scores, whatever – to what General Managers are listening to. Spending an hour or two with a Finance Professional for a few weeks will definitely help. As will gaining an understanding of how to read a P&L statement or a balance sheet.

2. Be comfortable with some basic marketing terms, eg.

  • Value proposition
  • Positioning statement
  • Boston Consultancy Matrix
  • SWOT analysis
  • Segmentation exercise
  • 4 Ps

I bristle when jargon is thrown around senselessly, same goes for acronyms. However, ensuring we are comfortable with some/all of these and other marketing concepts and tools, and being able to build them into dialogue, certainly can help build credibility, and put it squarely on the table that MR isn’t an ivory tower discipline.

3. Force ourselves to answer the question: “So What?”

This is a blunt question that can be shot at a MR insight that doesn’t obviously fit into the realities of a commercial decision or process . It’s one I think we all need to ask ourselves once we think we have an insight – pressure test it, so to speak – but before we include it into a PowerPoint deck or summary sheet.

This can lead to more concrete, bold action recommendations….for example

  • re-assess our audience definition
  • build in media activity X into our marketing mix as follows
  • increase our expenditure on….

Research doesn’t offer “the truth” – and frankly, few people expect it to in my view, especially for lower impact and less strategic projects.

But it should offer a clear point of view and supporting evidence, so that people who “do” rather than “advise” can see what the whole point of our research is.

If we can build bridges, become more business savvy, I’m optimistic that MR can take a(nother) step up the value-perception ladder

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.


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3 responses to “How Business Savvy a Market Researcher are You?

  1. Allow me to add a few thoughts based on my expertise as a client researcher.
    1. Understand marketing and the jobs of marketers
    2. Understand some additional key financial metrics (e.g. P&L, balance sheet)
    3. Know the client company – including knowledge of company processes (e.g. for new product development, strategic planning, etc.), culture (e.g. how do decisions get made, openness to innovative thinking/approaches), key stakeholder roles, company jargon
    4. Know the brand/category/business you work on, including the market position and history/trend, competitive landscape, key issues & opportunities (or SWOT), market research knowledge base [if client will share this]
    5. Know the role of market research in the company (e.g. does it have a strong, objective voice) and the relationship between client market research and its internal client (typically Marketing)
    6. Don’t look to impress with methodological know-how. Senior management doesn’t care. Impress with actionable insights that have potential to create business impact. Business impact is our ONLY value

    I look forward to more perspectives.

  2. Thanks for your input, Ian. I think your point about Business impact being the only value will become even more true and a must-understand concept in future – especially if the head-wind coming from Stockmarkets impacts on the real world, which it has an unfortunate habit of doing

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