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What Do Clients Think About MR Impact?

As part of the last round of GRIT we asked 185 MR buyers about their views on the impact and effectiveness of market research studies. Contrasting the ideal characteristics of a market research study and our actual practice reveals a number of interesting gaps.

business impact


By Niels Schillewaert & Katia Pallini

As a special addendum to the most recent wave of GRIT we wanted to get a deeper understanding of the impact and effectiveness of market research studies from the client side perspective of. We partnered with InSites Consulting and Gen2 Advisors on this special “MR Impact Study” addendum. 185 market research users (marketers and insights managers, excluding professional research providers) participated in our survey and reflected about their most recent market research study as well as their ideal study[1].

We share the results of this fascinating study around 3 uncovered facts linked to our profession.

niels1An adaptive system is a flexible organism that changes its behavior in response to its environment. Such change is often required to improve performance or increase chances of survival. Consumers (our context and most important resource) have changed their behavior significantly over the last years. The surge of social media and mobile has been a major driving force behind consumers gaining power over brands. Accompanying consumer behavior (as a cause and result) such as participation, information contribution and sharing, social networking, brand liking, product reviewing, user collaboration and co-creation… has become the new ‘normal’ when it comes to consumer behavior. Gradually, we see digital companies, marketers, software providers… move up to collaborate with consumers and achieve goals through them. Gone are the days when we sent out a message and waited for people to respond. Today, marketers need consumers to want to participate in brand activation and market through them, not to them. With 6 in 10 research users indicating they believe in proven and traditional methods, our study indicates that research and the use thereof may not have made that shift to the same extent and has not aligned with contemporary consumer behavior.

While survey research is mainly conducted online, there is a platform gap. Even though 19% of consumers fill out surveys on a mobile device (GRIT study 2014, Greenbook), only 5% of all surveys are actively programmed to be fit for mobile.



Qualitative research is mainly conducted offline. 1 in 2 research users still work with traditional focus groups or in-depth interviews. Online research communities are growing as a method, but only 19% of researchers actually uses research communities to learn from and collaborate with consumers.

It is not only the channels or platforms that are lagging but also the techniques and tools. Only 9% of quantitative projects apply creative research techniques – at best, surveys use graphical scales (36%). Despite the fact that gamification has been in vogue for quite a few years, leaderboards, badges, challenges and tasks, feedback systems or social interaction are hardly used in surveys. Still, gameplay, audio-visual or creative techniques allow getting a better and deeper understanding of consumer behavior. Such tactics allow for better engagement with participants which leads to a richer consumer understanding. The latter might explain why the picture is different in qualitative research: 81% of research users feels that qualitative research helps them engage with how consumers really live, while only 1 in 3 believe surveys are capable of bringing consumers to life.

niels34 in 5 research users stated that the research output was actionable and readily usable for their marketing teams. An overwhelming 92% reported their research projects generate insights worth sharing with their colleagues. Great job, right? Yet only 65% actually share the results of their research internally. So it seems there is a lot of unused potential when it comes to leveraging research internally. In fact, the research we conduct does not seem conducive to telling a good story and it is not the start of a conversation. The majority of researchers use PowerPoint reporting to present the research results: 86%. A mere 22% have an interactive workshop to discuss the research findings and less than 10% use creative reporting formats such as interactive videos or infographics.

Related to our first fact, it would be better if research relied on content-rich methodologies and used creative communication channels to convey research results. All too often, we rely on numbers and text as well as single media. We need to combine video, photos, physical spaces (e.g. exhibitions), (private) social media, quizzes, infographics and apps. It would be so much more enriching to have consumers upload pictures and complete a mini-ethnographic self-description in a survey. Make sure you have the ingredients to tell a good story: use consumers as characters, describe their ‘who, what, when, where’ and also explain the ‘why (not)’ of their behavior.



It seems research users are satisfied yet not delighted or overly proud to share the results throughout their organization. So, the time is now to step up our game and create reporting formats that help research users share consumer stories with all internal stakeholders more easily.

niels5The first two facts about the status of market research are linked to that fact that our profession is far from adaptive and lacks creativity in the way research projects are conducted; furthermore the (presentation) output is far from inspirational. Nonetheless, our data indicate that research users are quite proud of what they do and consider what they do as being great. Researchers even seem somewhat tenacious: if we had to run a similar project again, only less than 1 in 10 would advise a different approach. 86% of researchers believes their research leads to actionable results and 3 out 4 declare using the information of their study to steer very concrete actions. This is surprising, considering the fact that we admit that our research does not entirely allow us to engage with how consumers really live. Even stronger: we found that 60% (even 71% for surveys) of all research just confirms executives’ thinking and less than half of all research studies is perceived to generate surprising results (and for quantitative surveys we only generate surprise about 30% of the time). Only 1 in 2 projects lead to change within an organization.

It is our interpretation that these number are way too low if research wants a seat at the boardroom table. It is about time that we as researchers start to think and self-reflect on that. What service are we providing if we do not make a difference? If we are repeating ourselves continuously, then in the end, what is our value proposition?

Conclusion: we do not deliver on our own expectations

Based on a MaxDiff analysis we assessed what research users want the most. Choosing from 20 characteristics, research users composed their ideal study. By far the most important element was the research’s ability to ‘change the attitude and decisions of marketing executives’, followed by establishing a ‘good connection between researchers and marketers’. Next, ‘rigorous analysis’ and a ‘clear storyline’ shared a tied 3rd place in importance. Research as a positive touch-point experience for consumers which provides a ‘good consumer connection’ and results based on ‘a representative sample’ completed the top five of a study’s most desirable characteristics.

Interestingly, ‘low price’” research and the ‘use of proven traditional methods’ were the least important features of the ideal market research study. The agency’s ‘reputation’ or ‘collaboration with third parties’ were classified as less important overall – while ‘experience with the client’ and its ‘flexibility’ were more important.

But it is apparent there is a gap between what we ‘want’ and what we ‘do’. Contrasting the ideal characteristics of a market research study and our actual practice reveals a number of interesting gaps. First of all we underachieve in making the change happen in executives’ minds and actions, we do not provide systematic rigorous analyses, clearly underperform in creatively reporting research results and could do better at using innovative methods.



These findings are in line with previously discussed facts and provide clear guidance to researchers as to what to focus on to make a difference. However, we can learn quite a bit from our ultimate clients – the marketers. It is our firm belief that market research results should be managed along the lines of content marketing (based on “Insight as Content”, presented by Niels Schillewaert and Mark Uttley at IIeX 2014 in Atlanta). While research findings are our core product, we do not manage it as a ‘product’ or ‘service’. We are actually bad at marketing it – we do not think about its promotion, distribution and delivery, let alone about the ‘experience’ marketers go through when utilizing it. At best, we are good at delivering findings based on solid methods and representative samples. We should make the presentation of results to be more ‘experiential’. If executives feel consumer realities, experience the findings and co-create the implications, they will feel ownership and we can extend the shelf-life as well as the impact of our work.



There are systematic steps a researcher should take in order to treat insight as content. These include:

  1. PLAN – define the goals, develop a strategy and create a calendar.
  2. DO – install research methodologies that allow for a structural collaboration with your consumers, but make sure you produce content-rich observations.
  3. FEEL – market your findings, as if you launch a product. Because of the very end goal of research, it is best to promote your findings experientially. If executives experience the data, it will amplify the usage and impact of research.
  4. REVIEW – analyze and measure the impact of what you are doing.

Installing a virtuous circle of treating insight as content will make your insights go viral in your company and enter the consciousness of your executives.

[1] The study was global with 46% of its participants based in the United Stated, 17% of the sample from Europe and 11% from Asia. The majority of our participants work in a consumer environment and 37% are focusing on only B2B clients. 4 out of 5 participants are active in market research or have a consumer intelligence role for a brand or company, while 19% have a more marketing-oriented function. As for sector spread: 31% were active in professional services; 1 in 4 of the participating professionals came from the financial industry; 22% from CPG / FMCG and 21% in technology.



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6 responses to “What Do Clients Think About MR Impact?

  1. An extremely good article and I agree with all its major points. The one issue I have is that we often come up with truly innovative results and findings, but clients are slow to make changes, and in some cases are reluctant to deliver negative findings to management. Another issue is that I am all for delivering results in a very creative and lively fashion with videos, colorful presentations, and audios of respondent viewpoints etc. except clients don’t want to pay for it and don’t allow us the time we need to deliver such items.

  2. I really think this article is on point and highlights a lot of the key issues with research. The elephant in the room really is the lack of action that occurs against research results. As an industry we lost focus on the results a long time ago and just because we want it back doesn’t mean we get it. Research was a “great” advantage to organizations when their were no corollary measurements tools that generated real time results.

    Most research today is slow to create change because it takes too long to generate results and because their are valid resources that often temper the findings, in part, because most research is still dependent on forced bucketing rather than segment measurements. The variances within the buckets (even where segmentation is present) add to the margin of error substantially and either the sampling or the analysis (where outliers are simply discarded) is called into question.

    The way back is always harder than the way out and in most cases research has to prove its ability to drive business (rather than just rule out choices). That means that new techniques and unproven methodologies (no matter how good) receive a reluctant and lukewarm interest when they are introduced into an organization unless a research is willing to sponsor the idea and that carries a lot of risk and usually an additional cost for a job that is no longer considered critical to the success of the company. So a spiral is created.

    For researchers to regain equity there needs to be a way to create a measurable ROI that can be validated by the hard data that exists within the company. That means a researcher has to be a part of the data solution and with that a change in their focus. It’s time to once and for all forget mass marketing techniques, stilted surveys and embrace end points. It’s already happening in a lot of organizations and as the purveyors of change, researchers need to add flexibility and innovation to their own toolboxes.

  3. Excellent article. Maybe a response is to move away from the research project as the unit of value and move towards the design of thinking frameworks and decision tools (simple and complex) that clients can use in their daily decision making processes. As a client (currently) I encourage my insight suppliers to create some kind decision tool from any analysis or study Something that can be used to help in meetings or processes to inspire, prioritise, choose, predict or reject. I also want them to challenge and update my personal and companies mental model and assumptions with the data they find. Many suppliers seem to feel this is not their role. They do need a client though that is prepared to be brave and do this when company culture or organisation is a barrier. Researchers maybe could think of themselves more as “tool makers” for their clients, using all the different communication media now available to create “thinking experiences” based on their discoveries for their clients that makes them open…and where appropriate, “change their minds”…I think that would gives you action and impact.

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  5. A great piece thanks. There are 2 elements that particularly resonate with me:
    1. The disconnect between what researchers think they are doing and what they are doing in reality – I come across this often, in particular related to the presentation of findings which many agencies see as a problem with other agencies, but not themselves.
    2. The concept of treating the output of a research project as a marketing exercise in its own right. We do not market our ‘product’ well. The process of communication is very different from the process of understanding, using different skills. This is what I talked about at ESOMAR Congress in Amsterdam in 2011: Researchers are good at understanding but many need help with communication and marketing skills. What they see as the end point of the project – the delivery of findings, is in fact the beginning of the communication project. I like the simple framework of plan, do, feel, review, but my real answer to this is the creative brief which is how a marketing agency would approach it.

  6. Well said from both @Martin and @Lucy. I think the disconnect on the part of agencies is that the project is just that, a project to them because they often can’t see what fueled it or how it will be used. Of course, they usually don’t ask either, at least beyond the basics needed to complete the project. Another key point is that clients tend to put very tight deadlines on projects (for good reason) and that combined with respondent compliance issues usually limits the scope of what can be asked, and often, who can be asked. So, from the beginning, you have a project that is not designed to deliver maximum value but instead deliver direction.

    Most research organizations feel that their responsibility ends with delivery of the data and it’s up to the client to put it in context. That is, a mistake because it leaves too much to interpretation, and often the research is either not used effectively or not used at all. That is one of the basic arguments for in house research.

    Even in small research companies there is a tendency to limit interpretation to the data rather than the business case. You often see a nice and clearly defined set of objectives in the proposal,but that is the last time it is linked to the data, and those objectives almost never appear in the report.

    The metrics inside a research organization are also at fault because there are simply out of touch with today’s pricing and project size. In order to be profitable, they have to achieve and maintain a high volume of projects that produce relatively low margins. The result is that they product formulatic projects within existing templates and often ignore outlier data that is important. While there is nothing wrong with the data or report, it often misses the mark when it comes to fully meeting the objectives and more importantly, it ignores differences that are critical early warning signs.

    As Lucy pointed out, the real key is communication and listening to the objectives. It’s the tortoise and hare and right now the butterfly is winning.

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