On July 29th, 20+ leaders met at the ARF for a one-day workshop, led by Thinktopia, to examine the research function as if it were a brand. The attendees represented an amazing group of companies including, J&J, Unilever, CBS, IBM, Colgate-Palmolive, Hasbro, Meredith, Coca-Cola, Y&R, etc. We had both research leaders and internal marketing clients in the room. Here are my personal thoughts on the day.
The Research function is the voice of the consumer/customer for the organization. Researchers give the organization the ability to have its growth strategy inspired by who the CEO reports to (“consumer is boss”) so our influence should be enormous. Should be…but sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.
For me, the centerpiece of the meeting was identifying that research’s impact is blunted because it often gets brought into the process too late—at the back end. Thinking “Freakonomics”, I commented that behaviors are the results of incentives, so why are marketing teams DIS-incentivized to bring research in as a business partner at the beginning of the process? Where is the Research “brand” falling short?
One of the marketing people in the room said that he WELCOMES people who challenge his thinking. All of a sudden it hit me; research wins by being STRONG… not by being weak and deferential. Weak gets you brought in at the end, makes you viewed as a cost, as a drag on the timeline, and as a tester who poses a risk to the project.
“Strong” gets you partnership and an admission ticket from the start. Here are seven characteristics of strong research:
- Embrace action: go past insights and own the recommendation past the powerpoint presentation all the way to being accountable for the business result
- Stay grounded in the rigor and process of research. If we lose our professional standards and processes that blend art and science for generating insights, we lose our creed and qualifications
- Be charismatic. Infuse with theatre to be heard and to become unforgettable
- Be future focused. If you prove your foresight, research will be viewed as an investment rather than an expense which is critical.
- Be the runway connecting the brand and the consumer. However, you must translate and anticipate, not regurgitate.
- Be a thought leader. You must shape thinking not just validate. Tell the marketing team something they didn’t know. Prove your point and show the way. You must be a courageous risk-taker.
- Become an agent of change. Embrace new marketing ideas, new research tools, and become an effective activist for cultural change in the organization.
What is marketing’s expectation of your research department, its brand image? What is their belief system about the value that research brings?