Marketing and Research Consulting for a Brave New World
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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:

  1. Embrace action: go past insights and own the recommendation past the powerpoint presentation all the way to being accountable for the business result
  2. 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
  3. Be charismatic.  Infuse with theatre to be heard and to become unforgettable
  4. Be future focused.  If you prove your foresight, research will be viewed as an investment rather than an expense which is critical.
  5. Be the runway connecting the brand and the consumer.  However, you must translate and anticipate, not regurgitate.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?

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6 Responses to “Seven ways marketing research can become strong”

  1. Joel,

    This is great! I would add a few things that are needed at a departmental level:

    1. Focus energy on the company and brand’s strategic priorities. Don’t let valuable resources get bogged down with tactical projects

    2. Create intellectual property for the department for the top strategic priorities, using a budget that Research controls. Use this to drive impact and to boost the Research brand in your company

    3. Lead culture change in your department – live it, own it! Provide coaching/training/mentoring, and tie the “Strong” research values and behaviors into hiring, performance management and goal setting

    4. Develop a culture in which researchers work collaboratively and leverage multiple knowldege sources to develop richer insights.

    5. Optimize sourcing for the department to drive for “Strong” – including internal structure, talent pool, supplier role & selection, shifting some work to self-service, saying no to some work

    My only quibble with your list of 7 is Charismatic. Fascinating may be a better word – it’s not about charisma, it’s about engaging the audience and provoking action from insights. And you may want to weave “objectivity” into # 2.

  2. Guy Hearn

    Good thoughts Joel, agree with all of them but think that #1 and #5 and #6 are the core of it. And re #2, lots of researchers are good at rejecting unsound, and unrobust methodologies but not always so good at coming up with feasible alternative solutions. The research function will be ignored or bypassed if its seen to be too rigid and inflexible

  3. It’s our responsibility to do the right thing and we have the capability. Now we just need the drive.

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  5. You obviously put a lot of work into that post and its very interesting to see the thought process that you went through to come up with those conclusion. Thanks for sharing your deep thoughts.

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