Driving Business Success With Market Insights
by Sara Sutton
Last month, I attended PMRC, the Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Conference. The usual marketing research topics were covered, including how to improve on old techniques, the use of newer approaches, trends in the health and pharmaceutical industries, and so on.But what struck me most was the discussion about how we, as marketing research practitioners, are not doing enough to drive the use of marketing research to support and inform our own companies. Of course, part of that discussion was also how leaders, from top executives down to product managers, are not using marketing research to realize the full potential of their products, brands, and companies. From my company’s work providing marketing research and analytical consulting services across many other industries, I know that this topic is broadly applicable, so I wanted to share my top takeaways from the conference.
1Managers and executives feel like they have too much data.
Several speakers talked about how, as executives or leaders, they have access to a broad swath of data from many different sources. Much of this data is what we in the industry would call secondary data or operational data, such as sales, R&D reports, financial reports, and operational details. This data comes in every week (or even every day).
This “data overload” can cause some leaders to feel like they have all the information they could need at their fingertips already. Having access to this much data can lull them into thinking that they know what the customer wants or what will happen in the future.
The missing element is, of course, the “why.” Data on its own is often dry. Without insight into why numbers are moving a certain way, or what the customer thinks or wants and why, we don’t get the full story. And relying on secondary data alone means that the voice of the customer is often lost.
2Leadership that doesn’t use (or sufficiently fund) primary marketing research is dropping the ball and losing competitive edge in the marketplace.
Primary marketing research allows us to ask the specific questions that are relevant to our brands or companies. It allows us to see into the future, and to plan for it. We can answer key long-term questions like, “Where do we go from here?” and, “How do we get there?”
Answering these questions can allow a company to be a market leader, to wow their customers, and to attract new customers, new talent, and good PR. No one wants to be a follower, yet marketing research is often considered a cost rather than an investment in the company’s future. At the very least, it is an investment that can help avoid short-term mistakes via due diligence among your customer base.
3Marketing research is not a cost center—it is a core competency leveraged by market-leading companies.
Primary marketing research is about engaging and listening to your customers and other stakeholders or influencer groups. This, more than any other tool in business, allows you to get the closest to the market—meaning it is the best tool to inform critical decisions. Although there is not, to my knowledge, a study that proves primary marketing research drives profitability, I have never had a client say that well-designed research wasn’t well worth the investment. I have, however, had many clients over the years say that they wished they had done more research (to prove out a new product concept, to assess which audiences they should target, to optimize the pricing strategy, etc.). Compared to the cost of a market mistake or a lost opportunity, marketing research is an extremely smart investment. The insight gained by keeping a pulse on your market, customers, and stakeholders increases your company’s relevance in a changing marketplace. It allows you to make decisions that optimize your success and increase prospects for growth. And it allows you to be earlier to the market, which is a key competitive advantage.
Customers, future customers, and other stakeholders are, after all, where the money is. So leveraging their opinions to grow and improve your business is critical. And having a dedicated marketing research department, with marketing research professionals (who are very different from marketers), is a necessity for executives who want their companies to prosper.
4Marketing researchers need to drive effective use (and increased use) of marketing research within their organizations.
Many marketing researchers are curious. We are often studious or introverted. We are analytical. But many of us are not what you may call “drivers.”
In fact, in some organizations, marketing researchers are just considered order-takers, rather than partners in the business discussion or critical thinking experts. But, in my opinion, that is where good marketing researchers can really shine and contribute extraordinary value to their companies. We are the objective ones, the individuals schooled to think about which questions to ask, how to craft those questions appropriately, and why it all matters. We can wield a broader business perspective than, for instance, a brand manager who is focused only on testing their new preferred positioning. So when an internal stakeholder says they need answers to XYZ, we should not take that request and run with it. We should probe to understand: Why that question? Why now? What decision will be made based off of this research? Who else is involved?
But, again, the analytical or introverted nature of many marketing researchers means that it may be out of our comfort zones to press internal stakeholders to explain their whats and whys. But it is our duty to do so in order to drive effective use of marketing research in our organizations. It means that we may need to bust out of our comfort zones and become drivers of the conversation. Otherwise, our “seats at the table” (or even our jobs) may be at stake. Definitely, our reputations and the reputation of marketing research in general are at stake. However, good executive leadership that realizes the true value of marketing research can alleviate the latter problem.
Unfortunately, even those who are great drivers often lack the time or internal resources to perform this important function of driving research. Many marketing research departments are critically understaffed and underfunded. These departments are being asked to do more with less, often running quick, better-than-nothing research on a weekly basis. But their real job should be to lead internal stakeholders to make better decisions and to socialize the insights that come from the research. For all of you who struggle with these issues, know that you are not alone!
This all returns to point number 1. Executives have too much data. They need (and want) insights, and the best insights come from primary marketing research among customers, potential customers, and other stakeholders. So they need to understand that marketing research is a core competency. It’s an investment that pays for itself many times over. And we marketing researchers need to help executives and other internal stakeholders understand this by driving research to greater effectiveness. Because, by driving better decision-making, we are all driving business success.
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