I was cleaning off my desk today and found an article I meant to blog about back in March. The article is a few months old but the subject is timeless. (It's not as old as the article from January 2011 that I found at the bottom of a pile - unread. Anyone looking for a part-time job as an unpaid assistant? I could use the help.)
I firmly believe that market research is one of the key factors to company success. When I say "market research" I mean the process of gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing information about critical market dynamics - customer needs, competitive positioning, changing markets, etc. We have let this term become an almost dirty word that people associate with long, boring discussions about sample size, statistical significance, survey design, and representativeness. Why?
Because somewhere we let our true purpose of getting organizations to recognize and respond to market changes get re-interpreted as providing information about customers and markets. The article referenced below makes a number of great points, The article points out that not responding to a change in the market is among the most common reasons that company growth stalls or declines, and that is exactly what market research should be responsible for helping the company avoid.
One problem we face is the unenviable task of trying to change mental models in order to be perceived as valuable. The basis of our job is confirming and disconfirming hypotheses. The problem is that people (even the almighty C-Suite) make most decisions based on emotion and paradigms and then rationalize it with facts. This is where we fail. We think that facts speak for themselves; that data can convince. It cannot.
The truth is that facts tell, but stories sell. We have become better at creating stories with our results, but we often don't have the insight necessary to make them connect. Whether we like it or not, we are in sales and marketing. We need to sell our ideas, our value, and ourselves. We need to be continuously involved in conversations and strategy discussions with all the audiences we present to so we can create the stories that resonate. Then we can fulfill our true purpose as customer advocates and become integral in driving company success.
Reference. "No more ammo for 'Dilbert': How to make research into a real strategic partner." Quirk's Marketing Research Review, March 2012.