Is market research is losing its place in the boardroom?
There has been much in the press in recent years about market research losing its place in the boardroom. Most notably from Unilever who say that their senior managers are unwilling to invest time attending research debriefs. An ESOMAR survey also adds that most CEOs consider market research less useful than finance, marketing, information services and human resources (1). A further BCG survey suggests that even market research professionals seem in denial about their lack of relevance (2). Yet criticism is also made by major research agencies (3). Problems appear to result from less than robust data collection, and flimsy market research analysis and strategic interpretation.
Issues trace to the research methods used and the skills of the people involved. Some say researchers lack the ability to integrate information, fail to connect research results with business outcomes, and also fail to turn complex data into clear narratives (3). Of course, concise presentations and explanations are important but not if they result in more questions than answers – in particular ‘so what does this mean?’.
Reliable data underpins good market research analysis
Triangulation is a mainstay market research method. The idea is that using two or more methods in a study gives more confidence in the results. Denzin defines four basic types of triangulation. First, methodological triangulation. This involves using multiple research methods to gather information, such as interviews, observations, and documents. Second, data triangulation which involves multiple time periods and respondents. Thirdly, investigator triangulation which involves multiple researchers. Finally, theory triangulation which involves using multiple analytical methods or models (4).
Bricolage is a term used to describe multiple or multi-perspectival research methods; also a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing and playing around. It avoids the reductionism in any single method (monological) and also mimetic research approaches (5 and 6). It also enables more deductive reasoning (in which a conclusion is based on the concordance of multiple premises). Lastly, it produces more comprehensive and specific insights.
Market research analysis requires experience
Qualitative research data is usually unstructured so a key challenge is to manage, shape and make sense it. The most common means of qualitative market research analysis method is observer impression. Computers and software also offer a means to classify, sort, and arrange information. Though computers and software fail to think and human skill must spot themes, patterns, and thus uncover insight.
Skills and knowledge lie with the observer and analyst. However, for life stage and economic reasons, fieldwork and analysis tasks often fall to younger, less experienced researchers. While many are graduates, experience is acquired mainly on the job. Thus explaining why ‘business savvy’ may be lacking.
Thinking tools enable more rigorous analysis
Basic ‘marketing’ provides a structure for market research analysis
Every marketer knows that customers have needs and seek products and services that offer benefits that match their needs. So to design products and services, researchers must first understand needs, and the drivers behind those needs. Only then can product benefits be matched to meet those needs. This simple marketing logic helps challenge and analyse market research findings. It is therefore vital that researchers understand basic marketing principles both to uncover, analyse and interpret findings. A broad and deep knowledge of a businesses’ aims, possible business and marketing strategic options, and product, communication, and brand elements, allows broader and also more penetrating enquiry. Thus inspiring more insightful, relevant, and actionable findings and conclusions.
Manchester map for market research analysis
Probing and testing cause and effect relationships also ensures more robust analysis. The ‘Manchester Map’ is a particularly useful technique learned in management consulting days. This involves systematically reviewing findings and asking ‘so what does this mean?’ or ‘why does this happen?’. It also helps sort and delineate information. Thus enabling clearer understanding and articulation of findings and conclusions.
Quantitative techniques help sort the wheat from the chaff
Within qualitative research, employing simple numerical scoring (or semi-quantitative) techniques helps give weight to findings. Thus sort the ‘wheat from the chaff’. For example, by asking respondents to select the most appealing comms idea from a gallery or to rate a product concept on a scale from ‘will definitely buy’ to ‘will definitely not buy’. This reduces reliance on subjectivity (interpretivism) (7) and also adds scientific rigour to qualitative research i.e. objectivity (empiricism, positivism). Thus helping spot differences in meaning and relative customer appeal more readily. In turn, spotlighting key issues and opportunities and ‘outliers’ (8) that demand more detailed investigation.
- Market research has a place in the boardroom – the most successful businesses are those that truly understand their customers. Market research therefore ensures their voice is heard.
- Ensure your research works. This starts with writing a clear market research brief. Include your business aims not just what you want to know. Also seek several responses to your brief.
- Conduct due diligence. In particular, meet the researchers who will do the work. And also ask them what they know about your business and how they conduct and analyse research.
- Demand a curious, diligent, business and marketing savvy researcher; one therefore able to ask questions to truly understand causes and effects. And thus able to draw conclusions and recommend practical solutions to help you.
1. Esomar Research World / ARF (2005)
2. Boston Consulting Group (2009)
3. Does Market Research Need inventing? www.InspectorInsight.com (2014)
4. Denzin, N. Sociological Methods: A Sourcebook. Aldine Transaction (2006)
5. Kincheloe, Joe. L. Berry, Kathleen, Rigour and Complexity in Educational Research (2005)
6. What is Mimetic Theory? www.woodybelangia.com
7. Interpretivism (or antipositivism) is a view that social research should not be subject to the same methods of investigation as the natural world. Gerber, John J. Macionis, Linda M. Sociology (7th Canadian ed.) page 32 (2010)
8. An ‘outlier’ or outlying observation deviates markedly from other members of the sample in which it occurs. Grubbs, F. E. “Procedures for detecting outlying observations in samples”, Technometrics 11 (1): 1–21 (February 1969)