Running a Market Research Company: What I Learned Over Lunch

May 16, 2011
Risata Overlooking Steelhead Trout

Image by atl10trader via Flickr

Many years ago now, I was taken out to a long ‘relaxing’ lunch (as was the custom of those days) by a senior industry player. I was just starting out on my managerial career, and I suspect his major motivation was to fish for competitive intelligence, or perhaps to see if I was wanting to jump ship. But, as he poured the second glass, he seemed to decide I was worthy of mentoring and so started to give advice on how to manage a market research company. One bit, in particular, stuck with me. Leaning over he intoned: “look Alastair, making money out of MR is a lot simpler than most realise: all you need to do is hire the best people in the industry, pay them 20% more than they’d get anywhere else, then work them twice as hard as anybody else would.

A little while later, I was about to head off for my first overseas assignment, and at a far more genteel lunch our company chairman also offered some advice. I’d been probing him for clues on cultural factors that might impact my work and he’d been politely indulging me with helpful tips. Then he said “But you know, Alastair, that while all these things are important, there are two more important things in running a research business” . The first he said, was to know enough of finance and accountancy so your finance director could not pull the wool over your eyes (he put it more politely than that!). The second thing was to “recruit a team that is not like you, that compensates for your weaknesses, and will argue with you in an intelligent, rational way. If your team are all like you, and always agree with you, then sooner or later the company will be in trouble“.

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A Market Research Dream – Or is it a Nightmare?

April 14, 2011
Rhizome awardophilia . .

Tomorrows MR Gurus? All Question Answered, No Need For Survey or FGD! (Image by jef safi via Flickr)

Market Researchers are perpetually speculating on the future of MR; at times it is said, as a defence mechanism to save thinking about what needs doing today. In my view, this speculation falls between two extremes – expecting too much change (generally we under-rate institutional inertia in ourselves and our clients), or not anticipating enough (there will be some developments we cannot even begin to imagine).

Yet, there are stirrings in our profession of some genuinely revolutionary changes that will transform the lives of research’s next generation. These are not so much based in the oft heard predictions on new ways to access people’s thoughts (neuroscience, social media research etc.), but on the application of theory and modelling to understand and make sense of such thoughts. What then, might the future look like? Read the rest of this entry »


The NGMR Top-5-Hot vs. Top-5-Not: Our Pick of The Top MR Trends

March 8, 2011
Talk Nerdy To Me #2

Yeah Right. What's The Really Hot Talk? Image by Constantine Belias via Flickr

Last year there seemed to be such a plethora of posts (including some of ours) about the top trends in the market research industry that we thought it was time for a break.

But when Tom Anderson of Next Gen Market Research came up with the idea of a whole lot of NGMR bloggers simultaneously blogging on the top 10 issues the MR industry has to consider in coming years it seemed too much fun to miss. Here’s our views then — to be fair we’ve dropped out a few of the more totally obvious “top 10” and maybe elevated some we think are important but often overlooked — but we’ll be interested in hearing what you think (and do look up the others posts via Tom’s blog or on Twitter at hashtags: #NGMR #5Hot5Not).

Let’s start with our 5 “Not Hot”.

  1. Reining in HR. After years of imposing restrictive salary structures and job description demarcations along with their depiction of creative staff as being ‘high maintenance’, senior management finally abandons the tedious tenants of HR orthodoxy and starts treating imaginative and innovative researchers in the same way the top advertising agencies treat their best art directors and copywriters. In some cases, they even get a place at the top table again!
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7 Apps For 7 CMOs: Why Emotion Research Needs Focus

February 24, 2011
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (film)

Polygamy is Out: You've Got to Marry The MR Solution To A Specific Business Need.

I wrote earlier how I believed marketers and market researchers needed a more rational approach to that seemingly irrational subject, the measurement and analysis of emotions. As we better measure these “soft aspects” of human response, we risk losing sight of the fact that an understanding of emotion is not an end in itself: it has to be applied to specific business issues. I have to declare an interest here –  we’ve recently tied up with a company that has created a very clever method of directly recording and analyzing emotional response (more about that later). Even so, I do not think that emotional research of any sort, no matter how science-based, stands up on its own. We all need to start thinking a lot harder about applications, not merely methods.

Fundamentally I think there are seven key areas where understanding emotion better can transform marketing. This is a subject I’ve tackled in a chapter on Emotional Research in a book to be published next year called “Leading Edge Marketing Research” (edited by Bob Kaden and Gerry Linda of  “More Guerrilla Marketing Research” fame).

1.    Emotions act as triggers and create change. Strong emotional response is more likely to create a ‘moment of change’ for consumers than any rational evaluation of benefits. Marketing is becoming increasingly granular as Point of Sales and Guerrilla Marketing tactics supplant top-line advertising. Understanding and describing precise emotional tipping points is vital. We need to get better at understanding how emotions operate in very specific real-world choice situations, so emotional research needs to move beyond both “general purpose survey” and “laboratory” settings. Read the rest of this entry »


Myth.ology and Market Research

January 6, 2011
Ogoh-Ogoh

Tales of the Market Research Monster - Should Clients be Frightened? (Image via Wikipedia)

Our recent post on the “Myth of Market Research’s Failure” attracted a lot of readers, and recently a stern rebuttal (see comments at bottom of the post) from Philip Graves who is the author of a book called “Consumer.ology” (not to be confused with Martin Lindstrom’s similarly titled tome, “buy.ology”). Sub-titled “The Market Research Myth, The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping” according to an unnamed reviewer on Mr Graves’ website the book “will send a shiver down the spine of the research industry”. Given that, it is not surprising he did not like our post!

Published last September, I confess I have not yet read his book, but it has got a “top 10” spot in the UK business books list on Amazon, and Philip seems to have been interviewed extensively including by magazines like “Wired” and even “Research Live”. It is then seemingly indicative of the trend towards wholesale lambasting of market research methods that we discussed in our post. The core argument as far as we can see is that surveys address the wrong side of the brain (i.e. miss emotive/intuitive response) and our qualitative methods are subject to bias and group think.

The great thing about this kind of attack is that it draws attention to the need for research to be more serious about providing better quality information to clients. The downside is that they tend to work by creating a “straw man” version of market research, in which out-dated and poor practices are treated as the norm and used as an excuse to belittle the whole industry.

Our view, stated simply, is that it is often perfectly possible to design fairly conventional research that can measure a good deal of underlying emotional or subconscious response and that where that is not possible with traditional methods there are a number of ways many of the “new MR” methods that are emerging can be applied to fill in the gaps. Clients or agencies who are dissatisfied with the quality delivered by their research deliverables should consider what can be done to improve them, rather than giving up on market research entirely. (As a disclaimer, we should mention that Gordon & McCallum provides clients with review and R&D support to improve MR systems and outputs – so we would believe that!)

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The Myth of Market Research’s Failure.

November 23, 2010
Head in Hands

Time To Get Over It - It's NOT that Bad! (Image by Alex E. Proimos via Flickr)

I am getting increasingly angry about the number of posts, books, You Tube Videos and articles – often by market researchers themselves – that imply “conventional Market Research” is a failure.

Here’s a good example, ‘futurist’ Patrick Dixon talking about why market research is “often wrong”: http://tinyurl.com/25kp34z .

These sorts of pronouncements tend to have several things in common:

  • Flashy style and grand pronouncements rather than reasoned argument,
  • Reliance on anecdote or case study (in Dixon’s case it’s his mother),
  • Lack of examples on the other side of the argument (when MR got it right),
  • A (false) assumption that the raison d’etre of MR is predicting “big” changes,
  • Failure to acknowledge that methods other than MR are not all that flash at predicting big changes or seismic shifts in behaviour either,
  • An assertion that “traditional MR” misses out on some extraordinarily key factor in understanding consumers, be it an inability to capture emotion, or failure to understand the role of Social Media or whatever uber-trend the author is fascinated by.

Let me counter this hyperbolic dismissal of the value of our traditional approaches with an equally strong counter claim. I strongly believe that good experienced, senior researchers can – in most markets – answer 70% of the key marketing questions of 70% of major research clients by means of a research programme consisting of not more than a few focus groups, a reasonable sized survey and access to some sales, retail or media trend data. There is an “if” of course – and this is sometimes a big if – they need to allocate enough time and thought to carefully design the study and analyse the results. This does not mean I am not a believer in many of the new MR methods, particularly some of the new neuroscience, customer panel and online qualitative approaches — let us ‘seniors’ incorporate some of those into the research programme and my success estimate goes up to 80 or 90%!   The core point I want to make though is that any systemic “failure” of market research is a failure to apply brainpower and thinking time – not primarily a failure of techniques. Read the rest of this entry »


Imitating Rogues

October 31, 2010
School for Scoundrels (1960 film)

Forthcoming Market Research Training Course? Image via Wikipedia

Over the years, I’ve often given mid-level researchers one or other version of a workshop I call “How to Advance Your Research Career – and still have time for a Social Life”. As you might guess, the title touches a nerve – it’s one that never fails to attract interest! Its genesis is a frustration that both David and I share: that far too many researchers do far too much work on things of far too little value. It’s something that we believe is not as inevitable or hard to change as we often imagine, but it’s also a topic that cannot be summarized in one blog post. Instead I want to touch on one small part of my talk: a consideration of  successful senior market researchers I’ve known who’ve “made it” without 80 hour weeks or working themselves into an early grave. Yes, they are a minority in our industry, but they do exist and they have some lessons for the rest of us.

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