Here’s how innovative insight functions are doing it.

“I have a meeting tomorrow with the CEO, so I need a deck immediately with everything we know about our brand and Millennials”

As researchers, how many of you have received that call? As someone born into a family of market researchers, and having worked at both boutique consultancies and big multi-national research agencies, I’ve taken many calls similar to that. Having also worked in client-side insights functions, I’ve also been the guy making those calls.

Working in insights right now is very demanding. Client brands are under immense pressure to protect and grow market share and it’s harder than ever. The weapon they have to do this is marketing, but as marketing budgets increase, market research budgets do not. Given this environment how do researchers stay relevant? I’ve spoken to over 150 organisations across the US and Canada, big and small, working with them to support the improvement of their insights function, and there are a few key things I’ve learnt through these discussions and my own experience.

Here are my 6 key considerations for brands that want their research to not only stay relevant but to thrive, and drive great decisions:

  1. Accept the old way isn’t working. Researchers that are succeeding have realised that the old ways of working aren’t fit for the new landscape they find themselves in. When faced with new technology in insights researchers fall in to one of two camps. Those that see a threat and those that see an opportunity. If you see a threat, if you fear change, you should be worried, you need to change your mind-set or risk becoming irrelevant.
  2. Stop taking research so damn seriously! Research is important, but it’s only important when it drives good decision making. Most CMOs and CEOs don’t care whether the research and methodology can be submitted to an academic journal; they simply want relevant insights that drive growth.
  3. Don’t over-engineer sample. Successful brands are keeping it simple and ensuring the sample is not so narrow it will take six weeks and $100,000 to get all the completes they need.
  4. Get a grip on Digital. Digital marketing is growing, on average it now makes up 40% of marketing budgets in major organisations, but only 10% of the insight function budget is involved in it. The research industry has collectively given this away, which mean that we are now not involved in 40% of those marketing conversations. This is a problem for researchers, but it’s also a problem for brands as they are putting content in market which hasn’t been tested with consumers. Successful brands are finding the tools to test digital creative iteratively and safeguard the success of digital.
  5. Challenge legacy systems. Organisations have invested a lot of money and time in setting up measurement systems, so it’s understandable that some brands find it difficult to move away from such an investment. Successful brands are identifying key data points they need to move forward, but are no longer using legacy systems as a ball and chain that’s making them stagnate.
  6. Think big! Researchers in these major brands are moving away from the project, and thinking more strategically. New tech is giving them more time, more data and the tools that allow easy access to the data. This is providing researchers the opportunities to think on a business level, not a project level.

From my time spent in the industry, working with clients big and small these are the key aspects of staying relevant in the insights industry, and if there is one connection to each of these six key elements of a successful research function, it’s the ability to keep moving forward.

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Julio Franco

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Julio Franco

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