What to do to make market research strategic
Question: We’re the corporate strategy team directly reporting to our company CEO. We’re a lean team of only five. Last week, our CEO called us to a short meeting. He had your June 5th column reproduced. He handed out to each of us a photocopy.
The column was about how market research or its use can be strategic. You said it can be strategic if or when it gives or will be made to give us a competitive advantage. You said something similar about its use. You said using market research gains strategic significance when it gives its user a competitive advantage. But what if there’s no such competitive advantage? You then said that if there’s none, then the market research must have been incorrectly designed or its use was not strategic at all.
Our CEO reminded us that your MRx column implied that to be strategic, our market research has first to be correct and that our use of its results should also be a correct use. Then he told us to brain storm among us about what else specifically we should be doing to communicate to everyone in the organization that “our very own corporate culture has respect for market research and its use as strategic.”
We went back to your marketing research book to find out how much more we can be correct in our market research projects and in their applications. We came out with a “to-do” list. Our CEO didn’t like the list and just said: “Start from scratch and be more creative. Use your imagination.” As we were leaving, he added: “If that’s all you can do, why don’t you get some ideas from Marketing Rx?” And that’s why we’re writing.
Answer: Your story brought this image to mind. Every time I go for blood instruction, as the medtech notices how tense I am because I’m so needle shy, she will say: “Relax sir.”
That’s said sometimes gently but most of the time, with impatience and an irked facial expression.
Each time I hear these words, I’d tell the medtech, “Please don’t say that. It aggravates me more and I get even more tense.”
Your CEO’s admonition about getting more creative and using your imagination brought to my mind that image. Getting more creative and imaginative no longer are the means. They become the problem. Then, what should you do?
It may help if I tell you what I do. I change the context of the problem. For this changed context, get your cue from what your CEO was saying. Among other things, he said that you and your team should think about what else to specifically do so that “our very own corporate culture gains respect for market research and its use as strategic.”
There’s your cue to the context. It’s the company culture. But what is culture? One definition that I’ve used refers to culture as shared values and practices that characterizes a team or the organization. Let’s focus on shared practices that eventually signal to one and all that correct market research and its correct use are strategic.
In a previous column on this market research series, I’ve referred to one of my most frequent market research mentoring engagements. That’s in setting up for a client company a DIY (do-it-yourself) market research desk on a BOT (build, operate, transfer) arrangement. That includes recruiting three professionals to compose the desk team, actual design and conduct of three different market research projects, and data analysis, reporting and presentation. The research project’s mid-stages are outsourced to a cost-effective and accredited specialized Field+Tab agency. During this typically one-year engagement, I also mentor the team in translating the research results into the appropriate marketing campaign or campaigns. Any one of those research-based campaigns is presented to the excom or mancom together with the research results briefing. That’s one consequential practice that renders market research into a strategy.
Another practice to convert market research from a mere support role into a strategic one is to mandate that every brand review session start with a campaign’s market research base. Starting the brand review session this way tells everyone that the acceptable underlying logic of any company marketing initiative is the correct market research.
Eventually, I position the market research projects as also the starting point of the company’s annual strategic planning. This research-based starting agenda item in the corporate strategy is to be found in two sections of the program: in the environment scanning section, and in the review of the bundle of proposed marketing campaigns. This second section is basically what the brand review covers. It’s the environmental scanning section that we need to look into.
In addition to the typical PEST (political, economic, social, technological) environmental scanning, the market research on the changing consumer behavior environment puts a “face” on the ultimate stakeholder of the business and at the same time gives the PEST environmental scanning a common focus and direction.
There are other “to-do” practices but let me describe just one more. This is about where the accumulating market research project reports are kept. This is an issue for the relatively new research users most of whom are medium-sized companies. I recently helped one who told me that they have been market research users for nearly three years. When I asked if I can be shown quickly those reports, I was told they were with each of the company’s three business units. When I visited each business units, I found what I expected from what I’ve seen before. There was no uniform storage and retrieval system for the accumulated and accumulating research reports. Here was the basic reason why market research was never used for corporate strategy planning. No CMIO (Chief Market Intelligence Officer) was in charge. This is a critical key to making market research strategic.
Keep your questions coming. Send them to me at [email protected]
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