"Most marketing organizations do not have a pervasive belief system that research adds value. Some “believe”, but many are non-believers. As non-believers, they will not expect valuable strategic recommendations to come from researchers so even brilliant insights will go unnoticed. The decision-maker must believe or less grounded insights coming from consultants will have more impact on the company than their own research and insights teams even if they offer brilliant insights. Research must fix its branding problem."
Joel Rubinson of the ARF talking about research’s image problem. I agree with all this, but I wonder if research also doesn’t have a bit of a self image problem as an industry.
Ever since I’ve been in the biz I’ve seen colleagues saying, well, we need to be like consultants; or, we need to structure ourselves like ad agencies; or, we have to be more like marketers. At an appraisal a couple of years back my manager said, “Tom, you’re not a researcher, you’re a planner.” I’d never even heard of planners before so this came as something of a surprise.
As it happens, I think I’d have been quite a good planner, but I’m not one. I’m a researcher, and if I have abilities which look a bit like planning, or consultancy, or marketing then it’s because I’m a good researcher, not because the category of “researcher” is somehow a bit crap and I’m able to transcend it.
Another industry news story this week involved Julian Bond, who’d been at Research International for 27 years, leaving that company and taking a job at Incite. I cut my teeth at RI, and worked with Julian Bond on a couple of thinkpiece style presentations, and I wish him all the very best because he is exactly what I’m talking about. He can do things - very clever things - that look a bit like the things planners or consultants do but all of it is grounded in the research work he’s put together, because he is a researcher and proud of it.
Bond - like many of the other agency “big beasts” I’ve worked and conferenced with - came up in the industry in an era when research still had a bit of technocratic swagger and mystique. The days of the black box technique and blinding the client with science are dying unmourned, but bringing the swagger and pride back wouldn’t be a terrible idea. One of the best research blog posts I’ve read this week is Dave Bevan at Freshminds tracking the attempts to discover whether the Iranian election was a fix - quietly making the point that an ability to understand statistics and interpret data intelligently and calmly is incredibly valuable.
This ability is something you get with good researchers. So is the ability to frame questions and conversations to create insight. The ability to appreciate the "harmonics" in a conversation and spot the unasked question. And a host of other skills which, as a business, we ought to be proud of. The “rebranding” market research needs to undertake is simply the job of identifying what we’re great at and demonstrating that it’s worth paying for.