I have a confession to make. You may not like it, you may want to ignore it, it may even upset you. But it’s true. Much of the money that marketing departments spend on research is wasted.
Don’t misunderstand me – the research is better than it’s ever been and the insights we provide can transform our clients’ fortunes. But the way it is currently consumed means that it doesn’t always improve decisions, brand performance or engagement with customers. It could, indeed it should, but it doesn’t because our research is reaching the wrong people in the wrong format at the wrong time.
It’s not that we haven’t caught up with the insane speeds that dictate today’s business environment – we certainly have the ability to be fast, accurate and incisive. It’s just that the barriers to effectiveness are slowing the entire process down.
The best research still has the power to influence decisions, especially if it informs a marketing director about customer conversations or the effectiveness of brand messaging, not just post-rationally but by mapping out future trends. Our work shouldn’t just look behind but set out a path to follow.
Currently, however, these decision-makers don’t see our research. It’s on their radar but is more likely to be consumed by insight directors or analysts who aren’t always connected to driving the business or exposed to the wider picture. People are naturally reticent, perhaps a little nervous when making multi-million pound decisions based upon research. Yet they are the custodians of insights that I and my teams know can truly transform a business.
Our work is dutifully delivered into organisations at the same point every month, sits in an in-box or is handed out at the end of a PowerPoint presentation, rarely having the impact that it’s designed for. Because it doesn’t get into the hands of decision-makers – and if it does, it doesn’t get there soon enough.
Yet because our world is changing with such rapidity the value of that research has never been greater. What is true this month may be entirely inaccurate by the end of the year. Rigid segmentations cannot be predicted with the certainty that was once possible. Defined brand messaging may need greater spontaneity to achieve true authenticity.
Our mission is to change the impact our research has by placing ourselves directly in the eye of the storm rather than following in its wake, enabling marketing directors to join us there rather than let these insights blow away.
To make what is currently wasted more meaningful, we’re trying new methods to place our work with the right people at the right moment. One way is to incorporate skills from outside industries and so we’ve retrained with the help of professional journalists to have a sharper news mentality. We now combine research insights with more journalistic storytelling skills, allowing us to present work in a less statistic-heavy manner and with more energy, constancy and flair.
For instance, our unique insight news service, The Hub, allows marketing departments – indeed any department if they wish – instant access to the latest insight stories and data. Not last month’s or the PowerPoint from the previous quarter, but today’s research combined with video feedback from brand advocates. Thus, our work becomes more insightful because it isn’t simply a piece of data – it is a story perpetually being told by us and brand customers.
The market research industry has been too self-satisfied for too long and needs to push itself further if it is to make a greater impact in this constantly-shifting, ultra-competitive arena. Unless we attempt to reshape how we deliver, we will not just be doing ourselves a disservice but will be letting down the very people who rely on us for vital insights into how their brands can achieve more.
I know our work is essential and my experience has shown me that CEOs, marketing directors and their teams know it is too. But knowing doesn’t cut it anymore. Seeing it, sharing it, talking about it and reacting to it – that’s the always-on consultancy model we’re trying to create.
Vanella Jackson is the Global CEO of Hall & Partners, a brand strategy consultancy powered by data, research and insight. Before this she spent 20 years working as a planner in some of the UK’s best advertising agencies, including BBH, AMV/BBDO and JWT.
Her highlights whilst at Hall & Partners have been to help the company grow successfully, becoming the first research company to win a place in The Sunday Times ‘Top 100 Best Companies to Work For’ and Marketing Magazine’s ‘Research Agency of the Year’ and is this year’s winner of MRS ‘Best Agency’. Vanella has also won a UK Woman of the Year award.