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3 behaviours of market researchers that will drive you crazy

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Why read this? : We share some of the challenges you face working with market researchers. First, we look at why they don’t like being called market researchers. Then, we go into some of their most annoying behaviours. And lastly, we share what we wish they did more often. Read this for ideas on how to work better with market researchers. 

As we write this, we’re also working on the market research and insight content which will appear on this website. So research is very top of mind for us right now. 

Research is how you understand customers. How you understand what they need. Understanding customer needs is how you start marketing. 

To do that, you have to understand the market research process and how to work with market researchers. Whether you use market research companies or do your own market research. 

Man with hands behind head and a frustrated look on his face

Research is the first step towards being a better marketer.

But, important as it is, it’s not easy. There can be challenges if you’re a client working with market research and market researchers. (see our audience for market research article for more on research clients). 

Market researchers for non-marketers

Some market research clients won’t even work in marketing. And if you haven’t experienced working with market researchers, there’s lots to learn about how to get the best out of them. 

So, this article also explains market research and insights from the viewpoint of non-marketing people. It’s based on our experience of working with market researchers and research agencies. 

And that experience is that often when you work with them, market researchers will drive you crazy.

Person holding glasses in front of them against a blurry street background

Are they market researchers or consumer insight managers?

First, there’s that confusion over the name of what they do. Is it market research or consumer insights? We’ve found most market researchers prefer to call themselves consumer insight managers, rather than market researchers. Which adds to the confusion. 

Because most non-marketers know the subject better as market research. 

Putting both terms in Google Trends shows that “Market Research” appears 60 times more often than “Consumer Insight” as a search term. So, as this article is aimed at non-marketers, we’re going to call it “Market Research” to keep it nice and clear.  

Market research is what market researchers actually do. Consumer insights on the other hand are what they deliver. They supply the marketing data which plugs into your marketing plans and brand activation

But what people do, is usually easier to understand than what people deliver. 

For example, everyone knows what a plumber does. But they’d sound crazy calling themselves a liquid flow solutions manager. Even if that’s what they actually deliver. Same for postal workers. No one would ever call them a package delivery facilitator.

So, it’s easier to call them market researchers, because they do market research. It seems ironic that ‘the voice of the consumer’ in the business finds it hard to use the term actual consumers use to describe them.

Why market researchers call themselves something else

We believe there are 2 reasons market researchers don’t like calling themselves market researchers :-

Intrusive and/or sneaky

Market research has become associated with intrusive or sneaky behaviours. The ‘on the street with a clipboard’ crew who get in your way when you’re running to catch that bus.

There’s the ‘hey, we’re just calling right in the middle of you making dinner to see if you’d answer questions on home insurance’ bunch too.

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

Then, there’s the assumption market researchers are just trying to snoop into your life. Nobody likes answering nosy questions. 

Many consumers suspect these guys just use ‘market research’ as a way to sell you stuff. The industry has got much better at weeding out this behaviour. However, the public perception of market research persists. We can see this as a valid reason for wanting to not be called “market researchers”.

The type of people market research attracts

However, there’s also the type of people attracted to working in consumer insights.

We base this admittedly un-statistically verified perception on the experience of working with hundreds of ‘consumer insight’ people over the years. Most of them are smart and technically knowledgeable. After all, it takes a certain expertise and skill to do market research properly.

But OMG, don’t they just love reminding you how knowledgeable they are Maybe it’s just us. But it seems like 8 out of 10 market researchers can’t stop themselves from being smug about their cleverness

“Oh no no no. You can’t possibly conclude that from this report” they tell you. 

Because some other report from 2 years ago stated something completely different. 

‘Oh, of course, 3 months data isn’t nearly enough to mark this out as a trend. We’ll need at least another 9 months before we can confirm the assumption” they’ll tell you. With a slightly superior air like the teacher at school correcting you on getting something wrong.


Thanks for adding a pain point to our lives.

Close up image of a man in a suit wiping away a tear and looking sad

The 3 behaviours of market researchers that drive you crazy

But beyond those, there are 3 specific behaviours of market researchers which will take your pain to the next level. And we know we’re not alone in feeling this. 

Long reports 

Long reports never seem to tell a clear story, but you get them a lot from market researchers. 100+ pages. Who wants that? They’re only going to end up filed in a drawer or shared drive never to be read again.

And why are the first 20 pages / 20 minutes wasted going over the methodology? That should have all been agreed up front and is worth about 5 minutes at the most.

These are typically where you’ll find the marketing research purist in their element. See our market research companies guide for how to spot these. 

Market research cartoon - Headline is market research purist and shows a man with his hands out to say stop and text - 98% confidence? Nope, we'll have to re-do it!

Poorly thought-out recommendations

It’s not great when you get recommendations which fall into the ‘damn obvious camp. For example, “this brand needs to grow awareness / consideration / trial / loyalty’ etc” – well, duh.

Or when the recommendations are meaningless. Our favourite was when one very junior agency person told us, “This brand needs to do more to grow sales” (er, what did you think we were trying to do?).

Also, recommendations which don’t take into account what else is going on in the business. Or how practical their recommendation is. 

For example, when they recommend you change the price. But don’t consider the impact on your forecast and your profit and loss

Or when they advise you to update your brand essence or brand values when there’s only been a temporary blip in customers’ perceptions.

Fear of committing to a decision 

So many hypotheses. But frequently, no actual commitment to a recommendation. This might be the case. That could be true.

Well, we probably knew that before you did the market research. Wasn’t the point of the research to give us more certainty?

These fencesitters are another type you commonly find in market research agencies. We understand market research only ever serves as a guide to what customers will do. But if you work in that space, you should have more courage in your convictions.

Market research cartoon - A woman shrugging and saying it's absolutely, positively, a maybe!

Even if you only talk about probability, rather than certainty, that’s better than a vague and uninformative recommendation. There’s a reason we used a researcher rather than just doing informal market research ourselves. We need your help with marketing decision-making. Please commit to something

Now, market researchers reading this might be feeling a rising sense of indignation. They’re probably thinking, “But you can’t say that about all market researchers / consumer insight people”.

And they’d be right.

But we can say it about most market researchers. We’ll get back to you with the statistically robust sample later of course.

What we wished market researchers did more often

That’s not to say, there aren’t market researchers who are commercially savvy and decisive.

But we’ve generally always found the best ones have spent time doing something else in their career other than being a market researcher. A few years as a brand manager or marketing manager, and then go back into market research.

This makes them more flexible. More agile. And therefore much better researchers to work with. 

Researchers who’ve done this are rare. But every one of those who has is always able to tell a more convincing market research story

Woman in exercise gear sitting cross legged on a yoga mat and twisting to one side

We don’t mean to beat up too much on market researchers, (though it’s fun). When they get it right, they play an important role. Great insights can lead to millions of dollars in sales, or stop ideas doomed to fail ever getting off the ground. But if only market researchers could work harder on talking like customers, they’d have much more impact on the marketing teams they work with. 

We just wish they were better at marketing their skills to their own target audience. 

Read our market research guides to learn more. Or get in touch if you need advice on getting more out of market researchers.

Photo credits

Frustrated Man : Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

Man – Tears : Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

Glasses : Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Woman peeking out from bush : Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Yoga : Photo by Dane Wetton on Unsplash

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