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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 of working with market researchers. Learn why market researchers don’t like the term market researchers. And learn the 3 things they do that will drive you crazy. Read this for ideas on how to work better with market researchers. 

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

Research is a key part of marketing. It’s how you understand customers. And you can’t do marketing if you don’t understand customers.

You need 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.

And important as it is, there’s lots of things about market research and market researchers which will drive you crazy. That’s what we cover this week, from the point of view of being the market research client. And in particular if you’re not used to working with market researchers. (see our audience for market research article for more on this). 

Market researchers for non-marketers

Some market research clients won’t 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 in this article, we’re going to have a go at explaining market research and consumer insights to non-marketing people. We’ll talk from our experience of how you go about working with market researchers and research agencies. 

Why is that when you work with them, market researchers very often 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 try to deliver. And what people do, is usually easier to understand than what people deliver. 

Everyone knows what a plumber does for example. But they’d sound crazy if they called themselves a liquid flow solutions manager. Even if that’s what they actually deliver. Same for postmen and postwomen. No-one would ever call them a package delivery facilitator.

So, market researchers are easier to describe, because they do market research. Insights are what comes out of market research and your marketing data to plug into your marketing plans and brand activation.

People who work in consumer insights / market research often prefer the term ‘consumer insights’. It’s ironic that ‘the voice of the consumer’ in the business find it hard to use the term that actual consumers prefer to use to describe them.

Why do market researchers not like the term market researchers?

This got us thinking. Why do ‘market researchers’ not like calling themselves ‘market researchers’? We see 2 reasons.

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 just calling right when you are in the middle of making dinner to see if you’d answer questions on home insurance’ bunch too.

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

Either that, or the assumption that market researcher are just trying to snoop into your life. Nobody likes being snooped on. 

Consumers are suspicious these guys just use ‘market research’ as a way to sell you stuff, right? The industry has got much better at weeding out intrusive behaviours like this. But the public perception of market research still 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 who are attracted into working in consumer insights.

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

But OMG, don’t they just love reminding you of how smart and knowledgeable they are?

Maybe it’s just us, but it seems like about 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.

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, these 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 want’s that? They’re only going to end up filed in a drawer or shared drive never to be read again.

And why is 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. In our guide to marketing agencies, we highlight how to spot them. 

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 that 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 ever 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 that don’t take account of 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 tell you to change your brand essence or brand values, when there’s only been a temporary blip in what customers actually think of them.

Fear of committing to a decision 

So many hypotheses. But frequently, no actual commitment to a recommendation. This ‘might’ be the case, or 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’ll commonly find in market research agencies. And while we understand that market research only ever serves as a guide to what consumers will do, if you work in that space, have a bit 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. We need your help with marketing decision making. Please commit to something

Now anyone working in market research reading this might be feeling a rising sense of indignation. You might be ready to throw back the ‘you can’t say that about all market researchers’ (of course, what they would actually say would be ‘you can’t say that about all 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 we know who has, has always been 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 fulfil a very important purpose for the business. Their insights can generate activities worth millions of dollars or stop ideas doomed to failure ever getting off the ground. But if only they could work harder on really talking like consumers, they’d have so 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 guides to learn more about market research, or contact us to see how we can help you get better at market research for your business. 

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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