Why read this? : We look at how market research meets the needs of its target audience. Learn from our experiences where market researchers get it right, and where they don’t. Read this for ideas on how to do market research marketing better.
Marketing always starts with the customer. 9 times out of 10 that means market research. It’s how you understand customers.
We did these first because, without customer understanding, you can’t do marketing. For example, you need segmentation research to understand the total market. And then research into the needs of a specific target audience.
However, as we researched to write about market research, we noticed a strange thing. Despite most marketers saying market research is important, very few seem to keep up with what’s happening in it. For example, there aren’t many marketers talking about the impact Covid-19 will have on market research.
Market research keywords
We worked this out by looking at market research keywords using Google Ads Keyword Planner.
Very few people search for content about market research. Which seemed strange to us. We expected to see much higher search numbers.
It made us wonder. Is market research marketing itself well? Yes, there are some searches for keywords around market research. But really, the numbers are really small.
We filter our keyword search on Australia only, which reduces the amount of searches. But even still, for most terms we looked at, we saw <100 searches a month. In fact, many market research terms were <10 searches a month.
There are over 2.3m businesses in Australia. The Australian market research industry employs around 10,000 full-time equivalent people. So, why is it that less than 100 people a month search for terms like market research advice, market research plan or market research proposal?
For an industry that’s the starting point for marketing, it makes you wonder what’s driving that behaviour. Or to be more accurate, that non-behaviour. Is market research marketing itself well to its own target audience? Why aren’t people searching more to find out about it?
Here are some thoughts.
Great marketing - more than market research expertise
Market research is one of the more technical, process-oriented parts of marketing. In fact, until the recent growth in marketing technology (where you need to understand IT systems), digital data and behavioural science, market research was the destination for detail and process-driven marketers.
And that’s fine.
There’s clearly a need for market research to have standards in areas like sampling, questionnaire design and respondent privacy, for example. You make important marketing decisions based on your research. It has to be valid and bias-free. You also have to protect the respondent’s personal data. There’s a skill set and a way of working to do this which suits certain types of people.
We get it. But here’s the thing.
Remember what we said earlier. Understanding your target audience is the starting point for marketing. But it’s not the endpoint. Long-term sales from loyal customers is the endpoint. This is something many of those smart market researchers forget. It can drive you crazy sometimes.
The end point is a strong connection between the brand and its target audience.
That’s not really down to the market researcher to drive. It’s usually down to the marketing team who make the key marketing decisions.
Target audience for market researchers
Those types of people are the target audience for market researchers. But do market researchers really know what that audience wants?
Do they want clear actionable answers to their research questions? Simple explanations of why previous campaigns or initiatives did or didn’t work? Clear and engaging stories to emerge from the research?
Obviously, they do.
So why do we end up with 100+ page PowerPoint decks instead? Full of complicated charts and p values. And a 20-minute recap of the research methodology we already approved in the proposal. (and which it’s too late to do anything about anyway).
Only market researchers care about how to do market research
The market researcher and marketer relationship is a little like the anaesthetist and surgeon relationship.
If the market researcher does their job properly, they set the marketer up to be more likely to succeed,
But like the surgeon, the marketer won’t care too much about HOW the patient got knocked out.
Just that they are knocked out, so they can carry on and get their job done.
The hard work of market research for marketing
Let’s face it, some bits of market research are hard work. You want someone else to worry about those.
Then there’s the statistical process behind calculating sample size requirements and confidence intervals in quantitative research. Mind-numbingly tedious to do.
We freely admit that despite having worked in and with market research for decades, we always have to refer back to our notes every time we work out sample sizes. Even with three brains, we struggle to make the maths stick in our heads.
And if that’s from our experienced point of view, put yourself in the shoes of the new brand manager or business owner. Who’s more worried about sales targets, invoicing and customer deadlines. How interesting is a confidence level really? How much brain space do they have for degrees of freedom?
That’s why market research is usually an outsourced skill for marketers and business owners. The technical aspects of market research don’t satisfy their need for actions and results. So they’re happy to outsource it to those who’ve shown themselves willing and capable of handling the technical areas.
Is market research marketing keeping up with digital?
Our final thought is that even in our recent experience, most market research is still done in much the same way as it was 20-30 years ago.
Online samples for quant research (for example, see our using Photoshop for marketing article). Then there’s the vast amount of secondary research available via Google.
Market researchers should be embracing these opportunities. And yet, most market researchers seem to be very conservative. They stick to what they know. When we wrote about digital evangelists, deniers and decathletes, many researchers would sit in the deniers’ camp.
For example, if we look at the training topics on the Australian Research Society’s events calendar, the topics heavily focus on market research processes and techniques.
We don’t doubt that Sense-making, Scenario Thinking and Semiotics in Digital Media Analytics are interesting topics for market researchers.
But for the target audience of market researchers – remember, marketing managers and business owners – we struggle to see how these topics would convert into activity that’ll hit next month’s sales targets.
Read through the rest of the topics to the end of the year. There’s a common thread on how to “do” market research better. But hard to find any topics, which cover how to “market” market research better. It’s a very inward-looking list.
Conclusion - Market research marketing
We know and work with many market researchers. It’s not the first time we’ve talked about the way they drive you crazy. And let’s face it, marketers and business owners are far from perfect either.
But we believe market research is just too important, not to push market researchers to continually raise their game.
We’ve previously recommended Big Data* by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger as a must-read for anyone who works with or in market research.
The opportunities for market research and its ability to influence business success have never been higher. We have a tsunami of customer digital data about what they want and do flowing through our digital ecosystems. We’ve got all the exciting new learnings from behavioural science to test out.
We hope all those smart market research people can put their brains together and do these things. Because that’ll lead to better ways of market research marketing in the future.
We’re speaking as their target audience. Because that’s what the audience for market research really wants, isn’t it? If marketing is about the customer, market research has to understand what its own customers really want too.
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