3 behaviours of market researchers that will drive you crazy

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Snapshot : Whether you call them market researchers or consumer insight managers, there’s no doubt they fulfil an important role to help you understand consumers. But, some of their behaviours like long reports, hopeless recommendations and fear of making a decision can drive you crazy. 

At the time of writing this post, we are in the middle of building our market research and consumer insight content for this website. 

Anyone who works in marketing spends part of their time identifying market research needs, commissioning research from market research agencies, or even running their own market research. 

But unless you work directly in market research, in most cases you ask an agency to carry out the research and that means working with market researchers. And within marketing, market researchers are an almost separate breed. 

Market researchers for non-marketers

But not everyone who visits this site works 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? And why is that when you work with them, very often market researchers drive you crazy?

Are they market researchers or consumer insight managers?

So first off, there’s that confusion over the name of what they do – market research or consumer insights? We’ve found most market researchers prefer to call themselves consumer insight managers, rather than market researchers. 

But, most non-marketers probably 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 are going to use their term “Market Research” as we go on. 

Market research is what market researchers actually do. Consumer insights on the other hand are what they deliver. And what people do, is usually easier to understand than what people deliver. 

Everyone knows what a plumber is for example. But a liquid flow solution specialist for example, makes much less sense.  Everyone knows what a postman or postwoman does. But a package delivery facilitator, much less clear. 

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

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 two reasons.

1. Market research has become associated with intrusive 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.

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 be not be called “market researchers”.

2. 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. Almost without fail, you’ll find that people who work in this area are smart and technically knowledgeable. It does take 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?

Nine times out of ten, you’ll find smug cleverness that runs through market research professionals. 

“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 is not 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.

man wiping away a tear to show customer experience pain point

The 3 behaviours of market researchers that will drive you crazy

But beyond those, these are 3 very specific behaviours of market researchers that will take your pain to the next level.

And, we don’t think we are alone in calling these out. 

Long long long reports 

50+ pages seems to be the norm. But we’ve seen reports (with appendices) reach up towards 300 pages in some cases – which end up getting filed in a  drawer or a shared drive somewhere never to be read again.

And why do you waste the first 20 pages / 20 minutes 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 - The Purist - Man waving his hands and saying 98% confidence? Nope, we'll have to re-do it!

Hopeless recommendations

Recommendations that fall into the ‘damn obvious’ camp – “this brand needs to grow awareness / consideration / trial’ etc” – well, duh.

Or 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 are not actually connected in to the realities of the brand owner – particularly if connected to for example price/cost considerations or investments required in advertising or NPD. 

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 other 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. Even if you only talk about probability, rather than certainty, that’s much better than a vague and uninformative recommendation. 

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

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.

The one thing we wished market researchers did more often

That’s not to say, we haven’t met people working in market research who have been commercially savvy and decisive. But we’ve generally always found the best ones, have spent some 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. Those type of people are actually quite rare, but every one of them we’ve come across has been able to make much better recommendations back into marketing teams.

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.

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

Angry Man : Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

Man – Tears : Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

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