In the June 2013 issue of Harvard Business Manager (German edition) there is an article by Prof. Thorsten Henning-Thurau of Münster University entitled "Crisis of Marketing".
It makes for disturbing reading.
Professor Henning-Thurau's thesis is that Marketing is taken less and less seriously in a broad range of companies and industries, often being degraded simply to an execution function for other more respected departments such as R&D and Finance.
He quotes from a 2012 study conducted by the Fournaise Marketing Group that only 10% of CEOs really trust their Marketing staff. Only 20% of CEOs of German companies apparently have any experience working in Marketing – the rest being a mixture of Scientists, Engineers, Financial Experts. The work executed by Marketing is negatively perceived as superficial, pre-occupied with misleading advertising campaigns, focussing on the short-term, neglecting the central but more longer-term goal of raising Customer Satisfaction.
Why is this relevant for Market Research?
Simply because if our main Client area – Marketing – is indeed losing status and influence within Companies, that's bad news for everyone dependent on the Marketing Budget – including Research.
However: as the article points out, delivering on Customer Needs remains the central task of all healthy companies. An opportunity for Market Research? I think so – here's my take on a few ways MR can become more influential.
1. Document the Impact of Insights
However frequently you do it, making a list of the projects completed, documenting the impact MR had, and then sharing that broadly is a good way of making sure MR is thought of as a positive investment. Particularly relevant when budgets are being discussed.
2. Shine a Light on our Role
It's important to ensure that our contribution is visible and gets recognition. Being modest is an attractive personal attribute, but it can have a professional downside. Making sure that people with influence know who we are, what we are working on, with what impact is important – it doesn't have to be seen as showing off. Regular stakeholder updates – quarterly lists, one-on-one sessions, emails – are invaluable. As new people join, ensure they are updated fast.
3. Collaborate Across Boundaries.
If Marketing really is under the cosh, as the article seems to suggest, then we need to get close to all the Functional Area leads who are driving decision making: understand their needs better, find a role where Insights could impact positively. Volunteering to work in projects where your role needs shaping beyond a classical MR function is a good way to move into new areas, get people to see you in a new light. Simply asking questions such as "Do we fully understand the Customer perspective?" is a good starting point, and will often be welcomed in my experience.
4. Focus relentlessly on measuring ROI.
Research can help Marketing in many ways, but measuring ROI is a key area as it provides justification for budget expenditure. There are plenty of ways of going about this – marketing mix modelling is an established option, attribution modelling is gaining traction. But even a simple approach such as measuring total cost of a given activity versus attributable incremental margin using a test and control method is a good starting point.
One thing all of us Market Researchers need to remember: we're business people. We are paid to make a contribution to business issues. The more we focus on our own Market Research industry concerns – however valid – we run the danger of being inward-looking. Not many people outside of MR are going to get that excited about respondent engagement or data-protection issues.
On a more optimistic note, I would – boldly, hopefully not foolishly – predict that within the not too distant future a tipping point will come, when all the influential Marketing voices currently arguing against short-termism and the related concept of Shareholder Value will gain critical mass, and more influential companies will follow the lead of the likes of Amazon – totally customer focussed. The Voice of the Customer will regain centre stage – and as long as we are well positioned, MR stands to gain influence massively.
Curious, as to others' views.