Is Market Research Undervalued?

Warren Buffet, who knows a thing or two, said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” As market researchers, you’d think we might know a thing or two about value as well. But when it comes to valuing our work and demonstrating that value to our clients and their stakeholders, as a sector, I’m not so sure that we always do as much as we could.

This isn’t just about being able to charge more for our work, although perceived value clearly has an impact on price. It’s about making sure that what we do delivers the value that it should and that our stakeholders can get the maximum benefit from their investment in our work.

Many talk of having to contend with short-termism at the top of client organisations that prioritise short-term stakeholder value over long-term growth of the type that investment in market research can support. And it is notoriously hard to demonstrate a tangible ROI from a specific project when a programme of research can inform multiple decisions over multiple years.

Rumour has it that many don’t always do a great job of linking research findings to business outcomes as we – both agency and client-side researchers – don’t always have access to conversations at the top of the client organisation.

And we are at the mercy of ever-shrinking timescales – and ever shrinking budgets – which can put the squeeze on time for analysis and reflection, as well as in the worst cases forcing us to compromise on methodology and potentially reducing quality.

And this is a vicious circle – if what we deliver isn’t up to standard, we won’t be invited in earlier or higher up, and we certainly won’t be given more resources.

My feeling is that we have to stop waiting to be valued, or for board-level stakeholders to suddenly ’get’ the value of research. This just won’t happen enough unless we stand up and show them what we can do! We need to get better at communicating insights and finding ways to ensure that our stakeholders get real value from our work. I imagine there is nothing worse than putting your heart and soul into a project only for it to languish on the shelf somewhere in the marketing department.

As a sector, we tend to be a curious, thoughtful bunch. We are interested in evidence, and we don’t tend to make bold claims. So it can sometimes come across as if we don’t have the courage of our convictions and that we aren’t confident in the role of trusted advisor.
But that is exactly the role that we need to take on board!

As an industry, we need to build confidence and start advocating for the value of research. Because, to paraphrase someone else who knows a thing or two, “If we can’t love ourselves, how in the hell are our clients and stakeholders ever gonna love us?”

So what does all this mean in real terms – what can we all start to do tomorrow to ensure that the great work we are doing is delivering value to our stakeholders.

Here are three top tips:

Build stakeholder relationships
We need to engage and build relationships with senior decision makers. Offer to present findings or to attend strategy sessions and bring the voice of the customer. Make sure you really understand the business challenges and what information might be helpful – then deliver it, proactively, in a light-touch and interesting fashion.

Build better storytelling skills
If we can improve the way insights are communicated using storytelling techniques, visual presentations, real life examples and concise, impactful reporting that makes it easy for stakeholders to understand and act on the findings, stakeholders will make time to engage with us. Get creative – use actors, infographics, cartoons, video – whatever gets the message across.

Build feedback loops
Develop a process for following up with stakeholders after each and every project or delivery of insights. Find out how it landed, what worked, what could have been done differently and then demonstrate how you’ve taken that on board next time you work together.

This is a whole industry issue so if you want to chat more about it, or have any ideas, then give me a shout. What else could we be doing?