Double your insights, halve your research budget

Double your insights, halve your research budget

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By Stephanie Creff

This year’s winner of the Marketing Society’s Award for Marketing Leadership was Mars’ Laws of Growth programme, reinventing marketing at Mars. During the Laws of Growth programme, I led the consumer research team in Mars Europe. We saw the opportunity not just to reinvent marketing but to reinvent research too. The prize, which came with this reinvention, was better RoI, from a more engaged and empowered research team.

If you are aiming to achieve ‘next generation market research’ in your own company, here are five practical suggestions to help you succeed:

1. Understand your stakeholders
Market researchers, of all people, ought to understand their ‘customers’ or stakeholders.
Survey your senior partners in the business to become clearer about what is needed and expected from research.
At Mars, we crystallised those learnings in an inspiring vision, with clear milestones that marked our additional added value. Then we made sure that our stakeholders were signed onto our vision.

2. Create a team ‘brand’
Research teams need to think of themselves as a brand, with a clear value proposition and a core audience. Communicate clearly your team’s unique role, based on your personality as well as your competences, to help the business understand your contribution.  
In our case, we linked the team role, our personal values and the Mars company values.  We established a distinctive positioning and ways of working. Our team became a brand, and we carefully managed all its communication, with one voice.

3. End debates about methodologies
Researchers often spend time discussing ‘best’ methodologies - from testing product quality to measuring advertising effectiveness. It’s important to ensure research quality but wasteful to continually challenge and debate it across the business.
End the debates with two simple steps:

  • Audit quality and the consistency of methods. Improve if needed.
  • Allow methodology conversations only among genuine experts.

In Mars, I appointed the most appropriate members of my team as thought leaders, closing many circular debates and freeing time for real added value.

4. Stop doing ‘toxic research’
Some research is wasteful, simply because it ‘scratches the surface’ without bringing deep consumer understanding, new learning – or is being done for the wrong reasons.
Identify wasteful research, kill it and free up time.
It helps to treat wasteful research as an enemy so I label it ‘toxic’ to reflect its poisonous effects.

5. Connect the dots
Information and data are available to all; insights are unique to each business.
The best interpretation of data is one that provides a unique competitive advantage to your business, not one that is also available to your competitors. The key to this is to work as a team and not as individuals on the insights generation process, bringing different types of knowledge to the table.
For us, like many researchers, this wasn’t an obvious step, until we realised that the combination of our individual perspectives brought unique insights.
We invented a team process and called it: ‘Connect the dots’.
It became the most important activity we did together as a team. And it worked!

Strategic Partner
The outcome of these five steps is that an engaged and empowered research team can act as true strategic partners. The more dots you connect, the better you become at:

  • Recycling knowledge, including knowledge created well before your time in the business
  • Using judgment to help inform faster decision-making
  • Building tools, frameworks, processes to help everyone else apply insights.

When insights are made operational, you increase the respect for research in the business and become genuine strategic partners. In Mars that meant keeping the business future-focused and shaping strategies to remain competitive. So, if you want to reinvent your own insights team, take these five practical steps:

  1. Understand your stakeholders and contract a vision
  2. Build a ‘team brand’
  3. End debates on methodology: audit research quality and appoint thought leaders
  4. Stop toxic research
  5. Connect the dots

The RoI Prize
It goes without saying that delivering more value increases RoI.
There were also less obvious gains made as we progressed. From reducing low-impact research, to gradually reducing the need for research itself as the organization became more able to use existing knowledge, we halved our budget in just two years.

Next generation market research
Looking to the future, I see more businesses deciding to empower research teams and challenging them to increase the value they provide. This will put research providers to test.
Behavioural and market data will always be needed and will require strong analytical skills; traditional ad-hoc research is already being challenged.

In my current role, making neuromarketing and consumer sciences more accessible to marketers, I believe we will see the emergence of expert tools to help with robust consumer-driven marketing, without the need to continuously ask consumers what “they think they think”.

Stephanie Creff is Innovation Partner at a brand consultancy specialising in practical applications of neuromarketing and consumer science.

Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 03 Feb 2014
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