Are the Words ‘Market Research’ Dirty Words for Some Marketers?

Are the Words ‘Market Research’ Dirty Words for Some Marketers?


I thought I should get the answer to the title question out of the way, not that it wasn’t obvious what the answer would be. I violated one of the cardinal rules of market research in this case and asked a biased question. Having said that, let’s use a methodical approach to prove that this answer is indeed the correct one. Let’s start by first considering what market research is, and what it is not.

Market research is:

  1. the process of gathering, analyzing and interpreting information about a market
  2. a profession for which up until a few years ago there was no university degree
  3. multifaceted
  4. for curious people
  5. good for business
  6. necessary if an organisation wants to be data driven
  7. used by multinationals and is how P&G maintains its leadership position in the FMCG world
  8. also called marketing research or insights management
  9. typically a sub-department of marketing
  10. both quantitative and qualitative  

Market research is not:

  1. prestigious and sexy
  2. what statisticians were before they became data scientists
  3. a main department
  4. represented on the board
  5. boring
  6. just asking questions, it is also (social) listening and observing
  7. considered as necessary as other marketing disciplines
  8. good for innovation
  9. an old discipline
  10. used by SMEs

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) do not have market research departments; they often don’t even have one single employee dedicated to market research. Why do you think that is? In my view, it’s probably because they believe that other investments closer to sales are needed more than market research. Of course this doesn’t mean that their marketing department won’t buy the occasional syndicated research report or even commission some custom research every now and then.

According to OECD a small enterprise typically generates up to 10 million euros and a medium enterprise up to 50 million euros of annual turnover. Companies even larger than that don’t have market research departments. If I had to guess I would say a company would have to be over 250 million euros for a market research department to be the rule rather than the exception. Consequently we have two types of companies to consider:

A.Companies that have a market research department
B.Companies that do not even have one employee with the title market research or customer insights manager

It is safe to say that all blue-chip multinationals belong to group A. Most of them treat market research with respect, especially the FMCG manufacturers. P&G is probably the biggest market research spender in the world. Their ability to swiftly turn information into action is legendary. I will venture say that this is one of the main reasons they are the biggest FMCG company in the world. They are an insights driven organisation through and through.

The rest of the organisations (that belong to group B) in most cases have the marketing department deal with carrying out or buying market research when they need it. If they have access to lots of data they may give it to the Business Intelligence department (if it exists that is) which is more about analysing owned data and not collecting new - especially customer opinions. Now within a marketing department, depending on company size, we have a CMO or Marketing Director, and the rest of the positions and functions are all over the map: Brand Managers, PR Managers, Social Media Managers, Digital Marketing Managers, Communications Managers (internal and external).

For all the things that market research is and is not, every person in a marketing department - all things being equal - would prefer to be called something other than a ‘market research manager’. A market research manager is not on the front line heroically battling competition helping the organisation sell more… they are an ancillary service in the absence of which the heroic marketing employees will make decisions based on their experience and gut feeling. Without data, some will get it right a few times and they will make sure it is known by everyone and will be celebrated; in most cases they will get it wrong or not entirely wrong but without great results, and they will find ways to explain it away (i.e. shove it under the rug) and move on. In such occasions market research is actually the enemy because it can show exactly what the marketers did wrong, or even worse for them it can show why they should not have launched that campaign or change that product messaging or package. The market research method they should have used is called pre- and post campaign evaluation. It can be carried out using social intelligence and online survey methodologies.

Last November I was speaking at the first social intelligence conference of its kind - probably in the world. It took place in London and it was about social media listening and how to turn the findings into useful intelligence. A few of the pundits represented the opinion that social intelligence should be its own discipline and not be part of the insights function (the slightly sexier way of saying market research). When I asked why, the answer was: no-one in a marketing department wants to be called a market research manager…thus “market research” are dirty words for marketers; case closed. I would love an opportunity to discuss with you, the readers of this post, if you have other thoughts on this subject or (even better) if you are in agreement. Please write to me on Twitter @DigitalMR_CEO or send me an email.


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