If marketers really want to understand customers, research cannot be seen as discretionary
Investment in market research is declining but cutting back on consumer insight will severely hinder marketers’ ability to be the voice of the customer. Russell Parsons, Editor of Marketing Week shares his thoughts.
That marketing is the ‘voice of the customer’ is such a well-worn aphorism it’s almost to the point of cliché. This, however, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be the ultimate objective for every marketer with ambition to be damn good at their job.
It’s not enough to say it, nor is it enough to want it. To be it you have to go and find out what it is your customers think, feel and desire.
As good as some marketers are, they are not blessed with a divine instinct that will determine all decisions, they have to solicit the help of others or organise themselves to do some research.
Whether it’s focus groups, field trials, observation or interviews, the job of targeting, segmentation, differentiation and communication is a lot more problematic to the point of impossible if you don’t conduct market research.
All decent marketers should be concerned then that an increasing number of their fellow professionals seem to be subject to cuts in the area or worse still, proactively shaving spending themselves.
According to the latest Bellwether report into marketing budgets by the IPA and IHS Markit, of the marketers polled a greater proportion pulled funding from market research programmes in the third quarter than didn’t. In all other areas, either the net balance was zero or positive.
It could be perhaps talked away as a blip if it wasn’t for the fact a similar negative balance was registered in each quarter in the previous 12 months, again at a time when the quarterly report showed net balance increases for many of the things marketers choose to spend their money on.
Times are tough. Confidence is being sapped. Uncertainty over the UK’s trading agreements with the European Union and elsewhere means many companies are keener than ever to save money. The easy conclusion to make for every under pressure marketer and/or their boss is to save money on things that do not appear to deliver immediate returns.
The narrative from the authors of the Bellwether is that this short-termism means money is not being invested in brand building but instead in cost efficient digital channels that promise instant wins on a spreadsheet but no lasting impression.
The counter argument to this is that digital, data and the general passing of time has meant media budget can be spent more efficiently without corners being cut.
The same could be said of market research. There is a plethora of platforms that purport to do what the ‘traditional’ methods of research have historically done. And there’s always ways to do what you do for less money. Marketing Week published an article just last month detailing how different processes, approaches and tools can help you get more from less.
Progress can explain away some of what is been cut back on but not all. However, I’d wager for many research is being seen as discretionary. Why spend time and money really deciphering what your prospective customers are really thinking and feeling when that time and money is not as plentiful as it once was?
Marketers of this mind-set need to resist and rethink. Long-term erosion of one of the essential steps in setting marketing strategy – marrying the attitude and behaviour of customers with the products and services that you produce, price and bring to market – means you risk being left with a portfolio of pretty but pointless innovation, with products that pack an instant punch but quickly peter out.
There was so much soul searching in the wake of the Brexit referendum last year. Earnest editorials about how being cosseted in a metropolitan bubble meant those across the marketing ecosystem were out of touch with the majority of the public. Addressing this disconnect was essential to the future of marketing, it was said.
Market research is key to this and the future of marketing. Scrimping means marketing will be less the voice of the customer more the voice, face and whim of the people sitting next to you in the office.