Magazine article Marketing

Time to Weigh the Internal Evidence

Magazine article Marketing

Time to Weigh the Internal Evidence

Article excerpt

Internal MR departments are sliding towards extinction across Europe -- but never fear, the directors of BMRB have discovered one way of slowing the momentum, says Susan Litherland

If you work in an internal market-research department, stop what you are doing, take a good look around the office and notice which member of the marketing department your boss chats to most. Is he or she often ensconced in a cosy tete-a-tete with the marketing director? Yes? Excellent -- you can sit back and relax.

Or does he or she report to a mere marketing manager? Affirmative again? Start pondering the job ads. And should your boss report to a director outside the marketing discipline -- you might as well pack up your things, as tomorrow your desk may disappear. For, according to a prize-winning, pan-European study, your MR skills are being undervalued by the marketing department and you could be a victim the next time the company swings the cost-cutting axe.

Margaret Holmes and Jane Reid, directors of market-research agency BMRB International, believe the way internal MR departments can prevent such a horrible fate is to make themselves indispensable by giving strategic advice -- and by making sure that the most senior marketing people hear about it. They warn that if researchers simply provide information, however well-interpreted and presented, they could find themselves usurped by outside suppliers.

They state their evidence in a paper called Company Market Research Departments -- Expansion, Contraction, Privatisation, which won first place at the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR) 94 conference. This collects together a sweep of opinions from senior marketers in 316 top companies (based on sales) in nine west European countries and Scandinavia.

Prompted to conduct the research last spring by the growing number of research department casualties in large international companies that have traditionally been heavy users of MR, they uncovered a disturbing scene. While just over half of the sample have internal MR departments, one third were considering closing them to work directly with external suppliers. And of those without, one quarter had once operated departments, but had shut them over the past two to three years.

They suggest that part of the problem may be of researchers' own making, for some departments are bad at communicating their true worth to the company. Such timidity is rooted in the very nature of their work, since they find it difficult to defend themselves on the basis of demonstrable financial benefit, when it is "almost impossible to show where the availability of information has led to a success".

At the heart of the research dilemma is the positioning of the market research department. "While the vast majority of marketers consider research to be part of marketing, many jealously guard their right to understand and make strategic decisions," says Holmes. The type of comment that cropped up often in interviews was: "The market-research department is there to supply data, not make recommendations."

And yet those MR departments considered most essential by marketers -- and therefore able to put most distance between themselves and the chopping block -- were the very ones who had a greater involvement with marketing anus. As Holmes took pains to spell out: "Today, more than ever before, the market-research manager needs to understand and sympathise with marketing; if a company makes him or her subservient to the short-term quests of brand management, it will do itself no favours."

Internal MRs have always had to offer expertise on top of that provided by outside suppliers, but now this must be ratchetted up a notch to provide recommendations on strategic input. To be exact: to identify marketing opportunities and assist new product development; analyse competitive strategies, determine best-product portfolio, establish customer needs, and help in long-term planning and sales -- a demanding task indeed. …

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