Finding a Market Research Leader Who Can Help You Paint a Picture of Your Ideal Customer
February 2017 TorchLight
By Ron Torch, Founder, President and CEO - Torch Group Inc.
Market research has evolved markedly since the days when B2C companies largely derived their customer insights from a mix of focus groups and government demographic reports and B2B organizations relied for the most part on subjective information from the trade press or their own sales forces. Steady innovations in quantitative research, such as the advent of Big Data and enhanced predictive analytics, and refinements in qualitative research, such improvements in the Voice of the Customer methodology and the introduction of user experience (UX) analysis, have greatly expanded both the capabilities and scope of market research, as well as blurred the lines between it and its younger sister, the customer insight function.
Indeed, the rising flood of social-media driven customer opinions, needs, and motivations (sometimes summarized as “social customer market insights,” or CMI) has led many companies to realize that blending traditional research with customer insight data can provide the detail of a focus group on the scale of a survey, allowing them to paint more accurate portraits of their customers (e.g., customer personae), which in turn provides them with a better understanding of the customer journey and the ability to more finely delineate the brand equity map. Accordingly, whereas market research was in many companies once focused largely on providing customer data to product development, now, reinforced with customer insight, it has become an expansive corporate function, providing crucial input to areas from branding and outbound marketing through sales and business development.
Quantitative Research & Qualitative Research-A Fork in the Road or a Bend in a River?
Traditionally, the great divide in market research has been between a concentration on numerically driven quantitative research (e.g., surveys, PPC, and in-store shopping data) or on narrative driven qualitative research (e.g., Voice of the Customer interviews, focus groups, and — in a recent cross-over from customer insight — social media commentary, customer-care input, and UX analysis). A comparable distinction has existed between secondary research (e.g., the analysis of information drawn from previously published data, such as industry-trend or government economic reports) and primary research (i.e., custom research designed and conducted exclusively for an organization). In fact, these approaches are not mutually exclusive and which approach a company employs can vary according to the prevailing practice in its industry or according to a particular project and its objectives.
Market Research and Customer Insight-Two Legs of the Same Journey
The quantitative end of market research has long been focused on the compilation of data on market need, market size, company competitors, and potential customers; in other words, the “WHAT” of customers and markets, a broad overview of the opportunities and risks in the market landscape. In contrast, the qualitative “customer insight” end of market-research (whether fed by focus groups, surveys, or social media) is focused on helping a company to map the customer journey and to understand “WHY” customers interact with its products in certain way, so that, armed with such insight, the company can positively affect customer purchase behaviors. In an ideal situation, the qualitative information is overlaid on the quantitative data, enabling the company to develop a compelling brand story and to create robust customer personae — strawmen that represent its target customer types and around which it can develop marketing programs tailored to a perfect fit.
The Research Game: Industry-Defined, Company-Specific & Customer-Centric
While the potential goals of and reasons for market research are as varied as the different research approaches and are also almost as limitless as the number of companies, they are often common within an industry. For example, in brick-and-mortar consumer retail environments, market research is often driven by the need for a clear understanding of customer demographics and psychographics as well as in-store shopping patterns in order to help determine optimal store location, advertising placements, and sale-floor merchandising. Similarly, in an e-commerce consumer products business, research might focus on website navigation paths to checkout and on actions taken within the shopping cart, such as selection of cross- and up-sell options. Finally, companies in both business areas will likely undertake original research and secondary research on seasonal sales cycles because prior-year sales results and inventory turns will inform their promotional calendar and stocking levels over the coming year.Companies in different business sectors, however, are prone to have different sets of research objectives. For example, B2B industrial manufacturers, such as second-tier suppliers to petrochemical companies, are less likely to be interested in research that links consumer demographics and driving habits to gasoline consumption than in research on broader economic trends and cycles that could increase or decrease demand for equipment on the part of their oil-company customers.
Although companies in the same or closely related industries are more likely to conduct research in similar areas than are companies in disparate or un-related industries, some research topics are of interest to nearly all companies, regardless of their end products or services. These topics include visitor behavior on a company’s own website, a company’s search engine rankings versus its competitors and peers, and a company’s reputation as evinced by prospect and customer commentary in social media. Consequently, even B2B companies that in the past might not have had much interest in customer insights now pay attention to them because the extensive reach of social media means that a customer’s impression of a company is no longer formed merely by trade press coverage and firsthand experiences but, potentially, by all customer experiences. This has upped the ante in the customer insights end of market research, since customer insight data can now be used not just to identify and address specific instances of customer dissatisfaction but also to alert the company to looming public relations crises.
Different Folks for Different Strokes
In many companies, these developments have redefined the mission of the marketing research function, expanding the array of research methodologies that companies must implement and requiring them to determine what combination of each is best suited to provide crucial research data to internal constituencies. Market research staffs must be able to accurately weigh the predictive significance of their quantitative findings and to evaluate the behavioral implications of their qualitative findings and to determine which are the most significant to their industry and business.Inevitably, these developments have also led to a revision of the job descriptions of market research leaders. In contrast to the past, when research functions were as often as not led by statisticians, these days they are increasingly directed by individuals with diverse academic backgrounds, from the social sciences to economics, as well as equally varied professional experience, from product development to marketing communications. What’s more, because the output of the market research function is used by internal customers with different and distinct areas of need and expertise, it is important that its leader have previous experience in or exposure to business areas other than research.
Finding a Multi-Skilled Leader for Your Market Research Function
Finding a market research director or vice president with the skill set necessary to set the right market research objectives and to deliver optimal results is a tall order. Given the ongoing state of rapid socioeconomic, marketplace, and technological change, it is challenging enough to find individuals with the right combination of leadership and technical skills necessary to lead most business functions. When the function requires mastery of diverse, and, in some respects, opposing skill sets — the empirical (e.g., quantitative) versus the intuitive (e.g., qualitative) — the bar is that much higher.This is why some companies turn to retained executive search consultancies to help them find the rare individual who can lead this key marketing function. Just as the market research function can provide a company with a view of its prospect and customer landscape, a search consultancy affords the hiring company a broad perspective on the field of qualified candidates. What’s more, good search firms will do this by conducting their own exhaustive research, bringing to bear the same skill sets and employing some of the same techniques used by expert market researchers. For example, the search firm might use secondary quantitative research to get a feel for prevailing trends in the market research field, perform primary research to develop a portrait (e.g., persona) of the ideal candidate for use in populating a candidate pool, undertake qualitative research, such as client-intake sessions focused on establishing the organization’s technical and cultural requirements, and, finally, conduct candidate behavioral and competency-based interviews devoted to determining a candidate’s suitability for the open position.
Using these or comparable research and interviewing techniques, a good executive search firm will be able to paint an accurate portrait of what your next market research head should look like. Even more importantly, just as thorough market research should not only provide a company with a picture of its target customer but also lead it to the customer in fact, an excellent search consultancy should be able to introduce you to your next director of market research in the flesh.
This is the third in a series of articles that examines the characteristics and experience that employers should expect to find in candidates for executive and senior leadership positions in mission-critical functions such as marketing communications, business development, digital marketing, product marketing, loyalty marketing, direct marketing, and public relations, as well as sales and other types of channel management.
For comments or for more information, please contact:
Customer and prospect contact: Ronald S. Torch, Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and President, the Torch Group,firstname.lastname@example.org, www.torchgroup.com, 440.519.1822 x101.Media contact: Ronald-Stéphane Gilbért, Senior Consultant & Global Managing Director, Gilbért, Flossmann & Zhang Worldwide, email@example.com, www.globalmarcomm.com, 216.816.4947
ABOUT TORCH GROUP, INC.
Torch Group, www.torchgroup.com, is a highly-specialized executive search firm that focuses on senior and executive-level marketing, sales, product management and communications talent for organizations that need to hire people that will make a difference to their organization.Our industry practice areas include foodservice, food & beverage, consumer products, retail, building products & construction, information technology and B2B, industrial manufacturing and metals.
Our unique ability to fill these mission-critical positions stems from our combination of functional and industry expertise, researching and identifying passive candidates, using our proven Signature Search Process and conducting competency-based behavioral interviews on all candidates submitted.
- Posted by Stuart Glassman
- On February 7, 2017
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