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From Tactical Cost Center to Strategic Competitive Advantage

In the first 2 installments of this 3-part series, we made the case that market research return on invest (MR ROI) can be boosted by asking 5 key questions at the outset of a project and using action standards and benchmarks.

In the third and final installment, we turn our focus to the strategic moves that can significantly improve your MR ROI.

Seeking a champion

In most organizations, the full power of market research lies dormant: underappreciated, underfunded, and underutilized. Even in companies and organizations with well-established MR departments or functions, market research can be viewed as a tactical or back-office function that is a necessary cost rather than a strategic investment.  

In these circumstances, the MR department is virtually always viewed and treated as a cost center instead of a proprietary asset and a competitive weapon. In such organizations, the voice of the customer (or prospective customer) speaks much too softly and far less frequently. 

If this describes your research department, you almost certainly have a sizable opportunity to improve your organization's performance, and therefore your MR ROI.

You need a champion, and perhaps it's you. That champion must be prepared to take 3 key steps: show the benefits, sell the vision, and prove the results of market research.

Step 1: Show the benefits of market research

The champion needs to demonstrate the benefits of MR.  They need to clearly explain where and how market research helps other similar companies get better results. Think case studies, specific examples, and compelling stories. If possible, share examples of how your competitors have likely gained advantages through strategic MR. The ability to do this helps the research function gain credibility in the eyes of stakeholders.

For this step, the champion should start with an executive sponsor. Find a person of authority who can more easily understand the real potential for MR in your organization. Get their ear. Show them the benefits.  

Then, ask for their help to gain broader exposure and buy-in. Likely, this will require a series of internal meetings between the champion, the executive sponsor, and the internal clients and stakeholders.

Stimulate their thinking and open their minds to the possibilities, ask them how MR can help them succeed. Ask them what information they need to improve their results. Drill down to deeply understand their most important goals and business decisions.  

Focus on those objectives and decisions that can benefit most from well-conceived, well-executed, and well-understood market research. Consider:

  • What are the new markets they are trying to penetrate?  
  • What are the new offerings they are considering?  
  • What are their biggest competitive threats, customer complaints, or revenue erosions?
  • Simply put, what are their most visible, critical and difficult decisions where MR can help?

Step 2: Sell the vision for market research

After the potential for MR has been shared and you have collaboratively explored the ways it can truly serve your internal clients, it's time to create a compelling vision.  

Using the insights gained from your internal client brainstorm sessions, build a vision and a specific benefits-based research plan for each. Taking each internal client in turn, proactively develop a set of MR solutions—individual studies; platforms like custom, proprietary research panels; and action standards—that promise to directly address their most important needs and decision points.

Once you've developed your vision and client-specific recommendations, take your executive sponsor and return to your internal clients. Passionately and powerfully present your research vision and plan.

Importantly, you must clearly demonstrate the benefits they'll enjoy from these MR solutions. This is particularly true if you’ve invested the time in establishing action standards in advance. These benefits can include:

  • Reduced time to market (concept tests)
  • Increased market share (A&U studies)
  • New market penetration (segmentation)
  • Increased margins (price elasticity solutions)
  • Greater customer retention (customer satisfaction)

Again, your focus must be on the benefits of the MR, not the costs. The vision is for your stakeholders’ success, not your personal MR fiefdom. 

Step 3: Prove the results of market research

Assuming you gain buy-in from some or all internal clients, including the budget to fund your recommended MR solutions, it's time to deliver.  

At this point, we would refer you to the first two parts in this series: Ask the right 5 questions for each study before it hits the field and establish your actions standards and benchmarks.  

Then create an opportunity for success from the outset. And, wherever possible, start with small successes that you can celebrate. Build on those successes and achieve larger and more strategic pieces of your vision. Stay close to your internal clients and work with them—before, during and after—to ensure they understand and act on the research to achieve real results.

Finally, document those results. Celebrate those results. You will have proven the profound power of market research and changed the profile of your MR department by no small measure, transforming it from a tactical cost center into a strategic competitive asset.

Dino Fire
Dino Fire
Dino Fire

Dino serves as President, Market Research & Data Science. Dino seeks the answers to questions and predictions of consumer behavior. Previously, Dino served as Chief Science Officer at FGI Research and Analytics. He is our version of Curious George; constantly seeking a different perspective on a business opportunity — new product design, needs-based segmentation. If you can write an algorithm for it, Dino will become engaged. Dino spent almost a decade at Arbitron/Nielsen in his formative years. Dino holds a BA from Kent State and an MS from Northwestern. Dino seems to have a passion for all numeric expressions.