Advertising Research

To Maximize Market Research Impact, You’ve Got To Win Friends and Influence People

Jeff Hecker

Market research can make a communication strategy or campaign sing. Its potential return on investment is enormous. Corporations know this, and that’s partly why so much has been written about getting it right: how to choose the most skilled researchers, pick the appropriate methods, define the objective of the research, and avoid bias and sampling errors.

But here’s what no one talks about: much of the time, the organizations that commission research don’t really use it to its full potential.  It’s presented, and then dismissed, ignored, or buried.  So these organizations aren’t getting the “impact for the buck” they paid for.  And globally, spending on market research is about $43 billion annually (source: ESOMAR). So that’s a lot of missing impact.

And this is true even when the research itself is perfectly sound.  It’s true even when there’s real gold in the findings; real insight that could drive better, more effective, more efficient marketing.

And for all you research buyers out there, that’s a bad problem.  Because eventually, if key stakeholders in your organization come to believe that the research department’s costly research exercises don’t create commensurate impact, you could find yourself losing critical credibility.


Well…  for starters, integrating new research insight usually requires change.  And organizations don’t like change, because it’s always easier for people to keep doing what they’re already doing.


And too often, researchers (and research buyers) imagine that if they just deliver good research, organization change will follow naturally.  And sometimes it does.  But often it doesn’t.  Change sometimes needs to be nurtured, shepherded.  Champions for change need to be sought, prepared, and positioned.  Advocates for the status quo need to be won over (and not just bludgeoned with data).

That kind of persuasion is tough.  Especially since Organizations and the people within them have their own rules about what kind of data is considered persuasive.  So for data to be effective as a catalyst for change, it needs to be properly designed, groomed, and dressed.  It needs to speak the language of stakeholders so they’ll embrace it over their gut instincts (which are typically what have gotten them where they are today).

Finally, the approach to presenting research findings often doesn’t take into consideration the fact that adoption is typically gradual.  A research presentation is a moment in time, but real assimilation and adoption of data take longer.  Research insights need to be campaigned, or “activated” within an organization over time.  And that requires planning.

Implications for Research Buyers

If you’re looking to get the biggest ROI you can from market research, you can begin by figuring out how best

What's your plan

to bring your organization on board.  Planning for research impact means planning for change.  So research buyers need to be detectives about potential champions (and roadblocks) for change in their own organizations.  This means asking questions like:

  • What is the “market” for insights like in your company?
  • What qualities of an insight make stakeholders feel that they are easily applied, and why?
  • How can this inform the research design?
  • What approaches could create openness to any “bad news” that might arise?

As well, market research buyers need to consider the biases, preferences, and styles of stakeholders need to be considered and planned for.  For example:

  • Are key stakeholders biased against a particular supplier or approach?  If so, what education or other strategy might help overcome their resistance?
  • Does the current research exercise need to be positioned against past exercises that are viewed negatively?
  • What is there about research (or the research group) that stakeholders are cynical about?
  • Are there opportunities to present findings in a way that speaks to multiple learning styles (verbal, visual, etc.)?

And finally, research buyers need to determine when the:selling” of the research exercise (and its findings) need to begin, and what form(s) it should take.    For example:

  • Should key stakeholders be involved in the briefings with the research firm?
  • Are there “interim” involvement points for key stakeholders that could be leveraged to deepen or maintain engagement along the way?
  • What kinds of activation are workable?
  • If it’s difficult to get time with key stakeholders, can they be given a “drip” campaign of key findings over time, to allow time for absorption and processing?

Ultimately, if even one finding lands effectively with the right person, it can lead to an even bigger buy-in throughout the organization. That’s the kind of excitement that leads to change—and infinite return on investment.