I have decided there is a new phobia in market research land; “consilatiophobia”. This means fear of consulting. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but I am beginning to think that naming the problem might be a necessary step to some more serious discussion about the problem.
I started thinking about this after a presentation I made at the CASRO digital conference in Austin several months ago. The paper that was presented was primarily focused on data fusion, brought to life in a case study. Different forms of data were formally integrated and modeled; sales data, survey data, and qualitative, observational data. The unstructured qualitative data, gathered from a semiotic analysis of visual iconography, was structured so that it could be integrated into this new data set along with the other data streams. The modeling performed on this integrated data set led to some very clear recommendations for portfolio planning. It was a fun project, and I expected and hoped for questions and challenges from the audience on the technical aspects of the process.
When the Q & A session started, however, the discussion did not focus on market research methodology or process. Instead, the discussion focused on the distinction between market research and consulting. In general, the audience felt the paper was less a market research paper, and more a consultant’s paper. Additionally, and importantly, the audience seemed uncomfortable with the role of consultant. It was one thing to be held responsible for the quality of the data and it’s “fit for purpose”. It was quite another thing to be held responsible for recommendations, which if implemented, would have consequence. One person in the audience asked the question directly – “are we market researchers or consultants?”.
There has been much in the press about the need for market research to acquire “consulting skills”; e.g., Cambiar’s Future of Market Research. In this context, the question about being a market researcher or being a consultant seems odd. It does, however, open to door to some observations and questions:
- What exactly should market researchers consult on? The call for better consulting skills doesn’t really elaborate on this.
- Is there a dichotomy between data collection and information application? Does this frame the consulting debate; e.g., do market researchers “consult” on data collection and analytic approaches? Do market researchers leave “information application” to the McKinsey’s and BCG’s of the world?
- Will this dichotomy come to characterize the state of the MR industry when all the disintermediation is over? There will be market researchers with expertise in data collection and data analysis, who then turn that data over to consultants with information application expertise.
- Is this dichotomy a way for clients to get better insight? It forces them to quit placing the insight burden on MR agencies, and to either generate insights themselves or have the consultants do.
On with the discussion.
Jeffrey Hunter is a Principal at Market Framework.