Ed Sugar of OLC Global kindly sent me key quotes from a 60-minute debate that he moderated between Bill Neal and Marshall Toplansky on the future of marketing research. Clearly the dialog was intended to be provocative as it was billed as a debate, but this statement by Bill Neal almost made me lose my lunch:
"Corporate researchers are not able to make judgments to understand what is good research and what is not. They want the top numbers to pass up to those paying for it."
Having sat on the in-house research side for over 15 years, I do take offense at the purported motivations and skill set of my ilk. I, as well as most of my research colleagues at NPR, have worked on both sides of the research fence. I have seen all stripes of research and I know dross when I see it: R2 of .1 claiming incredible predictive power, basic crosstabs being sold as advanced analytics, lackluster focus groups without using any projective techniques dubbed high quality qualitative to name a few. In these cases, I would say that the consultants' chicanery should be called into question as opposed to the end user's ability to interpret the hogwash.
But I will not stop there. I feel compelled to address the second point. I cannot speak for my peers in other organizations as I have only worked in two as a corporate researcher; however, from my positions in these organizations, I would say that without a doubt we have maintained independence from our internal clients. Our goal has always been to make the best decision possible for the organization. If the data from well-designed research indicate a negative outcome, then that is the story we needed to tell and tell it effectively.
Researchers from both sides of the fence have their unique challenges. For the corporate researcher, it is the challenge to maintain that independence and deliver bad news when necessary. For the vendor, the challenge is to remain focused on what research solutions will most effectively serve the client's objectives not what will best serve the vendor's bottom line.
Lori Kaplan is the Director of Audience Insight & Research. Susan Leland is the Research Manager of Corporate Sponsorship and Development.