PE: It looks as if we are back to your opening theme, that the "voice of the customer" must be modulated by prudent insight
about the product and the overall market environment.
MCDONALD: Yes. There is a danger in the possibility that by inviting customers to have the final vote on positioning, you are entrusting
them with a decision they are not fully qualified to make. Customers will often default to the obvious when asked to vote
on positionings because they lack the experience and the judgment to make professional marketing decisions. The outcome may
also reflect customers' lack of appreciation for ways in which they can be influenced by execution and repetition. In research,
physicians may dismiss as unpersuasive any data suggesting a nearly trivial difference in efficacy, yet in real-life conditions
they will learn to do so, once effective repetition creates a powerful response—as the [GSK] Augmentin team did with sinusitis.
The lesson is that positioning guidance has to be applied and evaluated in an integrated manner, drawing on multiple data
sources and insights rather than reducing the final decision to a single ballot number.
PE: Doesn't organizational responsiveness play a key role in building a climate that maximizes the value of market research?
SHARMA: That's a critical point. Company culture is a determinant of what gets examined and how well market research is interpreted
for results. Doing more with less, which drives management expectations these days, requires a refocusing away from research
mechanics and creating an organizational climate in which flexible thinking and judgment are highlighted over calculated "answers."
This represents a sea-change from the perspective that market research is an analog to scientific research, with rigid standards
of proof and replicatable methodologies. Market research is, after all, a social science in the service of marketing judgment,
which means that the metrics and analyses are not always fool proof or universally applied. And the answers are not fixed
coordinates but simply signposts that help by pointing managers in the right direction.
Five Value Drivers for Effective Market Research
A strong market research function depends heavily on the characteristics and consistency of support from the wider organization,
including the senior management teams ultimately responsible for approving strategic and operational marketing plans. What
are the key preconditions for a confident, flexible and effective decision-making culture that will lead to optimal P&L results?
Below, Sharma and McDonald highlight five factors that count.
1. Insist on leadership from knowledgeable, career researchers who are fluent in market research techniques and can provide
insightful decision support.
Seasoned professionals have the maturity to reflect on methodologies and challenge professional wisdom. In thrifty times,
it is especially important to harness experience and display the confidence to avoid research when adequate decision support
is available. The pharmaceutical industry is notorious for its conception of the market research function as a larval stage
for career development—meant to produce young marketing "butterflies." That conception may enrich the experience of the marketers
who emerge, but it tends to drain the intellectual vitality and expertise of the market research function. Experience counts
enormously in managing market research.
2. Nurture an environment in which institutional memory is mined and market research "emergencies" are discouraged.
Companies that conduct market research are always struck by the propensity of clients to repeat studies in pursuit of questions
that have already been answered, or to identify urgent problems that lose management attention midway through. Many companies
permit a "triage" climate that insists on urgent answers to questions that might be answered with data already in the pantry
or that might profit from a more deliberative conceptual approach. While it's useful for every marketing manager to hear and
see customers discuss their worldview, customer insights may be more cost-effectively developed if existing data were better
3. Beware the tyranny of "best practices."
At the risk of appearing to endorse something other than the very best of practices, we want to emphasize the importance of
flexible use of established and validated techniques in the hands of people fluent enough to manipulate the rules skillfully.
The best practice philosophy produces excellence when it inspires knowledgeable understanding of a breadth of good options
while still leaving latitude for a customized approach rather than "cookie-cutter" repetition.
4. In positioning a new product for market introduction, seek decision support rather than statistical verdicts lifted directly
from market research.
It is a misconception to assume that our customers know the answers to all the questions we pose, and that those answers must
be traced to a statistical outcome in a specific type of study. It is possible to position a product without asking customers
to vote on a positioning; indeed, positioning should be our marketing intervention—something we decide to do to effect change
in the market on the basis of cues and evidence that our customers supply. The mission for market research is not simply to
poll our customers, or even merely to deliver insights about them. The highest calling for market research is to help us think
like our customers so that we are empowered to improvise and even extrapolate when key marketing decisions are made.
5. Insist on "customer insight" from every piece of market research.
We have accepted an environment in which customer insight is a name attached to specialized studies instead of an orientation
that informs and inspires every thing we do. This is like ordering a meal a la carte: "I'll take that research with a side
of insight, please."
Periodically throughout the lifecycle of a product, it is useful for a team to take stock and ensure that all are empowered
to think the way their customers do. But these need not be distinct assignments. Those who argue that there is no time or
space in a crowded research agenda to incorporate a broad customer insight perspective, or that insight requires a unique
study mandate of its own, may want to rethink the way the research issues are framed. It is difficult to arrive at the correct
conclusion if the thinking is not informed by a broader set of customer insights. It's also important that teams not ignore
insights because the information does not serve their immediate needs. Insights can define boundaries as well as empowering
creative problem-solving. The key to using customer insight is deciding whose worldview matters, in any given scenario, and
how to take inspiration rather than dictation from that depth of understanding.
Sanjiv Sharma is vp of commercial development at NiCox Pharmaceuticals. He can be reached at Sharma@nicox.com
. Susan Schwartz McDonald is CEO of National Analysts Worldwide. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org