Renaissance of Research
May 10, 2016

With so much Data focus, is it time for a Renaissance of Research?

By Paul Laughlin

This month, we will focus on an area in need of a renaissance, that is market research. Customer research in particular (both qualitative and quantitative, primary & secondary, plus consideration of diverse methods and best practice).

When I talk with research leaders across the UK (and Europe), I consistently hear some common woes. Let’s consider a few that I hear often.

If you are a Customer Insight or Market Research leader in business today, I hope this post gives you greater hope.

The problem for research leaders today

Many feel under-utilised & almost all suggest they appear to have less influence than they had in the past. With regard to the cause of this ‘demotion‘, many cite the rise of executive interest in Big Data & Analytics. It seems that customer research is now often viewed as the poor relation to a more ‘modern’ data analysis solution.

The fact that market or customer research often still sits in a different department, to data & analytics teams, can exacerbate the problem. Too few companies yet bring all these components of holistic customer insight together.

Yet, despite this apparent ‘doom & gloom‘ for research professionals, the wind appears to be changing in the wider marketing community. At the start of 2016 a number of data & marketing leaders were asked for their predictions as to key themes for the year. Many cited the need for more focus on emotion. We’ve shared some content on that previously.

Beyond even more emotional marketing, in this though provoking piece, Bruce Tempkin shares the criticality of engaging with emotion when designing better customer experiences:

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So, if marketers & CX leaders need to better engage with people’s emotions & ensure communications have the emotional impact they wish, surely there will be a growing need for research skills. What might that look like in the context of the current technological change driven by Big Data & Data Science? Well, they say you often need to look to the past to predict the future. So, how about the 14th Century?

The Renaissance

What has a 14th century European phenomenon, of major changes in culture & society got to do with research today? As with most historical events, historians disagree as to causes of this explosion of hunger for learning & rediscovery of classical art. But, many cite the invention of the printing press. In their day, this meant their very own ‘information revolution‘. Suddenly, not just bibles, but hundreds of classic texts could be rediscovered & put in the hands of the (richer) common people.

An interesting facet of this explosion of facts & learning though, is it also sparked an equal focus on art & culture. There was a passion to explore what it meant to be human. From studies of the human form in Michelangelo’s statues to the internal motivations laid bare in Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince‘.

So, what could this mean for our current information obsessed society? Could those forecasters be right? Will we see our own resurgence of the importance of understanding our humanity & emotional expressions? Personally, I think so. Perhaps even more so; as we face the rise of increasingly sophisticated machine learning & automation.

I’m certainly looking forward to a new wave of fresh interest in research & psychological understanding of customers.

How to ride the wave that’s coming

Does that mean research leaders can just relax & wait for this salvation to come galloping in to rescue them? No, of course not.

Despite the renewed need for a research-led, more holistic, understanding of our customers. It is also true that past approaches have been discredited. Few senior leaders still have any tolerance for sitting through hour-long debriefs, just for agencies to showcase how much work they’ve done.

Instead, there is a need for research leaders to become trusted advisers. To proactively identify business needs & use a more holistic view to raise relevant issues and potential solutions. Partnerships will be needed (including with those data & analytics leaders who might feel more like a threat right now).

Laughlin Consultancy specialises in training & coaching leaders to achieve this. But, to avoid using this blog as a sales pitch (which is not it’s purpose), let me instead share this excellent advice published by Advisorpedia. In this post, David Santee shares how research leaders need to develop multiple styles of influencing (logos, pathos & ethos):

The Problem for Research Leaders Today

Does that mean research leaders can just relax and wait for this salvation to come galloping in to rescue them? No, of course not. Despite the renewed need for a research-led, more holistic understanding of our customers. It is also true that past approaches have been discredited.

How fitting to be focussing on advice originally taught by Aristotle, as we talk about the Renaissance & people’s love of classical texts at that time. We’ve also shared before, how Socrates can help you think about your questioning as a leader, to get to the real business need.

What should you consider next?

So, what about you? If you are a research leader, consider these 3 questions:

  • Do you relate to the crisis of diminished influence mentioned at the start of this post?
  • Are you optimistic that a ‘renaissance of research’ is coming for emotional marketing & many other planned improvements?
  • What are you doing to develop your skills so you are ready to ‘ride that wave‘ and have more influence internally

I hope that helped & that you protect some time to both think about this issue & invest in your own development. Tomorrow’s business problems will surely need a renaissance in leadership within research teams, as much as a renaissance in those technical research skills.