The posts here represent the opinions of CMB employees and guests—not necessarily the company as a whole. 

Subscribe to Email Updates


see all

The Clear Writing Solution to Critical Insights

Posted by Kirsten Clark

Wed, Jul 30, 2014

clear writing, cmb, insights,

A few weeks ago, thirty of my colleagues and I attended a clear writing workshop. When I first got the calendar notification for this workshop, I thought, “Oh, God, not another one.” As a recent college graduate and a current graduate student, I can’t tell you how many writing workshops I’ve attended over the years. And each time, I find myself walking away thinking that my time could have been much better spent.However, this workshop was different.I actually learned something! And, even better, it relates to how we, as market researchers, can tell the story of our insights in the most effective way.

At this workshop, our instructor insisted we abandon fancy phrases and just say and write what we mean. Instead of focusing on the words, we should focus on the ideas. Our instructor even suggested we practice not looking at our screens. This allows us to focus on expressing our thoughts and ideas rather than on the words we use to articulate them. Sounds like a simple premise, right? Maybe in theory.

I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who will sit and stare at a computer screen until the right word or phrase comes to mind. Instead of focusing on what I need to say, I find myself caught up in how I want to say it—which is exactly the problem our instructor wanted us to address. We all use unnecessary language from time-to-time to make our writing seem more intelligent or more “professional.” However, that’s when our writing runs the risk of being unclear.

Unclear language in market research can cause a lot of problems. For example, a convoluted report can lead to problems interpreting the data or results. Our writing impacts the validity of the work we do, and when that writing is compromised, we could have a lack of buy-in from stakeholders, waste research dollars, and so forth. We need to always make sure we’re answering the right questions, which often boil down to:

  1. Who wins here? And how do we make sure they know it?
  2. Who loses here? And how do we help them win somewhere else?

We shouldn’t be asking, “What do I want to say?” Instead, we should be asking, “What do I want this person to learn?” When you think about it, these are two totally separate concepts. I might want to tell you about how awesome Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s concert was, but does that help you in any way? Probably not. Furthermore, we need to ask ourselves (1) whether it’s worth the reader’s time and effort and (2) what will the reader get out of it. This is where those “right” questions above come into play. Those are the questions we should be answering for our clients. Those are the questions that will allow us to demonstrate what we want them to learn. Those are the questions worth answering.

So, here are my answers to those questions as they relate to this blog post:

  • What do I want you to learn? Communicating clearly and effectively by keeping your reader in mind is critical. At CMB, we’re constantly thinking not just about what we need to say but about what we want our clients to learn—information that will empower them to make meaningful decisions. 
  • Was this worth your time? Did you get anything out of it? Let me know! What do you think makes an excellent report? What makes recommendations useful? Tell me in the comments!

Bonus answer:

  • Was that Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert really as awesome as you say? It truly, truly was.

Kirsten Clark is a Marketing Associate who’s also pursuing a M.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications at Emerson College. As a lover of the English language, she’s thrilled by all the possibilities present when writing. She also has a deep, unconditional love for Beyoncé.

Check out our new case study to see how we helped a top 25 global bank develop a new value proposition and evaluate perceptions of various service channels and transactions.


Topics: storytelling, consumer insights

The Market Researcher and the Psychic: A Lesson in Divine Inference

Posted by Hannah Jeton

Wed, Jul 02, 2014

describe the imageWith both feet planted on the ground (guaranteeing my ankles are uncrossed for proper energy flow) and my palms out in front of me, Clarence’s** palms rest against mine, reading my energy. His mouth twitches slightly, and his eyes are closed.  There is silence, a sigh, and an “okay.” Then our session begins.A few weeks ago, I finally cashed-in my LivingSocial voucher for a 30-minute tarot card reading at a tearoom in Boston with two co-workers. I left the session totally blown away. I will never make a major life decision based on a tarot card reading. However, as an insights professional, I did come away with some surprising takeaways into the power of putting a little art into the science of insights to create a story that resonates.

Back to the reading: I draw my first 10 cards, shuffling them back and forth between my hands—transferring more energy. Then, I hand them over to Clarence, the moderator between me and the stars. He dutifully lays them out. More silence. We both look at the cards.

“Girl, you are playing with all my favorite cards! Everything is spinning around you, and you can’t quite get enough information to make any decisions.” I look more closely at the tapestry of cups, swords, kings, queens, skulls, hearts, and wings. Again, I’m skeptical. I’m 23—of course my life is crazy and of course I don’t have enough information to make any decisions!

I still try to seem unfazed. We begin to go into details, and he starts listing specifics about my life.  He reads different sets of cards for family, health, career, and romance. The claims he is making are correct. Everything he says is just vague enough that I can back code it to some recent event or situation. So, yes, I am being skeptical, but I am also wow-ed. Boy is he good! He knows!  

With each “revelation,” I can see how his customers become convinced. Clarence here possesses extra sensory skills. His ability to assess what bothers me allows him to eliminate wrong guesses and focus on communicating statements that are more accurate.

Probability, statistics, and good old-fashioned story-telling are all at play in simple and fundamental ways here. From the moment I entered the office, Clarence went to work building a narrative with the highest probability of accuracy. Through observation he carefully took in as much information as he could: my clothes, my manner of speech, my apparent age, my physical attributes, my socioeconomic status, and my mannerisms. Mix those inferences with some pop statistics (see any of Malcolm Gladwell’s books), and my reader had a very, very good chance of being correct.

Unlike tarot card readers, we market research insight professionals take a more rigorous approach to validating our observations. After all, there are real decisions being made here beyond whether to take a dark, handsome stranger up on that drink. But the fact remains that in readings and in research, there is often no one “right” answer. The most useful insights and solutions are most often a balance of statistical validity, real-world usability, and a really good story.

**name has been changed to protect my destiny

Hannah is a senior associate on the Technology and E-Commerce team and is due for check-in to see what’s in store for her next at CMB. She, like Clarence, has a knack for predictive analysis and enjoys reading our clients’ minds from time to time.

Watch our webinar with Research Now to learn about the modularized traditional purchasing survey we created, which allows researchers to reach mobile shoppers en mass. We'll review sampling and weighting best practices and study design considerations as well as our “data-stitching” process. 

Watch Now!

Topics: storytelling, consumer insights

Interactive Storytelling to Make Strategy Work

Posted by Jennifer von Briesen

Mon, Nov 11, 2013

storytellingIt is human nature to love a good story, and it’s no wonder that for centuries storytelling has been a powerful force for human learning, change and advancement. As business strategists, we use stories in a variety of ways in both strategy development and implementation.In strategy development, we often learn from case studies—stories of relevant successes and failures as well as analogs from other industries—to help inform our thinking on problems we are helping our clients solve.

In strategy implementation, we use stories as a catalyst for organizational buy-in and change. The most effective business leaders we work with are expert at communicating a vision with clarity and passion and guiding organizations to implement strategies using stories, ongoing dialogues and narratives. They don’t simply make edicts or repeat the same message over and over. They use their influence and credibility to communicate intentions, future direction and strategies, and invite everyone to participate, interact, and become part of the continuing story. 

Good stories are memorable and engaging and completely believable. They connect us and help us understand and relate to others, whether those others are involved in telling the story or simply listening to it. When leaders want to rally teams and employees to implement new initiatives, they need to be authentic and communicate with conviction and energy in order to gain trust and commitment. By carefully crafting and honing messages and stories that they share and adapt over time, leaders become more effective at connecting and teaching,  guiding and motivating others through implementation successes, challenges and setbacks.

If you are interested in this topic and related research, below are some of my own favorites, from people I’ve worked with or learned from recently:

  • Guide Innovation Through Storytelling  Rob Salafia and David Sollars aptly call themselves story archeologists. Their process really is about digging underneath the outer layer of the what’s and why’s behind change, to help business leaders uncover their own narratives that will motivate and engage larger audiences. South Street recently worked with Rob and Dave in facilitating a large innovation workshop at a top 5 U.S. health care insurance client.

  • Strategy Made Simple - The 3 Core Strategy Questions  John Hagel insightfully points out in this blog post that “the ultimate form of differentiation is a compelling narrative—a unique and unfolding opportunity for the audience that invites their participation to help shape the outcome.” This and some of his other entries discuss modern strategy and the role of an ongoing narrative that’s focused on external audiences, not the executive suite.

  • Conversational Intelligence, by Judith E. Glaser. This book is a great place to explore the cultural transformations that companies must go through in order to embrace change. Big hint here: it all leads back to how company leadership approaches change and the narrative around it.

What role do stories play in your willingness to get on board with change? Can you identify one strategic issue where storytelling can support your goal?

Jennifer is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group. She recently received the 2013 “Member of the Year” award by the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP), the preeminent professional association for those engaged in strategic thinking, planning and action.

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, storytelling

5 Benefits of Storytelling in the Consumer-Driven World

Posted by Alyse Dunn

Tue, Aug 27, 2013

Digital StorytellingCommunication has changed. With the growth of the “Social Market,” businesses can no longer rely solely on traditional mediums—television, print, and radio, to win consumers. Consumers are key players in a social revolution that’s changing the way they speak with each other and with businesses.So, what does this mean for Marketing and Customer Development? The way consumers choose products and services has taken a sharp turn, with more decisions driven by word-of-mouth and experiential benefits. From a Marketing perspective, businesses need to focus on pulling customers in by offering targeted, useful, and engaging content, rather than pushing out broad campaigns.

How can businesses take advantage of this two-way communication and connect with customers in a way that drives loyalty and advocacy? One of the best ways is through storytelling.

The 5 Keys to Storytelling

  • Stories help us understand the world: Throughout history, stories have been the way people make sense of the world. People thrive on stories to help them put things in perspective and to help them navigate the overwhelming amount of data, facts, and realities that confront them. Stories are one of our oldest mechanisms for security, which is why they are so powerful. If a business can use a story to show how a product/service can be beneficial, people will form a stronger connection.

  • It is human nature: When you tell someone about your child or vacation, you don’t tell them your child’s hair color or that the weather was 85.2 degrees. You communicate more emotionally by telling others something funny that your child did or that you went surfing for the first time. People do not operate in the realm of data, it is counter-intuitive to how we are hard-wired, which is why storytelling in business is so powerful. If you want to connect with a person and drive advocacy, your best bet is weaving factual benefits into an even more powerful story.

  • Don’t overwhelm with data: At the end of the day, you are speaking to a person.  People don’t digest data the same way a computer can. Data can be beneficial, but most people are looking for a connection. Apple is a great example of a business that has driven a connection with their customers by weaving data with storytelling, which is one of the reasons they have such high brand loyalty.

  • It is no longer a ‘Business’ connecting with a ‘Consumer’: It is people connecting with people. Businesses need to understand who they are speaking with and cater communications in relevant manner. People will not connect with a business that offers no emotional connection and that doesn’t meet a need.

  • It’s a two-way street: Consumers have a larger say in marketing and branding because the way consumers communicate has shifted. People are listening to other people as opposed to large campaigns. The value of word-of-mouth has soared, and social media allows people to see what others are saying, in real-time. Two-way communication is very powerful. By taking the time to have conversations with consumers, businesses have been able to learn and thrive in the consumer-driven market. This is critical to success and to building both advocacy and loyalty.

Storytelling is a pivotal part of marketing, communications, and business. Without it, consumers find it difficult to connect and advocate for something. Storytelling can and should be used in any business because it can drive loyalty, advocacy, and trust.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust a solely data driven business to care for my interests, I would and do trust the businesses who have worked to understand my needs and who have created an emotional connection through the power of stories.

Alyse is a super-star associate at CMB, and a captain of CMB’s Light the Night team to raise money to fight Leukemia.  She is a kid-at-heart, loves Disney’s approach to storytelling, and is a 43 time Disney World visitor.

Join Tauck's Jeremy Palmer, CMB's Judy Melanson and South Street Strategy Group's Mark Carr on September 12th at noon (EDT) for a webinar: Focused Innovation: Creating New Value for a Legacy Brand

Topics: storytelling, consumer insights, social media

Does Steven Spielberg Have What it Takes to be a Market Researcher?

Posted by Heather Magaw

Thu, Feb 21, 2013

By Heather Magaw

oscarsIt's Oscar week, time for me to reveal a few of the lesser-known parallels between two glamorous industries—Hollywood and Market Research.

Just as the Academy is abuzz about Lincoln and Argo, market researchers can't get enough of two topics: 1) Big Data and 2) Storytelling. You can’t go to a conference or read a blog without hearing at least 5 new takes on both concepts. For us, figuring out how to tell a compelling story with massive amounts of data is exciting stuff. Maybe we should recruit some big-name, box-office talent, like Steven Spielberg, to join the CMB ranks for our next Blockbuster client project.

What? You’re not convinced Mr. Spielberg is cut out for the life of a market researcher? Movie producers and directors sift through mountains of footage, leaving the vast majority of it on describe the imagethe cutting room floor; an extensive team effort transforms hundreds of hours of film into 90 minutes of entertainment. Really, it’s very similar to what we do every day at CMB: analyze mountains of complex data, synthesize it into a focused story, ultimately crafting a business decision focused research report.

At first blush, you may think that research reports don’t stack up to a movie for entertainment value, but for our research junkie clients and information needy executives, a well-written research report that helps them tackle their most difficult business challenges is often even more compelling than the latest blockbuster flick. The art of storytelling in a research report is just as important as it is to movies. Just as audiences would never willingly sit through hours upon hours of raw footage, business leaders have little appetite for sifting through reams of data tables.    

So, I ask, why shouldn’t we be recruiting Steven Spielberg as our next great Practice Leader or Senior Consultant at Chadwick Martin Bailey? As my colleague Athena mentioned last week, our neighborhood has served as a backdrop for a number of well-known movies, he might feel right at home.

Heather is VP of Client Services and always makes a point to read and finish the book before viewing movie adaptations.

Can't get enough excitement? Register for our upcoming webinar, February 28th at noon: Segmentation as a Strategic Change Agent, with Jeff VanDeVelde of SunTrust Bank.

Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey, storytelling, digital media and entertainment research

Market Researchers: What We've got Here is a Failure to Communicate

Posted by Jim Garrity

Wed, Feb 06, 2013

The next time you attend a market research conference, listen very, very carefully. That dull buzzing sound you hear is the collective whine of hundreds of market researchers lamenting their inability to get a seat at the big kids' table or even just some recognition for all the value they provide.

 I know it hurts, but it’s time to do some soul searching and address the all too common ways market researchers get in their own way:

  • over-reliance on statistical significance

  • inability to put oneself in the business partner’s shoes

  • focusing on research objectives rather than business objectives

  • unwillingness to commit to a point-of-view regarding what the data means

I’m not the only one who’s picked up on these industry-wide weaknesses; witness the popularity of the mysterious Angry MR Client on Twitter and GreenBook.  There isn’t a silver bullet that will fix all of the issues facing our industry, but I am sure of this: we need to communicate better.

Over and over I hear people lament that researchers need to do a better job “telling stories.”  I agree completely, and it’s something we have prided ourselves on at CMB for the last 5-10 years.  Lucky for us, while there’s always been and always will be a “story” to tell, there are now so many more tools to help us elicit that actionable insight from the stream of data.  Say what you will about the rise of the quants but there’s much to be said about the art of data, and that can mean taking a visual approach to data—no, not a pie chart.

At CMB, we have graphic designers who, in addition to making our PowerPoint reports look great, have also designed some great infographics.  There are so many more mediums for storytelling available to us and it would be crazy not to take advantage of them.  Maybe there’ll always be an audience for the traditional PPT report/presentation, but I’ll bet there’s also an audience for an infographic, like the one below, highlighting key takeaways:

Banking infographic CMB

We’ve provided these for Customer Experience and Brand Tracking engagements and our clients really enjoy them. Easy to read visuals, like infographics, are a great way to socialize key takeaways across an organization where not everyone needs to go through a huge deck. 

We’ve also gotten great feedback on our Prezis – mini movies that add energy and emotion to the story.  Check out this one that we’ve dummied up to tell the story of a fictitious bank. 

ABC Bank Video from CMBinfo on Vimeo.

We’ve given these in advance of an annual presentation and the result has been increased attendance, improved engagement, and better solution-brainstorming. 

These are just two really simple examples of how you can take storytelling to the next level, engage your audience in the insight, and perhaps get that seat in the C-Suite.

Jim is Managing Director of CMB’s Financial Services practice. He enjoys sweeping historical dramas and is working on his Downton Abbey infographic.

Stephanie Kimball, our Marketing Operations Manager, created the infographic and Prezi you see here. She gets her inspiration from many places, including the 3 million Redbox movies she rents every week.

Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey, storytelling, consumer insights, Consumer Pulse

Less Is More, but Less Is Harder

Posted by Kristen Garvey

Thu, Nov 01, 2012

rocksLast week I attended the FutureM conference here in Boston. There were a lot of sessions to choose from and some great speakers, but one presentation was so simple it caught my eye. The session was called Future: Simplicity with Chris Colbert (@cmcolbert) from @hollandmark. The session was an hour and a half, which seemed long, but it flew by and I was even disappointed when it was over.  Chris is a definitely an engaging speaker, but it was the content of his presentation that gave me a lot to think about, both personally and professionally.  His session reminded me even with all the technology available, sometimes “it” just gets complicated; “it” being everything from crafting your value proposition to explaining a TV ad about Massachusetts' Question 2 to your 7 and 9 year old.  Sometimes life is just complicated.  When it comes to the future of marketing, I believe having an eye for simplicity and the discipline to focus are key success factors.Throughout the presentation, Chris saw the simple in the complex, understood the need for focus, valued the currency of time, talked about the human need for comfort, and the fact that comfort is often found in simplicity. I thought a lot about where simplicity breaks down in my world as a marketer, and for me it is often when there is a loss of focus.  I would say I am a pretty goal oriented person and staying focused on those goals and how to achieve them gives me the discipline I need to stay on target. That being said one of the biggest things that can challenge my focus is the sheer volume and variety of data I have coming at me real time. Social, CRM, financial data, customer experience…I have a headache just thinking about the sheer volume of it all.

How do you connect all the dots? How do you uncover the story? How do you focus on the data that matters? It all comes back once again to simplicity and focus.  Focus on the business problem you are trying to solve, the key questions you need to answer and the ability to go from data to insights and deliver those insights in a way that makes them relevant to those who need to make the decisions. That’s a lot of what we do here at CMB.

Man with whiteboardThis brings me to the next quote I jotted down that really hit home; “less is more, but less is harder.” It takes discipline to focus on the one or two things your product or service does really well because the temptation to try to be all things to all people is so great.  It also takes that same kind of discipline to focus on the key data sources and points you need to make a decision, and the confidence tune out the rest.

Simplicity requires focus, and focus often drives results.  This point rang true again in a recent study from the Marketing Leadership Council. They reported the best performing marketers are the “Focusers,” those who prefer depth of focus over breadth. Unfortunately, the same study also found that most CMOs’ are looking for someone very different from the Focuser. They are looking for the “Agile” marketer, those who are early adopters of technology who embrace change and are fast movers. Ironically, the Agile marketer often suffers from lack of focus and fell to the bottom of the list when rated by their manager on performance.

We all desperately need simplicity and focus, but how do you find it within this complex (and growing more complex every day!) world?  The answer is not to rely solely on the “agile” person who embraces every change and is quick to bounce from technology to technology.  Instead, the answer is cultivating a culture where people can be focused, and not become distracted in an ocean of data and by shiny new objects.

Kristen is CMB’s VP of marketing, an adjunct professor at Boston College Carroll School of Management and a mom of two. You can follow her on Twitter at @KristenGarvey


Topics: big data, storytelling, conference recap

Facebook Timeline: A Story Worth Telling

Posted by Keri Ibbitson

Wed, Mar 07, 2012

Facebook Timeline CMBAs an everyday user of the criminally addictive social networking site Facebook, I rolled my eyes when I saw the new “Timeline” design. Why fix something if it’s not broken? Didn’t I just get used to the most recent interface?  While I sat absorbing all the new features, Facebook was busy launching a revelatory tool for marketers.

Previously, the popularity of a business’ Facebook page was driven by the number of “likes” and “comments.” Businesses could hide behind the “like” button.  Now, marketers are forced to tell a story about their brand (and if you know anything about CMB, we LOVE to tell a story). Customer engagement is now driven by a personal connection developed through captivating storytelling as opposed to an unimpassioned click of a button. Users can follow their favorite brands from conception to the present through the Timeline layout.

With the new layout, fans and visitors now see the same landing page. Everyone is privy to the same content, and it must be appealing enough to convert the “lurkers” into “likers.” Marketers need to achieve this through good storytelling, and Facebook has developed several new tools on the Timeline that allow users to make their stories unique.

New features like pinning and starring posts allow developers to anchor their most important posts at the top of their page for seven days. This ensures that the best stories don’t get lost in daily posts. Videos and pictures are now amplified on the pages, helping drive deeper engagement by existing fans, and piquing interest in potential ones. Milestones can now be defined by the business and posted publicly when they are achieved; allowing companies to share their successes with the people who helped get them there.

The most controversial of the new additions, is the ability to privately message people. This tool is being viewed as a way to individually engage with fans, and allow for quicker and more personal responses. However, companies should proceed with caution in using this feature. Bombarding their fans with an abundance of messages is a surefire way to turn off their support base. This tool should be used to help foster, and not strain, the relationships between businesses and their consumers.

A common driver of the old Facebook interface was quantity of content. The new Facebook Timeline pushes the focus to quality. Developers are encouraged to optimize the content they have in order to engage fans by telling their story during their fans’ “peak” usage periods and pinning popular posts. 

As professional story-tellers, we are excited here at CMB to launch our Timeline here

Posted by Keri Ibbitson. Keri is an Associate Researcher with the Travel and Entertainment team. When not writing about the complexities of Facebook, you can find her watching the Bruins, wrapped up in an Intervention marathon, or dreaming of going back to London.  

Topics: storytelling, social media, brand health and positioning, customer experience and loyalty

Becoming a Trusted Internal Partner Through Clear, Concise, and Passionate Communication

Posted by Jim Garrity

Fri, Apr 08, 2011

Whether it’s during a breakout session at one of the many great market research conferences that I get to attend or during one-on-one discussions with my clients, I hear a lot of the same themes about the role of market research within client organizations.  Some of the most common themes are:

How do I raise the perception of market research in my company?

How do I ensure that my hard work is used by my internal clients?

How do I make sure that my clients come to my team first with their research needs?

In my view, the answer is simple: become a trusted partner.  But that begs the question, doesn’t it?  How do we, as researchers, elevate ourselves to “trusted partner” status?  First, I think we need to do a better job of understanding what our end clients are really looking for.  Often, what that means is recognizing that what is important to us may not be important to them. 

For example:

Our end clients want answers…we need data

Our end clients want answers …we need statistically reliable samples

Our end clients want answers …we need representative populations

Our end clients want answers …we need a comprehensive market assessment OR a multi-source measurement program OR an in-depth needs analysis

Are you sensing a pattern here?  Certainly our needs are important, but the question is “are they important to our end clients?”  Probably not.  Now, I’m not suggesting that we stop conducting statistically reliable, representative, and comprehensive studies, but I do think that we need to start delivering the findings thereof in more concise, straight forward ways.  I’m suggesting that we stop hiding behind mountains of data, caveats, qualifiers, and statistical significance testing.  Instead, we need to provide clear answers to complex questions.  That’s how we can become trusted partners. 


Consider a recent TED presentation that I came across.  According to Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute and co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation, the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution.   

“In Hans Rosling’s hands, data sings.” I think you’ll agree. Here, his argument is less important than the way he presents the material.  While I don’t anticipate that any of us will bring household appliances to upcoming presentations in the future, I do think there is a lot we can learn about how to showcase our research.

  Specifically, I noted the importance of:

  • Simple visuals
  • Passion/excitement
  • Personalizing the story
  • Simplifying the data to its most relevant pieces (even if that means losing some of the nuance)
  • Explaining why the findings matter
  • Recommending what should happen next

OK, so I do realize that Hans Rosling has set the bar high.  But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to incorporate as many of his good habits into our presentations as possible.  In so doing, I think we’ll become the trusted partners we know we can and should be.

Posted by Jim Garrity. Jim is VP of CMB’s Financial Services practice, never wears blue jeans to work, and is looking forward to co-presenting at The Market Research Event in November. (The pressures on Jim)

Topics: storytelling, business decisions, quantitative research

Mad Men Shines a Light on the Agency/ Market Research Disconnect

Posted by Josh Mendelsohn

Thu, Aug 05, 2010

Agency Market Research DivideThis past week’s episode of the always awesome show Mad Men (episode 2, season 4) highlighted the ongoing disconnect between agency creatives and market research that most everyone in the market research industry has experienced at one point or another in their career. 

In the episode, the newly formed agency of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is visited by a consumer-research company who wants to help the agency go beyond the surface of consumer behaviors and better understand their true motivations. The company's female representative, Dr. Faye Miller, asks senior staffers to complete a questionnaire as an example of what can be learned (the 0:57 mark of the recap below), leading to groans and the head of creative, Don Draper, to simply leave the room.  Viewers of the show will recognize that Don’s departure was most likely driven by the first question, "How do you feel about your father?"  Still, the faces in the room did point out how agencies tend to regard market research.

So, why do agencies have a problem with market research firms?  I think there is shared blame in four primary areas.

Not speaking the same language:   Perhaps it is a left brain/right brain thing, or maybe it is because no two groups of professionals that work together are trained in more different ways, but the natural conflict between the analytical, risk reducing market researcher and the free expression and boundary pushing creative executive often makes the dichotomy between the two roles contentious from the start.   To work in tandem, both sides need to recognize this difference in approach and find a common ground up front that will help the findings be more useful and give creatives information that helps their process instead of undermining it. 

Data Presentation:   Market researchers generally present findings in charts and graphs with a heavy focus on the numbers, not the story.  Agency folks are focused on creating stories using pictures and video.   While creating research reports that fit the intended audience (using a majority of verbatim, imagery, and even video instead of charts and tables) will not solve everything, it will help focus the conversation on things that really matter. 

Pride of Authorship:  Agencies, and particularly creative teams within agencies have a healthy pride of authorship/confidence level about the work that they do.  Don Draper, for one, is the king of thinking he knows better than consumers themselves.  This trait helps agencies deliver more than the status quo, and can also lead to the dismissal of research results.  Agencies and research firms need to have a healthy conversation about the validity of research findings and do so in a constructive way that is working with, not against the creative pride.

Clarity of Purpose:  Agencies and market research firms often come at an engagement from completely different angles that make it hard for those of us on the research side.  In many cases, agencies believe that research firms are being brought in to “judge” what they are doing, where as researchers see their role as providing input into the creative process.   Again, clear communication at the beginning and throughout the project about the process, objectives, and use of the findings can help smooth this tension so that both sides are working towards a common goal; a happy client (and one that is easier to take than Lee Garner, Jr.).

Posted by Josh Mendelsohn. Josh is our VP of Marketing and loves live music, tv, great food, market research, New Orleans, marketing, his family, Boston and sports. You can follow him on Twitter @mendelj2.

describe the image

Don Draper might not have used it, but you can download our report on Engaging Consumers in the New Normal for free here.



Topics: storytelling, consumer insights