Marketing and communicating insights

Editor’s note: Chris Benham is CMO at feedback management platform Alchemer. 

Marketing research is a fast-paced business requiring researchers to stay relevant – relevant on survey methodology, research technology and industry news or events in their focal area. 

So how do you stay relevant in marketing research, in particular? For insights professionals to stay relevant, they need to shore up their weaknesses, specifically around communicating insights and appreciating business or market context. 

As a business professional with 30 years of experience in marketing, I know a little about business and communication. This article will outline ways marketing researchers can stay relevant by developing better business/marketing skills and then communicating the insights in a way the client can use.

Is business knowledge really a problem?

For analysts hoping to lean on their analytical expertise... that may not be enough. These business and communication challenges are real.

Full service, strategic consultancies and technology providers tend to succeed and struggle – areas that remain a challenge include understanding your business, reporting research results and recommending business actions. Each type of research firm struggled with business and communication areas while generally doing better in core research functions.

Essentially, marketers and market researchers need to learn from each other. Marketers, eager to make a splash, are relying on data more and more to prove their points. Marketing researchers, eager to present the facts, are being asked to bring forth the story behind the data. Both groups benefit by moving closer to the other. This article shares how marketing researchers can start to develop marketing skills.

What we talk about when we talk about business

Jessica Gaedeke, CRO at GutCheck, encapsulated the vision for business-adept researchers in her article, “Today’s Insight Professional: Tomorrow’s CEO.” Gaedeke calls out three business behaviors researchers would be well-advised to develop:

  • Challenge stakeholder questions. CEOs and quality researchers know that businesspeople can sometimes be full of it. Both roles require a “no B.S.” zone where broader business implications are continuously reassessed and new horizons explored.
  • Develop cross-functional accountability. CEOs and the best researchers understand the implications of their decisions on all aspects of the business. Great researchers can strategize the internal impact and understand the tradeoffs required for each decision.
  • Understand fiscal responsibility. CEOs and great researchers provide full visibility “into the economic aspects of their recommendations.” Without understanding the financial implications, researchers cannot truly provide the most strategic counsel.

Traditional methods for securing this type of business knowledge remain strong. The 2021 application trends survey published by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the global body that administers the GMAT, indicates that strong demand for graduate business education is here to stay after the boost in graduate applications prompted by COVID and the recession.

Gaedeke makes a case for the modern insights professional’s entrance and adaptability to the C-suite. The cross-over is clear: “[T]racking tangible results, not being afraid to pivot…assessing and articulating the cross-functional impact of decisions and recommendations... and embracing accountability for outcomes. It’s what any good CEO would do – so own it.”

Communicating research and insights: Win friends and influence people

The theme of “communicating insights effectively” is more vague than developing business and market insights. And there are many well-researched and well-intentioned articles about using data in your presentations or creating infographics to better communicate your story.

This article isn’t one of those. Yes, there is value in a well-designed PowerPoint. They communicate more than poorly designed PowerPoints. But we aren’t truly just communicating – we are communicating effectively. We are communicating with a purpose. Remember to include the “effectively” part – we are here to persuade people and include that call to action. 

In her aptly-titled book, “How to Get People to Do Stuff,” Susan Weinschenk starts a chapter acknowledging the importance of communication: “No idea in this book is more powerful than the idea of using stories to affect behavior” (2013, page 54). Learn the stories of people who have persuaded in the past. Learn the methods of persuasion to become a master, yourself.

To learn how to communicate effectively, skip the latest issue of “Design” and opt for the classics: Pavlov, Skinner, Maslow. Or modern masters like Weinschenk and Robert Cialdini, author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” Look for articles that focus less on pure communication and more on action. Persuasion is more than communication – persuasion happens when insight leads naturally to action. 

Business and communication skills for marketing researchers 

My advice to early and mid-career marketing researchers is to hone these two elements: appreciating the business or market context and communicating insights effectively. 

Yes, you also need to continue to work on your marketing research and analysis chops — using multiple data sources and analyzing data were also key in the report — but you probably have a good sense of how to do that since this is your chosen field. You will need both to succeed. Your marketing research reports are “relevant if they are developed with the appropriate business context in mind, credible if they are built on sound data and analytics and understood if they are communicated effectively.”

The business and communication skills will be more difficult to acquire because they are likely further away from your comfort zone. But don’t hesitate. 

After all, our goal is simple. We simply need to supply an epiphany to the client. 

There are many ways to reach that goal with executives and stakeholders. Knowing their business helps. Understanding how to communicate helps. But at the end of the day, the true goal of market research is shared understanding. Creating that is your best way to stay relevant. 

Remember that data alone is not the story. Numbers in a spreadsheet will not always incite passion. Lean into your marketing skills to add context and speak the language of your client. Develop that storytelling skill – the story of the business, communicated effectively – to really elevate your game.

I’ve been the buyer and seller of services, so I know the excitement that comes with insight work. I like to think that great marketing researchers also solve and communicate business challenges in similarly effective ways. Good luck creating your client epiphanies.