Reach’s Andrew Tenzer: Market research ‘is not doing enough to prove its worth’

In conversation with Papa John’s vice-president of marketing and Paperchase’s chief digital officer, Tenzer lamented the “increasingly commoditised” nature of the market research industry.

Market researchA “skills gap” that exists among in-house insight teams is leading to “bad research”, according to the director of market insight and brand strategy at news brand publisher Reach, Andrew Tenzer.

One of the biggest ways the market research industry has changed in recent years is through an increase in the in-housing of research and insight, which may be driving a decrease in quality, he warned during a panel at Marketing Week’s Festival of Marketing this week.

“I think there is a skills gap that exists with in-house researchers, which leads to, in my opinion, quite bad research,” he said.

This particularly occurs when in-house teams are asked “to prove something”, where there can be pressure to provide research that supports stakeholder goals.

The industry is also being challenged by the conflation of data and insight, Tenzer added. Papa John’s vice-president of marketing Jo Blundell agreed, and said discussion of the problem is becoming common across boardrooms.

“The tendency to reach for the transactional without the understanding is something that marketing teams need to work quite hard on,” Blundell said.

For Tenzer, the market research industry “is not doing enough to prove its worth”. He also argued that research is becoming “increasingly commoditised”, stating that he prefers to work with smaller, boutique research agencies over larger companies. He advised others to try and find smaller research agencies to work with, or otherwise identify individuals able to give a high level of support.

Three tips to help you spot bad research

“There has to be a partnership. I think the days of just commissioning an agency that you just send away and get to come back to you are gone,” Tenzer said.

Fellow panellist and Paperchase’s chief digital officer Rhea Fox said another challenge for the market research industry is the speed at which insight is now expected to be turned around.

There has been a proliferation of different methodologies, which promise to deliver faster results; however, often these do not offer much in the way of strategic insight, she noted. The expectation that data should be delivered at pace has been driven by agile culture, but also from unrealistic expectations from the industry, she said.

“I think what has driven that has been partially due to the expectation set by the data community that data can answer everything,” said Fox.

Using market research as a tool for growth

Papa John’s Blundell also expressed concern that marketers increasingly view research as something to tick off on a list, instead of a key driver of growth.

When carrying out market research, marketers should ask themselves honestly what they need to find out to drive growth, instead of just aiming to “cover their arse”, she said.

“Don’t think of research as a tick box transaction, like ‘I need it in my marketing plan, therefore I’ll put a budget line in’. Actually think about it as the thing that truly drives growth within a business,” she explained.

Working towards what she terms “the exam question” is crucial in utilising market research properly, Blundell added.

Think commercially, and frankly ask yourself, why should my stakeholders give a shit?

Rhea Fox, Paperchase

In the past, there has been a tendency for research to be siloed into different teams across a business, such as operations and marketing. These different bits of research need to come together to minimise “blind spots” and work towards the all-important challenge of reaching business goals, Blundell continued.

Fox concurred, adding that research needs to appeal to all stakeholders in the business.

“If it’s not geared up to how the business makes money, it will look fluffy, it will look self-indulgent,” she said.

“So for me, the biggest trap people fall into is failing to do the commercial piece. Think commercially, and frankly ask yourself, why should my stakeholders give a shit?”

When thinking about gearing research towards stakeholders, marketers should think beyond short-term bugbears and think about what Fox calls “the big, hairy stuff”. The most effective insights team she led was one that had a plan for the year based around the larger problems the CEO cared about, she said.

It is possible to strike a balance between planning for the big problems, “but also knowing there’s going to be quick stuff you need straight away”, Fox added.

Usefulness of brand trackers

There were differing opinions on how useful brand trackers are among the panel, when asked by a member of the audience.

Blundell manages 52 markets for Papa John’s, and said if she didn’t have a brand tracker she “wouldn’t have a clue where the brand stood from a global point of view”.

Trackers allow her to compare “apples to apples” across markets. However, she did say the way tracking is carried out has changed, from traditional long surveys to online data collated in a dashboard that everyone is able to access.

Tenzer agreed with her assertion about the importance of brand trackers.

“I don’t know where we would be without it,” he said, adding that how brands take trackers and incorporate it with their other data is very important.

Fox was the outlier on the panel, stating: “I’d happily scrap them.”

She qualified this with stating that there are a few things you need to track, listing net promoter score (NPS) and customers’ funnel journeys as two metrics she thinks are valuable.

“Over the years, I’ve been invited to a lot of boring trackers and have turned a lot off,” she said. “Frankly, a good tracker presentation for me is someone saying I’ve got five amazing things to show you that really changed.”