Marketing Research or Marketing Insights?

Filed Under: Best Practices, Market Research


Walt Dickie

C+R, like many of the companies that used to happily refer to themselves as “Marketing Research Companies,” is finding itself less and less comfortable with our traditional moniker. We look back and ask, “What have we been doing?” and then look ahead and ask, “And what are we going to do in the future?”, and then face the stark reality of the present, and try, “And just who am I?!” It’s as though we looked at an old picture of ourselves and suddenly felt uncomfortable that we were still wearing our hair the same way or hadn’t gotten new glasses.

One of my colleagues is on the External Advisory Board for a major university graduate program in Marketing Research. In both of their last bi-yearly meetings, there was long and active debate about how the graduate program should position itself… as a “Market Research” degree? As a “Marketing Research” degree? “Marketing Insights”? Marketing Consulting? Business Insights? Marketing Analytics? And many more. After two such discussions, involving 30 research veterans at the top of their careers, there has still not been a consensus!

Personally, I’m in favor of “marketing insights” — at least for now. “Marketing research” is not only dated, it’s just plain wrong. No one wants “research,” they want the results that come from having done research, by which I don’t mean data or the analysis of data. What’s wanted is at least currently described as “insight.” It’s like the old story about nobody wanting a drill; what they want are holes, and drills are just a means to that end.

I’m not that sanguine about the long-term prospects for “insights” though, because I don’t think anyone really wants them either. “Insights” aren’t decisive enough; you don’t make decisions based on “insights.” If someone hands you an “insight,” you’re still stuck trying to decide what to do about it. “Insights” feels weak to me, but I don’t have a better term that doesn’t feel like over-selling (at least for the moment). But the long-term goal is probably more like a “plan,” “agenda,” or at least a “decision,” and the eventual term for the discipline needs to get closer to those ideas.

I find myself thinking a lot about whether the time has finally come when we can get past our fascination with collecting and presenting data. We’re much, much closer to it than we’ve ever been – but we’ve all got a lot of historical baggage to overcome. So I’m in favor of “Marketing Insights” as a stake in the ground, and a claim on where we’d all like to be, even if I don’t think it’s really where we need to be yet.

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