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July 2012
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October 2012

Posts from August 2012

Repealing Reg's law

While I recognize that it’s not very fashionable to complain about being quoted out of context in this era of “You didn’t build that” I’m going to take a run at it nonetheless.  Back on July 12 in a post about the MRMW Conference I noted that we are moving into an era when data will be plentiful, cheap and of uncertain quality. If your MR business features high quality data as the key differentiator then you are in for a tough time because clients will not be looking for data, clients will be looking for smart people who can filter through all of those data and help put them to work in their companies. 

My buddy Jeffrey Henning seized on one sentence in that post and tweeted Reg’s law: “Clients will buy good data over cheap data every time.”  That’s not the point I was trying to make. Edward Appleton, a client-side researcher, more or less took Jeffrey to task in his blog and rightfully noted that my post was much more balanced than that single out-of-context quote might suggest.

All that aside, what was I getting at?  As I wrote in a subsequent post, “Good research balances evidence and insight.”  Too often in contemporary MR the quality of the evidence is not what we might wish it to be.  That’s not going to change.  So it is more important than ever to evaluate evidence, understand its strengths and its weaknesses and characterize it correctly.  Clients need to be able to judge the quality of our work and the only way they can do that is if we are completely transparent about what we have done, being forthcoming about the limits the evidence imposes on what we can conclude.

Transparency is a long-held value of the research profession as it is with any discipline that claims to be scientific in its methods.  Today we are competing against new entrants in our industry whose values and skills are primarily entrepreneurial and often at odds with the traditional values of our profession.  Transparency is one of those values.

At MRMW there was a panel session on social media that got bogged down in a discussion about “benchmarks” that at its root was really about transparency.   At one point a somewhat exasperated client-side researcher blurted out, “Social media does not predict behavior!”  Apparently someone had told him that it did.

Does evidence still matter?

Laast week there was an interview of sorts with Gayle Fuguitt on Research-Live.  At one point she says:

"We did some work asking our management what they were looking for from us and one of the points they raised was the issue of speed versus precision. The point wasn’t that they didn’t want precision; the issue is that we sometimes get carried away with precision and we don’t have an answer ready when it’s needed."

Her comment was in the context of social media, but to my ear it sounded very much like something I heard Tony Cowling (then Chairman of TNS) say over 10 years ago about online surveys.

These are smart, serious people who understand this industry much better than I ever will, not some entrepreneur trying to sell a client on the next big thing.  Call it what you will—just good enough, quick and dirty, fit for purpose— but I think it’s a pretty accurate description of where research buyers have taken MR over the last decade and there is no doubt in my mind that we should expect this trend to continue.  They are the buyers, the customers, and they get to decide.  After all, it’s their business, they’re the ones taking the risks.  There is not much of a future in telling people what to buy if they don’t want to buy it.

I am one of those (apparently) old-fashioned guys who believes that good research balances evidence and insight. Over the last decade that balance has shifted dramatically in favor of insight, creating the opportunity for new methods whose evidence is sometimes shaky or at least escapes any serious evaluation.  But they provide answers.

On its website the MRS says, “The quality standards, suitability and sustainability of evidence is important because evidence matters to decision makers.”  If only that were the case.

Plus c'est la même chose

Here is a quote I recently came across and wanted to share.

When Eileen Campbell, CEO of Millward Brown, was asked at this year's ARF re:Think conference (I hope I got that funky capitlization right) what she thought the industry would like in 2020 she responded:

"I’ve been in this business for a long time, and the one constant is we’ve always been on the brink of massive change."

Well said.