Attend an MR conference and chances are good that sooner or later a case of consulting envy will break out. Symptoms include repeated use of phrases such as “seat at the table” and “C-level access.” This is not a new phenomenon; it’s been a pretty steady part of the MR inferiority complex for the almost 20 years that I’ve been in the industry. The syndrome manifested itself at last week’s ESOMAR Congress in a session titled, “Think BIG: Imagine.” It started from the premise that MR is twice as old and yet only one-tenth the size of management consulting (poor us) and then wondered how we might create “exponential growth” to close the gaps in revenue and prestige. The answer, it turns out, is behavioral science.
To be clear, I agree that behavioral science is a megatrend with the potential to transform our industry. But will its smart application make us rich and at long last bestow upon us that mythical seat at the table? I doubt it.
Management consultants and market researchers work at fundamentally different levels. The consultant’s playing field includes corporate strategy and the full range of company operations, the whole enchilada. Market researchers primarily provide tactical advice on how to take products to market. The two value propositions are fundamentally different and they result in fundamentally different ways of interacting with clients.
I am tempted to say that we should just get over it, enjoy the work that we do and take pride in the value we deliver. Then again, as tiresome as it can be maybe our fundamental insecurity is a good thing. Maybe the constant fear of our lunch being eaten by management consultants and predictive analytics keeps us on our toes, pushes us to innovate, and makes us better if not bigger. Andrew Grove probably was right; only the paranoid survive.
I think we check that box.