The role of marketing as a function within an organization has evolved dramatically over the last few decades, from something relatively straightforward to a complex network of interacting forces.

The Good Old Days

Marketing and market research used to be a matter of identifying a hypothesis about the value of our product, its profile, where it fits in the customer’s decision-making hierarchy, and how best to position the product relative to competitive products to capture the desired market share.

We would do focus groups to test our hypotheses, follow that up with quantitative validation, and develop promotional materials using the messages that we had validated with our target audience(s). We would then distribute those messages through advertising and promotion using fundamental media, as well as using sales representatives to deliver those messages directly to customers one-on-one. As the promotions gained momentum, we could sit back and count the money as it came in!

OK, it was never that simple, but still, compared to the complexities of today’s markets coupled with the constraints imposed by various legal and regulatory controls in many of our business sectors, the game has changed significantly. The products are different, the markets are different, the customers and users are different. So how much has our approach to market research changed to help our companies make better informed decisions in terms of being innovative in their approach to these markets?

Marketing’s Increasing Complexity

Market Researchers from the medical, financial services, insurance, apparel, and retail services industries all have their own examples of increasing complexity in terms of marketing strategy and execution.

Some market researchers go by without a clear understanding of their company’s commercial strategy, and without specific regard to how our companies can innovate in product development and communication with their markets and customers. Under this paradigm, how can we deliver real value or demonstrate the ROI in market research?

We have to be sure that as we attempt to avoid the crossfire of organizational changes, we aren’t keeping our heads so far down in the foxhole that we’re missing the opportunity to be innovators in finding solutions by strategically exercising our craft.

Ellen Hart is a Senior Associate Consultant at Vivisum Partners. She specializes in in-depth qualitative research in healthcare and nonprofit fields.

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