Some 75% of senior executives believe customer insight is critical to firm performance and cite it as one of the top two capabilities their companies need to develop. Despite this, only 30% of these organizations integrate market intelligence into their core decisions. Why is that—and how can firms capitalize on the wealth of information they possess at their fingertips?
Large firms understand that market research is critical for successful strategic planning and program implementation. That’s why they make significant, ongoing investments in market research and hire market research (or insights) directors to oversee programs and research dissemination. However, past studies have established that it is very different to promote and sustain employee engagement with market research, the key to ensuring effective knowledge transfer. As a consequence, firms struggle to reap a return on their investment.
A new study in the Journal of Marketing finds that while organizations understand the why of market intelligence, they are struggling with the how – managing how it is generated, shared, and responded to across the organization.
Our research team conducted a qualitative study that included:
1) reviewing two extended case studies;
2) interviewing 35 Insights Directors (IDs) at major multinational product and service firms representing a wide range of industries;
3) engaging at practitioner conferences and workshops;
4) an extensive analysis of industry and company reports on research use and of intranets containing commissioned research and research-focused case studies; and
5) a follow-up survey of 60 IDs to validate our findings.
We found that these professionals use five dissemination practices that either update and reinforce organizational schemas (mental models) of the market or create new, shared schemas of the market. This is important because as a schema is used over time, it becomes more deeply embedded and resists change, unless a person realizes it is inaccurate and using it has negative consequences.
Key findings include:
- The five dissemination practices these experts used were: distribution, resource centralization, consultative selling, empathic learning, and experiential learning. These practices are also distinguished by how they activate learning through the use of market research. We categorized practice metaphors, the role of the ID, the role of intelligence users, the relationship with an organizationally shared market schema, and examples of each practice.
- The first three practices reinforce an existing shared mental model of the market, categorized as schema updates, while the last two practices replace the existing model with a new shared mental model of the market, categorized as schema change practices.
- The five practices are not mutually exclusive, as all survey participants mentioned using more than one. In our survey of 60 IDs, 97% said they used at least one of the schema update practices, and 77% said they used at least of one the schema change practices.
- Many of the IDs were aware of the limitations of schema update practices, categorizing dissemination as transactions or project management. Less successful practices were stopped or modified only when a new ID arrived or financial pressures exposed related problems.
- In terms of schema update practices, 95% of IDs used distribution practices, and 86% used them regularly or frequently; 78% used resource centralization practices, with 65% using them regularly or frequently; and 87% used consultative selling practices, with 50% using them regularly and 25% using them frequently.
- While IDs used schema change practices less regularly or frequently – 34% for empathic learning and 25% for experiential learning practices – they were more certain that they would result in end users understanding and using the disseminated intelligence. With empathic learning, IDs used ethnographic storytelling and other methods to transport users into the contextualized life of customers, enabling them to understand customer needs and desires. With experiential learning, employees participated in immersive experiences and were encouraged to verify and add to their new schemas by meeting partners, channels, and customers in person.
Our research shows that the existence (or absence) of an organizationally shared mental model of the market is crucial in explaining the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of different market intelligence dissemination practices. If firms do not have a shared understanding of the market that staff can draw on to make sense of market research, they will ignore it. Moreover, firms that do not have a shared understanding of the market can disseminate market research across the firm for years with very little use or impact.
Our research highlights that firms must first recognize their current state in terms of whether a shared mental model of the market exists and, if not, they must create one. They must employ a mix of these market research dissemination practices so as to not only ensure the company-wide dissemination of market intelligence, but when necessary to employ them to redevelop the mental model of the market when that market shifts and when a new shared understanding is required.
Significantly, our findings also indicate that in addition to being experts on market intelligence, market research directors must also understand how organizations learn and establish ways to create shared meaning structures that enable disseminated intelligence to be understood and used within organizations.
Go to the Journal of Marketing