Five Signs Your Marketing Team Might Be Failing

Worried that your marketing and innovation costs are eating up more margin points than they are delivering? Your organization may be suffering from one of the following five symptoms we have seen over the years:

“No One Looks at the Data”
Marketing research data literally sits on the shelves or in digital archives, is rarely referred to or is believed to be so unrelated to the everyday requirements of the marketing group that it is ignored. This telltale sign is an indication that the value of whatever is in the reports is marginal. In this situation, everyone managing the procurement and dissemination of these useless data appear busy and engaged in their roles, but the game is one of “the emperor’s new clothes” (aka marketing research study). Presentations of the data may appear well thought through with much fanfare but with the actual goal of adding value where there is little. Marketing research departments operating in this way are often run for decades by the same management and staff. Attitude and usage, ad tracking and brand equity studies most often fall into this category. Their value is low because few, if any, better decisions are based on their results.

“No One Can Take Action Based on the Data”
In this case, the data may be frequently referred to, but one of the following occurs: No one can agree on the interpretation; additional analyses are required to extract the “true” meaning of the data; or the marketing staff is not capable of “keeping up” with the latest insights and additional consultants are needed. The net result is that few, if any, decisions made on the basis of the data will improve sales or net return. Unfortunately, the appeal of these studies is often linked to an in-vogue analysis technique, novel online data collection approach or even just “bigger” big data. Segmentation or media studies are often the culprit, many using complex algorithms to claim “validity.” Again, the net impact is that the bottom line improvement from the research investment is negligible and, in the case of some large studies, negative.

“If It’s New, It Must Be Better”
Often the organizational climate begins with the dictum to read a particular new book or investigate a new technique. This is often a new measure of loyalty, customer engagement, the effect of online or social media or a better “path to purchase.” For example, Behavioral Science Lab has been asked to just “ … apply behavioral economics” (BE) to a problem thought to be insoluble in any other way regardless of whether BE was even applicable. Frustration with the research staff in not finding the “best solution” often gets translated into the management prerogative of picking the newest solution regardless of its value. Long timelines are often required to “convert” to the new approach with this period often being exactly as long as the period required to assess the value of the new approach; so if it is not immediately helpful, the risk of poorer performance is multiplied.

“If It Wasn’t Developed Here, It Can’t Be Better”
A few companies have well-managed, long-standing insights teams focused on improving their own homegrown techniques. Annual enhancements to these approaches are often merchandised as proof of their value and the rationale for continued investment. Interestingly, BE Endowment Bias appears to correctly define this cause of poor insight — nothing new can replace the homegrown approach due to its overvaluation and marginal improvements in value. The net result is often nothing more than a circling of the internal research staff’s “wagons” and protection of its resources and staff. For example, one very famous beverage company used the same in-bred copy testing system for over a decade while watching the effectiveness of its ads decline.

“Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Insights”
Although more rare today than 20 years ago, some marketing groups still make decisions on the basis of their own wits with little or no support from an insights group. Some are able to get by because they manage niche brands, have unique market positions with little competition or a combination of all of these. Regardless of the cause, this is a dying breed. Eventually the “seat-of-the-pants” will be replaced as the strategic compass with something more accurate.

ResearchTim Gohmann, Ph.D.