OPINION: Marketing Society - Market research must be pushed at a senior level

'Why should we go on measuring customer satisfaction when our scores keep going up and our market share keeps going down?'

A lot of companies commission market surveys without seeing any measurable commercial benefits from their activities. Why do they do it? The traditional rationales for carrying out research are still bandied around, but at the end of the day, if it's not hitting your bottom line is there really any point? How do you make market research truly effective?

Firstly, why measure for measurement's sake? Tracking surveys are critical for supplying trend data - particularly in advertising, brand and customer satisfaction. But tying current research into historical data means nothing if you're asking obsolete, irrelevant questions. Stick with a tracking dinosaur and slowly become extinct with it.

Stop adding irrelevant questions into an otherwise perfectly good survey.

For example, in a lot of car customer-satisfaction surveys, recent purchasers are asked how likely are they to buy this model again. Surely it would be better to ask them six months before their next purchase or to ask this question to owners of competitive makes? Trying to get your research to do too many things is a classic and costly mistake.

Most of us have mountains of data about our customers. But surveys continue to be commissioned independently of each other. Most data, when analysed, linked and modelled more objectively, can reveal untold wonders that had hitherto been buried in computerised survey records. So spend a bit of money making the most of what you've got - don't ignore it because it's last quarter's news.

Secondly, get the recognition. Market research is dogged by an unsexy reputation. If market research was championed at a more senior, strategic level two things would happen. It would get noticed more - hardly a bad thing - and people would demand more of it. The objectives of any research exercise would become much more bottom line-oriented as higher echelons of management demand results from their marketing spend. So, raise the profile of market research internally.

A great way to do that is to extend the reach of research findings beyond the select group involved in the survey. Which brings me on to the advantages of using interactive or web-based, rather than paper, reports. Data can reach a much wider audience in a more easily accessible form. Don't let the customer insight team sit on the information - or give you one presentation or report at the end of a piece of research and then shelve the results.

Share it with those who drive performance improvement initiatives, make it work for you by giving everyone access to it, make it dynamic so you can question the information on an ongoing basis.

"Senior management were involved in all the stages of the project. We set out to achieve measurable commercial benefits from the survey. We acted in close partnership with the agency concerned, which changed its mindset and focused on asking the right questions and reporting the data in such a way as to drive performance improvement."

Is that how it happens at your place?