By Finn Raben & Laurent Flores

During my evolution and development as a working researcher, it was a fundamental requirement that when providing a client with research results, the findings be presented as possible actions (or solutions), in the context of the business challenge that prompted the research in the first place. This was considered good research practice!

Nowadays, I notice that increasingly such actionable information is being referred to as “insight” or “consumer intelligence”, and “research” is referred to in a slightly more derogatory tone.

Really?

Isn’t such actionable information, insight or consumer intelligence, always based on the compilation of relevant data, objective analysis using appropriate rigour, and translation of the results obtained into the commercial context? Isn’t this research?

Yes, methodologies have changed; yes, data sources have evolved, and yes, rigour needs to be fit for purpose, but the demand for relevant data, analysed and interpreted in a contextual manner, and presented as a series of potential business solutions is what good researchers do and becomes even more important in this age of data abundance.

A good “data scientist” will need to be a good statistician and a good consumer intelligence person is likely to be a good researcher…let us not devalue the term research, rather let us take back full ownership of the term and celebrate it! Let us garner respect for the tools, techniques and competences that are part of our research armory.

To mis-quote Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night…..rage, rage against the dying of the light

Rage against the dilution of what this profession has been doing excellently for the last 80 years; rage against those whose lack of professionalism does our reputations no good and rage against those who have claimed that research is “dead” or redundant!

This is not to understate the size of the challenge that lies ahead: the misrepresentation of opinion polls by the media can confuse citizens about what constitutes professional research; programmes such as The Apprentice that ask their contestants to do “research”, which comprises short, unstructured and often misguided interviews on the street with a handful of people, clearly devalue our profession’s expertise.

And when you consider that organisations that might deal solely with digital advertising are now proclaiming to lead the debate on digital research, is it any wonder that people are confused about our professional standing?

By analogy, veterinarians can conduct surgical operations but if you have a heart murmur and need a valve replacement, would you be comfortable if a veterinarian were to conduct the operation? This is not to devalue what vets do, but rather to set the professional discipline and expertise of research in the right context!

So, whether you are in the business of “consumer guidance”, “insights” or “market intelligence”, remember that these are all disciplines that are grounded in research. Do not shy away from the term; do not undervalue the term, and do not let someone else take ownership of it.

The value of research has always been well known, but now it seems to be becoming less clear and open to debate. So do shout loud about it, do share the benefits of it, and do extol its wonders to the next generation and the general public. That way, our future and that of our profession will remain positive.

Finn Raben is Director General of ESOMAR.
Laurent Flores is ESOMAR President.

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