Market Research ≠ Insights – The Difference Between “That’s it?” and “That’s it!”

April 28th, 2016 by John Richelsen


How many times have you commissioned a research project and the results came back as a loud, dull thud? The report is full of charts and graphs and terms you haven’t heard since high school stats like t-tests and standard deviations. There’s simply lots of ‘stuff.’ However, in marketing, it’s not so much the data but the story it can tell.

This isn’t a vilification of math because as numbers wonks, we market researchers love our math. It’s not a vilification of lots of great qualitative data because quotes give you the voice of the customer. But all of those data points are the means to the end – not the end itself.


One of the things I’ve learned from all my years as a market researcher working in the advertising agency world, insights are rarely the hard facts. Insights are nuanced. They’re the connective threads that weave through the data and tie it together. And in reality as Ringo Starr once sang, they don’t come easy.


A story I always tell is about a large east coast engineering and architectural firm we once worked with. We first took a look at their competitive landscape. We found that all of their competitors’ marketing materials showed award winning work and beautiful entryways (as did our client’s). But the customers we spoke to? They didn’t care about any of that. They built new buildings or bridges maybe every 5-10 years. They cared about meeting deadlines. Having their hands held. Being on budget. Internal client stakeholders had one rallying cry. “We service the hell out of our clients.”


The insight was a perfect storm. For our client, it was about their people making the difference and not the award winning projects. It was comfort that they could do it right and passion for each project. It was an insight that was beyond the data. A connective thread.


As marketers and market researchers, we need to not only rely on our data sources but how do we gain actionable insights from all of that information Does it speak in marketing terms and cater to emotions? Does the data enhance the narrative or is it simply due diligence? Data is power but only if it tells a story. Be “That’s it!”, not “That’s it?”