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Connections Blog

Sharing ideas and opinions about content, communication, and connections...what's important to relationship-building

Research Marketing Needs a New Way of Thinking

I had lunch the other day with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a couple years. She looked tired and stressed. She has worked as a research director at a brand-name research firm for the past five years. “Times have changed. Clients don’t buy research the way they used to anymore,” she said, lamenting the company’s ever-shrinking forecast for market research and speaking engagements. One thing that frustrates her is their outdated go-to-market approach. A significant percentage of analysts and executives at her firm don’t have a social media account, nor do they believe that leveraging content and social media marketing would have an impact on their business. As a result, they are losing ground to their competitors and are faced with shrinking revenue.

According to my friend, the firm doesn’t like to share information without charging for it first. Unless you are a paying client, they will not provide insights for you. What they discovered was that the “our way or the highway” approach more often than not sent potential clients to the highway.

Change was required to revive their ailing business model. My friend started to experiment with her prospective clients by sharing more information up front with them – a research summary about the client’s company, how they are ranked in the marketplace, etc. She discovered that the more she shared for free, the more paying business she actually acquired. Why? She had earned their confidence as a trusted advisor. By establishing trust, she had prevented her client from shopping around and ensured herself a long-term revenue stream. She has also been using social media to listen, build a following and to create customer engagements that are paying off for her handsomely. Unfortunately, her leadership team doesn’t share the same vision and she feels unsupported in a culture that is resistant to change.

I could appreciate her frustration. A while ago, I was invited by a client of mine (a major IT infrastructure vendor) to attend an analyst briefing conducted by his research firm – a marketing vehicle to attract new clients. I recognised the research VP on the agenda who would be delivering the briefing. I was his client a few years ago when I was heading up software marketing at a large IT company. I thought it would be great to reconnect with him as well as gain new insights in an area that is of interest to me. I also saw it as a good opportunity to entertain a potential partnership with the research firm. I am connected with a number of marketing executives at technology firms and other industries who could definitely benefit from their services. As a result, I signed up for the briefing. Minutes later, I received a “Thank you for registering for our briefing and we look forward to seeing you” message from their marketing person. I marked this breakfast event on my calendar and sent an “I’ll see you there” note to my client who had forwarded me the invitation.

What I didn’t anticipate was another email, a day later, from the same marketing person. This one read: “After reviewing your registration, we regret to inform you that your organization does not fit the attendee profile for our briefing. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. Thank you for your interest”. I decided to write her back to politely explain my intent, but got no response from her. Clearly, the objective of this briefing was to target new customers with certain pre-defined criteria. She may have seen my organisation, a C-level content and relationship marketing company, as a potential competitor to them. She may have deemed that there would be no business to be had with us. But, had she done her homework on the attendee profiles, she would have realised that unregistering me might not have been a strategic move.

In today’s business world, we often forget that it is the people behind companies that make or break our business. People are dynamic. They could be working for our customer one day, partner the next, and competitor the following year. It is important to remember that the relationships and influence they have follows them wherever they go. As part of assessing who our target audience is, marketing should pay less attention to an organisation’s profile and more to the individual’s background and their network. Today, we live in a very connected world and it is never a good idea to draw conclusion and pass judgement before we have the facts. It’s easier and more productive to work with someone than against them, even if they are a so-called competitor at the time. Burning bridges is a bad idea.

People shouldn’t underestimate the power of social media. Smart marketers create a loyal following by practicing attentive listening and communicating genuinely with their universe. A happy customer often takes to social media to express himself, which can bring more fans to the business. An angry customer can create a PR fiasco and impact sales in a negative way. The key is to not discriminate based on a limited perception of who might be useful to us. My advice is not to take drastic measures until you do your homework. For example, before she unregistered me, she could have sent me a note or called me to ask why I was interested in the event. By doing so, she would have learned that I could have been a valuable customer and partner for them.

One of the services my firm offers is acting as a remote CMO for technology vendors, who may or may not have marketing resources internally. We develop marketing strategies and recommend solutions to our clients. There could have been synergy to leverage this firm in the marketing plans that we are currently executing. Unfortunately, the brush-off motivated me to look for other research partners.

Truth be told, I felt bad for this marketing person. She was doing her job the best she knew how. She didn’t mean to offend me. She works in a culture that doesn’t seem to promote innovative thinking and customer-centric marketing best practices. They are not only competing with other research firms, they are also competing with the Internet, a free search engine that is getting more sophisticated and powerful with each passing day. To survive, research firms need to adapt to this change. They must be open and generous about sharing information in order to thrive. While this may seem counter-intuitive to their business model, it will pay off in the end.

My friend suggested that I should conduct a workshop for the firm on how to communicate effectively via content and social media marketing. Perhaps I should reach out to the Research VP (who later sent me a sincere note of apology) about this proposition. They certainly need an outsider’s perspective.

What are your thoughts about the subject? I’d love to hear from you.

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