Is Marketing Research becoming obsolete?


Knowing your customers well is more important than ever. In dynamic and ultra-competitive markets, a deep and intimate understanding of what your target customers do, when, how, why and with whom, is a prerequisite for brand survival.

However, the way that most marketing departments, research agencies and business schools deal with marketing research is dangerously outdated.

The main problem with the traditional view is that it considers research a “project”. This means that it has clearly-defined beginning and end, specific objectives, and that it is someone’s responsibility to deliver final results on time. Those with formal marketing education will recall the Marketing Research Process, available in marketing textbooks and in various other marketing sources. This process has a series of concrete steps, such as: problem recognition, decisions on research approach, research planning, data collection, data analysis, presentation of findings.

Regardless if all the steps are followed exactly like that or not, research projects are usually well-defined and executed somewhere along the lines of the process above. And it can, and often is, outsourced to specialists. Research agencies typically get a brief on all or on specific steps of the process, and deliver a report at the end of the project.

This was an excellent approach… for a different, long-gone world: when customer trends were changing slowly and were straightforward to follow, competitors known, technologies boring, and the general environment largely stable. The world today is a completely new place: customer trends change daily and are difficult to track, competition is attacking unexpectedly from all around the world, technologies are social and disrupting, and the environment is complex and chaotic.

With such ever-changing conditions brands cannot afford to treat research as a standalone project anymore (or as a series of standalone projects). Searching for insights has to be a daily, minute-to-minute process aiming to collect, crunch and act-upon a constant flow of huge amounts of data from multiple sources. By the time a traditional research project is completed its results can be already irrelevant, if not obsolete.


This actually means that Marketing Research has to step aside and allow for Marketing Intelligence to take the upper hand. Look into traditional marketing literature and you will see that proper research occupies more space than intelligence. Discuss with marketing professionals around the world and you will find the same: research (a manageable project) is often considered more important than the constant flow of dynamic insights (chaos-based intelligence). Expectations about elaborate research projects seem to be always very high within marketing departments, leaving dynamic insights in the periphery of marketing attention. Not anymore! Marketing Intelligence is becoming the main source of insight, inseparable from marketing decision-making, implementation and control, every single minute. Marketers do not just order and get reports. They live and breathe reality as it happens, leading to better decision-making, more efficient allocation of budget, and on-the-spot crises prevention.


Major brands around the world, such as MasterCard, Pepsico and Cisco, are now embracing this change, re-calibrating their marketing departments to deal with the new normal. Some have already developed custom-built facilities for their marketing teams, with screens providing live data-streaming and insights analysis, on a 24-hour mode (resembling more an integrated newsroom in the modern media industry than a traditional marketing department). Others have developed their own behavioral and observation labs, such as HP and its famous MoneyLab, testing daily a variety of marketing elements such as changes in prices, packaging or webpages, by engaging real customers. It’s not by accident then, that IBM is positioning its brand as the enabler of Cognitive Business globally. Cognitive business is done through more intelligent ways of dealing with dynamic data, producing meaningful insights and making the right moves to dominate a market.


So, how can we shift our strategic attention from marketing research to marketing intelligence? Here are few key considerations.

New Skills. Marketers cannot anymore simply outsource their customer and market, insights-generating expertise. Things are happening so fast that marketers themselves need to constantly search for, understand and instantly react to dynamic insights. Everyone within marketing departments should have a firm knowledge of: neuroscience and behavioral economics, big data and predictive analytics, social media intelligence, basic software development skills… to start with. Old marketing skills are becoming less relevant today compared with the ones mentioned here (a quick look at how successful startups do disruptive marketing globally, based on a new set of skills, will convince you).

New Tools. Marketers at all levels need to be empowered by the appropriate tech tools to help them get, crunch and act-upon live-streaming data from both internal and external sources. This requires a clever combination of software and hardware that allows both for the right insights to emerge but also for the right visualization, distribution, discussion and implementation of those insights. Investment in such tools might not be straightforward (many solutions are still a work-in-progress) but it’s absolutely necessary.

New Roles (internally). Marketing departments should be in the very heart of all these. They should not abandon so easily their strategic market intelligence role to CTO or CIO divisions. Every single member of the wider marketing function has to be intelligence-savvy and a passionate user of the intelligence infrastructure. You can, of course, designate Marketing Intelligence Expert(s)/Officer(s) in your marketing department. If you do so, first, give them support, connections and tools to coordinate marketing intelligence activities across-the-board effectively. Second, make sure everyone in the company understands the change in strategic priority from research to intelligence. But never, ever consider marketing intelligence as a job only for specific individuals. It concerns all of you.

New Roles (externally). Marketing research agencies should fast re-position themselves as marketing intelligence consultants keeping traditional marketing research as one of the services in their portfolio. If they don’t enter the new era of minute-to-minute insights fast, and if they don’t become true thought-partners and practical enablers of vibrant marketing intelligence, their future is unknown. Marketing myopia should not keep them prisoners of rigidly-defined, old-world, limited-scope research. They should see beyond that. Thankfully, some do.


Marketing research will not disappear anytime soon and for good reasons. There always going to be issues that need to be studied in a project mode, alongside marketing intelligence (entering a new market, new-product launch, basic segmentation etc.). There is still great value in marketing research, especially when it’s done appropriately and in sync with other data sources. However, marketers should think and do intelligence first, and research second. Yes, these are not mutually exclusive processes… but intelligence comes on top.

Ultimately, it is a mindset thing. Switch priorities in your marketing brain from strictly-defined research projects to the wonders of real-time insights, coming from life events as they happen, and your chances for brand survival and success will drastically improve. Become an Intelligent Marketing Department!

Dr. Nikolaos Dimitriadis (PhD, MBA) is a Certified Neuromarketer and the author of the book “Neuroscience for Leaders: A Brain Adaptive Leadership Approach” (Kogan Page). He is the Development Director at the Executive Development Institute, The University of Sheffield International Faculty.

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