What Can a Researcher Learn from a Marketer?

A little under a year ago, our new CMO joined the company and shook things up. Not just for the marketing team, as she upended the existing approach and heralded in a customer-centric digital transformation strategy to create an always-on, multi-touch engagement model, but also for the research team and me as I became her direct report. It has been quite a year, with many twists and turns but upon reflection, I realize that it has made me stronger in my role as a researcher guiding the organization.

What have I learned? Unsurprisingly there are two sides to this: there are similarities in the challenges we face – silos, technology, and speed. However, there are also differences in our approach and pressures – interpretation, detail, and ROI. Let us explore.


  • Silos between groups and departments is a long-standing challenge for most organizations. For Marketing, traditionally one of the most significant silos and pain points is between them and Sales. There’s the adage that Marketing plays with fluffy pictures while Sales will sell its grandmother to make the quarter. For researchers, customer insights have traditionally informed areas in silos – such as Marketing teams for advertising messaging and effectiveness or ad hoc innovation inspiration for Product teams. However, today all departments need cross-collaboration in a concerted effort to deliver on-brand experiences with their customers at all touch points. Marketing and Research are no exception.
  • Marketing technology has exploded over the past five years. The 2018 Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic showcases 6,829 logos placed within six meta categories and 49 categories. Consider that the first edition of this infographic released in 2011 contained only 150 logos within three meta-categories and 41 categories. Marketers are grappling with this ever-growing tech stack in the same way (perhaps even more so) as researchers are dealing with the influx of new data collection techniques made possible by technology.
  • Not only has Marketing changed from one-way broadcast to a two-way dialogue, but the speed at which Marketing needs to react has also vastly accelerated. We are in a real-time environment, and they need to respond at a sharp pace. As researchers, we are all too familiar with the faster refrain, generally accompanied with better and cheaper.


  • Marketers operate in a much more fluid world than researchers. By nature and profession, researchers dive into the details and rely on analytical techniques, such as statistical significance, to determine whether something is, in fact, a notable movement. For the marketer, a shift of .1 can be enough. For a researcher, that’s somewhat of an affront (as my CMO can attest to by my response in such a scenario).
  • With the pace that marketers operate and the amount coming at them from all angles, they work in headlines, only digging into the areas that do not make sense or when more detail provides new color to the question at hand. Researchers live in a world of detail and nuance. For them, headlines often don’t tell all the story, and that matters.
  • The buck stops with Marketing, and more specifically the CMO, to deliver a demonstrable ROI supported by marketing intelligence data proving that their efforts are effective. At the same time, they are the brand stewards and customer experience owner driving the brand forward. The pressures are intense and arise from all sides. As researchers, our focus is first and foremost on the study at hand, the objectives for those specific questions and the bigger picture an important but secondary consideration.

So how do we take these similarities and differences and capitalize upon them? After all, our end goal is the same: to understand the customer and deliver outstanding experiences that ultimately drive the brand forward. For us it was a three-step process:

  1. Translate: learn and understand one another’s language, objectives, constraints, and flexibilities. Learn what is good enough and when to go deep.
  2. Collaborate: celebrate the differences in approach and skillsets and work together for maximum impact. The marketer needs to slow down and stop speculating while the researcher needs to speed up, potentially paring back and keep the overarching objectives at the forefront.
  3. Iterate: you are not going to get it all right in the one go. One study is not going to tell you all you need to know about your customer. One advertisement or piece of content is not going to engage them. So you need to iterate and build on all you have learned and at times question whether it is still valid.

In today’s experience economy, brands need to understand their customer in entirety: their lives, attitudes, options, and values. This starts with the researcher understanding what people are about; uncovering how they think, feel and act. Marketers take that information and build experiences that people will respond to.

In short, if it is the researchers’ job to understand people and the marketers’ job to get buyers to respond, it makes sense that these two roles are a powerful pair. The dual lens of Marketing and Research is the winning combination.

This leads me to the biggest thing I have learned from a marketer. There has been much discussion within the industry that our jobs as professional researchers are in peril with the rise of DIY technologies and emerging developments in AI. This is not the case. Titles may change, along with departmental affiliation, however, the need for skills of a professional researcher does not. If anything, we will see growth in demand for these skills – certainly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that between 2016 and 2023, market research analyst roles will increase 23% – because what we offer is an invaluable part of today’s data-driven businesses operating in a customer-centric world.

Just as the transformational marketer is driving change across the business, the transformational researcher has an elevated role to play within this new paradigm. Research, insights, is not a nice to have; it is essential. It is the transformative researchers’ role to embrace that voice, be the bridge between departments and between the organization and their customers. With this, I’d say: have confidence in your expertise and perspective. It is invaluable within business today. And for that, I’m mighty grateful.

See what Dawn thought of her first year working with me in her blog: What Can a Marketer Learn from a Researcher?

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