What Happens When “How” Meets “Why”

What Marketers Can Learn from Researchers.
What Researchers Can Learn from Marketers.

Customer Experience is at the forefront of business initiatives today and as such, is bringing about organizational change. The CMO role is evolving into Chief Experience Officers as they carry the heavy load to lead their organization in this Experience Economy. However, they are quickly finding out that the big data they’ve worked so hard to collect is not producing all the insights they need to be successful.

Enter the Researcher. Long seen as the person or team who performs largescale studies once or twice a year to inform different business silos (such as product, culture, brand) the Researcher is becoming an essential part of the business to help drive transformation. Their roles are being re-titled to Customer Insights, Customer Experience, Strategic Insights, but whatever the name, demand for their skills are increasing. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates market research roles will increase by 23% by 2026 — adding nearly 140,000 jobs in that time, exceeding typical growth rates.

A notable area of demand for research skills? Marketing. The Marketing department is initiating about 60% of all research, and so these two groups are growing notably closer.

Marketing is initiating about 60% of all research.

The marketer and researcher are very different in their methodology, approach, consideration, and personality. Whereas Marketers, under the strain of lots of demands, and mistrust from the business and inundated with talk of Marketing Stacks and big data, tend to look for the automated and easy way to target and engage their customers with the right content at the right time to get leads; the Researcher looks to the small data to tell the story, understand the human motivation, get to the “why.”

Despite their differences – and indeed because of them – the only way businesses will be enabled to create relevant customer experiences is for these two roles to come together as well as all the available data, big and small. This way, companies can design experiences that attract and retain customers.

Bringing the marketer and the researcher together seems straight forward in principle but can be challenging in practice. Read on for the journey that FocusVision CMO Dawn Colossi and SVP of Research Zoe Dowling, Ph.D. took as they joined forces and what they learned along the way.

The Marketer, Dawn Colossi

Until I joined FocusVision, I never had researchers on my team, and truth be told had never done much research to neither enrich nor inform our marketing strategy. To be honest, no one I previously worked for conducted research, so it did not cross my mind. We built personas, messaging strategies, content, and campaigns without ever doing any research. How, you wonder? We depended on product managers who were supposed to be SMEs, met with salespeople, listened to executives. The only person we never really asked was the customer.

When you start your Marketing platform on such a shaky foundation, it never stands up against opposition

The product of this was positioning, messaging, and campaigns built on other people’s opinions and interpretations, gut instinct, and a lot of talking to each other. When you start your Marketing platform on such a shaky foundation, it never stands up against opposition from sales, execs, or anyone else who has an opinion of what we should be saying and doing. The result is a bifurcation of messaging, constant changes, inconsistencies throughout the organization, and with every customer interaction. And in the worst situations, and I’ve been in them, a full out war between sales and marketing and distrust in the CMO from the executive suite. It’s no wonder why CMOs normally last less than four years.

Then I met Zoe. Zoe Dowling holds a Ph.D. and is the SVP of Research. Her background is in academics and market research. She’s spent the bulk of her career studying people and why they do what they do. She has worked with major brands to help them understand their customer, to gather insights to inform brand strategy, product development, and advertising effectiveness.

When Zoe and I started working together, I shared my vision for Marketing. How I wanted to build a digital-first, data-driven, always-on Marketing strategy that was designed to engage our customers, not collect leads, so we could create a digital relationship that would lead to them wanting to talk to a salesperson because they believed we could solve a problem they have and then, in a perfect world, buy from us. In essence, I wanted to create a content marketing strategy that got the Market to respond to us because I had built an experience that helped them learn and then addressed their needs.

I was ready to go fast because I had an anxious CEO, a demanding Board, and a Sales team who was literally screaming for “LEADS.”

Zoe took this information, and what she brought back to the table was the right questions:

  • Who are we selling to?
  • How are buying decisions being made?
  • What are our customers trying to figure out?
  • Who’s involved with the overall research strategy and who’s part of the buying team?
  • What can we say to get them to respond?
  • And so much more.

She then started formulating a research strategy to figure out those questions.

I’ve learned from Zoe that research started with the knock at the door centuries ago and has continued on both the quantitative and qualitative side in all parts of business. All businesses from B-to-B to B-to-C need to rethink and reinvest in their research strategy and insights resources. The world now works at an amazing speed, and an always-on strategy has to support that rapid change for businesses to truly understand and connect with their customer.

What we’ve come to realize in this past year working together is: everything is changing. We are in the crux of the Experience Economy and Digital transformation. Customer expectations have changed. Because of things like ad blockers, fast forward, streaming, social media, and eCommerce, the customer is more empowered than ever.

This Business Transformation requires a Transformative Marketer to lead the Customer Experience so that customers engage, buy, advocate, and stay loyal to their brand. The Transformative Marketer needs a Transformative Researcher to help the business understand why people do what they do, how they think, act, and feel. Because when the business understands the why, it informs the how.

The Transformative Marketer needs a Transformative Researcher to help the business understand why people do what they do, how they think, act, and feel.

The Researcher, Zoe Dowling

When our CMO Dawn Colossi joined the company, she 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 as I became her direct report. It has been quite the journey, 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.


Silos between groups and departments is a long-standing challenge for most organizations. For Marketing, one of the most significant silos and pain points is traditionally 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 touchpoints. Marketing and Research are no exception.

Today all departments need cross-collaboration in a concerted effort to deliver on-brand experiences with their customers at all touchpoints.

Marketing technology has exploded over the past five years. The 2019 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 metacategories 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.

Researchers live in a world of detail and nuance.

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.

Coming together

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. We’ve broken down our journey into three buckets. It wasn’t a linear journey, but one that we bounced around in and here’s what we’ve learned:

Translate: learn and understand one another’s language, objectives, constraints, and flexibilities.

We needed to learn and understand one another’s language, objectives, constraints, and flexibilities. From a researcher’s perspective, it was a case of learning when to go with ‘good enough’ and when to go deep.

From a marketer’s perspective, there was substantial pressure to prove value and get Marketing running, as such time was in short supply. So we did some smaller, quick studies to get bite-sized data to use right away so we could start moving in the right direction while we figured out some of the bigger stuff. We needed initial data to get started, and it needed to be translated into top-line findings, so it was actionable. It could not take six months to get research to create a strategy.

As we continued to dive deeper with new studies, we repeatedly went back to existing research to make sure we used existing knowledge and built upon it.

Collaborate: celebrate the differences in respective approaches and skillsets to work together for maximum impact.

We learned to celebrate the differences in our respective approaches and skillsets to 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.

After we got some initial programs into market to satisfy the immediate asks from the business, we set out to figure out the big stuff. We’ve conducted three larger research studies on our customers. Plus, we do three trackers – brand, CSAT (Customer Satisfaction), and NPS (Net Promoter Score). This research has been the basis of our messaging, personas, brand story, product positioning, and content strategy. These are the foundational pieces to a digital-first, customercentric always-on campaign strategy. And it helps track how we are doing.

Our foundation is built on what our customers think and feel, how the market is behaving as opposed to gut or instinct. When presenting our Marketing strategy to the rest of the business, we have the insights and small data to bring the customer into the room. Because we built our foundation on what our customers think and feel and not what we think and feel, there is full support from our board, the executive team, and alignment between Sales and Marketing is strong.

For Marketers, insights into your Customer Truth will save time and money AND help you connect and create experiences. When the foundational pieces of Marketing are informed by the Customer Truth, you’re not having an opinion-based argument with Sales or Execs or even other Marketers; Now, you can be unified because everything is based on Customer Truth.

Iterate: you are not going to get it right in one go. Continually iterate and build on all you have learned.

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.

Even though we started with research that got us to our Customer Truth, the reality is that we live in a rapidly changing world, so we need to continuously change with it. And there are times when we question our approach. In one such instance, a meeting with some salespeople led to three days of angst where we wondered whether we had done everything wrong – from defining our target audience and identifying key personas to the content that we wrote and how we activated the Marketing strategy.

We were able to go back to the studies we did to define all those things. It was a relief because we had based our Marketing strategy on the customer and what they thought and wanted, and how they felt and acted. It wasn’t based on gut or a guess; it was based on the small data straight from the customer.

However, just because we based the strategy on the customer, doesn’t mean we got it all right the first time. Big data from our website, email clicks, and downloads, LinkedIn data, and so on, told us what our audience was responding to and to what they WEREN’T responding to, so we continue to go back to the small data and try new things. Bringing together the small data and big data helps us to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate and to refine our tactics to get people to respond.

What Happens When “How” Meets “Why”

In today’s experience economy, brands need to understand their customer in entirety: their lives, attitudes, opinions, 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.

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.

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.

We’ve learned that no Marketing department should be operating without Researchers ingrained in the workings of the department – it isn’t just about having researchers but those with a voice that are able (allowed to) see the whole picture and not just consulted on the study at hand. The Researcher finds the why to inform the Marketer’s how. Bringing the two together creates a very strong advantage for the business.

For researchers, the buzz around jobs being in peril as a result of DIY technologies and emerging developments in Artificial Intelligence is just that – buzz. Titles may change, along with departmental affiliation, however, the need for the skills of a professional researcher does not. Researchers are an invaluable part of today’s data-driven businesses operating in a customer-centric world.

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