As research professionals, we evaluate a brand’s position in the market. We help firms identify how and where to position themselves, how to differentiate themselves from others, and we measure their brand health.
Yet, how many research firms or research departments think about how to position themselves? How good are we at managing our own brands? Those of us in marketing and market research are supposed to be the experts in brand positioning, but how can we make this claim when we don’t do it ourselves?
I recently attended a market research CEO summit where I met many smart researchers from firms we all know. I quickly learned through my conversations that most still struggle with the same issues – “how do we get new clients,” “how do we talk about ourselves.” On the supplier side, it seems we all say the same thing and few of us truly differentiate ourselves.
This also applies to those in insight departments on the client side.
When I was running a client side team, I tried to be intentional with “positioning our brand”. This is not just a theoretical exercise. The brand to which you aspire should influence how you staff the department and what you deliver. If you want to be internal consultants (as was my team’s objective), hire those who enjoy the consultative nature of our business and being part of our internal client’s team. If you desire to be technical experts, you hire accordingly.
This same thinking also applies to marketing departments. Are you, or do you want to be, the business lead who understands what clients want? Or is yours the creative group of experts in communications and creating ads?
This notion of “brand positioning” also applies to us personally.
I still remember a friend giving me some very good advice in my early days of research while at Hallmark Cards. At the time, I loved getting into the data and the methods. I would stay late trying out different methods. I thought that would be my path to becoming a great researcher. My friend Julie asked me if I wanted to be the technical expert, or the internal consultant who works with clients to help identify solutions – I couldn’t be both.
In reality, perhaps we can be both — but not in our client’s mind. So, although I still explored methods, I talked about them less. Instead, I would discuss concepts that came straight from Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy or Tom Peters’ and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.’s In Search Of Excellence – two landmark strategy books at that time.
We must understand who we want to be. Are we consultants? Technical experts? Low cost? Innovative? Business experts? Data experts? Most of us would say “yes” to all. But of course, just as we all tell our clients that they must pick, we can’t be everything. So, what does your firm or department really want to be? Who do you really want to be?
The bottom line is we need to be intentional in defining who we are. Staff accordingly. Set team expectations accordingly. But also, communicate to your clients who you are — whether you are on supplier or client side — and live by it.
Just as we help our clients manage their customer touch points, we should be intentional with our touch points – even if you are an internal team. If you want to be an internal consultant, do your documents and presentations look like something a consultant would produce? Can you hold a conversation on business matters other than market research techniques?
Try this as a start . . .
This whole concept is hard. Really hard. My firm is about seven years old and we’re just figuring it out. In a recent meeting, a team member wrote down what we said about ourselves and created this video. I love it. I wish I were smart enough to put down in words who we are – but the good news is these are our team’s words. Not mine. But it reflects what I want our firm to become; who I want our team to become. There is more to do, but this moves us in the right direction.
Consider this exercise for your team. Have each team member identify a few words and phrases that describe who they would like your team to be. This can be revealing. This may capture the essence of your team. That’s the first step. The hard work is then figuring out how to become that to which you aspire. But at least you will now have a compass (and perhaps your own true north).