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Today I’m pleased to share a guest post by Paul Laughlin.

When I talk with research leaders across the UK (and Europe), I consistently hear some common woes.

The problem for research leaders today
Many feel under-utilised and almost all suggest they appear to have less influence than they had in the past.

With regard to the cause of this “demotion,” many cite the rise of executive interest in Big Data and Analytics. It seems that customer research is now often viewed as the poor relation to a more “modern” data analysis solution.

The fact that market or customer research often still sits in a department from data and analytics teams can exacerbate the problem.

Too few companies bring all these components of holistic customer insight together.

Yet, despite this apparent “doom and gloom” for research professionals, the wind appears to be changing in the wider marketing community. At the start of 2016, a number of data and marketing leaders were asked for their predictions about key themes for the year. Many cited the need for more focus on emotion.

In this thought-provoking piece, Bruce Temkin shares the criticality of engaging with emotion when designing better customer experiences.

So, if marketers and CX leaders need to better engage with people’s emotions and ensure communications have the emotional impact they wish, surely there will be a growing need for research skills. What might that look like in the context of the current technological change driven by Big Data and Data Science? Well, they say you often need to look to the past to predict the future. So, how about the 14th Century?

The Renaissance
What has a 14th century European phenomenon of major changes in culture and society got to do with research today?

As with most historical events, historians disagree as to causes of this explosion of hunger for learning and rediscovery of classical art. But many cite the invention of the printing press. In their day, this meant their very own “information revolution.” Suddenly, not just bibles but hundreds of classic texts could be rediscovered and put into the hands of the (richer) common people.

An interesting facet of this explosion of facts and learning, though, is it also sparked an equal focus on art and culture. There was a passion to explore what it meant to be human: from studies of the human form in Michelangelo’s statues to the internal motivations laid bare in Machiavelli’s “The Prince.”

So, what could this mean for our current information-obsessed society? Could those forecasters be right? Will we see our own resurgence of the importance of understanding our humanity and emotional expressions? Personally, I think so. Perhaps even more so as we face the rise of increasingly sophisticated machine learning and automation.

I’m certainly looking forward to a new wave of fresh interest in research and psychological understanding of customers.

How to ride the wave that’s coming
Does that mean research leaders can just relax and wait for this salvation to come galloping in to rescue them? No, of course not. Despite the renewed need for a research-led, more holistic understanding of our customers. It is also true that past approaches have been discredited. Few senior leaders still have any tolerance for sitting through hour-long debriefs, just for agencies to showcase how much work they’ve done.

Instead, there is a need for research leaders to become trusted advisers: to proactively identify business needs and use a more holistic view to raise relevant issues and potential solutions. Partnerships will be needed (including with those data and analytics leaders who might feel more like a threat right now).

In this post published in Quirks magazine, David Santee shares how research leaders need to develop multiple styles of influencing (logos, pathos and ethos).

How fitting to be focusing on advice originally taught by Aristotle, as we talk about the Renaissance and people’s love of classical texts at that time. I’ve also shared before how Socrates can help you think about your questioning as a leader, to get to the real business need.

What next?

So, what about you? If you are a research leader, consider these 3 questions:

  • Do you relate to the crisis of diminished influence mentioned at the start of this post?
  • Are you optimistic that a “renaissance of research” is coming for emotional marketing and many other planned improvements?
  • What are you doing to develop your skills so you are ready to “ride that wave” and have more influence internally?

I hope that helped and that you protect some time to both think about this issue and invest in your own development. Tomorrow’s business problems will surely need a renaissance in leadership within research teams, as much as a renaissance in those technical research skills.

Paul Laughlin has over 20 years experience of leading teams to generate profit from analysing  data. Over the last 12 years he’s created, lead and improved customer insight teams across Lloyds, TSB, Halifax and Scottish Widows. He’s delivered incremental profit of over £10m pa and improved customers’ experiences.