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Business Education How companies can prevent market research from gathering dust on backroom shelves

Many companies conduct market research but then just file it away without taking any action on it.

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The Globe’s bimonthly report on research from business schools.

In an earlier career as a business consultant and manager, Gary Gebhardt was often struck by how often companies would pay for market research – and then not use it.

Market research, after all, is intended to help organizations gain a competitive edge through a better understanding of their customers, distribution channels and the economic landscape in which they operate.

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“In spite of this, I’ve seen companies that had entire floors of stored market research reports, but the only people who knew about those reports were the people who commissioned them and those responsible for filing them,” says Dr. Gebhardt, now an associate professor of marketing at HEC Montréal.

“It was like libraries full of books that no one read.”

Years later, Dr. Gebhardt explores the phenomenon – and how organizations can better encourage the use of market intelligence within the firm – in a new study published in the Journal of Marketing.

The study draws from the real-life practices of corporate market research managers to communicate and disseminate market intelligence within their organizations. From that, it identifies key practices that work (and some that don’t).

Critically, the study underscores a need for organizations to ensure its employees first share a common understanding of the market before any attempts are made to distribute market intelligence and ask people to make sense of it.

“Managers cannot assume that by ‘sharing’ market intelligence through e-mails or PowerPoint slides that anyone will understand those documents except those directly involved in their creation,” says Dr. Gebhardt in an e-mail.

A better strategy is to first engage the emotions and empathy of staff, ensuring they understand the viewpoint of customers and distribution channels, according to the study. Managers can achieve this by providing “irrefutable evidence” of the characteristics, behaviours, needs and wants of customers and channels. Once that work is done, people receiving the intelligence have a framework to understand it.

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“Basically, to paraphrase Albert Einstein, ‘We don’t believe what we see. We see what we believe,'” says Dr. Gebhardt.

The lack of use of market research has been a hot topic of research among marketers since the 1980s, and remains one of biggest problems facing marketing managers, according to Dr. Gebhardt. That’s true even in the age of Big Data, where knowledge and data collection capabilities are rapidly increasing, yet market insight is not, the study says.

To date, the findings of other studies into this area have not been actionable, says Dr. Gebhardt. Co-authored by Frances Farrelly and Jodie Conduit, this latest study is intended to correct that pattern.

Story ideas related to business school research in Canada can be sent to darahkristine@gmail.com.

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