Researchers Can Make Their Way to the Boardroom


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I just wonder when we’re going to be ready?

Quoting Jack Neff in his 9/25 Ad Age article. “Few researchers ever move beyond their staff function into top marketing or management roles at marketers, agencies or even leading research companies.” He goes on, “Researchers relatively low status leads marketers to ignore their advice or never seek it in the first place.”

So the question is why, at a time when it’s increasingly important to understand our customers, prospects as well as our position in the marketplace, is research becoming less important rather than more important?

Researchers have long to been viewed as providers of data, of information. As a group, we have not done much to help our companies or clients turn information into profitiable action.

Years ago, I remember a client taking one of my reports and putting a ruler to it. He remarked, “It not very thick.” He said, “Where’s the term paper factor? It should be nice and thick. Then my people will think they got something for our money.”

In research, value has often equated to asking lots of questions, getting lots of answers, producing thick reports and making long mind-boggling presentations. It’s now starting to change, thankfully.

The digital age has put companies awash in a sea of information. And they are realizing information alone only weighs them down. Ever so slowly savvy marketers are coming to regard research as useless unless it leads to action.

As such, researchers must find ways to become more integral to the decision making process. To do this, they must first and foremost view themselves both as purveyors of information and as facilitators of action.

Research planning must be more sophisticated and thoughtful. The questions asked of customers and prospects more incisive and meaningful. The information generated put in a context of actions that are realistic to undertake.

Researchers will ascend to the boardroom only when they become so important to their companies that they can’t be shut out any longer. It will take guts, assertiveness and a strong desire to be heard and to make a difference. These are traits not usually associated with the research personality.

Neff further speculates that, “Putting more researchers into C-level roles, perhaps as chief strategy officers, may help.” While this would certainly be a good start, it’s not something that is simply given. It must be earned.

It we’re ever going to sit at that boardroom table, what is needed is nothing short of a shift in the way we as researchers view ourselves and what we must do to have our voices make a real difference. I’d like to think our time is near.

Bob Kaden
The Kaden Co.
Bob Kaden is the author of Guerrilla Marketing Research and president of The Kaden Company, a marketing research consultancy that works with clients in planning and applying research to make more money. He is a frequent lecturer and trainer in the areas of creativity and marketing research processes.


  1. Robert

    I agree with your synopsis of the lot of the researcher today: They provide a valuable if unappreciated service by listening to the voice of various stakeholders and providing insights to the rest of the organisation. It is the rest of the organisation, with an appreciation of the organisation’s dynamic capabilities, control over available budgets and the experience of gettings things done, that is responsible for putting the insights into action.

    Whilst researchers lack this broader understanding of the organisation’s capabilities, lack control over budgets and lack front-line experience, they will rightly remain as suppliers to existing C-level executives.

    Indeed, I am pretty sure that the Chief Research Officer, would be another example of title inflation that no organisation really needs.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager


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