Ivy Exec recently spoke with Sean Connell, Founder and Principal at The Connell Group, to learn how they bridge the gap between market research and brand strategy.
In 2000, Sean noticed that many research companies were selling ‘research for the sake of it’. He decided to found the Connell Group when he saw the opportunity for a more business-centric research firm that would produce collaborative output with immediate implications for the bottom line.
How was The Connell Group founded?
We originally started the Connell Group because we found that companies siloed two sides of their business: marketing and market research. Market research is connected with marketing — one cannot happen without the other. Marketers help grow their companies’ businesses by leveraging knowledge of their consumers, and they learn about their consumers via market research. We wanted to bring a more business-minded marketing acumen to market research, always keeping clients’ business goals top-of-mind.
How are you changing the face of market research?
Everyone in market research likes to say that the research should be actionable. We think that is a passive term. Of course, research should be actionable – why else would you be doing it? The problem is that most companies only provide research without considering the scope of the work or the project. This flawed approach results in output that is only actionable if the marketer puts in all the work themselves. We combine the market research and marketing skillset by thinking about the end from the very beginning – thinking about how to use the data to lead to business growth, and decide what tactics can be used from the research that is fielded.
Where do your company’s best ideas come from?
Sometimes, just to get to the end point, you have to get messy along the way. We realized that you have to look in a lot of different places in different ways. One of the things that really benefited us over the years is that we have worked in multiple industries. While most of our business is healthcare and life sciences focused, we still do a lot of B2B and technical complex market research. When we work in CPG, we can transfer that skillset to healthcare, and then transfer it to B2B and so on. It keeps us sharp and always learning. We’re not afraid to incorporate an idea from anywhere. Recently, we gave an intern a full-time job, gave him a complex math problem, and he brought fresh ideas to the table. If you tap into everyone, ideas are likely to come from anywhere.
What are your areas of focus within market research?
A lot of the projects we do are predicated on understanding gatekeepers and stakeholders. People who have an impact on their own business, and those who are on the front lines of integrating new and different products into their system. An example is a hospital administrator or CFO who is thinking about the next major IT purchase they are going to make. They might have a Chief of Surgery of the OR who is planning to use new medical devices, and we need to appeal to that individual in particular, not just the CFO. In B2B – for example, a CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer) making purchases for new healthcare benefits will hear from the workers if the insurance isn’t working.
What advice would you like to offer to those in our community who participate in market research projects?
The first thing is to recognize that you are helping to spur an idea or rattle an industry. Your opinion truly does count. There are things a participant in research can learn as well – about topics they thought they were familiar with, but which turn out to be richer and more complex than they knew. Second, is to enjoy the process. You are typically being paid for your time, so you should give your best effort to help the people who have invested resources in you. Above all, it’s always fun.
What is your outlook on the market research industry as a whole? Where do you see the Market Research industry heading in the next 3-5 years?
I think the industry is starting to stabilize. We went through a lot of technology-driven growth in the last 10 years. The growth will continue, but now buyers of market research are less enthralled with the shiny penny and are looking for more value. They want to see the money they are spending on market research is going towards their bottom line, they want something to implement which will help them grow their company.
What do you have planned for 2017?
We have been expanding and refining a number of core competencies that our clients have found particularly valuable over the years. One is our unique use of repertory grids for a host of qualitative and quantitative insights, ranging from uncovering how people think about any given market, set of brands, or category, to populating segmentation and discreet choice questionnaires. Another 2017 foray for us is to expand our needs-mapping process which helps companies uncover, map, and understand the connections between functional needs to higher-order emotional needs. This allows more informed innovation, optimal insight and brand positioning development, and it allows for our client’s marketing team to make decisions that drive business growth with confidence and enthusiasm.
Sean Connell on TEDx: Listening With Your Eyes