Institutional Market Researchers: Companions, Diplomats or Buddhas

Dirk Ziems

In light of the current quality and trust debate, interpersonal values serve as an important link between manufacturer, institutes, and consumers. Here are some of these essential personal skills.

Market researchers and doctors actually have something in common – people don’t call them when everything is going great. Okay, some clever people might take preventive care or have developed their personal health lifestyle that includes regular medical check-ups. But most of us only go see a doctor if things are not running smoothly.

And just like doctors usually face complex situations when they have to give a diagnosis, market researches are confronted with a close net of relations, methods and processes within a business – sometimes interacting or contradictory, but always inextricably linked and challenging. How do they have to act within these “operating systems” in order to maintain their standing as an incorruptly functioning, scientific authority?

In fact, this is mostly a matter of implicit skills. If market researchers want to do an inspiring and successful job, they do not only have to explore in a reasonable and meaningful way how brands and markets work but also show abilities that would qualify them for diplomatic duty.

Frist of all, this task requires basic communicative skills, covering a spectrum from sensitive negotiating in sales pitches to an enthusiastic, captivating presentation of the final report. In addition to that, market researchers, who usually work with a variety of teams, have to be able to act as mediators for the internal communication of each group and to defuse potential tensions.

Implementing insights into business reality also requires a particularly high degree of sensitivity and empathy. These transformational processes often meet with resistance. No matter how good the research results are – they will be useless if those who have to implement them cannot be convinced to get on board.

If market researchers want themselves and their services to be appreciated and accepted, they must position themselves in a way that they can identify relevant contents in what seems an endless flood of information and know how to distinguish these from dispensable contents. Clients expect them to be able to tell whether certain phenomena are comparably insignificant trends or long-term developments calling for action. The ability to recognise major trends of (consumer) society and to draw the right conclusions is considered a key competence of market researchers.

This characterisation also provides the key to answering the question of how market researchers should act within their networks. Being fully aware of the tense and turbulent nature of their work environment, they should neither dramatise nor be overly ecstatic – but rather try and pour oil on troubled waters, to mediate and to calm the waves. We can only maintain networks when we appreciate the people we are dealing with and their needs. Manipulative techniques trying to expose the weaknesses of others or inciting opinion leaders are obviously a no-go. Sharing inside information about a client’s competitor or competing institutes might seem advisable in some situations in order to quickly make progress. In the end, however, it will erode the fundamental capital of market research: trust.

If market researchers cannot (completely) live up to these implicit factors, they will face headwind and dissent. At the same time, it is crucial for them to not lose sight of who they really are. Mediation and empathy have their limits. Market researchers must never become uncritical servants or mere assistants trying to please the clients and get them what they want. Quite the contrary, for their own sake and standing in this volatile hierarchy it is essential that they stand up for their convictions.

In a nutshell: today’s institutional market researchers do not only have to be rational service providers. They need to be companions, diplomats, sages, Buddhas – and the last (wo)men standing. Thankfully, human skills are still the greatest asset in our abstract and digital, complex and fast-paced world.


Rochus Winkler Co-Founder and Shareholder concept m
Rochus Winkler

Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

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