HRD's pocket guide to... market research

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January's pocket guide outlines what you should know when it comes to market research

Why do I need to know about it?

Market research is relevant to HR for two reasons. Firstly, there’s the typical business-related market research (competitor analysis, pricing info, customer profiling etc.), which HRDs must have a handle on to be truly commercial. Then there’s more HR-specific market research: exploring the latest trends, seeing how HR is run in other businesses, internal focus groups, and so on.

“HR and market research actually have a huge amount in common – chiefly that they both focus on better human understanding and responding to people and their needs. Wherever they can, HR professionals should partner with research and insight teams to develop more sophisticated ways to understand the needs of their workforce,” says Jane Frost, chief executive of the Market Research Society (MRS).

When it comes to looking externally, it’s vital HR has a clear idea of what’s going on in their organisation’s sector. “Without this information any decisions will not be underpinned by business realities and insights, and are therefore taken in isolation and divorced from the business,” explains Inmarsat’s director of organisational effectiveness Marijke Cazemier.

“Taking note of what goes on in the world, the industry and the marketplace provides context and a backdrop for HR strategy and execution that is firmly established on the current and future needs of the business.”

What do I need to know?

Being able to understand the data (whether that’s from research/marketing teams or gathered by HR itself) is the main thing HR needs to know how to do. “HR teams need to understand both the techniques to research, as well as how to read and interpret market research results. Understanding how market research results are presented will help HR professionals to get behind the data and be able to find true insights,” says Alex Snelling, people director at Cath Kidston.

But this doesn’t need to be too involved. “In practice HR teams don’t need to understand too much of the nuts and bolts of research,” reassures the MRS’ Frost. She points out that relationships with the people who do understand the research results can sometimes be more important. “Within a large organisation with its own research or insight function, this means getting to know the market research lead and reaching out for appropriate support. In smaller organisations, which may not have an internal capability, HR practitioners can work with external partners for the help they need,” she says.

Where can HR add value?

HR has the deepest knowledge of how employees feel about the business. Employee surveys and the like can provide immediate research into wider customer and stakeholder feelings.

“Employee experiences within the organisation are key indicators of both customer experience and investor confidence,” explains Paula Jenkins, senior lecturer in human resource management at the University of Chichester. “The connection between talent and market value has been shown in recent high-profile cases such as Uber and Volkswagen; with impact on both their social value reputation and losses in the financial markets.”

By combining this internal data with knowledge about the external brand and market, HR can better develop the employer brand from the inside out, points out Jenkins. They will also be able to identify elements that will help draw in new talent. In sectors that are fast-moving or highly competitive for workers and/or customers, this could be a real advantage.

Anything else?

“Two trends are making this theme important for today,” asserts Snelling. “Firstly, the buzz around analytics and the potential of the much greater volume of information that we have available as HR professionals. Making this information meaningful takes the skills of the market researcher.

“More importantly, we are challenged to be more customer-driven, and the insights and focus on the customer that market research brings are valuable ways to make sure our efforts are aligned,” he adds.

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