Last week I was at Forrester's Consumer Forum in Chicago, where I gave a presentation with the title “If The Company Only Knew What The Company Knows: Introduction Of A Knowledge Center Can Empower Market Research Professionals.” For this presentation I did quite a lot of research and talked to many market researchers who have implemented some kind of knowledge management system. Knowledge management systems come in all kinds of flavors and with varying degrees of success, but the market researchers who managed to build a successful, engaging, and widely used system all agreed that it had changed their role.

In fact, the companies we spoke to all saw their knowledge management as a competitive advantage. Although we found a number of market researchers willing to participate in our research, none of them wanted to share all the ins and outs. In keeping with the theme, they said, "We don’t want others to know what we know."

But how can market researchers introduce knowledge management to their organizations? Based on our research, we see three different levels:

  1. Build a research center of excellence within the department.
  2. Implement a system for sharing and distributing (research) information with the organization.
  3. Develop a companywide knowledge management system.

The first level focuses mostly on information and knowledge sharing within the market research department. The second level is more about sharing and distributing research information in the organization, and at the third level, the market researcher is involved in developing a companywide knowledge management system. These levels don’t follow each other; they could live separately within an organization. What we found is that the reason for choosing one over the other depends on the culture of the organization, the influence the market research department has, and the maturity of the research department.

To be honest, most knowledge management projects fail because of a lack of participation and willingness to collaborate. This is either driven by a lack of need or a lack of reward, but it can also be the result of a non-collaborative culture or a lack of commitment from management (in word and deed).

But if knowledge management systems work, they can really change the organization. As one of my interviewees said, "We feel like masters of the universe." For the market research department, the introduction of the knowledge management system means that research projects build on existing data and insights, and therefore zoom in on new and additional information needs of the organization. Analyzing these results in the context of existing information enhances and deepens the understanding of the topic. The market research role changes from understanding the “here and now” to being more innovative. He states: “We get smarter all the time. Market research is not a snapshot in time anymore, but more like a movie: We understand what was before, we know what happens now, and we can help build an outlook of the future.”

I'll be sharing some best practices in another post soon, but in the meantime, I'd love to hear your thinking on this topic. Are you in the process of building a knowledge management system (or research portal)? At which level? What challenges do you face? Or do you have something in place, but don't get the activity you were hoping for? Structured knowledge management will be crucial for organizations in the future – what role do you see market research play in this?