Hard-Nosed Managers Use Research More
The next time you find yourself wishing for a kinder, gentler manager or business client to work for, think again. This may be the kind of client who will not make the best use of your research, which for most researchers is one of the most depressing outcomes of all.
That is what a fascinating new study published in the Journal of Marketing Research suggests. A team of academic researchers with funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation conducted four experiments with 480 experienced marketing managers. They measured and tested each manager’s ability to “empathize” via their ability to imagine themselves as their own customers. Then they explored how empathy correlates with (1) ability to predict what customers really want and (2) the extent to which they effectively use market research data in their predictions.
The results? Hard-nosed managers—the less empathic ones—better understand what their customers want because they more effectively filter out their personal biases. In addition, they more effectively assimilate and apply market research data. The authors of the research summarize:
“Taking a consumer perspective increases the influence of managers’ personal consumption preferences on predicted consumer preferences. In other words, empathic managers project their personal consumption preferences onto consumers, whereas nonempathic managers are less affected by their personal consumption preferences. This finding is clearly at odds with the lay belief that empathic managers are able to abstract away from their own tastes to gain superior insights about the preferences of their consumers. Our results also imply that empathic managers are less likely to rely on market research results when forming predictions of consumer preferences. This finding is not in line with the notion that empathy is positively related to managers’ market orientation, which includes responsiveness to market intelligence.”
Most researchers crave seeing and knowing that our diligent efforts and hard-won insights are being used by the managers we work for. Sure we want to work for nice people. But this research suggests that working for the hard-nosed data-driven rationalists may offer us the biggest professional reward.
(P.S. About getting your research used, you might enjoy our introductory video on this very topic!)