Better the devil you know?
The debate as to the best way to commission market research is very much down to personal preference.
However, in my experience, I tend to feel there is more to be gained through the approach of sticking with a single research agency than that of putting every new research brief out to tender.
In the case of an advertising agency commissioning research on behalf of various clients this can often entail different research companies for different clients.
I prefer this 'preferred supplier' approach for a number of reasons.
1. Every time a new research agency becomes involved on behalf of a client there is an inevitable learning curve. Obviously this can be minimised if a new agency has experience of the sector - but there is a learning curve none the less.
2. Many of the most useful/actionable research findings are based on insight into subtle shifts in the dynamics of a brand or market. Recognition of these subtle shifts enables us as marketeers to stay ahead of the game. Research agencies that have been involved in a research programme over a lengthy period are generally better placed to pick up on these subtle shifts.
3. Allied to this is the fact that the longer a research agency is involved the more they feel part of the team, and the more confident they are about making proactive recommendations.
4. One of the most valuable commodities in any business is time. The sentiment 'so much to do, so little time to do it' has never been more apt. This pressure on time puts a great onus on working in the most efficient way possible. The process of briefing numerous research agencies and assessing their responses is not always an efficient use of time.
5. There is also the potential for a more advantageous pricing structure if a preferred supplier approach is adopted. Not having to do time-consuming tenders for every project is a benefit to research agencies and this should be reflected in their fee structure.
6. A less tangible but extremely important benefit of having a preferred research agency is the degree of 'can do' that preferred supplier status engenders. Consequently there is a greater willingness to turn occasional jobs around in a ridiculous timeframe than would be the case if the research agency were only receiving projects from time to time.
Obviously, there are scenarios when it does make sense to spread the net and consider adding alternative research agencies to the roster.
There are occasions when it is logical to take a fresh look at the marketplace. In this instance it is difficult for a research agency to 'lose all the baggage' and a new agency in these circumstances may add real value.
Likewise, there are occasions when agencies may not have the resource or skill set to handle a particular project - they may not have a quantitative capability/expertise, for example - and again it makes sense to use more than one agency.
However, when weighing up all the pros and cons I feel that, most of the time, there are many benefits to be gained from working with your research agencies on an on-going basis.
Familiarity breeds contempt?
Since deregulation, ScottishPower has made, and continues to make, extensive use of market research to ensure that the needs and wants of our customers are heard and product/service offers improved accordingly. Working closely with a number of research agencies, we are able to provide this insight in actionable format and ensure that we gain value for money.
The process used for commissioning research is very similar to other large organisations. We have a research team who act as a client-agency interface for the business, who use their expertise to compile research briefs. We then normally invite around three suitable agencies to submit proposals for the work. The agencies are selected on the basis of their experience in the subject area and the research methodology. We recognise that each agency has its strengths, whether this is in qualitative or quantitative research, or specialisms in consumer or B2B markets, and this approach aims to capitalise on these. This is also a key reason why we don't use the same agency for every job; we haven't come across an agency yet who could meet all of our research requirements.
By commissioning research in this way, research projects benefit from being challenged or discussed from different perspectives; there is also no getting away from the fact that price is also put into context. The research team is then able to select the proposal that offers value for money in meeting the objectives of the brief.
There are clear advantages to be had in adopting this approach rather than having all our eggs in one basket, with the same research agency undertaking every piece of research. Not only are we able to capitalise on agencies' strengths and ensure that services are provided at competitive cost, but we are also able to take advantage of new research developments. Importantly, talking to more than one agency also ensures that the research can be undertaken in the required timescales. This approach also allows us to try new research agencies where appropriate.
The main downside to this approach is the time taken from sending the research brief to receiving proposals and selecting an agency, which can vary from a few days to a few weeks. However, we strongly feel that this is time well spent in ensuring that we get the most from the research and the research team include 'proposal time' in timescales with internal clients. That said, we do live in the real world and if results are required ASAP then we commission direct the agency we feel can best deliver the research objectives based on previous experience.
As to whether research companies like working with ScottishPower in this way, I would like to say, of course they do. However, having worked on agency side I know that research companies ideally want to maximise their clients' dependence on their services. What I can say is that ScottishPower has worked closely with a number of agencies over the years, successfully commissioning research on a project-by-project basis.
Marketing Information Manager,