Jim Law of MRUK (photography Paul Hampton)There is an opinion amongst some laypeople that market research is made up of men and women hanging around on street corners asking strangers to fill in their questionnaires that ‘won’t take more than a minute to complete, honest.’
Market research can, however, offer other, more sophisticated methods in gauging the reaction to either a product, service or organisation.
Both qualitative and quantitative information is used in order to find out the most about a client’s business, and to find what the company is doing right, and probably more importantly what they are doing wrong, in their bid to keep their customers satisfied.
But, with budgets within marketing departments being slashed, how effective is market research, and what benefits can it offer to other traditional marketing tools?
How do market research companies plead with their clients that the job they do is one of the most essential parts of the marketing process when it comes to a new advertising campaign, the launch of a new product, or gauging the consumer’s reactions and loyalty to an existing product?
Clients are notoriously budget conscious and are always looking for a way to get the most out of any marketing spend.
Sarah Davey of Nunwood Marketing believes that the main objective for many clients is the age-old adage of getting real value for their money.
Nunwood represents a variety of clients including Standard Life and VisitScotland.
“We are finding at the moment that clients are not necessarily cutting back their budgets and therefore getting rid of the market research,” says Davey.
“In fact in some ways it is the exact opposite. They seem to be looking for even more value for money and are trying to get the majority of research from us without having to spend anything extra. It manages to keep us busy at least,” she concedes.
Chris Eynon, managing director of NFO System Three, says that using market research when there is a downturn in the economic climate is something that shouldn’t be abandoned when a marketing budget is being slashed.
“In times of recession it really is down to whether the marketing departments take an enlightened view of what market research actually does. If, they realise that in a period of economic slow down that the cake is shrinking and they don’t want their share of the cake to shrink too, then the marketing department will keep the budget for market research in place. Otherwise the cake will shrink, and so too will their share of the market,” he says.
Eynon, who works with a variety of clients including many FMCG companies along with the Scottish Executive, maintains that both advertising and market research are entwined and when one goes the other might naturally follow.
“There is no point in us doing market research which will support an ad campaign if the money isn’t there for the adverts. Then to conduct any type of research would be a waste of time and money on the clients part.”
Managing director of Progressive Partnership mark Cuthbert agrees that his clients, in both the public and private sectors, along with advertising agencies, are looking for value for money: “Most modern agencies and clients realise the immense benefits that come from research. They are wanting more accountablitiy, tracking studies, tracking the value of their products and what the brand value is. When times are tough what clients are looking for essentially is brand reassurance, making sure that what they are doing is relevant to potential customers.”
Charlotte Winter, market research manager with Russell Ferguson Marketing, adds that both the market research and the advertising industries have been interlinked over the years, but whilst the advertising industry has suffered over the past year, market research appears to be flourishing.
The demand for information about potential and existing clients is essential for campaigns to work says Winter, who counts the Edinburgh Bicycle Corporation and Glens Vodka as clients.
“Whilst the advertising industry appears to be struggling to keep clients, they are using us in order to do the best by their clients. We can provide them with useful information that will hopefully help their campaign and ultimately the client in the long run. And that in turn makes everyone happy.”
Jim Law, managing director of MR UK, is highly critical of advertising agencies research departments, believing that clients really should look outwith the agency in order to find out if the campaign is going to work.
“The biggest agencies in Scotland, such as The Leith Agency and The Union understand the value of the market research that we do,” says Law. “But I do have a problem with the smaller agencies who think that they can save money by doing it all in-house, therefore calling themselves pseudo independents, and looking to see whether the advert actually will work, instead of looking at the bigger picture.
“They seem to be totally concerned with what kind of income they can generate from the client, instead of really thinking about what might be best for the client in the long run.”
Winter has not noticed too much of a slow down in the market research she has been conducting during the past few months – if anything she believes that they are bucking the trend at the moment.
“What clients are really looking for at the moment is a great deal of information. They are far more clued up than they have been in the past and are aware of what they need and how they can achieve it. Sometimes we might have to guide them slightly, but I would say that the level of what we do is far greater than it has been in previous years.”
Market Research in times of an economic downturn is an essential marketing tool says Jo Fawcett of George Street Research.
Fawcett’s clientlist includes a range of both public sector and financial services companies, and she believes that her clients are becoming more sophisticated in what they require from the research company, and are willing to specify what they want.
“In this day and age market research is taken far more seriously than it was say twenty years ago,” says Fawcett. “The research we do now is actually used by clients who realise that they can turn even negative research into something positive.
“They know why they are commissioning it and what they want it for. This is something that might not have happened a few years back. Being able to utilise the research that has been commissioned, puts them in a far stronger position than simply filing it away and not giving it a second thought.”
Law agrees that clients know what they are looking for when they commission research and have done so in order to learn more about their potential and actual customer base.
Impartiality is the key, and it is something that MRUK can and does supply, says Law: “Organisations who have always understood what the research we complete actually means and how they can use it, will keep coming back to us and take as much information away from it as possible. Those who have disregarded the information in the past will simply no longer commission it if their marketing budgets are cut, as they simply don’t understand how to use it effectively. Ultimately it is both themselves and their customers who lose out. There might be some initial savings in the short term, but they will suffer in the long term as they simply do not understand the type of benefits and information that we can offer their company and customer base.”