Market research: insight for sore eyes

Planners and strategists crave it. Creative types (particularly Geoff Ross) typically loathe it. But whatever your feelings on the role of market research, it’s an important aspect of the marcomms landscape. So how can researchers enhance the effectiveness of their work? And what is its role in the modern business environment?

Ngaia Calder, a committee member with the Market Research Society of New Zealand (MRSNZ), says the industry is currently trying to widen its focus and convince smaller agencies, client teams and independents that it isn’t just the big players that are producing effective research and winning industry awards. As a result, it’s trying to start up some dialogue with the marketing community about what effectiveness really means that will inspire the research community and ultimately ramp up a bit of excitement about the MRSNZ effectiveness awards. And this dialogue was in full-effect last week at the MRSNZ breakfast function at Auckland University.

Evangelina Henderson, marketing director at World Vision and vastly experienced FMCG and Telecommunications marketer, was first on the podium and says research should be a marketer’s best friend.

“As a marketer, you really do feel exposed. When things go right, everyone’s your friend. But when things go wrong, it’s very visible and tangible. So you look for market research to help you along the way. It’s your ally, your friend, your tool to make great decisions, to develop strategy, to execute marketing plans in the best possible way. And also to find out what is and isn’t working.”

She says market research should be absolutely fundamental in major marketing roles, and not something on the sidelines. In the sometimes “murky” world of marketing, she says good research and powerful insights can give clarity, energise the team, excite and inspire the leadership and give confidence to those making proposals.

“Marketing is a little bit art, a little bit science and a little bit gut. But without market research, there’s nothing but gut.”

She implored researchers to put more effort into presentations and conduct more workshops with clients. But it’s not just about acquiescing to the client, either. Fortune favours the brave, she says, and clients are looking for research that helps them with strategic direction.

“You need to act as a partner. Every client sees their problem as bit different, so you can’t use a cookie cutter approach.”

Sharon Henderson, founder and director of full-service agency Federation, past board chairman of the New Zealand Marketing Association of New Zealand, past managing director of DDB New Zealand and chief executive of AIM Proximity for a decade, agreed and thinks modern research is about two things: timeliness and guts.

At present, she says there’s a mixture of “quick and dirty” (for example, online qualitative surveys, like the monthly Telecom XT omnibus which has been used to chart the brand’s progress) and more in-depth strategic research. And while online surveying can be crude, she says it is useful, as it tells you what people are thinking immediately and how people want to be communicated with.

In 2010, she says most clients want to get to market faster; they want the insight that will give them the jump on their competitors. And in a recession, it’s all about not missing opportunities, because a missed opportunity can be the difference between meeting budget and not. As such fast, short research processes are currently in demand.

“Have you got a quick research tool to see how bad things are? . . . Research that doesn’t have an opinion isn’t effective. So don’t be afraid to disagree. Most clients are shying away from research that tells them what they already know or that gives a range of opinions. And this is a recessionary trend that I think will become permanent.”

She says research can make a huge difference to a business and believes researchers have a duty to get off the fence and offer an opinion. She pointed to research for a product that ended up showing it had no real brand personality: consumers used the product but were ambivalent about it, so, on the back of that insight, the researchers suggested a change to the product and presented a new strategy. At first, the client disagreed, but it eventually led to a major relaunch.

“Research can be very powerful if it’s a collaboration between the partners. It can have an amazingly effective outcome”.

In Australia, she says market research is feared and hated. But in New Zealand, she thinks it’s largely embraced. In her view, however, its effectiveness depends on where the research starts out from. She isn’t convinced of its worth when it’s brought in at the end to test creative and thinks the best outcome is to use research further upstream. In agencies, she says planners and strategists love it, but creative departments feel as though their whole life is “spent living or dying by the sword of market research”.

David Innes, executive director of the Radio Broadcasters Association, a life member of the MRSNZ and convenor of judges at the MRSNZ effectiveness awards since their inauguration in 2000, started life as a a school teacher “when marketing hadn’t even been invented” and also believes it is important for researchers to be seen as business partners, not just a suppliers.

“My observation has been that the research companies and individuals that are successful are the ones that have an understanding of the business.” And not just a superficial understanding based on occasional meetings, but an in-depth feel for the whole enterprise. To ensure researchers have this, he suggests asking if they can go out in the field with the client for the day.

“It symbolises you’re interested, you learn a hell of a lot and it also helps you win the business.”

Innes pointed to research for Coruba that led to a realignment of the brand in New Zealand: prior to the research it was predicated on being sold as a rum. But it found it wasn’t competing with other rums. It’s main competition was Lion Red and Jim Beam. And that was a real “Damascan insight” that helped to shape promotional and planning strategy.

In his studies, Richard Brooks, associate professor of marketing at Auckland University and MRSNZ Effectiveness Awards chief judge in 2006, 2008 and 2010, focuses on rethinking marketing strategy and looks at the nature of intense brand relationships, particularly in the automotive sector. And for him, the boundaries of qualitative and quantitative research are being pushed out.

Brooks says research is now splitting into two distinct sections: strategic foresight and tactical insight. And because companies are under pressure, with limited time and more competition, a lot of the research is coming under tactical insight and used to find out, for example, the amount of brand damage and the best way to respond to it.

In his view, research is increasingly about setting up consumers and clients so they can get together and talk about issues. And in an attempt to better understand the consumer, he says more companies are using co-creation as a business model, which he says is ironic, given consumers often don’t actually know what they want. Planners have also increasingly gone in-house to agencies, and with so much focus on their clients, he says there are bound to be a few blind spots, blind spots that good research can help avoid.

  • The Market Research Effectiveness Awards are an opportunity to celebrate success and showcase excellent research. Entries close 12 May.

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