Resisting the temptation to research

One of the reasons why direct marketing agencies and clients avoid conventional market research techniques for pre-testing and evaluation is that they are often misleading. The advertising creatives who are “notoriously wary of the use of research to pre-test their ideas” are behaving rationally and sensibly when they resist it.

If the decision-makers involved had listened to qualitative “pre-testing” findings we would never have seen one of BT’s most famous campaigns, the Maureen Lipman “Beattie” commercials, “Vorsprung durch Teknik” would be sitting crumpled in the copy writer’s rubbish bin and EastEnders would never have seen the light of day (well, yes, maybe the research did have a point there). And if quantitative research could accurately predict human behaviour we would now have the Labour government all polls told us to expect.

Research deals in surrogate measures – awareness, recall, effect on attitudes – but these are only surrogates for the real measure, which is effect on behaviour. So it is hardly surprising that, where direct, measurable, real behavioural response to marketing communications is available, clients prefer it to unreliable attempts to infer what might happen. They regard what people did as a better measure than what they can remember about an advertisement, a mail shot or an insert.

The most valuable use of research for direct marketing, as in every form of communication, is at the strategic planning stage. Defining who you are talking to (our databases do it far better than any form of survey research), how they feel about you, how they buy and choose in your product field is an integral part of the process of creating direct marketing communications – just as it is in conventional advertising. We use research where it is best used – in understanding our customers, what makes them tick and their relationship with our brand – rather than as a substitute for judgement or as a second-rate means of evaluation.

I do believe that there is a diagnostic value in research which direct marketing hasn’t fully appreciated yet; we can measure “what” superbly well, but it’s often difficult to persuade our clients to explore the “why” after the event. Perhaps this is where research companies should concentrate their efforts.

Christine Gray

Head of planning

Wunderman Cato Johnson

London NW1

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