Market research is all about numbers. And not just the numbers arising from the research data; the industry itself is faring relatively well during the recession. GfK NOP reported a 2.8% rise in operating income over 2008, while Sir Martin Sorrell predicts that integrating his newly-purchased TNS into the WPP group will save it more than £52m.
With advertising revenues so volatile, market research offers a more stable set of revenues for communications businesses. When Sorrell fought a lengthy battle to ensure that WPP won TNS, rather than allowing it to merge with GfK, it was because of the potential of the steady income stream at research businesses.
But what is the future for market research? At Marketing Week Live, brands including easyJet, BT, Barclays, Co-operative Pharmacy, Royal Mail, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever will reveal the techniques and insights driving their businesses.
Mike Cooke, global director for online development at GfK NOP, says that the most successful brands over the next few years will be those learning to operate in a world that might be termed “Research 2.0”. While traditional techniques, such as focus groups, are still valuable indicators of consumer intent and opinions, there are now numerous tools that can arm brands more effectively than ever before. Cooke identifies four key trends that visitors to Marketing Week Live will be able to use in their own strategies in future.
1. The social solution
The past few years, Cooke claims, have seen the research industry adopt techniques from the world of Web 2.0. He explains: “The combination of social computing tools and an understanding of social networks is allowing us to build new types of research communities as well as observe organically created ones. In these, respondents can interact not only with the researchers but with our clients and with each other.”
The impact of social tools on research goes beyond simply noting what people say on their Facebook profiles or following their Twitter feeds. It is about adapting the core processes used in research to understand how people express themselves. Businesses can then apply this to their marketing efforts.
“Our behaviours are becoming ever more measured in real time, with the emergence of a ‘confessional society’ in which people are actively engaged in revealing things about themselves through user-generated content. These new transactional and ethnographic databases will offer researchers rich new fields from which to cultivate client insight,” says Cooke.
2. Changing business models
Kim Dedeker, former vice-president of consumer and market knowledge at Procter & Gamble, has argued that the balance of research spending, with 80% going on testing and evaluation and only 20% on innovation and creativity, needs to be adjusted. Rather than firms relying on old-style report card accountability metrics, adds Cooke, there is now a need for companies to become “learning organisations” that put people at the centre of their marketing thinking.
As brands reshape their understanding of research and how they use it, they will also change the way they do business. When research informs companies not only about declared purchase intention and likes or dislikes but subtle feelings and likelihood to recommend, it alters the way they carry out their strategies.
3. Creative collaboration
Market research is often focused on providing unbiased data, extrapolating results and intentions to fit geographic and social consumer profiles. But there is also an increasing amount of value in undertaking what is being called the “collaboration approach”.
Cooke explains that on a recent project for The Office of Fair Trading, he oversaw a survey of stakeholders. Rather than polling each person and aggregating the data, his company developed a “community platform”.
The community exposed the participants to responses from others after initial qualitative interviews. The resulting discussion and collaboration between the respondents meant that the final report suggested new issues and trends that could only have been determined by the community-based discussion.
4. Code of conduct
With a social media age now upon us, Cooke says: “This raises a host of ethical issues for an industry that has traditionally defined itself by our belief in ‘anonymity’ and ‘confidentiality’. As researchers use the new databases and tools we will need to redefine our rules of engagement with participants. Transparency, reputation and trust are likely to be the important concepts going forward.”
Also appearing at the Insight Show
RocSearch aims to explain how firms can best use research and insight to inform their strategies during a recession. It will reveal case studies and demonstrate how an “engagement” or “consultative” model of operations between clients and agencies can help generate the best results.
Visitors to the RocSearch stand will also have the chance to win up to £250,000 of services.
Conquest Research, which recently signed up new clients Heinz and Scottish Power, will be showing off its Metaphorix tool (see story in 7 May edition of Marketing Week) which uses social media techniques, such as avatars, to help understand underlying consumer feelings about brands.