Economic downturn presents the most frustrating paradox for today’s marketers – budgets and headcounts are reduced but the need to make bold business decisions, and the significance of these decisions, has never been greater. You can’t make the right call if you don’t have all the facts so insight is a precious asset, but at the same time insight budgets are continually being slashed. Research buyers inevitably come under intense pressure to maximise the impact of their research spend, delivering demonstrable ROI for their businesses.
As a research buyer, it’s time to focus your efforts on those areas that can make a real difference to your business. If the business opportunity is small, or if the information is sought just to validate something you already know, or if it’s not going to help you achieve your business aims, then you’re on a hiding to nothing trying to demonstrate ROI. To put it simply, if it’s a nice to have rather than a must have, don’t waste your money!
Agencies should be equally discerning – we’re pretty ruthless in pushing back on research requests where we can’t see the potential for ROI, because we have to be: if it’s not in the client’s interest, or ours, to invest in research for research’s sake, we’d rather win their respect than win that particular project.
Collaboration benefits everyone
OK, so you have fewer staff and less spend. It’s therefore important to work with agencies that can understand things from your perspective, who take the time to understand how your business works and what you’re aiming to achieve. Agencies need to care about the outcomes for you; they need to appreciate the decisions that their research is feeding into and the impacts that these decisions will have on your business. It’s critical that an agency doesn’t just take your brief and answer your questions – they need to fully understand the issues you’re aiming to address.
If they don’t want to discuss your brief in more detail before putting their proposal together, then how will they know what you really need to resolve your business issues? And, of course, how will they be able to give you a sensible quote if they don’t appreciate the work they’ll need to undertake to meet your needs? Invest the time in briefing the interested parties properly, giving them access to key stakeholders, expressing what a successful outcome would look like for you – this is not the time for prescriptive briefs or arms-length working. If a client won’t discuss their brief with us then we’re likely not to make a bid, for the simple reason we wouldn’t be able to deliver valuable insight without truly understanding the problem.
Share your expectations
Be clear about your expectations and budget limitations. I’ve never understood the advantage of keeping the budget secret. Give agencies an idea of what you have to spend and you’ll save everyone a lot of time. In these competitive times no one is padding their costs, so all that happens if you disclose your budget is that you cut down the time that you spend reviewing bids. Just think how much of your life you’ll get back.
Be imaginative to stretch that budget
You can save cost by buying generic solutions, but, unless you are addressing a bog standard problem, this is a false economy. A tailored solution will get to the nub of your question and ensure that the results are easy to digest, and enable you to act immediately.
You could ask agencies to slash prices but this isn’t sustainable, particularly if you’re looking to develop an on-going partnership. Why not consider trades, such as testimonials, PR or referrals? These are all really valuable commodities to research agencies.
But, by all means, do demand greater value for money. The closer you work with an agency the more equipped they are to add value. By discussing what you want in detail, you can ensure that the research really fits your needs; you’re not paying for standard deliverables that you will never use. Ultimately, you should measure value in terms of what the research enables you to do, not in terms of price per interview.
Innovation, innovation, innovation
An agency’s attitude to innovation is a clear indicator of whether it will deliver or not. Agencies must look towards new techniques to keep up with the people they seek to engage with, so they can in turn deliver the most cost-effective solution possible.
An agency that is reluctant to use new techniques, or to engage with new media, is stuck in their ways and probably won’t deliver the best value for money. On the other hand, an agency that is hell-bent on using new media regardless of its fit for your specific needs is probably more interested in their own processes and should also be avoided.
You need to know what options are available to you, and furthermore, the merits and downsides of these, in order to convince your stakeholders and make an informed decision – it’s the agency’s job to provide you with this.
Needless to say, the acid test of any research is what you get at the end. Favour those agencies that take the care to focus on what you will be able to do as a result of the research, not the format the deliverable will come in.
Don’t be afraid to ask for anonymised examples of similar work, and of course for references. Does the report tell a story? Is it compelling, challenging and engaging? Are the conclusions and recommendations credible and insightful? Is this what you want to see at the end of your project? If not, then it’s probably not the agency for you. And always consider how they will help you to act on the research because the last thing anyone can afford in today’s economic climate is a report sitting on a shelf gathering dust.
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