Cracking the research industry Code

Geoff Gosling the Chairman of the MRS Market Research Standards Board explains what the new Code of Conduct means for marketers

Geoff Gosling
Geoff Gosling

Earlier this month The Market Research Society (MRS) announced that it was updating its research Code of Conduct. So why is this important to marketers? And what will it mean for some of your activities?

The advent of a web filled with user-generated content and social networks, combined with ubiquitous computing in the home, workplace and on the move, has fundamentally changed data collection. It presents a huge opportunity, but also a challenge to the traditional research concepts of anonymity, confidentiality and privacy.

The recent revisions to the MRS Code of Conduct respond to these challenges by setting universal principles and rules for market research which are flexible and responsive to change. It uses language that is technologically and methodologically neutral, while setting a framework suitable for the innovative new techniques that research has to offer marketers.

One of the biggest changes for marketers has been brought in as a requirement of the Data Protection laws. The new code introduces a restriction on using client products and services as research incentives. Within the Data Protection Act 1998 and related legislation, research has specific exemptions which other activities such as direct marketing and sales promotion do not have (including not having to screen against opt-out services such as the Telephone Preference Service). However, for these exemptions to apply, research must not contain commercial messages or promote the aims and ideals of the client.

Supplying client incentives to encourage participation in research is clearly a promotional message – a view shared by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the regulator responsible for data protection. If MRS had not changed this rule, marketers could have inadvertently breached the Data Protection Act by supplying their incentives as part of a research project.

However, the good news is that MRS has provided supplementary guidance which clearly sets out what you have to do if you wish to supply client incentives as part of a project – the MRS Regulations on Using Research Techniques for Non-Research Purposes. So, if you want to build a customer engagement panel and incentivise respondents with your own product, then take direct steps as a consequence of that engagement.

These are exciting times and the new MRS Code ensures that researchers have the right regulatory framework in place to work with marketers to make the most of the opportunities that are available.

The new MRS Code of Conduct is binding from the 1st April 2010 and is available on the MRS website – www.mrs.org.uk

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