With research the key to product development, six specialists in the sector answer questions posed by Marketing Week about the burning issues that face the discipline.
Claire O’Connor (CO):Director of EMEA research, insights and innovation at Discovery Networks Europe.
Anna Cremin (AC): Head of research and consumer insight at Pearl & Dean.
Greg Deadman (GD):Sector research manager – specialist markets and international clients at Compass Group UK & Ireland and a member of the Market Research Society (MRS) company partner service.
Alison Jones (AJ):Head of research operations in customer loyalty & insight at BT and a member of the MRS company partner service.
Simon Piper (SP): Head of business development and partnerships at Consumerchoices.
Sinéad Jefferies (SJ): Head of business intelligence at Royal Mail and a member of the MRS company partner service.
Marketing Week (MW) How closely do you work with the marketing team when developing campaigns and initiatives?
AJ The research and insight team is fully integrated into the marketing team. We have an ad tracker that evaluates the effectiveness of our campaigns. We’ve also introduced pretesting of TV ads and are looking at introducing a standard format for pretesting direct marketing, so we’re more involved in the creative process than we’ve ever been previously.
SJ Our insight team sits within our marketing services division, so we’re in close contact with the marketing communications team all the time. We use research to develop and test propositions for campaigns, so we liaise with the product teams and the marketing communications team. We’ve recently brought the evaluation of marketing campaigns in-house, so we are very involved in examining the sales impact and joining that up with proposition development to understand why a campaign has or hasn’t worked.
GD The insights team forms part of the marketing department and we consider ourselves to be marketers who specialise in research. The team is involved in all of the department’s internal and external research and also supports the wider organisation to allow colleagues to make informed decisions based on hard facts, rather than assumptions.
Insight is a central part of our business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing activity, influencing how we develop our consumer offers and how we respond to the requirements of our clients.
MW Has the recession meant that you rely more heavily on research for evidence before the brand embarks on marketing campaigns?
SJ Campaign return on investment (ROI) has always been a key metric, but obviously much closer attention is paid in these challenging times – particularly when we’re setting marketing budgets for next year. However, ROI is not the only measure. With our recent TV campaign, there was as much interest in what the research was telling us about increased awareness and consideration as in complex econometric evaluation.
AC We have seen no more requests for evidence than usual. Both our marketing and sales teams are research-literate and use the work I do at all times, which means the provision of evidence is always there to reassure brands of the effectiveness of cinema campaigns in reaching the right consumers.
GD Compass has always relied heavily on insights at the start of every project and internal or external initiative, whether it be establishing new consumer brands or launching marketing campaigns. We evaluate all of our activity for its contribution to the business’s Management and Performance (MAP) Framework to ensure we get and give best value for money for our campaigns.
MW What innovations are you embracing to carry out research differently in 2010?
AC In 2010, we will be developing our consumer panel to expand the Movietalk quantitative survey [which asks cinemagoers about their cinema and lifestyle habits]. Additionally, I will be increasing the number of online focus groups that I conduct in order to increase two-way conversations between Pearl & Dean and our consumers.
GD In 2010, the insights team will be embracing a variety of vehicles – both new and existing – to improve communication between these sectors. We already use webinars and the company intranet to engage the business and to communicate the “insight into action” message to all Compass employees.
SJ It may not be innovation, but one thing that I would like us to get right in 2010 is understanding the business need and the potential commercial impact before embarking on any research. I think we can save as much money through ensuring that any research is absolutely justified.
I’m always up for a new innovative technique if it’s the right solution, but only if we’ve really explored why we’re doing the research at all. The other thing is continuing to increase our use of analytics. We’ve been developing this capability within the insight team over the past year and it’s really starting to take off.
A particular focus for the year ahead is work on integrating research with customer data to provide a much more holistic view of the customer and understand links between attitudes and behaviour.
AJ While we’ve embraced online research, there’s some way to go before we are using digital media to its full potential. We need to look at how we can use mobile devices and digital TV as a more effective mode of research. Although there’s been quite a lot of work this year understanding what is said in the social media, we need to investigate further the areas we can use as a research tool.
MW Is digital market research benefitting your department? Does it throw up any challenges?
CO Our primary focus is the in-depth analysis of our target audience, including their lifestyles, habits and preferences. The digital space varies greatly across our markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and our viewers’ habits do as well, so understanding those differences is both a challenge and an opportunity for us.
SJ Absolutely. Because so many of our customers are businesses, online research is a key tool for us. We’re just launching a revitalised online customer panel – we get customers involved in initial concept testing, but also give them feedback on what’s happening.
I think the key challenge is about ensuring something is a worthwhile project. If it’s quick and cheap to do, the temptation is to be lazy about getting the objectives right. But the impact is less if it doesn’t come up with any useful findings.
AC Yes, online certainly benefits my department, making certain projects smoother, quicker and more flexible. However, following a test of online versus face-to-face methodologies over the summer, along with the Cinema Advertising Association, we decided to keep certain areas of our research face-to-face. Specifically, our reach and frequency monitoring continues to provide us with audience data that we can be confident in.
AJ We’ve definitely seen a shift towards online research, the obvious benefits being cost and timescales. I think the biggest challenge is ensuring we use the right methodology for the right audience and that the research is representative of the audience we want to capture. We also need to ensure that we use the most appropriate mode of contact for our respondents to ensure we maintain high levels of respondent engagement.
GD The insights team uses online surveys wherever possible because they offer many benefits, including higher response rates, quicker turnaround time and a requirement for fewer resources. Our biggest challenge with digital market research is how we can replicate these efficiencies in the areas of our business that rely on hard copy paper surveys. We will be addressing this in 2010.
SP Digital market research has helped us to develop our services to meet customers’ changing requirements and expectations. It provides us with valuable information on the broader dynamics of our markets. Through this, we have been able to share findings with our commercial partners and the press.
Collating research over a protracted period allows us to monitor market trends in the broadband market and refine our PR, product development and search strategy based on that. The challenges from generating an ever-increasing amount of user data and market research is in how to find insight and use it to real commercial advantage.
MW With so much data freely available to brands via social networks, does this pose a threat to traditional research?
CO No, in fact it can better inform the structure of “traditional” studies. We can create a hypothesis and explore in greater detail a wider and, in some cases, more relevant sample with great speed. Twitter alerts allow us to see unsolicited comments about our brands at any time. Gauging opinions online is only one facet of our research, but it is a valuable tool.
AC I disagree that traditional research has to suffer because there is so much data available to brands via social networks. Data of this kind needs to be taken in the context it is meant – short, sweet and non-specific.
Researchers and brands will always look to save money and some feel that social network data does just this. More often than not, it raises more questions that need to be explored further, possibly through traditional methods. Yes, it may be cheaper on some occasions, but this does not necessarily mean it saves you any time or provides sufficient reflective and accurate data.
GD Social media should be considered as an additional tool providing us with an opportunity to enhance traditional research. Although social media is an increasingly important part of our marketing mix, at present, it is still difficult to gather and interpret information relating to how individuals really feel about brands. We will continue to combine our use of social media with traditional research methods.
AJ I would describe social media more as an opportunity than a threat. My job is to understand consumers and we will use any available valid information. The biggest challenge we face, because of the sheer scale of social networking sites, is ensuring we have a good view of what is being discussed and can use that information to enhance our knowledge of consumer needs and behaviours. It is general practice before commissioning any research to see what information is already available; this can reduce the scope for traditional research but it rarely replaces it completely.
SJ The more data and information we can draw together to build a story, the better. What does matter is taking a sensible, balanced approach to it. In the same way we’d be wary of launching a new product or entering a new market based only on a handful of in-depth interviews, we also need to think about the robustness of the data from social networks. As researchers, our skill should be in assessing all available data and coming up with a sensible story. I’d be worried if someone made a significant commercial decision based purely on some Twitter feeds.
But as researchers, traditional or otherwise, we should welcome the opportunity to build up as complete a picture as possible of the customer and market – whether that’s integrating off-the-shelf market reports with primary data, or bringing some flavour from social networks to a tracking study. If it adds value and we put it in the right context, I’m all for it.
MW Do you think research as a discipline is taken seriously enough at board level?
AC Research is always taken seriously at board level and as a crucial part of any brand, it should remain to be.
GD The input of our insights team is taken very seriously; we have marketing representation on the board of directors and there is significant investment into our marketing department as a whole. In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in the reliance of research from the board, so much so that insight is now at the heart of our decision making processes.
We also find ourselves increasingly supporting other departments (HR, retention, new business sales, purchasing and training in particular) for internal surveys, data collection and analysis. Greater control of the end product and of the budget means that our in-house option is becoming ever more popular.
SJ More important is the quality of what we’re saying. The last thing I want is my board thinking about the research we’ve done. In some ways it should be irrelevant to them how we do the research, or whether we do it at all, providing we make commercially sound recommendations and bring the voice of the customer to the table – that’s what’s important. If we worry too much about the voice of research being heard, we’ll never get anywhere. We need to prove to our boards that the input from our teams is a valuable asset, and the only way to do that is deliver a compelling story and speak to them about pounds, not percentages.
SP Successful media companies take research seriously and use it to their strategic advantage. Any experienced board will recognise its value.
MW What key challenges do you expect your department to face in 2010?
AJ Budgets, resources and timescales are always a challenge, but I think the big one for us in 2010 will be the changing landscape of our business and ensuring we provide the support to get those changes right. There are lots of exciting developments for BT retail consumers, such as the delivery of fibre broadband. We need to provide the customer perspective to help develop and market products and services and ensure the best possible customer experience.
AC In 2009, I developed our Movietalk survey further and worked with the CAA in developing the industry currencies (FAME and Film Monitor). I think 2010 is the year for assessing how these developments have improved our data collection and what new questions could yet be answered in the future.
GD Our biggest challenge is reaching all of our consumers as a result of operating in such diverse markets – from offices and schools, oil rigs to Army barracks and everything else in between. Finding the right tool for the job is key to our success.
SJ Not much different from last year – growing expectations from the business, with tighter cost control. More from less, as always. For me, the key to succeeding in the face of these challenges is having the right people, both within the team and in our partner agencies, and I think we’ve got both.
SP Competition is strong, so finding new, better and more innovative ways to engage with our audience and meet people’s expectations is key to growth. Keeping abreast of the changing market dynamics is also crucial.
MW How could marketers and researchers work better together in future?
CO The strong partnership between marketing and research has been integral to our success at Discovery Networks Europe, ensuring that both teams fully understand the needs of the business and our viewers. As the digital landscape evolves, it will be increasingly important for marketing and research to leverage social media as a tool for collaboration.
GD Involvement from the start of every project is key to working together well; trying to incorporate research retrospectively is much more difficult as it is not always possible to predict how consumers will behave.
SP Conversion is the ultimate end goal that we’re all working towards. To maximise this, marketers must have access to highly relevant research and researchers must be able to offer the insight from the data that is so often lacking.
SJ It’s a cliché, but it’s true – talk more. So many problems and challenges can be overcome if we all know what we’re trying to achieve. I won’t say that we’ve got it totally right, but it’s certainly getting better.
For example, at the recent campaign planning sessions for the year ahead, we had the product teams, the marketing communications guys, our key agencies and either myself or one of my senior insight managers. We all get to understand what’s on in the year ahead and work together to identify where any gaps exist and where we’ll need research.
AJ There are always advocates and critics of research but in this ever-increasing competitive and changing world, it becomes even more critical to understand your market and adapt to that market. If you are developing a concept that requires research, involve the researchers at an early stage.
AC As long as I am working in a team that includes a research voice in the decision-making process, then I think researchers and marketers do work together in the most effective way. Essentially, it is about mutual respect and listening to other’s opinions and experience before pushing forward with the key idea.