Points of view put brands on the right lines

Market research specialists from big brands talk about what will be important this year, how they measure customer opinion and the growing use of social media. By Michael Barnett


Marketing Week (MW): How important to your brand are the insights gained from market research?

Danny Russell (DR): I have a bee in my bonnet about the word insight because I think it is misused. Insights definitely drive a brand’s understanding of its market, but people often get confused between insight and research, analysis, data or information. The definition I use for insight is contextualised information that changes behaviour and I think that is quite rare.

You can have a phenomenal piece of work that comes up with some very interesting findings, but until you go off into other areas of the business and put that information in context with other data, I am not sure you can call it an insight and say you are going to change company behaviour because of it.

Phil Tysoe (PT): We undertook a refresh of the Comet brand last year. That was visible from September when the new advertising campaign broke, and as we refitted our stores. Research was very much at the heart of the process.

We started 18 months ago with a wide-ranging use and attitudes segmentation study, which gave us a clear view of some distinct segments of customers in the UK – not just who they were but actually what they wanted from buying electricals. As a result of that work, it became obvious that some of the key segments are not very well served by the sector at the moment.

Gonçalo Teixeira (GT): Only by understanding our customers’ needs can we rationally place our brands and insurance products where we see a natural fit, both from a customer and business point of view.

We already have an understanding of the market. However, we must ensure we know exactly where it is heading, and what it might look like in five or ten years.

This means a significant investment in innovation and exploratory research. It is expensive but essential to ensure we have a say in developing and steering this market.

MW: What aspects of your sector will you most need to research this year?

Carol McCreadie (CM): The main one at Standard Life is going to be about regulatory change, and in the financial services market this is obviously key for us. There is a big change about to happen called the Retail Distribution Review, which is about how consumers pay for financial advice.

As a provider of products it is going to be really important for us to understand what that is going to mean from a [customer service] point of view, but also about what is going to happen in terms of consumer behaviour.

Oliver Lucas (OL): One of the key things is the reaction to the macroeconomic changes that are taking place – the changes that have been brought about by monetary policy or as a result of the government spending review.

What I am going to be looking at quite closely is how that has impacted on New Look’s customer, particularly young people. Are they spending less, where are they choosing to spend it, are they trading down, are they looking to get more for their money?

The days of doing research for the sake of it are behing us – Goncalo Teixeira, Lloyds banking group

Amanda Wigginton (AW): The first is technology, and this will be everything from uptake of devices like tablets, ereaders and 3DTV to use of the internet, smartphones, ecommerce and mobile commerce. The second big area that we will be looking into at IPC is how consumers’ attitudes are changing as we come out of recession and enter the ’age of austerity’. We need to understand how this is affecting how they shop, their thirst for information, perception of value and need to escape.

MW: Have there been any recent developments in how you conduct research that allow you to learn new things about customers?

DR: At BSkyB, we have had about a third of our employees go on a ’customer closeness programme’, where they are meeting directly with customers as opposed to sitting behind glass. They could go out with engineers, they could go up to the contact centres and listen to calls or take calls. We do an awful lot of in-home activity, so we will take employees into customers’ homes and competitor homes.

We get staff to talk directly to the customer. I think we have started to see some really good movement where [previously] we might have presented something time and time again, but it has not led to a change in behaviour because the [employees] are actually one step removed from the consumer.

PT: We launched a new customer experience measure last September, which invites people to take part in a survey after they have bought something with us, via an invitation on Comet receipt wallets. That will provide the direct, actionable voice of the customer into the business.


We received 50,000 customer responses in three months, which is fantastic. That will give us genuine insight at store level, which is not something that we have been able to harness before. The other nice thing – and this is a development for us as a research team – is that, while it is a research project, it is also a broader marketing project as well, and it starts to do a number of different jobs for us.

AW: We continually develop how we carry out research at IPC, driven by technological developments and a desire to deliver new consumer insight to our publishing teams and advertising clients. We work with our colleagues at Time Inc in the US, who have recently carried out research to understand how advertising works on iPads. An example of where we have used new methods is with our Origin Panel Women’s Space study, which has incorporated eye-tracking technology. This has helped us understand the difference between claimed and actual online behaviour.

MW: How important, and representative, are social media for gauging customer attitudes?

OL: New Look is a youth fashion retailer, so social media is skewed towards our market. Sometimes I think it is fine for it to be used on a relatively superficial level to look at and understand some of the conversations that are taking place and the sentiment of those.

There are some downsides. It is not necessarily something that you can always control, and I do not think you should look to do that either. When you are combing the internet for insights about your brand, you can get general trends but the depth of the insight is not particularly strong.

GT: Social networking is representative of a significant number of British ’cybernauts’. However, there is still a lot to be learned about these people. We need to understand and distinguish the type of users that are on these platforms. Some people use it all the time, some are logged in but do not use it much and many are simply dormant or offline. We need to learn much more about this during 2011.

Social media is already the most prominent form of consumer empowerment. It is quite fascinating to see how quickly people have understood that they can have a lot more collective say in the way they relate to big companies and organisations.

CM: Standard Life is getting more serious about this. But [our business] is not something that consumers typically want to talk about in social media. Other brands in other markets will be much further down the line than we are.

We are looking at social media and we are thinking about how we can tap into that, and what insights we can gain from it.

MW: How carefully do you need to define what you want to know in advance of conducting research?

GT: Extremely carefully. We must know the business objectives and expectations, so we can understand exactly why we are doing it and the customer benefit, and can provide useful outcomes.

Research is inherently artificial, but the more you can make it real the better – Phil Tysoe, Comet

Our research team has a significant budget and is accountable for the way it is invested. The days of doing research for the sake of it are behind us. We are often asked to address genuine information gaps due to industry or regulatory developments, but we are very customer-centric in the way we spend our budget.

At Lloyds, research is part of a way of working where people from different teams and business backgrounds meet to define the problem, then assess if there is a genuine need for research.

AW: It is essential to have a clear idea of what you want to find out before you start any research. Clear objectives make sure that the focus does not get lost and the research is used.

But it is still essential to listen to consumers. We use a nationally representative community of 7,500 women for research and as a testing ground. We can track and monitor the women’s conversations and we use this forum to inform our research. Ultimately, the process has to work for all concerned – the business, external clients and the consumers.

Guy Shone (GS): You have to be honest about what you know and what you do not. It is also important to be clear about the business reason for conducting the research and the decisions that the insights will influence. The briefing process needs to have method to ensure consistency but not be over-bureaucratic. At Skandia the research team controls the briefing process based on the requirements of the internal customer, and this helps ensure integrity.

MW: Are there any mistakes to be avoided?

PT: Research is inherently artificial, but the more you can make it real the better.

Any work that we do about behaviour in Comet stores we will conduct in store, and we will not just take a customer verbatim and treat it as gospel. That would be the biggest mistake. That is an ongoing education process for me and my clients in the business. It is quite difficult to tell people that they are not conscious and rational beings.

OL: Traditional researchers will pride themselves on getting the design right in terms of the method, sample compositions and significance. In terms of the greater accessibility of respondents, the downside of that is you can get ’professional’ respondents [who do surveys to supplement their income] and there are some quality issues that you can come across if you are not careful. That can be quite dangerous at times.

MW: How do you expect your use of market research to evolve in future?

DR: I am very interested in the whole aspect of neuroscience, particularly around advertising. BSkyB has done some early work around that. It is tricky because, rather than seeing rational charts on the screen that say 72% of people said this and 36% of people thought that, you tend to get pictures of brains with various lighting effects going off. [Using neuroscience] could be a massive breakthrough in two or three years. We have started to do some piloting work on it.

CM: Standard Life has used a range of techniques, particularly on the qualitative side where you may be doing co-creation for example. In the digital environment we are using more online surveys and panels that have online consumers.

We tend to use [co-creation] for proposition development – so perhaps when we have got an understanding that there is an opportunity but we are not quite sure whether we are pitched correctly in that market.

GS: We will be collaborating across six countries to run one continuous global programme of customer research in 2011. This will inform Skandia’s operations, marketing and customer services in each of those markets.

Research budgets must really deliver for brands this year. Being brilliant at the simple things will be more important than any single innovation. Online customer advisory panels have a role to play and are gradually becoming more reliable, making co-creation with customers a real possibility.