Magazine article Marketing

Leap off the Omnibus

Magazine article Marketing

Leap off the Omnibus

Article excerpt

Omnibuses offer an economic form of research, but not the highly targeted information some clients need.

Last year IBM had the chance to probe the UK's opinion formers on what they believe big businesses can do for the community

You need market information quickly, but circumstances rule out pricey ad-hoc projects, so the option is whether to hop on an omnibus or tag along with a syndicate. But the choice is not a simple one. It is hard to categorise research that way, and easy to see why.

Basic omnibus surveys are traded like commodities, but new technology and expanding international markets have opened up the field for extra services to which research companies can peg higher prices, and healthier profit margins.

The term syndicate, meanwhile, covers a whole range of surveys from straightforward tracking studies which are run in effect as targeted omnibus surveys, to true joint initiatives which pull together a handful of like-minded companies to share costs.

It is useful to look at why companies have opted for specific types of survey -- and whether their expectations were met. Take IBM: whatever you might think of its business strategy, the company has proved to be ruthlessly efficient in researching peripheral issues which may affect its corporate image. Last year IBM had the chance to join with a handful of other blue-chip giants to probe the UK's opinion formers on what they believe big businesses can do for the community.

The study, conceived by Opinion Leader Research, tapped into a bank of "key individuals" from various spheres, including politics, industry, the City, education, the Civil Service and trades unions. Philanthropic activities bring spin-off benefits, but companies are obviously keen to find out exactly what will polish up a corporate reputation most efficiently. What scores best with politicians, for example, may not be important criteria in the City.

"We became involved because we felt the research we were doing -- on omnibus, or through large multi-client syndicates -- was not sufficiently targeted," says IBM's community relations manager Tim Hollins.

He liked the influence that he had as a founder-member of the new syndicate. Instead of logging on with potentially dozens of other clients in a fairly inflexible panel survey, he spent a lot of time thrashing out the questionnaire with OLR and the five other participants, which included Whitbread and Texaco.

In fact, the first survey last year was something of a dummy run. "The results were interesting, but also showed up areas where we could tighten up or introduce new elements," says Hollins. Two of the original participants dropped out, but the four which stayed believe they have honed this year's questionnaire to a point where its superior targeting justifies the financial cost and effort involved.

There is no doubt that syndicated research grew as the recession knocked ad-hoc budgets on the head, but the need to push into overseas markets is stretching resources further. Takeovers and co-operatives in the research field have created international syndicates. Expanding the omnibus is trickier -- yet it is precisely the dipping-in tool that many prospecting companies need.

The International Wool Secretariat, as its name suggests, must take a world-wide view. Its Woolmark is an international symbol and consumer perception of the quality connotation of the fabric is vital to marketing strategy. …

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