Undertaking market research for new product development is arcane, according to Bob Dance, research operations director at Q1 International Research. "It's conceptual until you commit money to it and you can commit large sums and get absolutely nowhere," he says. "Clients find it difficult putting money in at one end of a project with no guarantee of getting it out at the other."
If they don't invest in NPD research, what are their options? They might go ahead on gut feelings, or because an idea has met with departmental or familial approval and they might be right- but the alternative isn't worth thinking about.
Market researchers can be called in before, during or after a project, though the same firm won't necessarily see the project through. "You'd think it makes sense for someone to take it all the way through," says Dance, "but people pigeon-hole you, and different people pigeon-hole you differently."
The two most evident trends in this area are an upsurge in NPD work and a growing emphasis on secrecy. Many consultancies talk of clients stressing the confidentiality clauses in contracts and warning them off talking about projects in the press.
It is still an area that generates extraordinary enthusiasm from those who work in it. Angela Humphries, a director of Verve, the Research Business's youth consultancy, sums it up: "I enjoy it because it's exciting, sometimes involving a small tweak to a product and at others needing something quite revolutionary."
She claims that clients are visiting her earlier in the NPD process, often instigating 'needs studies' to look at what drives people. One client appeared recently with a concept it was about to launch, but which Humphries worried was 'me-too-ish'.
"So we stepped back, thought about all the other opportunities and then developed, with a design company, some great concepts [which had been brainstormed with the clients] to explore other areas of opportunity," she explains.
The result, which will soon appear on the market, was achieved with client co-operation throughout. "In this particular instance, the client welcomed being told that the original idea was not a goer," says Humphries. "Sometimes, however, you are treading on eggshells."
Lack of knowledge in different sectors means companies must trawl for information wherever available. At Young Direction, a division of Crucible Research, managing director Jane Almey offers marketers and researchers 'kids and teens' days. …