Magazine article Marketing

Where Next for Research?

Magazine article Marketing

Where Next for Research?

Article excerpt

The market research industry must build its own brand if it is to woo the public

Over the past few years the market research business has been under pressure from all sides. Since the 1992 election, when the polls famously got it wrong, the industry has faced flak from the media. On the doorsteps and in the shopping malls, it seems that the public have been treating researchers like double-glazing sales representatives. And the rapid development of database technology means that traditional research must compete with new sources of information.

At the same time, however, the industry has been growing steadily. The 1996 Association of Market Survey Organisations annual report, says that the turnover of its member companies rose by 11.6% between 1995 and 1996 - the fifth consecutive year that there had been growth in the use of market research in real terms since the recession. The industry is in fairly good financial shape, it seems, but it is still having to work hard to protect and enhance its reputation.

"Strengthening our reputation and stature is very important," says Brian Gosschalk, managing director of MORI. "But one of the audiences we have to convince is ourselves. Many market researchers feel that they don't have the same clout with clients as management consultants, even though a recent survey has shown that the status of research in the boardroom is quite high. We need to believe in ourselves."

But while there is a consensus that the industry needs to shape up, there is less agreement about where to go from here. In the face of competition, there have been calls for the traditional companies to embrace new technology and techniques, and to diversify. But many market researchers argue that companies should stick to what they do best and improve upon it.

Gosschalk is involved in the Market Research Quality Standards Association (MRQSA), which has developed a service standard for market research. He says that improving the quality of the industry is the way forward. "It is vital that we communicate a message of quality. It is about raising the professionalism of the whole industry and raising its stature."

MORI is one of four UK companies with MRQSA accreditation and there is interest in implementing the standard across Europe. In the face of new sources of data, Gosschalk believes that market research must distinguish itself from lifestyle databases which, he says, are self-selecting samples with low response rates. "It serves the market research industry ill for the boundaries to be blurred. We have to communicate what we do and what we don't do, otherwise the research industry will fragment and disappear," he says.

Malcolm Rigg, chairman of the professional standards committee of the Market Research Society, and newly-appointed head of social research at BMRB, agrees. "Research needs to keep its objectivity and independence. It can be difficult for marketers to stand back and analyse objectively. Market researchers need that scepticism and for us to have a certain amount of distance from the rest of mainstream marketing is a good thing."

But Rigg does not see the competition from databases as a serious threat. "The whole industry has grown because there is a greater need for better market intelligence with the demise of brand loyalty.

Market research provides certain types of intelligence and requires high-quality analytical skills. Large-scale data capture has more in common with the world of information technology."

The biggest issue, he says, is the need for better management of research. Client companies need help finding their way through the maze of information and this, says Rigg, is where market researchers can add value. "Speaking as a client, it can be difficult to find people to analyse data and sometimes the industry has not been so good at doing that."

Market research agencies must provide business solutions rather than simply handing over research results, says head of market research for Reuters, Nicky Perrott. …

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