Magazine article Marketing

The Key to Picking a Research Agency

Magazine article Marketing

The Key to Picking a Research Agency

Article excerpt

Deciding on the best research methods and the right agency to carry them out can be vital to a campaign.

The popular perception of market research -- the female interviewer with a clipboard - belies the huge range of research services available to clients. It's a spectrum that ranges from high-end strategic consultancy to brand tracking, through to the quick-turnaround omnibus survey.

Having defined the objectives of your research, how do you know what to buy and who to buy from? Although most client companies of a significant size will have departments with the expertise to buy in research, the choice is not that straightforward.

At the strategic end of the research food chain lie both ad hoc and continuous surveys. There are nearly 500 agencies in the Market Research Society's (MRS) Research Buyers' Guide, most providing ad hoc or one-off surveys that clients might commission to launch or refine a product. The larger agencies also offer continuous research, involving the regular tracking of a brand's sales or the public's awareness of an ad campaign. Both provide follow-up analysis and consultancy.

High-speed delivery

If ad hoc and continuous are at the gourmet end of the research spectrum, then omnibus services are the research industry's equivalent of fast food. Designed to yield tactical data quickly, they comprise small groups of questions paid for by different clients but run as a single survey. Because speed of delivery is the omnibus survey's selling point, analysis and consultancy are not included.

As a general rule the larger the project, the bigger your agency needs to be. Royal Mail uses leading agency Research International for its UK quality of service monitors, involving the mailing of some 100,000 items per month, "When you have a very large bit of work it is very difficult to use a small agency because they don't tend to have the resources," says Diana Brown, head of marketing and sales information at Royal Mail.

Lloyds TSB bucked the trend, however, when it dropped its customer-care research supplier of eight years, NOP, in favour of a comparative minnow, Network Research. A three-year research project involved 250,000 telephone interviews annually with the bank's business and personal customers. According to Eamonn Santry, Network's managing director, the bank was impressed with the agency's experience in customer relationship and financial services research.

To clients such as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), these elements are the 'hygiene factors' crucial to its choice of research agency. "If I'm looking at how people do their banking then I need a specialist in banking," says Maryan Broadbent, head of customer insight at RBS.

The Lloyds TSB case illustrates another crucial choice faced by clients: whether to buy a so-called 'branded' off-the-shelf research solution or opt for a freshly-tailored ad hoc survey. Network pitched on a bespoke solution to Lloyds TSB's brief, while the competition fielded their proprietary branded services.

The off-the-shelf element of a research brand are the databases of case studies that allow clients to compare their research results against industry norms. Many of these services involve product brand and ad tracking. "Sometimes what clients want is not brand tracking, but just short-term ad effectiveness," says Nigel Spackman, chairman of market research agency NFO UK. …

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