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A wake up call for market research agencies

By Andrew Dalglish -

GreenboGRIT Reok has just published the latest edition of the GRIT Report.  The study, now in its 11th year and based on the opinions of 1,400+ practitioners, monitors trends in the market research industry.

The report is a real wake-up call for market research agencies.  Sadly only a select few seem to be listening.

In 2009 the GRIT report concluded that: “Buyers…increasingly seek out suppliers who understand the intricacies of their particular business, and who deliver strategic insight rather than boring 100-page decks full of data”.  Five years on, that’s still the case.  When describing the ideal research project clients cite three defining features:

  1. Analysis is rigorous and there’s a clear storyline
  2. There’s a good connection with marketers (i.e. the research team engage well with them)
  3. It changes the attitude and decisions of marketing executives

And when asked what qualities are important to them in a research agency, research users put three things at the top of their list:

  1. Knowledgeable staff (69% rate as ‘very important’)
  2. Listen well and understand needs (72%)
  3. High quality analysis (64%)

Note this.  Not once has ‘research’ been mentioned.  Indeed only 14% of clients say ‘using sophisticated research techniques’ is very important.  No, it’s all about what an agency can do with the research – how their people interpret it, align it to business goals and engage with those using it.  And it’s about the outcome of these actions – positive business change.  Or as the 2014 GRIT report says “we need to steal a few plays from the consultancy industry”.

That’s the desire, but few agencies deliver.  Again let me quote from the 2014 GRIT Report.  Remember, hundreds of client-side buyers of research contributed to it.  “It is apparent there is a gap between what [clients] ‘want’ and what [most agencies] ‘do’….[they] underachieve in making the change happen in executives’ minds and actions, [they] do not provide systematic rigorous analyses and clearly underperform in creatively reporting research results”.

So why the disconnect?

I suspect it’s because being a ‘business consultant’ simply doesn’t turn most agency side researchers on, or is too far outside of their comfort zone.  Responses to the question ‘the most exciting thing emerging now is…’ supports this theory.  Just 2% said ‘results’, only 1% said ‘predictive’ and a similarly depressing 1% said ‘consulting’.  So in total, 4 out of every 100 researchers are excited by the prospect of research making a difference.  In contrast, research techniques have them salivating.  13% are most (yup, MOST) excited by ‘big data’, 13% by ‘mobile research methods’ and 10% by ‘passive research techniques’.  It’s this desire for the shiny and new which perpetuates the problem.  Research agencies don’t need more data, they need to focus on using what they already have more intelligently.

I’ve been in this game for a long time now, and my experience is that only a handful of research agencies can deliver this consultative approach.  It all boils down to their people.  Consultative agencies employ people with an innate passion for business coupled with strong analytical and communication skills.  They create an environment which immerses this team in the clients’ world, not the world of research.  And they continuously develop their staff with a focus on business and marketing understanding, rather than simply research skills.  Most importantly, this talent is deployed for the client’s benefit.  Rather than disappear after the pitch leaving less seasoned junior staff to run the project, these consultants are in it for the long-term.  They stay close, they get stuck in and ultimately they become the client’s trusted advisor.

David Tweets @circle_research

Find out more about Circle Research’s B2B marketing research services here.

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