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Things to take into consideration when choosing a Market Research company

Market Research; What is it? Whats it for? What do you do with it and how do you do it? Which agency should I use? 1-2 3 4-6 7-10

MR: What is it?

The clue is in the name. This is an examination or questioning of a defined market, which is usually carried out by asking carefully-constructed and replicable questions of a representative sub-set of that market (rather than everyone because that would be a census which would be very expensive, take too long and is unnecessary) which gives us a perspective on the current, past or future behaviour of the whole market. It tests the whole market by researching the responses, attitudes, understanding, of this sample group. Thats market research.

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MR: What is it?

What it isnt is telemarketing, where the client organisation is making contact in order, more or less directly, to sell a product or a service. And havent we all received calls purporting to be doing some market research which goes along the lines of: Caller: Evening sir, Im just doing some research and I just like to ask you some very quick questions. Can I take up a minute of your time? Me: Sure. Caller: How many doors do you have in your house? Me: Er, not sure, let me see, six bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, study and playroom. So thatll be 13 doors. Oh and of course the front and the back door, so thatll be 15. Caller: 15, thank you. A large number! And how many windows do you have? Me: Er, each room has an average of two windows so say 30 to 36. Caller: thank you, and do you have any double glazing .. You can see where such a call might be heading, so at this point I suggest you terminate the call as this isnt market research, its cold calling under the guise of MR. Another key difference between the two is that a properly conducted survey must start with questions that ensure that you, the interviewee, is the right type of person to be interviewed. Without these the whole thing is a waste of time, yours and the interviewers. The essence of a market research project involves the agency or consultancy taking the responses that have been gathered from the correct people and then using an aggregate of those responses to infer the view of the entire market. Here is another key difference between MR v telemarketing. With the latter, the answers are passed to the client with the respondents identity still attached, so the client can continue the sales process with that person. This is attributable research which does have a role to play in MR, but infrequently. Most of the time, MR deals with non-attributable data, ie where the respondent is anonymous and his or her responses are confidential. And this is a key reason that MR agencies exist, to act as a conduit between the company wishing to understand the market and those individuals who are able, having the appropriate knowledge and understanding, to deliver a verdict. But as far as is possible, this verdict has to be unbiased, considered and appropriate. If the research exercise is actually about sales lead generation, then none of those qualities are likely to be available. Hence the need for anonymity and confidentiality. How so? Well, it may be that plenty of people like you have already been interviewed, meaning the research company has, as we would say, reached quota and therefore doesnt need to ask someone like you. Or you might not be the type of person they want to interview at all. But, if they dont ask, they dont know. So, if you are not being asked questions about you at the start of the interview, be suspicious; what or who you are is evidently not important, and this is not market research.

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MR: Whats it for?

There are many reasons to conduct market research. Briefly, the more usual drivers are: In generic terms, to gather an understanding of whats happening right now to your market. This understanding needs to be objective, rational and specific to your product or service. To understand what your market thinks of your brand and what characteristics your market would choose to use to describe your company, your product or your service. To examine how other organisations that deliver a similar product or service are doing, which could either mean in terms of their market share or what the market thinks of their specific product or service compared with yours. What to do next? The research can be devised to show up gaps in the market. What is the market looking for? What are its priorities? How important are new developments for the market? What are the appropriate price points for a new product or service? Where would the market turn to learn about or indeed acquire the product or service? What about your customers? How does the view of those who have actually bought from you differ from those who havent? How loyal is your customer? What are factors in their decision making that most influence whether they buy from you or not? Similarly, who within the customer makes the decisions? What does the decision-making unit look like? How satisfied or delighted are your customers? In addition, research can be used to create the basis of analysis and comment on a particular development or concern that the market might be facing. Analysis based on research findings can cause an issue to be promoted up the markets agenda. This gives the commissioning company a thought leadership platform from which they can communicate knowledgeably, with material that is relevant and valuable to their target market. As we see, there are a number of reasons, not all mutually exclusive, why an organisation might need to commission market research.

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MR: How do you do it and what do you do with it?

Having gone through the process of determining why you need to conduct research, you then need a clear understanding of what youre going to do with it once you have the results. But first, for the research to have value and to ensure that it meets its aims and objectives, the following elements must be discussed: Which research methodology is to be adopted? Why is that approach considered the most appropriate? - If this is quantitative research, with an emphasis on numbers, then telephone and/or online interviews are the two most likely options for data collection. Telephone interviewing might be suggested if the respondent is difficult to reach and/or if the universe (the number of appropriately qualified people and organisations) is small. The sample would then need to be used carefully and sparingly. - If this is qualitative research, where the emphasis is on gathering opinions and attitudes in great detail, then either a focus group or in-depth interview, either by telephone or in person, approach is customary. How many interviews are to be conducted? What is the rationale used to determine this number? This will vary depending on whether it is a qualitative exercise, where the project is looking at market indications and depth analysis, or a quantitative project where a robust number of interviews is required to deliver a perspective on the universe. - In quantitative research, this is usually based on the size of the universe and is consistent with the make-up of the market - you dont simply interview anybody whos prepared to answer. For example, if the information required was to represent all UK-based organisations, then more interviews are required with the smallest (one man band) organisations than the biggest, as they make up some 77% of the UKs business population. But this can introduce a complex sample frame (the marrying of organisation size and sector to produce a coherent distribution of interviews) and in most research exercises, the research agency may simply recommend a minimum number within each cell of the sample frame, usually around 30, which offers a sufficient degree of robustness. But beware, if the cell is broken up and a sub-set is being interviewed, then results will only be indicative and not statistically sound. As you can probably see, there is an art to this.

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MR: How do you do it and what do you do with it?

Who are we going to interview? What role or function, or skill set or knowledge or position does the respondent need to have in order for them to represent the market we are examining and be qualified in the specific topic of the research? - Market research projects can define a questionnaire or a discussion guide, depending on the research methodology, before determining who would be best placed to answer the questions. Alternatively, the project can identify the type of respondent that needs to be interviewed; whose responses would address the projects overall objectives. - Irrespective of the order of events, ensuring the respondent is qualified to answer the questions is key and whoevers doing it for you has to be able explain how they go about meeting the specification. The research instrument. Another key ingredient in ensuring the research delivers meaningful data from appropriately qualified people is the questionnaire or discussion guide. Creating a questionnaire is both art and science. The core questions might be obvious, but less so are how to apply cross-checking questions, or how to make sure the interviewee has a meaningful path through the questionnaire that delivers value, whichever set of answers they provide. Crystallising the research objectives into plain, straightforward questions and engineering a flexible questionnaire structure and engaging the right interviewees in the right organisations are the core skills of the market research company. Whatever analysis and commentary that flows from the data collection process should be regarded as suspect if these core skills are not applied.

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MR: How do you do it and what do you do with it?

Assuming all these preliminaries are in place and the project has been successfully carried out, then you have to decide what to do with the results. The purpose of the research will determine the communication strategy for the results as shown in the following diagram. The diagram below explores the multi-layered communications strategy that could be adopted by the client organisation. Given the precise reason for conducting the assignment, the strategy to reveal and explore the results will vary depending upon the type of research. Indeed, many might argue that weve been somewhat limited in our view and that, in essence, each item in the research type field could be communicated, albeit in different formats and styles, to all of the audience types. For the research to resonate, have traction and to be credible, then it must address all of the issues we described earlier, ie who, why, what, when and how.








Figure 1: Research is not just for Christmas, the multi-layered communications strategy

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MR: Which agency do I use?

Market research is a service industry making it difficult to define the elements that differentiate one supplier from another. In choosing a potential service partner, the usual rules apply, ie the questions that need to be asked are going to be similar, thus: How big are they? How long have they been in operation? Are they successful? How do you measure success? Who do they work for? Are they well-known? What do their customers say about them? What do they deliver? What are their recommendations? Have they worked for any of my competitors? Do they know my market and my customers? How do they work? Where do they get their sample from? How many interviews do they recommend and how did they reach that decision? What are their fees? How long will they take to conduct the research? Where are they based? We now examine each of these questions to see how an appropriate organisation might respond. How big are they? - Size isnt everything but its probably wise to have a view as to how many employees the agency has, as it gives you a reasonable indication of their revenue levels, their capacity, the importance theyll attach to you as a customer, their skill set and the likelihood that theyll be able to complete the project. How long have they been in operation? - Another useful indicator of experience, track record and success levels. But beware - having been in existence a long time is no guarantee that the agency knows what its doing. Nor is it the case that freshly-minted start-ups are likely to be inexperienced. As with any service solution, you are buying the people. Are they successful? - By what terms do we want to measure success in this instance? Is it profit levels for example or revenue per head ratios? Both of these tell us something about the supplier but on their own dont say a great deal. For example, success might be measured by the number of customers they have or how the market regards the brand. A more appropriate measure of success, though, could be the volume of repeat business that they have which if this was high could prove that their current customers like what they do.

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MR: Which agency do I use?

Who do they work for? - Take a look at their client list. Are these organisations that youd like to be associated with? Are they competitors or are they partners? Are they all large corporations that everyone has heard of or is there a mix of known and unknown brands? If the client roster consists solely of competitive organisations then you can be assured that your chosen agency knows your industry. On the other hand, they also know your competitors which could represent a competitive threat. As is usual with these things, a subtle mix of large and small, of competitors and non-competitors, of long-standing customers and new customers is an appropriate mix to look out for. Are they well-known? - If they are a well-known firm, then their reputation will precede them. This can be useful when you want to offer some of your research results to the outside world, ie as marketing content or sales collateral. Be aware, though, of the big MR brands because they may well decree that their brand has primacy of placement over yours. On the other hand, the agency with very limited marketing reach will not offer that instant credibility that a well-known organisation delivers. What do their customers say about them? - Weve talked about the client list as a gauge of brand association. You might also examine any information that their clients have made publically available to determine a) what they did b) what relationship it has, if any, with the work that you require. Is it similar in terms of scope or subject, does it offer comfort that they know your business? But try to look beyond case study material and investigate beneath the outward veneer. What do they deliver? - Another problem with describing a service proposition is that it can be quite difficult to say what you actually do in a way that gives the reader enough detail. Can you see evidence that they deliver the sort of inputs you need, ideally to organisations that are similar to yours? This capability insurance is vital. What are their recommendations? - Are you looking for advice? This could be limited to some intelligence around the data that points out what the numbers might mean. Or it could be as detailed as offering a full analysis of the research results ensuring that the data can be assimilated quickly and efficiently. What does the agency offer?

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MR: Which agency do I use?

Have they worked for any of my competitors? - This of course could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing. If they have worked for your competition indicates that they know your market but it could mean that they stay closer to your competition than they get to you. And if theyre no longer working with your competition, what happened? Getting some detail on these relationships should provide a guide to the agencys capabilities and experience. Do they know my market and my customers? - This is a key question. Market research is a skill that can be applied to any industry or profession but when briefing an agency you dont want to spend too much time and effort explaining your market. If you are looking to test an agency, drop a few acronyms into the conversation and see if theres a flicker of understanding. How do they work? - This paper has explored various means of answering questions. How does the agency conduct its projects? If they carry out online research, how do they find their sample? How long would they typically take to do a project like the one you are thinking about? Who will actually be doing the work? How experienced are they? What processes does the project team have in place to ensure the assignment will be on time, reaching appropriately-qualified people within appropriately-qualified organisations, and with an ability to offer analysis and recommendations? Where do they get their sample from? - Weve touched on this already but it is one of the key elements to conducting a successful project. If the people who are being asked the questions arent the correct respondent types then the research is not only worthless, it could easily lead to erroneous conclusions and misdirection. Time must be spent understanding how they select qualified people, how theyre incentivised to take part, how much sample the organisation needs in order to fulfil the project because not everyone they contact will either pass the tests (what tests?) or be willing to be interviewed. So what ratios do they typically work with?

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MR: Which agency do I use?

How many interviews do they recommend and why? - This is market research not a census, so the number of interviews and how they are allocated, if this is a quantitative exercise, need to be carefully thought out. This is the sample frame the actual population of organisations in each sub-group under study needs to be known so the agency can to suggest the correct number of interviews in each. As a rule of thumb, we usually suggest a minimum of around 30 interviews per cell when conducting B2B research, although this can vary depending upon the population. But the phrase per cell needs to be carefully understood. Interviews with large organisations, for example, within a given market could be termed a universe and 30 interviews might be enough. But if sub-analysis is required, say for example by sector or size category within large organisations , then each of those sub groups or cells needs a minimum number of interviews, to facilitate robust analysis. Similarly, if there are any conditional questions, ie where respondents see the question based on an answer they gave earlier, then again each of those sub-groups needs a minimum number, lets say 30 interviews. So, in summary its a complicated business - you dont want to be blinded with science but you do want to feel confident that the research company is recommending the right number of interviews, structured in the best way to give you the multi-level views of the market that you want. What are their fees? - The price is always going to be an issue and will vary hugely depending on how many interviews are being suggested, who is being interviewed, the interview method, what deliverables you want, and any geographic or sector requirements. Getting as much detail as possible on the elements that make up the fee is very important if the right decision is to be made as to who is offering the best price, should that be a major decision-making factor. How long will they take to conduct the research? - It isnt so much how long they would take but rather will they keep to their word. Timing isnt always a key factor but you need to be confident that your agency knows what its doing and that you can rely on them to deliver when they say they will. Where are they based? - Location isnt a big concern, or at least it shouldnt be. Keeping in touch via email and telephone is entirely appropriate. In addition, web-conferencing gives you and your agency the opportunity to talk to each other and share documents in a virtual meeting. But theres nothing to beat a face-to-face discussion about project scope and design at the front and about project deliverables at the end.

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