FEATURE1 February 2011

Hear me out: Let’s give away more research for free

Ever had an idea that you know is genius, but everybody else thinks is crazy? Here is your chance to share it with the world of research. This month, Chloe Fowler of Razor Research argues for more freebies.

What’s the big idea?
Why not give away more research for free? Think of all those start-up brands – they’ve done the hard work to get to launch and they’re embarking on the harder work of making the brand stick. Why not give them just a smidge of help right when they need it – but can’t afford it?

“There are increasing numbers of start-up brands who either can’t afford it or frankly, don’t even know that qualitative research exists”

Didn’t your mother tell you not to just give it away?
Yes, but my mother also told me not to talk to strangers… and I went out and became a qualitative researcher. Most consumer research agencies work with brands and companies that can afford hundreds of thousands pounds of research a year, or at least thousands. But there are increasing numbers of start-up brands who either can’t afford it or frankly, don’t even know that qualitative research exists.

What do you get out of it?
With a lot of clients it’s not always possible to get right up close to the top-level business realities that are driving research objectives (though we ask as much as we can), let alone briefings with the chief executive. The smaller and newer brands are hungry for as much advice and help as possible, and they’re always the people who have germinated their brand idea and made it happen. They’re honest, assertive and have as much to teach us about business as we have to show them about their consumers.

Let’s be honest, the cost to an agency of recruiting and incentivising a few groups of respondents isn’t going to break the bank and there are still some nights a year when we’re not already doing two nights of fieldwork. If you’ve got the time, can afford a little generosity and know you’re really helping a great start-up, there’s nothing to lose. And what goes around comes around.

Sounds too good to be true.
In an ideal world, start-up brands and entrepreneurs should commission expensive usage and attitude studies, work with leading brand consultants and conduct qual research around the planning cycle. But let’s face it, they just can’t afford to. And to be honest, should they even if they could? Should Innocent have commissioned eight focus groups to tell them what a bin of empty bottles for ‘yes, quit your jobs’ and a bin for ‘no, stick with the day job’ did? Should Levi Roots have paid for a series of ethnographic interviews to figure out that the world really did need another spicy sauce? Not necessarily.

Research for start-ups isn’t (and shouldn’t be) used solely to provide answers to massive yes and no questions. It should be about giving them a sensitive but honest bit of feedback from brand new consumers, rather than their wives or mates.

Would they do it if they had to pay?
If I’m honest, probably not. When you’re a start-up the cliché is true, every penny counts. These brands don’t need qualitative research in the same way that they need their pack designers, their manufacturers and a distribution process. But it doesn’t mean they don’t value it when they have it. By giving them the chance to experience the power of market research early on in their lives we’re giving qual a good name too - and I’ll bet you that Innocent is happy to pay for research now that they’re able to afford it.

Don’t the clients who do pay feel cheated?
Let’s be clear – giving away research for free has to be selective and there has to be a reason for choosing one brand over another a few times a year. All clients benefit from working with researchers who have experience with many different types of respondent across many different categories. Researchers should always seek to broaden their horizons and if you can choose to dip a toe into an unfamiliar category and get to know a fab new brand then why not?

If offering a few groups for free gives you the chance to get to know and even become friends with savvy, assertive and communicative brand owners, what’s the problem?

2 Comments

9 years ago

I work on client-side with a few start-ups, and speaking from experience, cost is definitely the number one issue preventing us from going to agencies - even omnibus surveys cost £2,000 - £3,000, while a proper project would cost money almost on a per second basis. Another issue is the that the value of solid market research is often underappreciated. Product design and marketing decisions are more often based on the gut instinct. Research is often used to "find hard figures" to support decisions for board meetings. Things like marketing message, product usability or in depth knowledge of consumers will boost revenues eventually, but the company is not really in a position to consider them without securing cashflow first.

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4 years ago

I'm all in favour of giving away research for free. Lots of people want to "give back" and they don't really know how to do it. THIS is absolutely a way that you know how to do. Allocate a certain amount of time every year to give free research to your favourite charity. Assuming that you WANT to donate your time somewhere, the out-of-pocket cost to you is far less than the cost the charity would have to pull out of their pocket.

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