FEATURE9 April 2013

How a new breed of agencies will deliver results


The research agency is evolving. Jeremy Rix steps into the future to speak to the leaders of four firms to find out what makes them different from today’s crop of insight providers.


The specialists…

Dr Kate Hall, lead guitar

Q. What is MusicMakers?
We have two passions: music and human psychology. A bit of an odd mix, I’ll admit. All of our team have a background in music and/or psychology. My PhD was all about the emotional impact of music, and how this affects behaviour. There is obviously a strong link between this theme and the way in which brands use music, in marketing and advertising and in customer experiences. So a huge strand of our work is in developing music catalogues for brands to use in specific situations with a view to triggering certain kinds of emotional responses in consumers. The other element of what we do is use music in research as a means through which respondents can express their emotional response to a product, service, experience or brand. So here music is part of the research toolkit. Here, we’re building our own catalogue, in which we’re profiling music tracks and types according to the nature of the emotional response they elicit.

Q. Why did you set up MusicMakers?
We wanted to set up an agency that we could be really, genuinely passionate about. And we wanted a distinct proposition – we didn’t want to be another me too agency that does a bit of everything, we wanted to stand out.

The trouble makers…

Guerrilla Research

Q. What is Guerrilla Research?
We are part consumer movement, part agency business – at least, the agency business funds the movement, if that makes sense. The traditional agency-client model is corrupt. It doesn’t work anymore. It relies on people in the client business commissioning a project, which is focused on the business needs, and framed from an internal perspective. We don’t believe it’s possible to adapt and innovate as a business if your perspective is an inside-out one.

Q. So you don’t get commissioned by clients to research on their behalf?
No, absolutely not. We’re ‘commissioned’ by the consumer. We constantly monitor for brands, products and experiences that don’t meet consumer needs, that seem out of kilter somehow with how the world is moving, that need changing. We call these ‘holes’. When we find a hole, then we do research to fill the hole. Rather than the objective be driven by the business, it’s driven by this gap or need, and the possibility of filling it.

Q. So you’re working on behalf of the consumer not the client?
Exactly – from the consumer perspective. But of course, once we fill the hole we have insights and a solution which then have value for the brand. We might sell it direct to one particular brand, or on occasions brands have bid against each other to buy it. And if it doesn’t sell, we make it publicly available in one of the start-up marketplaces.

The gamers…

James Leake, playmaker

Q. How was Snakes&Ladders conceived?
The first thing we did before setting up the company was to do research among consumers who had participated in research. We wanted to understand what their experiences were of being a respondent. Then we conducted some research among users of research: marketers, product managers, innovators and senior management. One of the key themes that came through all of this was that research could be more fun. Of course there’s a serious intent, but that doesn’t mean that the experience of taking part in research, or using the outputs from it, shouldn’t be exciting. So that’s how Snakes&Ladders was born.

Q. What do you do at Snakes&Ladders?
On the research side, we design research games or challenges – these can take place digitally or in the real world, or a combination of both. Consumers have busy lives, so we design our games to be a break from this. In a recent project involving young mums, we were able to provide a crèche service, so one of the perks of taking part was a break from the children. We’re always looking at imaginative ways of making consumers’ lives easier through our research. So a typical challenge will ultimately be about solving a client problem. It’s about showing respect for consumers too – they have great ideas, they just need to be in the right kind of environment to access and express them.

On the clientside, it’s a mirror of this. Again we work through the medium of games, and using ideas and insight from the external research as a starting point, we set challenges for the client to solve business problems or identify opportunities. Sometimes this happens in a one-off event, but it’s often more longitudinal so that clients are involved in the game over time, and the research segues into action planning and sometimes even into delivery.

Q. Do you need a particular kind of team to work like that?
Absolutely. And we’ve gamified every aspect of working at Snakes&Ladders, including career development. For example, our chief playmaker is the youngest person in the company, Kerry. She won the right to lead the company for a year, and that’s what she’s doing.

The actioneers…

Claire Cable, leader

Q. What kind of research agency is Activ?
I’m not sure that we really are a research agency. If we’re feeling a bit pompous, we say we do insight-driven design and build. If we’re not, which is most of the time, we say that we’re a research agency that does things with research.

Q. What do you mean?
Well, traditional research agencies deliver insights and a few recommendations. Better agencies might help clients turn insights into ideas and actions. We go a step further and actually do things with our research. Through a mix of in-house expertise and partnerships, we help clients innovate quickly and effectively in ways that they’re mostly too big to do themselves.

Q. Tell us about a recent project.
We’re working with a footwear manufacturer and they’d asked us to identify ways in which they could innovate their brand. It was a very open brief. “Discover something new about our customers” was the way the MD put it. So we did. And what we found has led to the development of a number of electronic components which will work with a new product they are launching. We designed and made these components – using a partner – in about an eighth of the time it would have taken them to do it if they’d handled the project internally.

Q. Doesn’t that make you a product design agency?
Absolutely not, because it’s all based around the customer need. A design agency will specialise in a certain area of design, whereas we are fully focused on the customer. The example I gave was in the footwear market. We’ve helped to create products, digital services, real-world experiences… at the moment, as you’re probably aware, we’re working with the government on a project designed to encourage engagement with democracy. Getting people to vote couldn’t be further from trainers!

Jeremy Rix is the founder and chief listener at Oko. He’s online at www.engageoko.com


11 years ago

I can't find more information about Activ here on Research-live, through Google, or on the Esomar homepage. Anyone know the web address of Activ?

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11 years ago

Just to be clear, all the companies above are fictional. But the fact that people are looking to find out more about them at least suggests there's an unmet demand there.

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11 years ago

This article should have been published on April Fool's Day. Better late than never though.

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11 years ago

I have to say Activ sound very similar to what we here at Visuality can offer as a research/design solutions package. Please visit our website - www.visuality-group.co.uk for more information on how we could help you.

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