NEWS17 July 2020

IPA Bellwether: Market research industry analysis

Covid-19 News People UK

UK – After the IPA Bellwether Report showed a sharp fall in market research budgets during Covid-19, we asked agencies how they have been impacted by lockdown.


Earlier this week, the latest IPA Bellwether Report found that budgets for market research had fallen sharply in the second quarter of 2020 amid a record decline in marketing spend.

Total marketing budgets contracted at the quickest pace since the survey’s data collection began 20 years ago, as the economic impacts of Covid-19 led to reductions across all types of marketing.

We contacted several research agencies for their views on the report, asking whether their experiences tallied with its findings.

Jane Rudling, managing director, Walnut Unlimited 
For most businesses, lockdown has presented short-term challenges such as disruption to the supply chain, the shift to working from home, child care and so on, and naturally these affect agencies and clients alike – it is no surprise that market research spend took a short-term hit in this environment.

Consumer behaviour had an enforced change during lockdown, and as the restrictions are lifted and the economy restarts, clients are now looking to understand how behaviour will change in the medium to long term and how to capitalise on that.

A consistent theme that emerged from our conversations with clients was that innovation and creativity have reached new heights in the last few months. While often this came about through necessity, as a reaction to the market changing around us, the renewed energy behind solution creation and transformation should be protected and maintained.

As brands react to the changing world around us, market research has the tools to help our clients make decisions in a customer-led way. We are already seeing the bounce back as clients seek out opportunities to thrive in the new environment and need market research to helps them get closer to their customers and deliver their new strategy.

Nick Baker, chief research officer, Savanta 
John F. Kennedy, with a touch of linguistic licence, noted that in Chinese ‘crisis’ is two characters — danger and opportunity. A crisis brings choices, decisions and opportunities.

What is clear from the Bellwether report is that the current marketing industry ‘abnormal’ is not a pretty picture. But, instead of dwelling on the clear negatives, we can choose to embrace the context we are now in and look at other signals in there, such as ‘budget forecasts for 2020/21 point to strong optimism as firms expect UK economy to recover’.

McKinsey’s research on Covid-19, ‘The Great Acceleration', has shown that the crisis is accelerating change and opportunities are there to be taken. For example, online delivery’s volume increased by the same amount in eight weeks as it had over the entire previous decade, and telemedicine experienced a tenfold growth in subscribers in just 15 days. In all these cases there is a requirement for insight, evidence and research to inform and inspire decision-making.

While budgets have been hit, there remains significant opportunity for the ‘business of evidence’ to embrace the current context positively and really demonstrate its worth in applying research to drive impactful commercial solutions for our clients.

Ben Shimshon, founding partner and managing partner, BritainThinks 
These are uncertain times for anyone in the insight and market research sector, and the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are likely just starting to be felt across the industry. While the environment is clearly a difficult one, at BritainThinks, we have so far weathered the storm – with those projects and clients who have reduced their spend or placed projects on hold, more than offset by growth from a number of other clients, new and established. We are lucky to work for a wide range of central and local government clients, for whom this has been a very busy time. 

While no one can know what’s round the corner, we feel we’re in a strong and resilient place. We managed to respond nimbly in the early days of the pandemic, such as shifting our operations online and demonstrating to clients that they could glean equally strong insight from online approaches. 

It’s certainly been a time of challenges for us, but the kind of work we do, and the relationships we’ve built with our clients, and the people we have in the business are helping us to find our way through.

Babita Earle, executive vice-president for strategic and industry partnerships, Zappi 
This has been a difficult time for nearly every industry, and naturally we're feeling the effects in market research as well. Yet at Zappi, we've seen that while many of our customers initially halted projects when the pandemic struck, they have since picked much of their research back up. In times like these, where conditions and sentiments are seemingly shifting by the day, consumer research is more important than ever. Many brands recognise this and are continuing to spend in certain areas.

We have also found that this has been a time for brands to begin to focus on digital transformation as the realisation that it is the best way to learn from data and respond to rapidly shifting environments. Being able to access consumer insights quickly, on a single platform, has been critical for brands to make timely decisions, such as how to pivot creative strategy to the new consumer context.

Ben Page, chief executive, Ipsos Mori 
The Covid-19 crisis has been massively disruptive – for example to our face-to-face surveys for government and media – and like most agencies we saw a wave of cancellations from affected sectors. However, as we emerge from lockdown, we are thinking hard about our clients’ business challenges, working closely to help them, now the overall position looks much more positive, and Ipsos Mori will now grow in 2020 in many areas of our business.

Bart Michels, UK country manager and chief executive of Europe – consulting division, Kantar 
As marketers, we have a leading role to play in accelerating the recovery from the pandemic-related economic crisis. Aside from the drop in investment levels in response to cost pressures, we see our clients changing their focus from understanding what is happening and how best to adapt in the short term, towards leading their companies in defining how to win the recovery in the longer term. This means identifying the values and behaviours that will stick post Covid, and pinpointing consumer touchpoints and marketing innovations that will make the biggest difference moving forwards.

Everything from fast turn ad-testing to dynamic content optimisation remains in play. One of our clearest takeaways from our #C19Barometer research is that consumers do want to keep hearing from brands, and our Tribes research is a great example of contextual segmentation techniques our clients are using that will have an impact in accelerating the bounce back.