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NEWS2 August 2010

Volkswagen's insight boss on 'inadequate' research

Steve Gatt, economic and insight manager at Volkswagen Group, tells us why he believes most of the research he sees is ‘not up to scratch’.

Video:

Steve Gatt

Read the full interview with Steve Gatt in the August issue of Research Magazine.

@RESEARCH LIVE

20 Comments

5 years ago

The big companies that Steve Gatt condemns focus on standardised research 'solutions' because they're profitable. I used to work at one of those companies and I watched the global chief executive present graphs to our regional division, proving that syndicated research and standardised solutions are more profitable. Why are they more profitable? It's easy to train teams of junior researchers to replicate the process and produce those 70-page reports with 200-page appendices. Senior researchers might meet clients to sell the solution and present the results, but their time is highly leveraged by the junior staff. Clients often buy the research solutions because they want a methodology that is proven to work. They do work to produce many, many tables and graphs. Some solutions even come with software to enable the client to produce more graphs and tables. Some solutions also provide normative data to compare competitive scores. Then the client is left with the task of making sense of the voluminous output and questioning whether the norms are truly relevant. Caveat emptor!

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5 years ago

Good summaries take time to write. In secondary school, many of us were taught the art of precis by summarizing several pages into 100 words. Is it so surprising that this skill has a useful application in the 'real world' of business? Dom Hawkings made a good point about needing 2 reports. My staff often write the 70-page report to please the researcher clients and then distill it down to a 3-page executive summary for non-researchers, especially executives. As Kate Anderson said, this takes time. One has to sift through 70+ pages of information before deciding what is really important. 'Anonymous' (12 Aug, 10:00am) suggested that 'final insights should be road tested with key stakeholders', which takes even more time. In other words, high-quality research takes time and the insight of senior researchers consulting with stakeholders, which is exactly what the 'process-driven' companies are trying to avoid. The rest of us can provide an attractive alternative for clients like Steve Gatt.

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5 years ago

Steve has a very good point and is definitely reflecting what we all know (and I am on the big agency side). So, definitely agree with him on being able to get information that can be easily digested in an actionable way. However, I do have to give some of the above comments credit. Big companies like VW are guilty of forcing this kind of process too. Often we are forced into dealing with Procurement in the pitch or proposal stage who have not the foggiest idea of what the business challenge is. They are only interested in pushing the prices down. So the catch-22 is that VW and the likes are left with those companies that can match their needs, which are usually more discounter driven. This does not help the plea for more consulting and added value. In the end the companies like yours Steve are playing a role in shaping the way your research is being ordered or purchased. So what do you expect?

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6 years ago

Blame for this failure does not rest solely with agencies (as Steve suggests) or with buyers (as comments have suggested) but is shared. Buyers need to brief on their reporting requirements more clearly, they should allow and invest enough time in working with the agency to distill work down to the most commercially salient output providing data from other sources to aid this process - and these final insights should be road tested with key stakeholders and potentially presented jointly... Agencies need to ask for more of this input if they are not getting it, avoid working in isolation and according to pre-defined processes. IMHO - poor training is a red herring, but (as comments have suggested) - a limited talent pool and an unsexy industry are issues, agency personnel should be genuinely drawn from a wider range of disciplines (rather than falling in to research), and agency staff should be exposed to more of the realities of client pressures... Great debate to have and welll done for raising the issue. VW insights can't be too poor given their recent success with the Audi brand - although I sincerely hope it was not a customer insight that suggested incorporating those horrible, tacky LED daytime 'bull horns' lights on the recent Audi models, already looking cheap, outdated and contradictory to the understated history of the brand....

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6 years ago

Steve ,good for you for being honest. All those people who disagree - take a look in the mirror and be a bit more honest with yourself.

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6 years ago

No more reports that use half a Swedish forest or are 'death by PowerPoint' - hooray. Like others, still amazed that results are delivered like this and that clients pay for them. To receive or deliver better answers you need to ask better questions e.g. how can I increase Volkswagens UK car sales and improve sales profitability? This is incumbent on both parties!

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6 years ago

I met Steve about 2 years ago and he went on and on and on about this at the time - Sort yourself out man find yourself some decent agencies1 Asked us to pitch for a large job which then never went ahead - or at least we gave up chasing news on it - maybe he gets what he deserves??

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6 years ago

I tend to agree with most of Mr. Gatt's 'accusations' even though my 'sympathies' may be with agencies ! None of the comments above, thus far, has dwelled upon the aspect of "training" that Mr. Gatt mentions ,,, in my twenty five years of MR experience, I have witnessed very minimal efforts towards training young recruits, and to further add to the 'woes', the MR industry (at least in India) fails to attract the best talent amongst fresh graduates/postgraduates. This is one of the reasons why most agencies become 'process driven' rather than 'results driven'. They simply do not have the requisite 'quality' to do so otherwise. Garnering information and providing focussed insights MUST become the primary cornerstone of a good agency. Unfortuntely MOST clients, still believe that the bigger/larger agencies (i.e. those that have a perceived 'brand value') will be able to deliver what they need ,,, in my opinion ,,, this judgemental opinion is becoming erroneous ,,, judge research by 'results delivery' rather than agency 'brand names' ! All said and done, MR is a 'researcher-people-business' and competent researchers are ONLY capable of 'delivering' insightful research ,,, and not 'branded-researchers', Research is not a manufactured consumer product !

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6 years ago

Creating reports with higher information density and clear recommendations appears to be what is desired here, but that takes time. And professional time costs money. This seems to me to be a big part of the issue.

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6 years ago

I think Mr Gatt's diagnosis of the origins of the process driven methodologies is incorrect. It wasn't a result of the 1990 recession. It was because at that time the deregulated financial services industry and a revamped, citizen charter-driven public sector meant huge numbers of organisations began buying research for the first time. What these new inexperienced clients demanded was inter-and intra-industry benchmarks and the reassurance that they were using a standardised method. So the processes were developed in response to client need. They have become the tail that wags the dog, leaving us with unwieldy data gathering exercises masquerading as 'research' in the fields of customer satisfaction, brand image, campaign effectiveness, employee attitudes, et al. Any client who wants to stop simply amassing data and ask 'what does it actually mean?' will find there are lots of small to medium agencies able to deliver consultancy-oriented research. But it's important not to under-estimate the skill in buying, as well as supplying, good quality, fit for purpose research. Getting the insights and added value from consultancy-oriented research require quite a bit of input from the client. Going a stage further to maintain a 'partnership' takes ongoing effort by both sides.

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