OPINION10 June 2009

Depth – not breadth – is now the watchword

Those agencies that will survive, and even thrive in the recession need to demonstrate the unique value they can add to their clients, says Alistair Leathwood, managing director of FreshMinds Research. Not only must work be insightful – it must also be actionable.

So why the change? Well, it largely comes down to a tightening of purse strings and the necessary change of emphasis that dictates. As research budgets are cut, a certain pragmatism takes hold. The scope of projects is having to get tighter – and, yes, smaller – and their findings more specific and focused. Now clients are asking us to undertake studies into particular groups in order to support a particular campaign or objective.

These stricter briefs do have their benefits for both clients and agencies. As the recession begins to have a bigger and bigger impact on people’s lives, it becomes increasingly important for companies to understand their consumers’ behaviour. And to understand that behaviour, it is much better to observe them than to come straight out and ask them. What’s more, that research has to deliver more – it has to be insightful, and it absolutely has to be actionable. So whereas market researchers in years gone by sometimes questioned what happened to their research once it was delivered, they are now increasingly seeing their efforts follow through into clear initiatives that follow hard on the heels of their research. Recession or not, I believe these developments are here to stay and should be welcomed.

As the nature of insight clients seek changes we begin to lose the mindset that statistics are the be all and end all, new and refreshed methodologies are starting to come to the fore. Clients and agencies have a renewed focus on the approaches that will provide real, grounded insight for the lowest possible cost. Take ethnography, for instance, which has found a new application under the guise of webnography, tracking users on the internet. Or desk research, which is enjoying something of a renaissance as clients and agencies dust off some of the unglamorous but tried and tested tools of market research. Used correctly, desk research is actually one of the most efficient and cost effective techniques in the methodology toolkit – not least because it allows you to capitalise on the abundance of information already in the public domain without investing in collecting new data.

For many agencies, times are getting tougher by the day. Clients are even more fixated by value, while competition is tougher than ever. Many clients are reviewing their agency lists aggressively and are frank about the fact that they can’t afford to pay for projects that can be done in-house. Those agencies that will survive, and even thrive in the recession need to demonstrate the unique value they can add to their clients. I guarantee you it will be the agencies that are approaching problems with innovative approaches and fresh thinking that will prosper in the downturn.