OPINION27 March 2024

DIY research is reshaping agency-client dynamics

Opinion Technology UK

Do-it-yourself and self-service research are now core parts of the client-side equation, and forward-thinking agencies should embrace the shift to reinforce strong, trusted relationships, says Jonathan Million.

small toolbox on a laptop keyboard

In today’s landscape, characterised by financial strains and escalating consumer expectations, the role of do-it-yourself (DIY) market research within client-side research teams is gaining paramount importance.

Market research is ultimately about asking good questions, understanding something, learning, and implementing a solution. If you have all the money and resources, solving problems is straightforward. However, with limited resources, it becomes more challenging.

I have always said, where there is a will, there is a way. There are fortunately still lots of options for clients to learn something that will get them closer to the decisions they have to make. They can do this by reaching out to their extensive network of valuable partners and lean on them for well-deserved help.

In my world in technical research, most of the clients that I have built relationships with over the years are extremely talented, well rounded, curious researchers themselves. By working together, I have learnt so much about building methodologies and discovering fresh insight. Of course, at times, I have thought: ‘what do they need me for?’ But ultimately, they do, as they have so many projects running, they must outsource to agencies they trust to fulfil the many tasks involved in a research project to ensure they get the information they need. But, when needs must, they can do it themselves incredibly well.

This is where collaborative relationships pay back. Often a client may just need to borrow the platforms and tools that agencies have developed to fulfil a DIY, self-served piece of research. The motivation for this will rarely be because they don’t trust the agency, but more likely a budget issue. It could be they need to test exploratory ideas very early doors or perhaps, they just have the time to do it themselves.

This underscores the need for agencies to step in and provide guidance. By leveraging their expertise and experience, agencies can play a pivotal role in assisting clients in recommending suitable DIY research platforms. Offering insights into reliable tools and ecosystems, agencies can empower clients to execute projects autonomously, thus fostering a collaborative partnership wherein the agency becomes an indispensable extension of the client’s team.

I found myself in an interesting conversation recently. As an agency owner of over 20 years specialising in a niche part of our broad sector, I am fortunate to have built strong trusting relationships that allow for open transparent conversations. This doesn’t happen quickly. Like any relationship, trust is earned and formed over years of mutually beneficial conversations, events, projects, trips, and so on and so forth.

The conversation was about an internal problem they were facing, and the frustrations of having to apply for budget, which may have delayed the project for a year. We had the solution they needed – if their team could do the prep, upkeep and analysis, they would be able to get what they needed within a few weeks. My hand was bitten off there and then. Sharing is what makes a professional relationship blossom. Genuine, transparent sharing, and working together to get to the end goal, is an essential part of any client service offering. Collaboration will ensure you remain a valuable partner and an extension of your client’s team.

Clients are facing real financial pressures and stakeholders have increasingly high expectations, that’s just how the world is now. This is a good thing; it keeps us all sharp. DIY market research is becoming an essential part of client-side research teams. Agencies can support clients in their search for suitable platforms that assist them to carry out projects themselves, by sharing their reliable platforms and eco system directly to their clients. 

This notion is beneficial for the agency, firstly it affirms a strong trusted relationship, and secondly it keeps the agency top of mind for clients and increases the likelihood of returning to a full service as and when circumstances allow. This is not an unusual practice and one that forward thinking, modern and collaborative agencies should be promoting to their client base today.

In essence, the rise of DIY research represents a shift in the dynamics of client-agency relationships. By embracing this shift and actively supporting clients in their pursuit of autonomy, agencies can not only solidify existing partnerships but also lay the groundwork for future collaborations. As the business landscape continues to evolve, agencies must adapt and innovate, positioning themselves as trusted advisors in their clients’ journey towards market success. 

So, if you are ever approached by a client asking for budget-less support, see this as a compliment. Give what you can, and it will strengthen your relationship and create otherwise unknown opportunities. Go for it!

Jonathan Million is chief executive at Blue Yonder Research