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OPINION29 June 2015

Freedom of information


At Shoppercentric, we do research for free. Now that’s a statement that needs a bit of qualifying, but we hope it made you take notice…

What we actually do is carry out three proprietary projects a year that provide data on shopper trends to our clients and the industry for free. But we aren’t the only agency offering ‘free’ research so we thought it was worth considering and sharing our thoughts on the value of freebies.

We were clear from the outset that any ‘free’ research we conduct has to enhance our learning and be of value to our clients – both current and potential. This forms the basis of the approach we take with our trends reports. The aim is to get the shopper perspective on an issue that clients may be thinking about, but not yet researching themselves. We invest in our own research in order to provide topline learnings on the topic and then share our headlines report in the format of a hard copy magazine — also available online — and have the full data available if clients are looking for more detail. All are supplied free of charge.

Are we mad for giving this data and insight away for no charge? We don’t think so. The benefit for those who access the reports is clear from all the feedback: that the reports are of value to those we share them with, providing context to their thinking that they might not otherwise have, or validating thinking on an area to which they aren’t yet able to commit research budget. Of course there are also benefits for us, including it being a free taster for prospective clients demonstrating our skills as an agency, as well as an opportunity to bring added value to current clients.

Importantly though, it helps us to stay on top of industry developments, which in the fast-paced retail sector is no small feat, and provides us with shopper insight for conference papers and trade press articles. And it is the combination of all these benefits that is where the power of ‘free’ comes in.

Working in the world of retail we often see examples of promotions that give product out for free with little payback for the brand. A great example would be toothpaste on BOGOF (buy one get one free). Having that extra pack in your cupboard won’t encourage you to brush your teeth more often, instead it means you can wait twice as long before you need to buy again. In a similar way, what you don’t want to do is give away a research opportunity that the client may have ordinarily paid for.

Equally you want the taster to be a big enough bite to be credible while encouraging the client to come back for more, because at the end of the day this ‘freebie’ is about demonstrating your skills as an agency. And for us that is the point of free research. We want to contribute to pertinent industry debates with a fresh perspective, and demonstrate our thinking to our potential clients, without breaking the bank.

Finally, it’s worth reflecting that in this day and age of increasing interest in DIY research, we must as an industry guard against any notion that ‘free’ translates as ‘quick and dirty’ research. It doesn’t replace the role of funded research but it must retain integrity and have good design at its core, otherwise its value to both client and agency alike is questionable: for the client, no insight is better than bad insight; for the agency, there is no worse advertisement for its credibility than a badly constructed piece of research – however free it may be.

Danielle Pinnington is MD of Shoppercentric