OPINION24 June 2015

The Cobbler’s Shoes

B2B Opinion UK

Agencies should carry out research for their own benefit as well as clients’ argues Circle’s Andrew Dalglish.


Ever heard the saying that ‘the cobbler’s children have no shoes’? The cobbler is so focused on everyone else’s shoes that he doesn’t think to use his expertise for the benefit of his own family.

Research agencies are a bit like that. If you work for an agency, take a look at your own metaphorical shoe rack. How often do you conduct research for the benefit of your company rather than clients? And if you do any, do you do so with the frequency and rigour that you’d advocate to paying clients? 

So what’s on your shoe rack – a pair of Jimmy Choos, a tatty old pair of boots or nothing at all? If you’re unhappy with what you see, then there are three broad types of research which you might think about doing.

At the base level is research designed to monitor key metrics and keep your finger on the pulse of your business. Most often that takes the form of client and employee satisfaction surveys.

Then there’s research which looks beyond day-to-day performance to provide strategic direction. That might be segmenting your target market, identifying the ideal proposition or finding a unique, differentiated brand positioning.

And then there’s research which helps you to become a subject matter expert and communicate this to the world at large. Let me give you some examples.

Kids and family research specialist Pineapple Lounge surveyed 1,000+ girls aged 8- to 14-years-old to discover what their life is like and what they want from the brands that target them. The findings were then packaged up into the ‘Little Miss Understood’ report and published. Or take Millward Brown and its BrandZ product. In publications like the BrandZ Top 100 report it selectively releases snippets from its vast database of consumer perceptions on different brands.

The value in this type of research is that it allows an agency to turn the well-worn promise of ‘translating information into insight’ into a reality. Without an intimate understanding of the issue at hand and the context which surrounds it, it’s hard to spot the implications of research findings at anything more than a superficial level.

It doesn’t end there. There are three further benefits to investing in your own insight. It provides a vehicle to test innovative new ideas and methodologies. It offers a proving ground where newer members of the team can hone their skills without risk. And it gives you a point-of-view which can fuel your agency’s marketing activity.

I think I can hear the sound of shoe leather being buffed already.

Andrew Dalglish is a co-founder of B2B research agency Circle Research