OPINION3 November 2014

Time for MR brands to standout and be strong

Opinion

Market researchers are often called upon to help companies make decisions about their own brands, but invariably, don’t consider their own brand communications in the same light. But is brand communication really important in the B2B world of word-of-mouth?

In recent conversation with clients (such as Electrolux, Coca-Cola, Heineken, UBS, Telefonica and 02 ) their opinions were clear – they find it hard to distinguish between suppliers, they are fed up with generic, bland marketing approaches focusing on lists of services. They are looking for new thinking, new technology and new ideas. They are looking for agencies and suppliers to have a point of view on the world and be true to themselves. In my book, that means clients want to work with people who know what their ‘secret sauce’ is and are not afraid to share it. In other words, clients want to work with true brands.

At Mustard our designers recently did some analysis of the logos and straplines of the top 35 global research companies. We found that the industry is overwhelmingly grey (with a bit of ‘corporate’ blue thrown in). But we are not a dull grey industry – we are a vibrant, dynamic and fast changing industry at the forefront of technology and innovation. So we looked at how these companies described themselves and found that too was generic. A word cloud throws up the words ‘global’, ‘research’ and ‘insight’ over and over again. Just one glance at most MR industry websites and you see that the combination of text and visuals is similar, with long menus of services and the same kind of images used repeatedly.

So we have a branding problem; we are generic and grey. But why does this matter? I think it matters on two levels.

First branding matters to individual companies in MR because we are living in a stormy business environment. Our competition is not from other research agencies or suppliers, but now from massive brands like Google or Amazon. Technology has changed our business model. 

MR agencies used to control clients’ access to people; they’d be the source of data from those people. They’d deliver that data and throw in some analysis and, if the client was lucky, some business advice, for free.  But companies no longer need to pay for access to customers or data – it’s freely available in our brave new world, in large and ever growing quantities.

The old MR business model was a commodity model; the price of data being driven down all the time. If you are a commodity, then branding is not so important – your business is about price competition. But if you are offering brain power, consultancy and a point of view on the world, then in order to do that you need to have a strong brand.

Secondly, branding matters to the research industry as a whole. We constantly moan about how we struggle to attract the best graduates, how people fall into research almost by mistake, and how recruitment is a big headache. One reason for this is that market research is perceived externally as dull, grey and boring. Now, I wonder what is giving that impression?

A vibrant, lively and rebranded set of companies in MR would benefit the industry as a whole, as well as the individual companies. A strong brand articulates clear messages; rather than listing menus of services a strong brand is known for something, has a philosophy and is not afraid to stand up for that. It’s time for MR to step up to the mark.

Lucy Davison is managing director of Keen as Mustard Marketing

6 Comments

6 years ago

At my first ESOMAR Congress in Madrid 1992, I enthusiastically collected brochures of the exhibiting MR companies. I splashed them over the board room table upon my return in Amsterdam and asked my team whether they spotted relevant differences. They could not really. The world has changed, but the MR companies and their branding have not, while they are supposed to be experts in the matter. It is obvious that good branding is increasingly important, so Lucy: if that is the case, why isn't is happening?

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6 years ago

Good question Wander and one I ask myself a lot! I think things are improving – but slowly. Here are some reasons why: 1. Researchers are notoriously bad at being opinionated and even trained to be impartial and not stick their necks out. So agencies sometimes think if they have a strong point of view or philosophy, and communicate that, then they might potentially alienate those clients who do not agree with or like what they are saying. 2. Agencies get 'menu envy' - when a competitor adds a service or offering lots of other companies copy that - the rise of behavioural economics or neuro or ethnography being cases in point. Suddenly all the agencies need to do the latest thing. As a result all the offers seem very generic. 3. The cobbler’s children don’t wear shoes – so although agencies advise clients on brands all the time, they don’t turn that scrutiny on themselves – they don’t do enough customer research and think about how people perceive them externally, so they don’t realise how generic they are. I am sure there are other reasons, I’d be interested in finding out what others think…

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6 years ago

I have worked for several large agencies, and have always been frustrated by the lack of distinction between them. So much so I've forgotten who I worked for.

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6 years ago

I think the marketing research industry focuses much more on research than marketing. That's all well and good for our core function, but at the same time we are businesses that need to understand that marketing and differentiation are part and parcel of being a successful business.

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6 years ago

It's nonsense, there are very many differentiated agencies out there. One major problem has been the grotesque corporatization of the industry and that research buyers increasing are seeking globals to hammer them on price and get a one size fits all solution to their research needs . Research buyers are so conservative that an increasing amount of research is bought from big bland corporate agencies who look alike, think alike and sound alike. Outside of that there is plenty of differentiation - but would say a global FMCG company really step outside the main arena and put 80% of it's budget with well differentiated independent agencies? Unlikely!

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6 years ago

Dear Anonymous. I think 'nonsense' is a bit strong. I agree that some smaller agencies are differentiated and have a point of view/specialism but by far the majority of the MR market is bland - big and small. And the clients that I have spoken to really do want a point of view and a strong opinion or philosophy from their suppliers. They might be forced, through economies of scale, to put huge projects with huge companies, but they are certainly not getting what they want out of those relationships. Go on, reveal yourself!

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