Vital and revitalised role of research

Digital developments, including social media and big data, are providing substantial new opportunities for insight and thus driving much of the change in market research. New data can provide new insights, but more data being available doesn’t lead to cheaper or easier-to-get insights. Indeed, the more data there is, the more discerning marketers have to be to find the right data to answer the question. “Fit for purpose” is the new mantra. Budgets, data provenance, rigour, quality and insights must be determined by whether they are fit for purpose.

In this new age, the market research profession is not resting on its laurels, says ESOMAR director general Finn Raben. “As more sources of information become available, as demand for guidance increases and as legislation evolves, we need to ensure that our profession, and the commitments we make to clients, users, participants and the public, remain up to date with best practice and are fit for purpose,” he says.

To achieve this goal, ESOMAR’s code of conduct is currently being reviewed, and will be discussed and voted on by its members later this

Finn Raben, Director general ESOMAR

Finn Raben, Director general ESOMAR

year. The ICC/ESOMAR Code on Market and Social Research, which was developed jointly with the International Chamber of Commerce, sets out globally applicable principles for the conduct of research that form the basis for practical guideline documents and guide the profession’s successful self-regulatory status.

This code has been undersigned by all ESOMAR members, both agency and clients, and adopted or endorsed by more than 60 national market research associations in over 50 countries worldwide. Its overhaul reflects the changing landscape.

We need to ensure that our profession, and the commitments we make to clients, users, participants and the public, remain up to date with best practice and are fit for purpose

“As researchers we’re no longer dependent solely on primary data collection. The exponentially growing number of avenues through which we can obtain information, such as social media, means we’re increasingly acting as both curators and synthesisers of that information as well as interviewers,” explains Mr Raben. “These new channels bring a whole new set of responsibilities for researchers, so that they can maintain public confidence and trust in handling any personal data they collect.”

With an increasing availability of big data, a lot of time is now dedicated to sifting through those data sets to find the pertinent information to solve the question at hand – the “smart-data” insights that clients can use to make informed decisions about their businesses.

“Good research has always been founded on the principle that it needs to be fit for purpose,” says Mr Raben. Clients should avoid short-changing themselves and think about the return on investment of a properly resourced research project. “The selection and development of the most appropriate research mode and methodology illustrates the true value that rigorous, comprehensive research consultancy offers,” he says.

ESOMAR has an extensive global library of projects that showcases the substantial benefits effective research provides.

Mr Raben points to examples such as a project carried out by research company Bergent in Australia for the 7-Eleven Group. 7-Eleven, a global chain of convenience stores, was interested in growing its food service, or fresh “Food on the Go” category, and achieving sustainable profit growth in this domain.

A four-stage shopper-focused qualitative and quantitative methodology was implemented, followed by implementation workshops. The changes suggested by the research led to an increase of 32 per cent in the profits of the food-service category and an increase of 26 per cent in food-service sales.

Another example is work conducted by Vocatus in Germany for the online travel service L’TUR. Last-minute travel is a market defined by low prices and discounts. At first glance it may seem ludicrous to offer an online function that tells your own customers if a competitor is offering the same product at a lower price.

However, extensive research and the establishment of a behavioural model of online purchasing proved that the initiative was hugely successful. The L’TUR Price comparison feature resulted in a rise in conversion rates of more than 70 per cent.

Mr Raben is a passionate advocate of the contribution research can make to society. He points to the work of research companies such as ORB that specialise in fragile and conflict environments. It has been working in such environments since 2004, when it won a bid to conduct research for the British government in post-Saddam Iraq. With United States forces in the north of the country and British forces in the south, both the UK and US governments needed to understand issues such as confidence in the local police, the influence of Al Qaeda and what people regarded as the greatest challenges to restoring a normal life.

In unstable states, research can be a high-risk occupation; researchers in the field have been accused of spying for foreign powers and, in extreme cases, interviewers have been killed. But whether it’s determining the rate of cure for Ebola, understanding citizens’ views on piracy in Somalia or simply improving timely tax revenue returns by determining which communication channels work best – not to mention improving business performance – these have all been vital projects, guiding real outcomes with a clear impact, based on sound, fit-for-purpose research.

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* 3.6 per cent global growth was calculated using a constant currency exchange rate


Market research at work: Helping the developing world

To anyone who assumes market research is solely aimed at measuring attitudes to issues, products and services in developed countries, the work of Martin Burt will be something of an eye-opener. Mr Burt is director of Fundación Paraguaya, a non-profit development organisation that has been working for 28 years in Latin America and Africa to help governments identify the services people really need.

Its Poverty Stoplight system uses traffic light colours, photos, maps and geo-tagging on computer tablets to help respondents highlight the services they lack.

“The government may think that in this poor neighbourhood they have 65 per cent coverage with childhood vaccines,” says Mr Burt. What that 65 per cent figure doesn’t explain though, he says, is who is covered and where those who aren’t live and what they need.