From a new business perspective, it was incredibly encouraging to read that UK companies have revised their marketing budgets upwards for the 3rd successive quarter in the IPA Bellwether Report .
Even more encouraging for research agency owners is that the discipline was the top performing category, “reflecting efforts by businesses to better understand the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on their existing clients and target audiences”.
Every dog has its day and it is about time there was a boom for research and insight agencies. Research is often one of the first hit in a crisis. We saw this in 2008 and again in 2020. However, our recent experience reflects the Bellwether findings with higher numbers of opportunities identified in the past 12 months with a number of our clients and contacts reporting their best year on record (from both existing and new business).
You’d have to have your head in the sand not to realise the huge impact on society, people, behaviours and attitudes Covid has had. Brands and companies need to keep apace, but what is the “new normal”?
I am not sure there is one as it is different for everyone. If the current trajectory continues, we will all be allowed to travel, shop, eat and drink and return to offices. However, whereas going into the habits of lockdown was immediate and uniform for most of us, coming out of it will be staggered and slow with a range of new or amended views and outlooks. It has surely never been harder or more challenging for brands and companies to truly understand their customers and crucially predict or forecast the future.
This is reflected in public transport figures. Only this week, after the cancellation of the “work at home if you can” policy led to a BBC article flagging that demand for peak time trains went up by just 5% and numbers were only at 53% of pre-pandemic numbers according to the Department for Transport.
Train companies are trying to entice customers back with free hot drinks, bacon rolls and access to a mindfulness App. Some will have to return, others will want to, but certainly nobody will want to pay over inflated prices for an unreliable service if they don’t have to and the complexity of the ticketing system is mind-blowing. So does an App or a free coffee demonstrate a real connection with passengers?
Equally, it has never been harder for research professionals to engage and conduct studies. Working from home for agencies has been reportedly difficult. Basics, such as broadband coverage has not achieved government targets, so many researchers have found it more challenging to do their jobs externally. This should get easier with a move back to offices, even if part-time.
One thing is certain. The sector adapted incredibly during 2020 and 2021 and showed real resilience in the face of a threat like no other, but agencies will need to have an agile approach, utilising a plethora of methods and tools to thrive in the post-pandemic world.
What does this mean for new business?
There’s a lot of research opportunity out there. That is the key message. Companies need help and that is not just short-term.
Winning new business for research agencies has always been a challenge. How do you get your foot in the door, get noticed and break into that preferred agency list that all buyers seem to have? Now there are more agencies, more platforms, more research options so there is a lot of noise in the market and it is not getting any easier. How can you cut through? The principles remain the same:
- Clarity of offer
- Clarity of target company
- Strong story with supporting evidence
How do you get that across? Content marketing is one option, but whilst you can be targeted, the amount of content that is in the market makes it very unlikely that the right people will consume it. Building relationships via intelligent conversations, identifying gaps and suitable briefs remains the best way to get your agency across and critically ensure the prospect is right for you and your agency goals.
The simple model for success.
But which agency stories and propositions will resonate?
Face to face research remains the most affected by the pandemic and a question remains as to whether respondents will want to return to a focus group environment or the speed in which that may happen if it does.
In August 2020, Watermelon Research flagged from their survey that 69% of respondents reported that face to face activity was on hold and incredibly 5% of research businesses reported that face to face services will no longer be offered in the future.
Personally, I think they will return as do most of our insight clients, but clearly online techniques will continue to be required to fill that void.
Face to face research remains important. MRS CEO, Jane Frost stated that:
“While alternative methods and techniques have been utilised to great effect throughout this period, and we’ve seen a surge in online qualitative research and telephone research in particular, it is critical that in-person fieldwork is resumed and reprioritised once it is safe. This is not just important for the thousands of experienced and skilled fieldworkers around the country, but also because there is no substitute for face-to-face data collection. No other form of research can as effectively capture the voices of hard-to-reach people – including certain ages, ethnic groups and those without access to technology. We must ensure those voices are heard, now more than ever, and that we don’t compromise the integrity of our research for years to come.”
Successful marketing will always come from knowing your customer. Reaching and understanding the consumer has never been more challenging. Whilst technology has allowed agencies to ride Covid and work more efficiently and analyse larger quantities of data, a focus on the human remains at the heart of research. So which agencies will thrive?
The most successful agencies have really looked after their clients in the past two years as well as having a focus on looking after their people. However, those with the best chance of success in 2022 will:
- Offer a flexible and agile range of solutions
- Focus and invest in innovation
- Provide the best quality of staff – offering flexible working and having a progressive outlook will attract the cream
- Deliver the best-in-class client service and chase that next project once the dust has settled on the previous one (researchers are notoriously guilty of not asking for that next piece of work)
- Adapt to the environment and world. Delivering sustainable research seems to be a hot topic
Agencies that can help brands stay on top of ever-changing consumer behaviour and sentiment will put themselves in the best position to win new clients. Consumers have changed over the past 18-24 months and are continuing to evolve. Aside of Covid, we’ve entered 2022 with further uncertainty on the cost of living, the potential of higher taxes and interest rates. This is alongside geo-political issues such as Russia’s aggressive military posturing on the Ukrainian border which may have an effect on the economy to some extent. People are evaluating the things that really matter to them and will search out positive connections with brands, so companies will need to track and monitor their own brand health and ensure they are aligned with their core customers.
Research agencies will be critical to this and 2022 could be an opportunity for real agency growth.
Alchemis is a new business agency with over 30 years experience of working with research and insight agencies to generate qualified leads, develop genuine opportunities and secure new clients in a range of market sectors, both B2B and B2C. We have worked with research agencies of all sizes from one-man bands to global organisations and many of the current MRS top 100 league table. Research is one of our most successful disciplines, generating new business and growth over many years for agencies (over 15 years in one instance). We enjoy working with research companies and would love to discuss any business development objectives you may have for 2022.
Please get in touch with me on 020 7836 3678 or email@example.com if you would like to find out how we can help you achieve your new business goals.