Telemarketing is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK, a
cheap and effective way of both selling products and of gleaning
information from customers. Client companies, meanwhile, are building
marketing databases, able to record and analyse every transaction going
through their books.
And just a click of the mouse away is the internet, the biggest filing
cabinet, or dustbin, of human knowledge ever conceived.
These are three developments which are adding to the flow of information
available to marketers - stressed out individuals who, it is often said,
are already drowning in data. Arguably, with these new resources, they
should be cutting their traditional research budgets.
Far from shrinking, however, UK market research continues to grow at
about 12 per cent a year, according to the British Market Research
Association (BMRA) and other surveys. In a society desperate for
knowledge, it seems that almost every threat to the research industry
becomes an opportunity.
Bits of business may be lost here, but they’re more than outweighed by
There’s no doubt that the business is being shaken up. Steven Jagger,
managing director of GfK Great Britain, believes there’s an
unprecedented array of challenges. From fieldwork - where cost and
recruitment problems are causing companies to abandon their own field
forces - through to the needs of clients who are getting more demanding,
specifying research which can give more meaning to information and
looking for analysis over and above research results.
Not to mention the internet, which as well as providing clients with an
ocean of data, allows it to be sent around the world, making for
competition from faster and cheaper operations in developing countries.
Since clients are operating on an international scale and savings can be
made by the research companies doing the same, many of the answers may
well come from international research operations.
’There will be a lot more global partnerships in areas like ad tracking
and NPD testing, with the emphasis on speed. Clients will rely
increasingly on five or so key measures. In fact, much of the focus in
research will be on key numbers, as quickly as possible. I just hope
people remember that any market research needs thinking about, and we
don’t end up simply churning out the data,’ Dave Phillips, marketing
director at Research International, says.
The chief executive of Taylor Nelson Sofres, Tony Cowling, also thinks
speed will be of the essence. ’Historical information will be found on
databases. Market research will be pushed more into providing fast
turnaround on up-to-date information, such as what happened on TV last
night, or how many people responded to my ad in the first 24 hours.’
But research is just like every other industry, having to cope with
today’s fast-changing environment. In this respect, it’s illuminating to
see how research has responded to the new sources of information
mentioned at the start. Telemarketing is the easiest to deal with.
MORI’s chairman, Bob Worcester, dismisses it as ’crap’, and says that
people who have been trained as telemarketers do not make good
Even so, there’s every chance that telemarketing will nibble away at the
edges of market research. It’s tempting for companies with big customer
relations call centres to get their operators to ask a few research
questions in the course of their work. When Tesco won a special award
from BT last year for its commitment to telemarketing, for instance, it
was stated that research, previously bought from third parties, was one
of four roles handled by its Dundee call centre.
Jeremy Hall, planning director at Bates Communications, says the skills
a market research company can offer mean they are the obvious people to
work on relationship marketing programmes. But problems arise because of
the codes of conduct. The MRS code means that information cannot be used
on an individual level. So, despite the importance of those honed
questioning skills, he believes that in some ways telemarketing is
winning the race to capitalise on the relationship marketing arena.
However, Phillips says that it’s small companies who see no on-going
need for research that are the most likely to ask telemarketing bureaux
to conduct a survey. Professional skills are particularly needed to
eliminate bias and ambiguity from questionnaires. But these services can
be provided by consultants. ’We’ve done it,’ acknowledges Oliver Murphy,
joint managing director of the mainly qualitative shop, Diagnostics
Social & Market Research.
Databases, too, provide information that might replace some commissioned
surveys. Support for the researchers, though, comes from a surprising
source. Mark Patron, managing director of Claritas, one of the leading
providers of lifestyle data on millions of households, says they still
hold the intellectual high ground, and their methodologies are
The challenge they face is to know how to answer when the client demands
to know how their research will affect his bottom line.
’Database marketers often confuse customer segmentation with market
segmentation,’ he adds. ’Analysing a customer database will only ever
tell you about existing customers. Understanding the market as a whole
requires more objectivity, which has always been the researchers’
Major research companies have been quick to embrace the new wave, Patron
says. Companies such as Taylor Nelson Sofres with Superpanel, and BMRB
with TGI, hold masses of in-depth information on thousands of anonymous
consumers. This can be fused with the much thinner data held on millions
more known individuals by the lifestyle database companies such as
Claritas, Experian and CACI. The result, in Patron’s view, is ’the best
of both worlds’, a much improved model of the market.
Smarter technical analysis creates a need for reasoned analysis. ’What
clients need increasingly is insight rather than more data. Just a few
brains that can look across information from agencies, customer service
departments and internal databases, and put it all together,’ Wendy
Gordon, director at the research company, The Fourth Room, says.
As for the internet, it’s true that in some instances clients may be
able to locate and download the information they’re looking for, and
avoid the need to commission fresh surveys. However, the research
companies brush this aside as a minor irritant while they contemplate
the opportunities presented by the web.
The internet is actually creating new business for research
For example, major client companies take their websites very
The sites are a major investment, they have a long life and, for better
or worse, they project an image of the company. MORI is just one of
several research companies providing evaluations of websites based on
interviews with users.
Secondly, the internet is a new medium. Taylor Nelson Sofres, the UK’s
biggest research company, is heavily involved in tracking conventional
media around the world, especially TV and radio. Its chief executive,
Tony Cowling, points out that many of the things his group already
measures - such as ad expenditure, penetration, share of voice, reading
and noting - will also have to be measured on the internet. The group’s
am@ze division for international research is already offering this under
the name Adnet Track.
The French and German groups, IPSOS and GfK (both with UK offshoots),
are approaching the question from a different angle. They’ve formed a
joint European venture with the US company, MediaMetrix. The aim is to
recruit a panel of internet users and instal software on their PCs to
track which websites they visit - data which can be linked to
information already recorded about the household.
And this is without mentioning the prospect of using the net as a
vehicle for conducting research interviews. Admittedly, this has been
slow to get off the ground because it’s dependent on the penetration of
computers into the home. But the leading research companies, including
Taylor Nelson, Research International and GfK, are starting to build
panels of people with internet access.
Research International’s Phillips is quick to admit that there are
’It raises again all the known questions about panels,’ he says. ’You
get a disproportionate number of empty nesters, but it’s hard to recruit
youth or business people who are heavy travellers. Even in the US, there
are important groups of consumers who aren’t online, and won’t be in ten
years’ time. Maybe it will happen when the fridge, TV and PC come as a
This is the reason Research International provides internet access to
some recruits as it sets up a panel of 200,000 US households. There are
plans to roll out this project across Europe and Asia Pacific.
’Internet research will reduce the cost of everything, just as telephone
research did when it was new,’ Cowling says. ’People will complete
questionnaires, virtually for free, and the analysis will be speeded up
because it will happen online.
’What must be remembered with all these developments is that there are
still some very real skills involved in conducting research. Clients’
DIY surveys will undoubtedly increase, but there are many circumstances
in which the fact that research was carried out by a reputable and
independent research company adds greatly to its value.’
Top 10 BMRA members 1997-98
Total BMRA members ranked by 1998 %Growth
ranking sales turnover pounds 1997-98
1 Taylor Nelson/Sofres 96,550,000 10.1
2 NOP Research 73,769,000 6.2
3 Research International 62,334,000 18.9
4 Millward Brown International 55,621,000 16.1
5 BMRB International 31,824,000 9.4
6 IPSOS -RSL 28,931,026 12.4
7 MORI (Market & Opinion Research
International) 19,671,000 8.1
8 Information Resources 19,534,000 14.8
9 MARITZ - TBRI 19,284,000 3.2
10 MBL 15,967,351 5.9
This article was first published on Campaign