FOCUS: MARKET RESEARCH; Taking research streets ahead

REDISCOVERING MARKET VALUES : Market research is finding new uses as a valuable public relations tool INTERNET ACCESS: The World Wide Web offers a huge new audience and the potential of speedy responses DEATH OF A CLIPBOARD: Questionnaires on lap tops and interactive television allow more personalised responses

REDISCOVERING MARKET VALUES : Market research is finding new uses as a

valuable public relations tool

INTERNET ACCESS: The World Wide Web offers a huge new audience and the

potential of speedy responses

DEATH OF A CLIPBOARD: Questionnaires on lap tops and interactive

television allow more personalised responses

The days of misleading statistics have gone. But market research, which

is not blatantly biased towards the client, is being seen as a valuable

commodity. Mary Cowlett reports

There are signs that professional PRs are wising up to the fact that

market research is a tool that has been abused in recent years.

Bastardised surveys with puffy statistics are not hitting journalists’

desks with quite the same tiring regularity. There is a realisation that

properly conducted research is a highly valuable method of positioning a


As Andrew Jones, former brand planner at Courage and Bates Dorland, and

current planning director at Countrywide says: ‘If a client doesn’t know

how they are perceived or want to be perceived, then market research can

be the starting point.’ But what kind of research should you use?

In terms of corporate identity, continual tracking by an agency like AC

Nielsen, can help a company to identify changes in public perception.

This does not always work so well against the mass market, bearing in

mind the financial resources usually available for such exercises. But

keeping abreast of the perceptions of opinion-formers over a period of

two or three years can produce tangible results.

Picture this: the reputation of brass rivet company, Rivet UK is in tatters, but by ingenious restructuring it doubles its market share and reduces its dangerous emissions by 50 per cent over three years. Yet, stop Joe Average on the street and ask his opinion of the company and he’s likely to know nothing about Rivet UK - his response is worse than useless. But, ask the editor of Brass Rivet Weekly, and you’ll get a valid point of view based on fact and opinion. As Jones says: ‘The point is to find who to talk to, what to say, and how you should be saying it.’

For the service sector in particular, research can be the right marketing tool to create an issue, as a means of placing a company and driv driving campaigns.

Stella Hitner, managing director of The Reputation Managers (TRM) says:

‘ We use the technique all the time, especially in business-to-business

work, when you need to create an issue, as you have no concrete products

to work with.’

Twelve months ago they conducted telephone research on 100 business

managers about what contingency plans they had if their business went

under as a result of a major computer crash. As a piece of valid

research, conducted by TRM, the findings were published as a report on

behalf of their client Comdisco, a world leader in computer disaster

recovery. Coverage of the major finding that, in this scenario five

million jobs could be under threat, found its way into the computing

press and the business pages of the national broadsheets.

Similarly, in the healthcare market, because of codes of practice

governing the pharmaceutical industry, you are not always directly

promoting a product to consumers, so an issues-based campaign is often a

practical answer.

Mark Chataway of Interscience says: ‘We frequently use research to

decide the ‘personality’ of a brand, especially when the brand is PR-


Questions addressing who the respondent would most like to receive

advice from on a health matter lets them gauge how people feel about a

health issue and pitch their campaign accordingly.

Recent research commissioned by Interscience from Spectrum Research

for a new prescription coldsore remedy, Smith-Kline Beech-am’s Vectavir,

quizzed 1,037 sufferers and 100 UK GPs. The findings of patient

embarrassment and GPs’ lack of interest in a minor ailment formed the

basis of a PR campaign aimed at the professional press, encouraging

doctors not to wait to be asked before prescribing.

For testing creative ideas and evaluating the progress of a campaign,

market research is not implemented as often as it should be. Jones says:

‘We have loads of wacky ideas, but who are we to know, in our lofty Soho

offices, what a housewife in Stockton-on-Tees will think of it?’

Chataway goes further: ‘Most of us belong to the top 10 per cent of the

population and so do our friends - good market research should put us

back in touch with reality.’

But big bucks need not be an impediment to tracking how your strategy is

shaping up. ‘Mention market research and your client immediately thinks

they’re going to be hit by a pounds 10,000 survey,’ says Hitner.

‘Take internal communications, something as simple as a readership

survey card in the in-house magazine can provide an effective check that

the right messages are reaching the right desks,’ she adds.

However, when you do decide to approach an agency, their major gripe

about clients is the lack of respect for the fact that they are the

professionals. According to Chris Goard, group marketing director at

Taylor Nelson AGB too often PR staff fail to bring in the researchers at

an early enough stage. Furthermore, he says: ‘Clients often present

agencies with the questions rather than the objective.’

Kevin Hawkins, director of communications for Safeway points out that

there is an assumption that complex data can be analysed in-house. He

stresses the difficulties that can arise, such as misattrib-ution by

respondents - mistaking editorial content for TV advertising - or

reluctance by respondents to give an honest opinion to a representative

too closely linked to the company.

He adds: ‘A professional agency gives you a detached third party who can

interpret and read between the lines.’

With the ever increasing emphasis on accountability, evaluation is

usually the only weapon with which to defend the small slice of the

marketing pie that public relations gets.

Whether you are going upstairs to beg for a larger budget, or trying to

qualify campaign achievements to your client, statistics may be your

only concrete evidence.

Fiona Longhurst, director at Band and Brown Communications has run two

market research driven campaigns over the past year for British Telecom

on price perception and the BT Business Connections service. ‘You’ve got

to stand up and be counted for your own discipline, from a clients point

of view,’ she says, ‘they want to be able to stand back and see the

various elements of a campaign.’

With more sophisticated media tracking methods now available, building

other tracking methods into a campaign is a bonus to all.

But, while highlighting the discipline as ‘the fundamental approach for

any company to spending its marketing budget’, Hitner says that PRs do

not use market research nearly enough and when they do, they are not

creative enough. She says: ‘People tend to view it as simply facts and

figures. Market research needs a good PR campaign. People have a very

narrow view of how it can be used, and a lack of knowledge of it’s

flexibility.’ .

On-line opportunities: Netting a new audience

The Internet is still in its infancy, but already market research

agencies are excited by the vast opportunities it could offer.

In its simplest form the Internet can be used as a desk tool for

background information. Using the search facility, topics can be pulled

up relatively quickly, by entering key words. In addition, according to

David Walker, associate director at Research International Specialist

Units (RISU), there are over 15,000 bulletin boards on the Internet

where diverse interest groups can be reached, that by more traditional

methods would be difficult to identify.

His company has recently conducted qualitative research on on-line

gaming for an undisclosed client. By accessing the on-line discussions

of the interest group first, RISU were able to gain valuable insight

into current issues and identify likely candidates for in-depth


Furthermore, NOP Research Group, have conducted research on actual

Internet users, initially screening them with an attitudinal survey,

while collecting their e-mail address for follow up.

The company’s tracking work, on topics such as lifestyle, media

consumption and reasons for using the Internet, is updated and reported

to a syndicate of 20 companies every six months, most recently on July


According to Robert Lawson, research executive at NOP: ‘The two main

growth areas for Internet research are web page research and on-line


His company sends respondents to a web page then follows up with an on-

ine questionnaire on aspects such as design and content. It also

conducts discussion groups where respondents can contribute off-line at

their leisure - useful for International research.

An alternative technique is Internet Relay Chat (IRC), where everybody

is on-line simultaneously, with an on-line moderator.

While the Internet is undeniably a cost-effective way of conducting

research, penetration in the home market is poor. Research is limited to

technically minded individuals and academics.

Other problems are screening, as respondents self-select and the

restricted capabilities of cabling and modems.

Jeremy Wyndham, managing director of Public Attitude Surveys, argues

that the Internet ‘makes a mockery’ of the market research industry.

‘The industry has got carried away with new technology,’ he says, ‘and

undermined the basic principle of market research that you use a sample,

representative of the rest of the population.’

Furthermore, Neil Preddy, marketing director at AC Nielsen, says that

while his company uses the Internet to communicate with clients, it is

not planning to conduct any serious research in this area in the UK at

the moment. Although they did publish results in November last year of a

survey done on behalf of CommerceNet on Internet users in the US and

Canada However, Walker is optimistic that with the increasing use of

fibre optic cables, via cable TV, speed will improve a thousand-fold,

and facilitate the addition of graphics, video and complex sound. This

will make the Internet a more popular medium and level out the

representative sample.

Research questions: The next generation

Nowadays, it is unlikely that you will be accosted on a street corner by

a researcher brandishing a clipboard.

You are more likely to be preselected and approached over the phone. At

the other end, the interviewer will be feeding your responses into a

computer. According to Richard Jameson, director, NOP Corporate and

Financial, computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) is the

fastest growing area for data collection in Europe, and no wonder. The

average speed of turnaround 10 years ago for two to five Omnibus

questions on a sample of 2,000, used to be three or four weeks, now it

is 10 days or sooner, he says.

Things have also speeded up in computer-assisted personal interviews

(CAPI), where developments in lap top computers mean that questionnaires

are sent out overnight via modem and collected data is downloaded at the

end of the day back to the main computer.

However, hi-tech developments bring more than just speed. Michael

Warren, director general of the Market Research Society, points out the

improvement in quality of data: ‘Interviewers no longer have to flick

around, it is all preprogrammed.’

Also, according to Graham Kelly, associate director of BMRB

International, respondents perceive self completion on a lap top as

being more confidential than pen and paper in a sealed envelope. This

encourages greater honesty which is particularly useful for sensitive

issues such as health, personal finance and anti-social behaviour. To

encourage technophobes RSGB Continuous has introduced ‘pen’ technology,

where answers to precoded questions are entered by touching the screen

with a pen, and responses to open-ended questions are written directly

on the screen.

Rather than have an interviewer visit in person, since November 1995,

NOP Media has undertaken an interactive television trial on the

Cambridge cable television network. Commissioned by a consortium of

companies ranging from NatWest and Tesco to BMP DDB Needham Worldwide,

the scheme covers 100 homes in the East Anglia region, surveying them

once a month on topics such as lifestyle, media consumption and

purchasing power. It also provides access to the Internet via a VCR-

style infra-red handset. The advantages of this medium are flexibility -

questionnaires are downloaded to homes as and when respondents wish to

participate it is possible to show video clips, useful for pretesting TV

advertisements. Disadvantages are the current lack of a voice facility

and the need for a larger sample.

Soon, you could earn yourself a free burger or pizza by undertaking a

‘customer satisfaction’ telephone questionnaire in a fast food

restaurant, after your meal. Ruth McNeil, deputy managing director at

Research International says the advantages of this method of data

collection are anonymity and immediacy to the event, but points out the

disadvantage of self-selection. While her company is trailing the method

in this country with 0800 numbers they are not as advanced as US

agencies, where telecom operators offer customers free local calls.

The increasing sophistication in technology and the proliferating

mediums for collecting data are having a huge impact on client

expectations. As Warren says: ‘The faster turnaround of data means the

pressure on agencies if very great indeed.’

He adds ‘While the larger agencies have formed conglomerates with the

financial resources to respond and the smaller agencies increasingly

specialising, it is the middle sized agencies who have the biggest



Contacts: Market research specialists


Name                 Details                               Contact

NOP Research Group   Full service agency.                  Tony Lees

Ltd                  Specialist divisions: consumer,       0171 612 0439

                     corporate and financial,

                     healthcare, mystery shopping

Consensus Research   Corporate business and financial      Sue Jarvis

International        mainly adhoc, individually            0171 592 1700


Research             Full service agency specialising      Ruth McNeil

International        in FMCG, advertising, media,          0171 656 5000

                     business-to-business and

                     international research

Millward Brown       Full service agency specialising      Rosi Ware

International Ltd    in advertising and brand research     01926 452233

AC Nielsen           Full service agency specialisations   Paula O’Meara

                     range from continuous marketing       01865 741690

                     information and advertising

                     expenditure measurement to

                     media research

Taylor Nelson AGB    Full service agency specialising      Chris Goard,

                     in consumer, healthcare,              Group

                     media, business and financial         Marketing

                     services research                     director

                                                           0171 608 0072

Public Attitude      Full service agency specialising      Jeremy

Survey               in social, financial, business        Wyndham

                     and automotive research.              01494 532771

                     Originally owned by Guinness and

                     alcoholic drinks are their flagship

Spectrum Research    Full service agency specialise in     Tricia Henry

                     research to support communications    01242 524157

                     initiatives in education and

                     information services. Also do

                     Switch (taking prescription drugs

                     over to OTC)


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