Can MR Clients Recognize Quality When They See it?
Are clients somehow less able to discern quality research, or are researchers thinking of the issue wrongly and clients are simply basing their supplier and methodological decisions on other factors that are more aligned with business needs?
Editor’s Note: It’s interesting to watch as certain topics take the center stage periodically within the MR industry social sphere. The topic du jour is around what drives the selection of techniques and vendors from the client perspective. The conversation encompasses concerns around quality, rigor, price, business models, standards, etc… ad infinitum ad nauseum. The frustrating aspect of this debate is that few seem to want to hear the client view on the issue, as if the client perspective is somehow less valuable since it’s “tainted” by.. (gasp!)… business realities vs. the ivory tower purity of the scientific method that all “good” research is based on. I suspect we’ll be having the same debate when client organizations have long since moved on to mass neural implant psychography delivered via Google Glasses as a mainstay of data collection.
In today’s post client-side researcher (and noted “NewMR Agnostic”) Edward Appleton shares his view on the issue and it’s a doozy of a piece. I wish we had more clients that would share like this, and I wish even more that more suppliers would actually listen.
Before delving into Edward’s post I’d encourage you to read Ray Poynter’s recent post on status quo bias, Reg Baker’s take away from MRMW that Edward cites below, and a lively debate happening on the NewMr Linked Group on “To what standard should NewMR be held?” which itself was prompted by a series of tweets by me last week regarding my concern with the dismissive attitude of some firms with new approaches before they even get a chance to evolve.
I’ve been very lucky over the past few months to talk to A LOT of client side researchers and work with some on a very deep basis regarding this issue. What I have learned is that our navel gazing and pissing matches hold no interest for them. The bottom line for the folks that pay the bills boils down to 3 things:
- Business need
- Fit for purpose
Those factors are what are most important and it’s those criteria more than anything else that clients are using to judge where their budgets will be spent. Concomitant with that troika is that they expect us as business partners to constantly be innovating to find new ways to more effectively meet their needs and a quality product delivered Cheaper, Faster, Better is table stakes folks; it always has been and always will be. Commercial research is about delivering value and impact on a continual basis, and we happen to be living in a time that there are now multiple paths to get those results that may or may not fit into the classical definition of market research but sure as hell deliver parts of what clients need.
Regarding the implications that clients are somehow less able to discern “quality” I’ll leave you with three thoughts before Edward delves deeper into this argument.
First, follow the money. Investors tend to bet on sure things that have significant growth potential; I’m not seeing much investment happening in “traditional” market research but I see a whole lot happening in technology providers, advanced analytics, and anything that has to do with “data convergence”.
Secondly people who throw good money after bad rarely stay employed and client side researchers have a vested interest in ensuring that what they do IS of the highest quality while meeting business objectives. They simply wont stay employed if they don’t. These “NewMR” companies with new approaches are making money and growing; clients are spending with them and based on the rapid growth of many they are spending a lot. Seems to me that indicates that these firms are meeting the 3 criteria I listed above while also passing the quality test.
Last, considering that many client-side researchers were originally on the supplier-side and made the leap over, or that many former client-side researchers often wind back up on the supplier side, isn’t it a bit self-denigrating to somehow imply they are less able to make good judgements about what works and what doesn’t? The whole argument is specious and disingenuous.
Enough out of me. Here is Edward. Enjoy!
I’ve just been reading through the most recent update of Jeffrey Henning’s bi-weekly GreenBook round-up of the most RT’d Market Research Tweets.
One caught my eye: ranked 3rd, a blog piece by the venerable Reg Baker giving his 4 key take-outs from the recent MRMW Conference in Cincinnati. It’s an interesting blog, but what kept my attention longer was the introductory sentence from Mr. Henning:
…And I’m going to start calling this next quote from him Reg’s Law! “Clients will buy cheap data over good data every time.”
Wow. Couple of issues here from this Client-side Researcher before I go on to the main topic – Quality from an MR Client perspective.
- Jeffrey’s quotation is actually a shortened version of what Reg actually said:
.”..clients sooner or later will buy cheap data over good data every time”
The words “sooner or later” are omitted – maybe to save space. Whatever the reason, the shorter version to me is a selective, truncated quotation that suggests that the whole piece is about Clients buying cheap – whereas in fact if you read the blog, it’s pretty balanced, critiquing Clients and Suppliers in equal measure.
- Creating a new name for this quotation - “Reg’s Law” - sounds funny. But how funny is it actually – a law that effectively says that clients are cheapskates? I’d push back on this for many reasons – not the least of which being that oblique client-bashing in public isn’t helpful.
Moving to the central “accusation” – that MR clients will, over time, sacrifice quality for price, I’d say the following:
1. Like any purchasing decision, if 3 or more competitive bids are relatively similar on performance criteria, then price will obviously become an important factor. This is a Supplier problem, not a Client problem.
Added to this: when supply outstrips demand, then prices will invariably fall. With the advent of so many new options in the MR toolkit, it would seem that MR supply is at least expanding. Suppliers might wish to find ways to address this.
2. USPs may seem a thing of the past – but when relevant, they can be very valuable in justifying a price position.
How many MR Agencies have a very powerful USP that is well understood in the market, and commands a price premium? If you were a provider of a CPG brand, this would be a mandatory to aim for.
3. Marginal superiority in performance terms on its own will seldom justify a clearly higher price point.
4. “Quality” in MR needs to be made meaningful to the Buyer.
Quality is a very complex topic for MR with many aspects – and one that many people feel strongly about, rightly so. From the Client perspective, quality needs to be tightly linked to value and impact. Defining quality narrowly via supposedly superior methodologies is seldom enough.
5. Branding is an aspect which is often undervalued in the MR industry.
Yes, branding is a long-term play, and requires consistent investment, but it’s extremely important. Reputation is tightly linked to value perceptions and often pricing power. This is a topic in itself, as branding is about culture, not just about a logo. However, I can only think of a very few MR Agencies that I would say are really strong, well managed brands.
6. Pitting “cheap data” against “good data” misses the point.
If something is low-cost but good enough as fit for purpose for a particular business situation, then it’s good value. Cheap doesn’t necessarily equate with bad.
Value arises or exists in the eye of the beholder. If Clients can’t see clear value, then why should they pay a perceived premium?
We’d all do well to understand how key MR outputs – our “insights” – are valued by a whole range of stakeholders, in order to best understand our value propositions, and maximize the value derived. Unless we really get to the crux of MR impact, we won’t adequately be able to address the pricing or value question.
Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.