Openness gets client best results

In this special report, Strategy surveyed seven clients to find out whether they were satisfied with the market research services available to them. We asked them in what areas they would like to see more research being done, how the reporting...

In this special report, Strategy surveyed seven clients to find out whether they were satisfied with the market research services available to them.

We asked them in what areas they would like to see more research being done, how the reporting of information could be improved, and in what ways they would change the field of market research, if they could.

As well, we asked market research consultants Tim Wingrove and Luke Sklar, who advise clients on market research projects and commission research on their behalf, for their perspective on the issues.

The report continues to page 36.

Clients who are open-minded and forthcoming when dealing with market research suppliers are more likely to get results upon which they can act, say two market research consultants whose business is finding the right suppliers to answer their clients’ research questions.

Tim Wingrove, senior partner at Toronto-based Commins Wingrove, which commissions in excess of $10 million in research projects annually on behalf of clients such as Pepsi-Cola Beverages, Lever Bros., Rogers Cable, Alberto Culver, Thomas J. Lipton and Lenscrafters, among others, says for the most part, clients get the research they deserve.

‘Clients who are forthcoming and willing to share their background and their requirements, and the context in which they operate will get the appropriate, actionable information,’ Wingrove says.

‘But there are a lot of clients who are unwilling, or simply don’t bother, through time pressures and so on, to provide that kind of information,’ he says.

‘So, it’s not something I would hold the research companies entirely responsible for.’

Wingrove says, in some cases, the client’s desire for a specific outcome can bias the results.

‘For the most part, what happens is the client commissioning the research has a very particular agenda and a particular desired result and outcome,’ he says.

‘That doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens frequently. And, therefore, the complete context is sometimes not in their own interest to share with the research people they are dealing with.’

‘Not to sound totally self-serving, but that’s one of the key reasons [consultants] exist. We are bridging that gap to a large extent.

‘A lot of what we do is make sure that our clients, who are the people who are actually paying the bills and commissioning the research, are doing it wisely, and that the information coming back from the other end is in context and related to the situation for which the research was required in the first place.’

Luke Sklar, president of Toronto-based market research broker Luke Sklar & Associates, which counts among its clients Heinz, CTV Television Network, Effem Foods, Pizza Hut, Purolator Courier, Black Photo and fashion retailer Dylex, says clients must be open-minded for research to be effective.

‘The question we ask our clients is, ‘What decision would you make if we didn’t commission any research?’ Sklar asks.

‘If they wouldn’t change their minds based on doing research, then we wouldn’t do any,’ he says.

‘Our job is to ensure our clients get a return on their research investment, which means they can make a decision with the right information by a) defining the problem, b) bringing the right supplier to the project at the right price and c) making sure that the information comes alive into a specific action plan.’

Sklar says many of the complaints attributed to poor market research can be blamed on clients and researchers who fail to properly define the question to be answered.

‘It’s interesting that the bad research, the mistakes made in research, are usually in the area of problem definition – asking the right question to the right problems,’ he says.

‘If I could change anything in the field of market research, I wouldn’t let anyone talk about methodology, not even mention the words `telephone interview’ or `focus group’ or anything, until they had defined the problem.’

While both Sklar and Wingrove agree that the quality of market research in Canada compares favorably to market research done anywhere else in the world, both say there is room for improvement.

For Sklar, faster turnaround is a key issue.

‘The world is moving faster, and my opinion is that research takes too long,’ he says. ‘In the age of the computer, the research industry could work harder at getting quality information to clients more quickly.’

For Wingrove, the issue is not so much in the handling of the information (although he says he would like to see the information made more easily available to clients on an ‘as required’ basis) as a lack of research on the structure of the Canadian marketplace.

As Wingrove explains it, much of the market research taking place in Canada is geared toward finding niche markets for specialty products, which he says the small Canadian market cannot support, except as cottage industries.

Instead, he says, there should be more market research geared toward finding commonalities in consumer tastes around which product franchises of sufficient size can be built to make them economically viable.

‘A lot of the research methodologies used in Canada are similar to, or lifted directly from the u.s., and a lot of them are oriented toward finding these specific small segment opportunities, and that just doesn’t work as well, given our restricted population base.’

Other than that, Wingrove says he feels his clients are well served by the market research services available to them.

Asked whether the market research available in Canada supports his clients’ decision-making to the extent that they would like, Wingrove says ‘No, I don’t think so, and it probably never will.

‘One of the big reasons for that is clients, quite frankly, have a much more optimistic opinion as to what research can do than is justified by what research is actually capable of doing,’ he says.

‘And it’s simply because, for most of the research we do, we are dealing with human beings. And human beings are notoriously difficult individuals to understand and predict.

‘So the best research can hope to do is understand the broad patterns. And we are pretty good at that most of the time.

‘But, unfortunately for clients, we are not dealing with a commodity in the form of human beings. They just don’t lend themselves to that kind of precision. And I hope they never will.’