Maximising the value of research spend

In today’s insight world, there are increasing pressures on budget. Projects from different departments encroach on insight spend and stakeholders demand answers quickly and at low cost. Here we look at how to maximise the value of insight spend without losing the quality of work and importantly enhancing its impact within the business.

Project budgets seem to have hardly changed in the last 15 – 20 years and in real terms they have shrunk.  This means as insight partners we need to work as efficiently and effectively as possible.  Here are some principles we believe apply that incur very little additional spend:

1. Walking in the shoes of the team

It’s not rocket science but as insight practitioners we need to gain a real understanding of client businesses.  It is not just about getting a good handle on the product area.  It is also key to understand the relationships between departments in the business and the demands placed on the insight team. This can be achieved by spending a day shadowing the team and hearing for real the conversations that take place. At the very least, a detailed set up meeting should cover these issues and importantly be refreshed via a regular review.

Some large companies like Unilever hold agency days where all partner agencies are invited to hear about the latest in the business.  This is enormously helpful to understand the company’s broader commercial objectives and activities.  It also offers a rare opportunity for to share knowledge across other agencies which leads to our next point.

2. Leveraging existing understanding of your business

Across disciplines and partner agencies there is a wealth of existing knowledge about your business.  Agencies will have a greater insight into certain parts of your company by the very nature of the discipline they operate in.  The length of ‘time in office’ will also vary subject to the rate of churn of partner agencies.

We see an opportunity here to embrace that knowledge to understand more about client businesses as well as support our insight work.  We collaborate extremely closely with the CRM agency of one of our existing clients.  Crucially the collaboration is not nominal at the project start and end but integrated throughout the whole research journey.  We are keen to avoid the classic and all-familiar ‘pass the knowledge parcel’ approach.

This above collaboration is based on usage of customer data from the CRM database. It enables us to enrich findings beyond the confines of our qualitative and quantitative projects.  The CRM data delivers breadth around behavioural data as our research gives depth.  It also provides valuable input at the project design stage. This maximises the effectiveness and reach of the work for minimal additional spend.

It’s not all about more spend but intelligent ways of using spend.

3. Using tools that are fit for purpose

Our company philosophy is to take a pragmatic approach to our research and only use the latest tools when they are fit for purpose AND add genuine value, rather than window dressing to win a proposal.

The industry also is now awash with many techniques enabled by the digital world.  However, on the flipside, does this lead to the desire to impress with sophisticated tools and head-turning methodologies?  Is there a temptation to be too self-indulgent as agencies?

We strive to strike the right balance between the curiosity to use new tools that open up new insights vs. using tried and trusted that do the job in hand.  This leads back to our first point – we need to understand the needs of client and stakeholder teams to make the most effective use of insight tools at our disposal.

4. It’s not how you get there it’s what impression you leave behind

We think proposals should always be collaborative and flexible both in terms of recommended approach but importantly in terms of suggested deliverables.  Subject to the needs of the team, a range of outputs are possible – edited clips of the research, to workshop debriefs, or high-level executive summaries. It is key to understand how information is best digested by the insight team, how it is going to be used further within the business and what is in-house working style.

We think it is worth having a conversation upfront to understand the ideal project outputs.  As an alternative, a menu-based list of deliverables can be supplied.

Our belief is it’s not all about an agency approach but how you as a client want things done.  After all, very few of these types of outputs are proprietary – what is bespoke is the style of delivery, the quality of thought and who creates confidence in your business.