Earlier this year, an article written by Toby Clark, Director of Research EMEA at Mintel, on the benefits of market research, was featured in the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)’s Catalyst magazine.

In the first part of this article, Toby discussed the different ways companies rely on market research to grow and improve their business. In Part 2, he analyses challenges and risks related to this practice.

Conduct research regularly

Not all products and markets are the same. How much research you need will vary depending on the types of research you need, and across different categories. Some categories move incredibly quickly and others are less dynamic. At one extreme is fintech, which is evolving rapidly, changing almost from month to month. At the other extreme there are, for example, established sectors such as hard surface cleaning products – although they do still change, and there are innovations. Indeed, in a market where products are very well established, that’s when marketing has to work hard to cut through; market research can help there, too.

If you do market research once and then wait five years to refresh it, you are bound to miss opportunities, especially in the world today. There’s also a danger that research gets siloed within marketing, or that GNPD gets siloed inside innovation. If you’ve paid for research it’s important to make sure it’s spread throughout the whole organisation, and everyone knows the value of it and works to act on its insights.

The challenges of data

The past few years have seen big changes in the mechanics of market research. We’ve shifted from almost entirely face-to-face research to mostly online, while also managing the shift to mobile. It’s following where the consumer is and where their interactions are made.

New technologies have opened up so many opportunities, and ways of understanding consumers, and the ways they behave. This has fundamentally changed the dynamics of market research. There’s so much more data available now and, in a world where everyone has access to Google, market research needs to put a greater emphasis on insight and on working with clients to filter and truly understand that data. Too much information can be just as paralysing as not enough. New technology means it also costs less to do consumer research than it used to. For smaller companies, there’s an undoubted value in being able to run their own research, but the danger is that it’s so easy to look at the data with your own preconceptions and understanding baked in. At Mintel, our analysts can help SMEs put together questionnaires; these then go to specialists in consumer research who can pick out potential bias and spot the leading questions that invite certain answers. It’s easy to create questions that unconsciously confirm the path of action that you always wanted to take, and this needs to be spotted – and avoided – early. The easier, cheaper, and more mechanical market research has become, the more likely it is you will fall into these traps.

Understanding consumers

With any kind of research you need to be conscious of the gap between consumers’ rational behaviour, which they might report, and their actual behaviour. When you ask someone why they buy something, the answer they give you isn’t always the complete picture, even if they tell you with the best of intentions. So if you run research with a set of questions about customer behaviour, you also need the discipline to take a step back and see the difference between what they say they’re doing and how the market is actually performing. It’s often in these gaps that you find a huge amount of insight.

Consumers are better informed and more demanding than they have ever been, which means that they understand the value of the data they’re generating, and the value of their custom. This shifts their behaviour, too. Despite all the changes that technology and data have brought, the fundamentals of consumer behaviour often stay the same. For example, there has been a huge amount of excitement about consumers being able to have conversations with brands – how they can become brand advocates, and how the role of advertising is now to start those conversations. But when we look at consumer motivations and behaviour, there are not many people who want to have a conversation about their washing powder or loo roll.

All research counts

Market research can be expensive, or almost free. For SMEs, syndicated research can bring the cost of market research down hugely, and might cost less than doing your own. Essentially, you’re pooling the cost of analysing your own product and your own market. Any information you can get that helps you gain a better view of the market has got to be a good thing. There are all kinds of information that will help you understand market dynamics. We use tools and information sources that are open to anyone company accounts and annual reports, for example, or trade associations, as well as government statistical websites. There’s a huge amount of information available, even if you have no budget at all. It’s about challenging your preconceptions and gaining an outside view.

This article originally featured in Catalyst, CIM’s quarterly magazine.

Toby Clark is the Director of Research EMEA at Mintel , where he has worked for over 10 years. Toby leads a large team of researchers who produce over 500 consumer reports annually on UK and European market sectors. Prior to this, Toby was Head of UK Financial Services research at Mintel.

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