Friendly Review – Helping Clients Navigate the Market Research and Insight Process
In every business and organisation, it is safe to say that you will find people who are quite different from each other – as it is for insight engineers. Different parts of our roles interest the directors of our business in different ways. But what we share, apart from a bit of age and experience, is a philosophy which shapes and guides us. These fundamental beliefs have helped us build our business into two core strands:
In this post for Insight Intelligence, I’m going to share a bit about the “Friendly Review” part of the business that grew from an initial request for intellectual muscle and practical help from a core client 13 years ago - into a proven process and framework for producing profitable wisdom on insight & marketing. Our support ranges from being a sounding-board for client ideas & strategies, to reviewing existing research portfolios and agency relationships, to suggest improvements (hence the name “Friendly Review”) and providing practical hands-on support.
The impetus to this side of our business, when there were almost no agencies with the word insight in their name (!), came from the groundswell of two developments in the last decade:
- 1. The recessions of the 1990’s caused a shortfall in the existence of client-side “market research” specialists, those individuals who had been thoroughly, classically & formally trained.
I’m not saying that there were necessarily less people with that responsibility, just that they tended to be combining it with other responsibilities as it is clear for some organisations, a dedicated specialist unit was often not seen as essential. The consequence of this was we began to find ourselves increasingly dealing with client contacts with little or no research experience.
At the other extreme we found clients where research was increasingly felt to be a junior, often career development role, part of a rotation which saw fast turnaround of staff - do your 12-24 months and move on. This led to much creep-age of regular research vehicles and little continuity of actions and alignment to strategies.
- 2. About 10 years ago, the new mantra of ‘tempo’ emerged in corporate business – “faster, cheaper, better” – and to a certain extent, the natural outcome of this was the acceleration towards online data collection and now self-serve river sampling, but also increased pressure on client’s time and expectations for delivery of answers to business questions. In some cases, part of rigour of the research process, and its input to thinking before action, began to fall by the wayside. Either a client had an issue and didn’t know how to solve it, or even who to ask to pitch, or they simply didn’t have the time to devote to shepherding internal discussion. Our grey hairs meant we either knew ‘someone who could (now)’ and we would introduce or we could act as method neutral facilitators, handling the specific issue, scoping the brief, short-listing some agencies and helping to run the project as a low-maintenance extension to the client’s immediate team.
Friendly Review engagements are more than 1/3rd of our business nowadays. We operate these in a very straightforward and transparent way. After an initial discussion of the issue faced, we work out how long it will take to address the topics, agree a budget based on a fair hourly rate, keep an accurate timesheet of all time spent (which is available for you to review at any time), and if we’ve overestimated how much time your task would take, the residual pot of hours is held in reserve for future issues and support. In 13 years, all clients, except 1 I can think of, have renewed this engagement when the pot of hours has been used up – it is immediate with lower risk exposure than employing a permanent person and does not sit on the staff overhead line.
- Run several pitch processes for advertising and brand trackers and, post-contract award, continue to be involved in dissemination of results, stakeholder meetings and strategy sessions. Serve as continuity in an ever-changing agency and client team.
- Reviewed the insight portfolio for a utility client with a multi-million-pound budget. We interviewed senior stakeholders to determine the usefulness of the insight they received, identified areas of duplication, wastage, and contradiction as well as some gaps, and recommended a restructured portfolio approach.
- Structured new insight teams, serving as mentors while they find their feet, and ensuring that they were able to be pro-active and confident in their dealings with the board and other stakeholders. Ran introductory training sessions on the types of research and how to brief and commission it.
- Organise and run workshops with staff to generate innovation ideas for business growth or to squeeze every ounce of insight out of findings from work they had commissioned over the years with other agencies. The later often enables clients to justify engaging us as we save money e.g. the answers to many current questions lies in reviewing or re-analysing tracking studies to save on ad-hoc research expenditure.
- Act as additional headcount to cover a short term resource shortfall in an insight team. We fit seamlessly into structures and shepherd moving parts additively, without draining already pressed time. Last quarter this included designing the questionnaires for projects with local agencies in Ethiopia and Kenya, and then taking the raw individual level data, verifying valid records and producing aggregated, stats-test tables as the end client simply did not have the time to manage or handle in the time-periods available.
- Identify real information gaps - collect together and review all the reports and data (often worldwide) and source available desk research information to supplement strategic decisions,e.g. population numbers for specific ethnic minorities in key launch cities for a worldwide ethnic food brand.
- Review proprietary approaches – e.g. segmentation – to help the client adapt their own approach globally for better brand planning and portfolio management. For one client, we visited this process again nearly 9 years later to further update and enhance, helping to manage the repeat of studies in the 26 countries whilst migrating data collection to new methodologies.
Deploying Friendly Review:
If you’re interested, or have a need similar to any mentioned above, what we call “consulting on the research and insight process”, please feel you can drop me a line, and I’d be happy to chat and explore further.