Making the most of market research
LONDON - As the row over 'churnalism' subsides, PROs still see market research as a viable way to generate news. Alex Black talks to some survey experts.
"Why snoring is the new silent killer", "Jobs hit by market dip", "Girls' sex on the brain" - three survey-inspired headlines from last week's newspapers alone. Flat Earth News author Nick Davies may bemoan journalists' reliance on PR-led stories, but the use of market research to generate a genuine news hook that can be associated with a brand remains an invaluable PR tool.
But while news editors are still prepared to use stories ‘generated' by market research, they are wiser about their methodology than they used to be.
Jan Walsh, former consumer editor on the Daily Mirror and now managing director of market research outfit Consumer Analysis, says journalists have all but stopped using research-based stories if the research in question is taken from a small sample.
"A couple of years ago, companies and PR agencies sometimes asked for a small, low-cost sample survey of between 100 and 250 people in order to generate a hook for a lighthearted
story,' says Walsh. ‘These days journalists don't see that as a robust enough sample, and PR people have stopped using them to avoid wasting valuable media contacts' time with non-credible stories."
All of which sounds like a warning, but if PR specialists are clever with the research they use, there are plenty of opportunities to be had.
Here, PRWeek looks at four companies that PROs could be using...
Four techniques that help grab headlines...
Tickbox's ‘combo' survey
In a nutshell: Online research with phone and face-to-face research generated.
Why would a PRO use it? It uses cheaper online methods to produce quantitative data, but identifies potential case studies for qualitative research.
Costs? A survey asking 1,000 people ten questions would start at around £3,000.
How does it work? Tickbox's head of client services Adam Spencer says that for the past 12 months, the firm has been offering ways of generating ‘deeper' data from online surveys.
‘In terms of speed and cost, the internet has revolutionised the research industry,' he says. ‘The digital element means pictures and audio files can be built into research, but there are also ways those results can be built on.'
Every piece of research is planned with an expected result in mind, but if the results throw up a different (and possibly more interesting) story, online research data cannot always provide the answers.
The solution, says Spencer, is to ask survey subjects whether they would like to be used as a case study. The ones that say yes have their answers analysed, and the best ones are then sent details of what that might mean (being interviewed by the press and so on), and if they agree, have their details sent to the PRO commissioning the survey.
Spencer recalls a campaign Tickbox worked on earlier this month. The campaign aim was to highlight UK credit and debit card fraud to gauge whether it was still on the rise, as well as pinpointing geographical hotspots. Victims of card fraud were found and used as case studies to support a media campaign, providing real life experiences to enhance the findings.
Spencer adds that the case studies service is provided at no extra cost.
Consumer Analysis Hybrid Survey
In a nutshell: Online, street interviewing and telephone interviewing.
Why would a PRO use it? Using a mixture of different techniques means the costs are less than a survey that sticks to more labour intensive methods.
Costs? Depends on campaign, but for a survey of 1,000 people, costs start at around £4,000.
How does it work? Consumer Analysis MD Jan Walsh says online surveys work fine when dealing with a very light-hearted topic publicising a brand not bothered about being shown to have gravitas, but tackling anything more than that makes the survey look a bit lightweight.
Part of the problem with online surveys is that they only have the potential to reach the 70 per cent of the population who have access to the internet. In practical terms, says Walsh, factor in spam filters and ‘the fact most of us are far too busy to consider filling in an online questionnaire' and this could leave you with a population sample of around 30 per cent. Not a good figure to present as a representative and reliable survey.
So on 1 January this year, the company launched the Hybrid Survey. By using a combination of online, telephone and face-to-face surveys, Walsh reckons any anomalies that can creep into an online survey are checked and counterbalanced by the results from more conventional interviewing.
Not only that, but it provides the PR specialist with comments and anecdotes from interviewees, something an online survey is unlikely to provide in any detail. Crucially, it also keeps costs down.
Walsh's team recommends the best techniques to use, based on survey content, aims and target audience.
YouGov's Brand Index
In a nutshell: About 500,000 interviews on 1,100 brands carried out every year.
Why would a PRO use it? It provides evidence of the effectiveness of PR campaigns by providing detailed reputation tracking.
Costs? £25,000 for a 12-month subscription, which includes historical data back to October 2005.
How does it work? Day-to-day market research on brand reputation. YouGov has asked 2,000 people a day their opinions on 1,100 brands. They are asked to reply positively or negatively on seven criteria: buzz (or word of mouth), would they recommend the brand? quality, satisfaction, value, corporate reputation and general impression.
Each respondent sees a screenful of brands at a time and completes one measure (eg ‘buzz') for two sectors (eg Automotive & High Street Retailers).
YouGov collects 125 responses per sector per measure per day.
Users can analyse any day from October 2005, allowing them to track consumer responses around key campaign dates.
At £50 a survey, the costs work out at around £25,000 a year, but YouGov Products managing director Sundip Chahal says the investment is worth it.
‘Now we have data for two years, PROs are starting to wake up to this service,' he says.
As well as assessing campaigns, the list can be ranked and split into tables, helping create news hooks for brands that move up the ranking at the expense of competitors.
For agency PROs, it provides case histories of past campaigns and evidence to potential clients of why they need PR support, and news hooks from variations in a brand's reputation.
Kadence insight generation
In a nutshell: B2B market research to position firms as thought leaders.
Why would a PRO use it? To bring different research strands (such as market data and internal research) together.
Costs? Variable. Depends on the depth of the study and the subject matter but prices start at around £15,000.
How does it work? ‘Say you were a bank and you wanted to target firms of solicitors for new business,' says Kieron Mathews, global head of research at Kadence. ‘You could come to us and we would conduct research among solicitors to find their views on sector trends.
We would then write a report using the data, put your name at the top of the report and give it to your PR people to pitch to the legal press. Solicitors read it, see that you are a thought leader, and think favourably of your brand when reviewing their banking services.'
Mathews admits Kadence's research is not widely used by PR agencies because the nature of the work is better suited to in-depth research rather than quick and cheap consumer research, but PROs are becoming more au fait with what he calls the ‘theatre surrounding a research project'.
‘The research leads to the report, which leads to the release and the coverage, which can lead to white papers and then to seminars exploring the research findings,' he says. ‘All this puts our clients in front of the key businesses in their sectors, because it gives them heavyweight research into the trends that people are talking about.'
Because the sample numbers vary depending on the sector, so do costs, as Mathews explains:
"If you want to interview European consultant cardiologists, they are obviously going to be harder to reach than, say, UK opticians. That is the sort of factor that is going to affect costs."
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