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The value of research consultancies

Greenbook has been publishing its GRIT reports, which take the temperature of the market research industry, for over 15 years.

These reports, in theory, give clear strategic direction to market research agencies. Sadly, few seem to be listening.

In 2009, the GRIT report concluded that: “Buyers…increasingly seek out suppliers who understand the intricacies of their particular business, and who deliver strategic insight rather than boring 100-page decks full of data”. In 2014, the GRIT report concluded that “we need steal a few plays from the consultancy industry’.

It seems as if not much has changed. In the 2019 Business & Innovation edition of the GRIT Report, 2,315 insight professionals gave their opinion on the greatest opportunities for innovation within their own organization.

While some of the biggest opportunities were truly innovative technologies (AI, automation, big data) many respondents said that they were still focused on the same ‘innovations’ as ever – consultancy, story-telling and visualization.

Clearly, there is a consistent gap between what clients want and what agencies do. But why?

One of the main reasons seems to be that agency-side researchers are more interested in new research techniques than what they use these techniques for. Take these responses to a question from the 2014 GRIT report. Agency-side researchers were asked to name the most exciting thing emerging in research. Just 4% were excited by what research can deliver (2% said ‘results’, 1% said ‘predictive’ and 1% said ‘consulting’). By contrast, research techniques have them salivating. 13% were most excited by ‘big data’, 13% by ‘mobile research methods’ and 10% by ‘passive research techniques’. This desire for the shiny and new perpetuates the issue. Research agencies don’t need more tools, they need to focus on using what they already have more intelligently.

My experience is that only a handful of research agencies can deliver this consultative approach. It all boils down to their people. Consultative agencies:

  1. Focus on the ‘ends’ (clients’ business objectives) not the ‘means (research methodologies)
  2. Employ people with a deep understanding of the business world, coupled with strong analytical and communication skills, and continues to develop their business and marketing understanding
  3. Ensures that this team is encouraged to focus on the clients’ world, not the world of research

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