Customer Understanding has never been more important. But are market research agencies the right people for the job? We predict more agencies from different marketing sectors with much more aggressive marketing DNA join the battle to become the client’s partner, advising on strategic customer understanding.

Research agencies have been slow to adapt to changing client needs. Clients are increasingly wanting to know the answer, not how to get there. I asked a senior director that joined a comms agency from a research agency the difference between the two. She answered in research, 80% focus was on the methodology and 20% on the result. Now in comms it’s turned on it’s head.
The key advantage research agencies hold is the provision of rigorous defensible methods. They give clients an objective case to argue internally. They are channel neutral, unlike many other marketing disciplines which are seen by clients as having an angle into an end game (be that TV campaign via production unit etc).

In the post-digital fragmented marketplace, clients have access to a lot of insight approaches, algorithms and apps, and are exposed to a lot of ‘we can do that’ pitches. Clients need help making sense of this. The question being asked by clients to their agencies is: What can you do for us that we can’t do for ourselves? That answer will help research agencies define their success.
I spoke to a planner about planning’s heady days of the early 1990s. It was a discipline fashioned from research, with added commercial bandwidth and bravery to make the call on what should be done as a result. It strikes me that since then, research agencies have become more nervous and planners have become more subjective.

Market research agencies with the ability to retain their methodological rigor and deliver braver impactful commercially grounded ‘answers’ will thrive. They will foster consultancy oriented board level client relationships that will be enjoyable and profitable. Those that stick to explaining the minutiae of methods and don’t come off the fence to add value will be commoditised and will probably not survive.

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