Voice of the Employee

A national survey of marketing, PR and communications professionals reveals that despite the success of exploratory research in marketing and PR campaigns some professionals are not sold on the quality of the outputs.  Respondents from across the UK, Northern Ireland and Wales participated in the research study, commissioned by Sapio Research.

The survey revealed that research is used widely by 84% of communications professionals but, on average, less than half of the overall campaigns that are delivered are actually shaped by research. This discrepancy is probably explained by the fact that while the majority of communication professionals have come to understand the value of research in content campaigns, significantly fewer believe they need it to inform the direction campaigns should take.  Alternatively they are less than enthused by the quality of the research they are getting.

While three quarters (76%) of marketing and communications professionals say that outcomes to their campaigns are more successful when they are based on research, satisfaction with research outputs is generally adequate, with just 12% rating their outputs for research at a 9 or 10 out of 10.

So, why are so few communication professionals happy with the quality of research to inform campaigns?

One possible explanation is the growing percentage of DIY research, based around tick-box exercises which all too often yield simplistic results with little opportunity for genuine analysis. There’s also evidence to suggest that the self-serve approach has become, well, self-serving crudely contrived to manufacture data that reinforces a brand’s messaging rather than seeking out genuine insight. The outcomes have limited value missing the opportunity to sanity check direction. But, perhaps surprisingly it isn’t just the research for campaign insight and direction that’s failng to delight.

Research for content and thought leadership, which is often executed via self-service platforms, is actually where disappointment levels are the highest. Less than half say this kind of research is useful most of the time and those executing research in-house are also less likely to get the story or stats they wanted from the data (31% in-house don’t get the right stats vs 23% who use an agency). – Something is clearly missing and while it could be the self service approach itself it could equally be due to the creative conversations, sanity checks and ideas a good partner can provide.

Good research – the kind that empowers storytelling and intrigues audiences – relies on a rigour that’s too often a casualty of the self-serve model. An effective research partner will understand the science of market research – and, in contrast to insular DIY approaches, they’ll take a consultative approach to the development of programmes that drive actionable insight. The most successful programmes start with clear objectives and a strategic brief that outlines the scope and size of a study, as well as the appropriate methodology to meet its goals. This is the kind of research that 54% of professionals say is useful. Quick-fix, self-serve research seldom scales such depths.

Jane Hales, Managing Partner at Sapio Research comments: “The research clearly shows that communication professionals are getting higher success rates when research forms the basis of their campaigns. However, the rise in self-serve research and the quality of some online panels has started to give research a bad name from a quality perspective, which is a real shame. By using or instigating quality research to understand the market, ascertain brand perception and highlight pain points, agencies are in a position to challenge the status quo and drive far more effective positioning and messaging.

She concludes, “It has always been the exploratory research that delivers the ‘wow’ moment and this is what communication professionals need to invest in. With a deep existing knowledge, a respected research house is able to discuss specific business problems, determine a relevant new campaign direction and, critically, become far more embedded within the strategic market direction. Those professionals that continue to trust the process and the right partner are the ones that will succeed.”

Other key findings include:

  • Research is a no-brainer: 76% of professionals say their campaigns are more successful when they use research. This is higher for those that primarily use an agency (81%)
  • Journalists love a stats story: 80% say that they think journalists prefer research to other types of content, and 64% say pitching research to the media is easier than other types of content
  • The proportion of communications professionals using research to shape a campaign – 84% use market research, and on average 49% of campaigns are shaped by research
  • Social media monitoring and online surveys are the most popular methods of research. Secondary research is popular when conducting research for content/thought leadership articles (60%)
  • 54% of professionals say that their content research is useful and just 2% say it’s rarely useful
  • Standard, demographic analysis is used most commonly (82% always or most of the time) and more specific project specific analysis is used regularly (76% always or most of the time)
  • The average B2C sample is 859 interviews, and the average B2B sample is 669 interviews. On average B2B research tends to take less time (8.9 days on average) than B2C research (10.8 days)

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