Agencies vs. In-House Market Research Teams - Where Should You Invest?
In a world of zero spend marketing strategies, economic uncertainties and globalised market research; insight departments are under more pressure than ever to have an impact on the bottom line. A key decision for the leader of any insight team is whether to work with an agency or agencies or to build internal capacity for research and insight. Here I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of each for achieving 5 common goals that contribute to a high functioning insight department.
Goal 1 - Agility in an Insight Department
In order for your business to be lean and agile as whole it must be backed by anagile insight department. Achieving this agility could mean investing in agency partnerships to broaden departmental expertise. Working with an independent agency can give you more objectivity, fulfil a skills gap, provide additional market knowledge, alternative approaches and ideas, and more head space in order that you can focus on the actionable interpretation of insight for organisational impact. But, outsourcing can also be cumbersome and too removed from your key business goals. Where this is the case, investing in your insight team and providing them with the tools to create the right agile insights can offer a much more responsive service to your stakeholders.
Achieving agility basically comes from preparation and readiness – if you’d prefer to have a high level of control provide your team with the right software and training. If you’d prefer some external expertise then choose agencies that are skilled in agile approaches – think engaged customer communities, market wide panels, off the shelf bench-marking for your concept tests.
In my 10-year market research career I have met many, many dazzling intelligent insight professionals working on the client-side. They came with a huge amount of variation in terms of focus, skill, responsibility and expertise, but all had one thing in common - the desire for impact from the insight they produce.
The sign of a great insight function is the demand for regular projects from the wider business – if your colleagues understand what you do they will be desperate for your input. Investing in the right agency partnerships whilst you build insight kudos is essential, as is having the resource, be it internal or external, to deliver the insights with impact, follow up on them, re-cut, re-use and re-present them to drive decision-making. This is fundamental s to embedding insight for business success and the ongoing demand for insight department services.
Goal 3 - Providing Novelty and Innovation
Nothing beats a shiny new toy no matter how rational and logical your organisation’s members. If you continue to bring them fresh thinking, tech engagement and digital expertise you’ll maintain their interest and their appreciation of the importance of insight work. So ask yourself - Where does your team fit on theGartner Hype Cycle? Are you in danger of falling into the trough of disillusionment with your stakeholders? Then you might need to call on your agencies (or some new ones) to re-ignite their passion for insight and in turn help drive success for the business.
An agency might seem cheaper on a project by project basis but in the long run would it be more cost effective to invest your budget in a new team member? Next year they could be running all of the same projects and more with a community panel or an internal customer lab… food for thought.
Investing budget in your team internally will usually give insight more visibility within the company - internal follow ups will be more frequent, interdepartmental communications with be continuous and assuming a degree of shared office space your work will have more impact through internal exposure.
If you don’t have the budget justification for another insight team member you could you consider a role that has mixed responsibility – some customer experience and some insight or some marketing and some insight. This has the added benefit of spreading insight knowledge throughout disciplines naturally.
If you only have the budget for the project you need to complete today then talk to your agencies about how you can demonstrate ROI. Can they design a specific measure in the study for example? Or perhaps work with you to produce a mutually beneficial case study of the work after completion for increased penetration.
Goal 5 - Internal Power and Influence
Running research in-house gives you more control in situations where internal politics and/or highly innovative or novel products mean that your agency has to learn a lot before they can actually begin. In these circumstances the efficiency of running things yourselves may appear to outweigh the benefits of external input.
One of the reasons an agency costs more however, is that they are investing in their brand and their expertise all the time, they add weight and gravity to their arguments and they aren’t swayed by internal politics when it comes to producing insight. You may well need the agencies marketing machine to get cut-through with stakeholders for a number of reasons – the highly product (not consumer) focused contingent, the cautious and risk-averse and the bold and innovative few who need a blast of consumer realness in their grill.
If you choose to go it alone, to invest in your team only, do invest in making them a success too. Market them like your own internal mini-brand and champion each one of them.
In summary, on a project by project basis you need to consider (on top of the usual costs, turnaround and business critical score) these two questions:
1.Do we have the expertise and tools to do this by ourselves? 2.Is it worth developing that expertise or will an external voice continue to add more value for me?
My advice would be to have your cake and eat it! Invest as much in your own team as you possibly can (team plus tools gives you more control and flexibility) but always maintain a pot for agencies to support you with challenging briefs.
Maria is an active member of the UK market research industry, regularly presenting new and engaging topics at industry events. With over 9 experience guiding the FlexMR’s research services, Maria builds strong long-term partnerships with clients, providing insight to effectively translate client needs into action. You can follow Maria on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.