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Fighting the Client-Agency Divide in Market Research

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Over the 15 years we have been in market research we’ve learnt a lot about being better partners. Our experience has taught us effective ways to ensure we develop long term relationships that deliver success for our clients.

However, the client-agency relationship is a two way process. We must ensure that both parties come into the relationship knowing the expectations, goals and even limitations of the other. So, these are our top habits to avoid when working with agencies in a way that helps you achieve the most from the relationship:

  1. Tooth and dagger: don’t exaggerate and over-emphasize your agenda. While it is important to state your expectations, a relentless focus on the findings you expect to come from the results is a sure fire way to suffocate a talented team.
  2. Snappy decisions: not to be confused for effective decisions. Snap decisions are those that are made too fast and are swiftly followed by a change of heart within the hour because they have not been considered properly.
  3. Lack of communication: time is precious to both agencies and their clients. Quick, effective communication is vital to an effective working relationship.
  4. Ill-timed holidays: everybody needs a break. But before you leave, ensure both your agency and team are fully briefed on the research task in hand.
  5. Deadlines: though vital to ensuring research is completed on time, poorly planned deadlines can put the research quality at risk.

We often take for granted that clients and agencies both have an active role in project success. Good communication trumps all of the above issues, but there are many challenges that continue to run throughout even good functioning relationships.

There are a few things that we take for granted in a good agency-client relationship: mutual respect and understanding and a shared goal are the basic foundations of client-agency harmony. However, there are always challenges to be faced and balances that need to be achieved. Below are some of the reoccurring challenges we often encourage in weekly team huddles.

Objective Thought vs Integrated Brand Extensions

A market research agency constantly walks a fine line between being an extension of the brand they are working on behalf of and providing a more outside, objective viewpoint to guide and add value. An agency's role is not always black and white.

Something to be discussed and clarified at the outset: if it is a one off research piece, which is not revealing the brand upfront, you will not want your agency to reflect the brand’s tone of voice too heavily. However if, for example, you wish to run a branded online community then the agency will need to use a tone of voice that reflects the overall brand identity without sacrificing the openness and honesty an indirect feedback mechanism provides.

Consumer Guardians vs Immediate Value

Another carefully balanced juggling act is between challenging and reporting results that you know have huge wider implications for a business with confidence whilst also working within the boundaries of your brief to deliver on the specifics required.

Personal Connection vs Professional Understanding

Cultivating a successful business relationship might mean forming more than just a mutual understanding of the business. A good personal as well as professional connection can help deliver better work from a well-rounded relationship because you can dig out examples that resonate and use language that echoes their thinking.

However, over-familiarity and involvement could also lead you and your agency to think too much ‘in the box’ and not deliver that added external value that an agencies do best. Whilst the role of an agency is to extend the power of in-house research, insights and marketing, it is also important to think directly about the stakeholders and other recipients of the research to deliver an engaging and impactful piece.

Adding Value vs In-House Insight

By focusing on added value an agency can provide an important independent view. The research team are able to assess the situation without bias and provide more value by balancing out the internal views that become narrowed by immersion in the business’ aims and ethos.

The client-agency relationship does not withstand the tides of change and the truth is technology, just like every other facet of our lives, has opened up new ways of working and more agile and responsive relationships.

It also creates the ability to improve efficiency further by taking some research questions in-house, direct from the brand to the customers. We work with more and more clients who are using this new model to maximise the value they get from online research - a dynamic combination of easy-to-use research tools, a talented research team and minimal agency support can ensure qualitative insight creates more agile, action-oriented insights.

‘Going the extra mile’ really defines who we are and what we do at FlexMR and the best client-agency relationships have this dedication in spades. In my experience the best clients, just like best friends, share in the victories and successes as well as the failures and well-functioning professional relationships do to.

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