In-House Insight vs. Research Agencies: Which is Best?

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It’s that age old debate; which approach should you take to ensure maximum insight is gained from your market research project? Do you use an in-house insight team or employ an independent market research agency?

Aside from the tangible constraints that influence every business decision e.g. time, budget, etc. the ultimate goal is to ensure the greatest level of insight is drawn from the project.

Depth vs. Breadth

There are advantages and disadvantages to both routes, but I believe it ultimately comes down to breadth vs depth.

An in-house insight team has a greater depth of knowledge than an agency can ever hope to have in terms of; brand knowledge (both past and present), company values, goals and future of the company. Insight teams are also likely to know much more about competitors and the potential threats they pose. They are able to draw strategic recommendations from research projects that can be fed back into the company both quickly and effectively.

An agency, on the other hand, can offer a breadth of research knowledge far greater than an insight team ever could. They are experts in the field of market research and have access to a wide range of research professionals. Research design is likely to be more comprehensive; drawing on all of the research tools available to the agency. This ensures that research objectives are more effectively met.

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"In many regards. in-house teams offer depth of research while agencies offer greater breadth."

Whilst their knowledge of any one brand in particular may be limited, they are able to draw on experiences with other industries to offer out of the box ideas and research solutions that may missed by an internal insight team.

The Impact of Time

Time will always play an integral role in the decision. Keeping research in-house is likely to be quicker in terms of both research design and the practicalities of gaining internal buy-in. However, given that an insight team is likely to be limited in size, it may mean they do not have the capacity to spend quality time dedicated interpreting & analysing results.

On the flip-side, an agency is likely to slow the research process down considerably (adding more people to the design and buy-in stages). However, they will be working towards a clear deadline upon which insightful findings must be delivered. Additionally, agencies are able to pool the knowledge and resources available to them to ensure that the high level of analysis quality required is adhered to.

Creating an Objective Environment

Another key consideration is that of objectivity. Given all of the internal factors placed on the insight team, it is unlikely that they can remain truly objective. An agency, on the other hand, is able to remain objective throughout. The need for objectivity is driven by the subject matter. Though sometimes it will make little difference to the outcome, other times it is paramount to the success of the project.

The Role of Respondents

In order for any market research study to be truly representative, anonymity is essential. Therefore, how respondents’ identity will be handled is a crucial consideration when choosing how to implement your next research project.

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"The role of respondents. and how their identity is handled. is vital to market research success."

A research agency, signed up the MRS code of conduct, can provide the reassurance required to participants that their participation will be truly anonymous. Without anonymity researchers can never be 100% sure that the results received are a true reflection of the participant base, especially if they are customers. Again, the importance of this is led by the nature of the project itself, so its relative importance can fluctuate.

The Ideal Research Project

In my mind, the most effective approach is a combination of the two disciplines working together. The insight team would build a comprehensive research brief. In turn, the agency would provide research design that ensures the project will fully meet the research objectives.

I would suggest that it should be the agency that conducts the research project, utilising their pool of research specialists to provide a comprehensive and objective presentation of results. It should then be the role of the insight team to take those results and interpret them so that key strategic business decisions can be made.

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