Budget squeeze creates new research needs

As the public sector spending squeeze cuts third sector budgets, many of our not-for-profit clients are turning to market research to help explore new markets and new opportunities.

Often, an organisations first reaction to cash constraints is to cut spend in areas such as training and marketing, including market research. The UK Government’s own cuts to marketing and research have been dramatic, including the closure of the Central Office of Information. In public health, the Government spend on advertising to encourage responsible drinking, was slashed from £3.25m in 2009/10 to zero the following year. Now, however, there are signs of a reversal as the government announces plans to spend £285m on marketing in 2012/13, funding campaigns to promote welfare and NHS reforms and other high-profile policies.

Governments of course can make efficiency savings without facing quite the same threats that other not-for-profits suffer. For most organisations, survival into the long term requires an effective marketing strategy and, during the economic downturn, Marketwise Strategies has been privileged to work with several organisations who have invested in research to help navigate a course through turbulent times. Two of those are charities that had suffered budget cuts of several millions of pounds. Both had cut costs and undergone restructuring. Now they were ready to develop new services and explore new customer groups. Marketwise Strategies worked with them to clarify the scale of the opportunities they had identified and to work out how they could best position themselves in their new target markets.

For another of our client groups, universities, the pressures are slightly different and the complexity often greater as not only budgets and student fees but also the competitive environment and even the ground-rules for student admissions are in flux. As a result, there is growing interest in going beyond quantitative surveys and syndicated reports, to get some really detailed insights into student, applicant and influencer perceptions as well as, importantly, reviewing course portfolios and strengthening their brand positioning. Currently Marketwise Strategies is working on major strategic projects with two UK universities.

For organisations that need to generate more revenue, or move into new areas of activity, well thought out market research always has a role to play. In the current economic climate, however, when opportunities need to be taken and risks need to be minimised, it is increasingly important.

Brand Review – The Value We Deliver

Jacquie Potts pictureWhen Marketwise Strategies embarked upon a brand review, we wanted our clients to be central to the process. That’s why our Managing Director, Jacquie Potts, approached some of our key customers and asked them to let us know: Why they chose to work with us; How they felt about the experience; and – importantly – What ‘value’ means to them.

To maintain confidentiality, an associate carried out the research on our behalf, interviewing 16 clients – from universities, major not-for-profits and the private sector.

This is what we found:

Clients especially valued our
• Acting as a ‘critical friend’ – giving time to understand their organisation and the wider context of the issue
• Providing weekly updates throughout each project – and “keeping the communication going”, especially within complex projects.
• Going beyond simply delivering research findings, by providing clear recommendations for strategy.

They said that we are different from other research firms in
• The “personal ownership” and “demonstrable care” that we give to projects
• The academic backgrounds of our staff, creating a ‘different feel’ and bringing specialist expertise (e.g. in bioscience)
• Our diligence and persistence, to successfully deliver even the most complex work
• Our ability “to cater for very specific things, like the emotional sensitivity of the work”.

They particularly remembered
• The professionalism and experience of our staff
• Our rigorous and thorough approach
• Regular, transparent, open communications.

Summing us up in a sentence, here are some of the things that clients said:
• Accuracy, responsiveness, commitment to deliver what they say they are going to do – very professional.
• Dedicated, committed… principled.
• A friendly, flexible company who engage the client at every level.
• Good at getting to the nub of an issue.
• Intelligent and robust approach.
• Very rigorous and robust.
• They are thorough, professional, they are a pleasure to deal with – and you feel confident that they are going to manage what comes along.
• I just think they handle projects really well.
• I know that I can be confident – whether I am working with them on a project or recommending someone else within the organisation to work with them on a project – that they will deliver.

Changes we are making
• Some clients said that they would like to hear from us more often in between projects. To help us keep in touch with every client, Dr Paul Koshy is taking on responsibility for ongoing client communications.
• Some of our services were not sufficiently ‘visible’ – for example some clients did not know about our work in international markets or about the range of branding research that we conduct. To help remedy that, we are building a new website to better profile our full range of expertise.

We are grateful to each of the clients who took part in the research, which is helping us to better tailor our services and our client communications. Over the next year, we will be putting into practice several more changes that the research has prompted.

New Researcher Appointed

To support our growth in education markets, Marketwise Strategies has recently recruited Antony Mullen, who brings qualitative research experience gained in higher education and freelance roles.

Antony’s past projects have included research into: e-portfolio development, for a Russell Group university; interdisciplinary learning; and the use of mainstream cinema in secondary schools (published in a peer-reviewed journal).

Since joining Marketwise Strategies, Antony has been researching demand for a suite of new degree programmes and has just completed a project involving research among Pro-Vice-Chancellors, directors and managers in UK universities. He also played a part in winning the latter project, conducted for a statutory body.

Antony’s background includes secondary school teaching and a master’s degree in Modern and Contemporary Literature. He is also currently studying for a PhD, at Durham University.

Marketwise Strategies’ Managing Director, Jacquie Potts said, “I am delighted that Antony has joined us. His knowledge and experience will further strengthen our team in education markets.”

A year of success in HE markets

Libary shotMarketwise Strategies has reported its most successful year yet in Higher Education. Working with 11 universities and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education – and delivering multiple projects for many of those – the company has consolidated its position as a leading provider of bespoke, strategic, market research, across the HE sector.

Throughout the year, the company also completed a steady stream of programme portfolio projects, at undergrad and postgrad levels and across executive education and CPD. Other key projects during the year included a detailed review of the UK market for online learning.

Managing Director, Jacquie Potts said, “The year has brought a huge variety of projects. A key theme has been brand and reputation, with projects delivered in the UK and internationally, at corporate and faculty level. Another of our most interesting challenges was a major piece of research to assess the opportunity for an Asia campus, for a research-intensive university. A key challenge for our research team was the need to access some very difficult-to-reach audiences across multiple continents, while ensuring robust and reliable data to inform our client’s decisions.”

“We were also delighted to provide multi-stakeholder research to inform Durham University’s credit union scheme, offering low cost, ethical loans for postgraduate study.”

Marketwise Strategies has also continued its role in supporting technology commercialisation, working with two leading Russell Group universities to assess markets for their innovations.

London Proves ‘Healthy’ for Marketwise Strategies

Tower BridgeMarketwise Strategies is growing its London client base, with five major contract wins in recent months. New research projects span education, health, technology and transport.

Research Manager, David Bain, commented, Its encouraging that major education and not for profit organisations in London have approached us and have chosen to trust us with some very sensitive and challenging research.

The projects won include research among teachers and other education professionals, in schools, colleges and universities, and depth interviews with CEOs and Heads of R&D in some of the UK’s leading life sciences and industrial biotechnology companies. Outcomes will inform strategies for the development and launch of health-related services, literacy products and support for innovation in high growth industries.

“We have also been hard at work delivering a variety of research projects within our long term contract with University of Westminster, and in the private sector, so London is an increasingly important market for us”, said David.

Now we are looking to build upon those successes by developing a base in London, and targeting more clients in the capital.