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.