Through the looking glass – How does MRX marketing measure up?

By Lucy Davison, Managing Director of Keen as Mustard Marketing (originally posted in GreenBook)

Late last year, we at Keen as Mustard Marketing joined forces with FocusVision to find out more about what was going on within MRX marketing. We really wanted to find out what issues agencies and suppliers in market research were facing, what they thought the solutions were, and how much they spent on it. The idea was to turn the mirror to face us in MRX marketing – taking a dose of our own medicine if you will. Market research agencies and suppliers advise clients on their marketing all the time, indeed many are deemed expert at it. But we wanted to find out how much we focus on our own marketing.

161 technology, data, research and insight companies in the US and UK took part, ranging in size from micro businesses to those with over $100,000,000 in turnover.

So, what did we find out? The good news is that 74% of companies who took part think marketing is very important. 63% have in-house marketing teams, and 64% expected to spend more on their marketing in the coming year. And 5% of the respondents already spend more than 15% of their revenue on marketing – a good number which compares well with a B2B Service Businesses average of 10.1%. Indeed, some high growth data and marketing firms, such as Salesforce (not in our survey) invest 53% of their revenue in their marketing.

However, the good news ended there. 75% of the companies we surveyed spend only 0-5% of their turnover on marketing. This means the vast majority are likely to be spending nothing! Plus, only 35% measure any kind of return on marketing investment to understand impact.

10% of our respondents are doing marketing without any sales support, reflecting perhaps the suspicion of sales in the research world – researchers don’t like doing sales or being sold to.

The most valuable marketing activities were cited as branding/strategy (50%), websites (36%) and content marketing (33%). But the biggest problem the companies faced were all around awareness – with examples like: “we don’t get onto pitch lists” or “no one knows about us”, or “clients know about us but are not sure what we do”. Perhaps the problems and the solutions are not aligned – if awareness is your problem, as a marketer I’d say you need PR and content marketing more than you need a new brand.

Indeed, our ad hoc research among insight clients shows that the best way to reach and attract new clients – never mind cement relationships with existing ones – is via PR and content marketing. Here are some examples: “a phone call has maybe a 1 in 100 chance of getting my attention. An email with interesting and relevant content has a 1 in 10 chance” (VP of insight, global media network). “I like to use LinkedIn to find out about new developments and look at groups to follow who is doing interesting work” (Head of insight, financial data company). “White papers, articles, new research and tailored, relevant content – that is how I find out about agencies and suppliers” Insight director, transport company.

However, I think we need to dig deeper. The other major problems our agency and supplier sample cited were around differentiation (“we need to make ourselves more relevant” or “trying to be different and grow our brand in amongst a load of ’me too’ competitors”) and communication (“we need better collateral for the sales team” or “our website is outdated and we need it to work harder” and “we have difficulty generating content ideas”).

Now, differentiation is indeed a branding and strategy problem. And it is a huge problem with data, research and insight firms. Clients struggle to tell one from another. As Paul Buckley, European Insight Director at GlaxoSmithKline points out, for them it’s like shopping in a giant IKEA warehouse with lots of plain brown boxes to pick from. Work out exactly what makes you stand out, and what your story is, and you can build a differentiated brand. Get a differentiated brand and pin down how to communicate it. Communicate and you will build awareness.

So the solution is before us – and it is indeed in using branding and strategy to create differentiation. It just takes a real commitment of both time and money, and willingness to take some of our own medicine.