It’s time for MR brands to stand out and be strong

Mustard MD, Lucy Davison recently wrote a piece for Research-Live on the importance of brand differentiation in the market research industry, following conversations she had with some research clients at a recent ESOMAR event.

Market researchers are often called upon to help companies make decisions about their own brands, but invariably, don’t consider their own brand communications in the same light. But is brand communication really important in the B2B world of word-of-mouth?

In recent conversation with clients (such as Electrolux, Coca-Cola, Heineken, UBS, Telefonica and 02) their opinions were clear – they find it hard to distinguish between suppliers, they are fed up with generic, bland marketing approaches focusing on lists of services. They are looking for new thinking, new technology and new ideas. They are looking for agencies and suppliers to have a point of view on the world and be true to themselves. In my book, that means clients want to work with people who know what their ‘secret sauce’ is and are not afraid to share it. In other words, clients want to work with true brands.

At Mustard our designers recently did some analysis of the logos and straplines of the top 35 global research companies. We found that the industry is overwhelmingly grey (with a bit of ‘corporate’ blue thrown in). But we are not a dull grey industry – we are a vibrant, dynamic and fast changing industry at the forefront of technology and innovation. So we looked at how these companies described themselves and found that too was generic. A word cloud throws up the words ‘global’, ‘research’ and ‘insight’ over and over again. Just one glance at most MR industry websites and you see that the combination of text and visuals is similar, with long menus of services and the same kind of images used repeatedly.

ESOMAR-ties

So we have a branding problem; we are generic and grey. But why does this matter? I think it matters on two levels.

First branding matters to individual companies in MR because we are living in a stormy business environment. Our competition is not from other research agencies or suppliers, but now from massive brands like Google or Amazon. Technology has changed our business model.

MR agencies used to control clients’ access to people; they’d be the source of data from those people. They’d deliver that data and throw in some analysis and, if the client was lucky, some business advice, for free. But companies no longer need to pay for access to customers or data – it’s freely available in our brave new world, in large and ever growing quantities.

The old MR business model was a commodity model; the price of data being driven down all the time. If you are a commodity, then branding is not so important – your business is about price competition. But if you are offering brain power, consultancy and a point of view on the world, then in order to do that you need to have a strong brand.

Secondly, branding matters to the research industry as a whole. We constantly moan about how we struggle to attract the best graduates, how people fall into research almost by mistake, and how recruitment is a big headache. One reason for this is that market research is perceived externally as dull, grey and boring. Now, I wonder what is giving that impression?

A vibrant, lively and rebranded set of companies in MR would benefit the industry as a whole, as well as the individual companies. A strong brand articulates clear messages; rather than listing menus of services a strong brand is known for something, has a philosophy and is not afraid to stand up for that. It’s time for MR to step up to the mark.

 

You can read the piece on Research-Live here.