How transparent is your research?

03 Oct 2018  |  Helen Rose 
How transparent is your research?

The industry likes to talk about transparency in media - but less so when it comes to media research, writes the7stars' Helen Rose. It's time to change that.

“Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say,” David Ogilvy was famously quoted.

I’ve personally encountered this quote on more than one occasion being interpreted to mean that consumer research is therefore just meaningless bullshit. Thanks for that David. I know that wasn’t the intention, but it definitely has given some in media land an excuse to dismiss research they don’t agree with or to avoid bothering to even conduct research in the first place.

Coupled with the question around the credibility of market research, we also have accusations about marking your own homework (if you’re a media agency) or flogging your own channel brand (if you’re a media owner).

If you can get past the lazy bad mouthing, you will find the field of media research is one where we’ve had to be both creative and innovative to better understand what consumers are feeling, thinking, saying and doing. Combining traditional qual and quant research techniques with everything from implicit response methodologies to big data collection has forced the industry to re-evaluate how best to measure and evaluate. Exploring new and mixed methodologies to understand where, how and why media works is at an exciting time in its evolution.

But I do understand where some of the criticism is levelled. There are occasions when sampling has at best not met the brief, or at worst is not robust nor conducted to adequate standards. Research bias and actionability of outputs also continue to be constant reminders of when studies are done well, and not so well.

What it ultimately comes down to is transparency. Transparency in media has been a buzz word for a few years now. Transparency in media research needs to be equally high on the agenda. From full disclosure about the choice of agency partner and methodology, to a considered rationale for costs and resources, clients shouldn’t be afraid to ask to see the detail and we should be more forthcoming about providing it.

Informing and educating clients transparently will ensure expectations (or even limitations) of any research are fully communicated from the outset. Hopefully it might also put an end to what’s sometimes referred to as a ‘quick and dirty’ piece of research or data analysis. Cue every media researchers shoulder slump! With appreciation and a transparent view of the research process, this will likely translate into clients questioning what ‘quick and dirty‘ will actually deliver in terms of a credible and robust output.

Although as media researchers we will always be challenged about the difficulties of unpicking consumer motivations and behaviours, uncovering insights that help us to paint at least a slightly clearer picture is one of the best parts of the job. So too is giving clients a fresh understanding of their audience and being able to help them achieve their business goals more effectively.

Ultimately, great quality research has value. Being fully transparent about both the process and the outputs will ultimately help forge a better relationship between clients and agencies to deliver return on research investment.


Helen Rose is head of data, insight and analytics at the7stars

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NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights on 9 Oct 2018
“You highlight an important theme for the research world, but I'm not sure your suggested solutions really hit the mark.
Many agencies already believe they cover 'transparency' very well, through explaining in minute detail in their research decks exactly what was asked, of whom, and what confidence interval the various red and green ticks relate to. And unless you believe particular research agencies are cutting corners, transparency for clients shouldn't really be a problem - most vendors will explain the compromises of a particular approach to their client, which partners they're using etc. Clients already make decisions based on that balance of budget vs robustness, and general transparency probably wouldn't change that much.

For (publicised) media research, the biggest concern is instead transparency of motive. Magnetic* releases a study showing print ads resonate more than digital ads: OK, but what was the motive for doing the research, and what is Magnetic’s business goal? Google* publishes research showing that digital videos have greater impact on purchase than offline formats: marvellous, but when the research was designed, what were they hoping to show?
These biases shape any media research, and define what’s discovered – and what’s published. We, the entire industry, know that to be the case, but we don’t discuss it; we discount Google’s research while highlighting the findings of Magnetic’s study, without ever transparently admitting that both have intrinsic bias that determines the results and conclusions. Until this shifts, we can never say media research is truly transparent.
*-purely illustrative examples, not chosen for particular criticism!”

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10 Dec 2018 

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