The annual Asia Research survey provides an unbiased critique of the agencies operating in the research industry. With the big agencies still dominating the market, i.e. Nielsen, TNS, Millward Brown, and now the combined Synovate / Ipsos entity, Asia Research has been able to track the ratings of these agencies over the years.
The ratings have been based on the number of positive and negative comments made by clients about these agencies who use these agencies.
In Singapore, where most of the surveys were undertaken, there were generally more positive comments about agencies than negatives. There was a net positive improvement of Synovate’s position perhaps as a result of the merger with Ipsos or the stabilisation of the business following a number of management changes.
There are fewer comments about Millward Brown simply because they had lower market penetration compared to the other agencies, and hence fewer clients commented on their experience with the agency. But overall, they had a better net performance compared to their peer group.
The reasons for crediting agencies were diverse, but mostly covered their specialisation, levels of client servicing, and ‘interesting people and approaches’. While some referred to specialisation in qualitative research or brand tracking, most clients highlighted the value add in terms of specialist industry knowledge.
“They are more daring in terms of approach”.
“Good people at senior level, good leadership, nice ideas, and interesting tactics”.
“Has good knowledge of our industry, systematic and presentable reports”.
“They focus on clients more, and the people are interesting to work with”.
“Their top people are excellent”.
On the negative side, clients have experienced much lower standards of delivery, presumably from more junior staff in terms of quality of design, reporting, and lack of experience in their industry. There is still the view that the large agencies are implementing approaches that are too standardised, including the inappropriate application of their proprietary analytical tools, and as always too much staff churn.
“Some tools are not tested and not very localised with Singapore context”.
“High staff turnover leading to lack of continuity in work and new staff are usually inexperienced”.
“Generic proposal, little effort placed in it”.
“The senior people don’t spend enough time on studies, their next down don’t have the quality of insight to add”.
“Cookie-cutter type of research!”
“Poor people on the ground – very different from the leaders we talk to”.
While many people complain about the commoditisation of research, the nature of the positive feedback from clients in the survey demonstrates that differentiation in the industry is still about value add and creativity, but don’t make this too mechanical!