When conducting market research into consumer trends and preferences, don't start out by convening a focus group or interviewing members of the public.
According to Aji Espinoza, client service director of ACNielsen, the process should always begin with a detailed exploration of what the client needs and why. This means examining strategies, business objectives and marketing plans, as well as understanding pricing policies and the main purpose of any advertising or promotional campaigns. The process should be continuous in order to keep track of changes in the client's sector and to spot significant competitor activities.
All of that is not simply a matter of asking the right questions. Client managers, who also carry out the subsequent market research, have to be extremely observant as well. They must build up a full picture of the client and the market from all available sources and be sufficiently analytical not to accept things at face value.
"You need the drive to learn and understand more," Ms Espinoza says, adding that the biggest challenge prior to a product launch or marketing campaign can often be identifying exactly what the client wants to achieve. However, the satisfaction of the job comes from being able to get feedback or data from the public, which then contributes crucially to the success of a project.
ACNielsen must be doing things right because on average their clients have been working with the firm for over ten years. Ms Espinoza puts this down to building business relationships based on trust. This, in turn, comes from developing mutual understanding, treating each other as equals, and valuing integrity. "Client managers should always be honest about what they can do," she says. "In proving you are trustworthy, it's critical to deliver on your promises and show that you are sincerely looking after the client's welfare."
With 20 years' experience in market research, Ms Espinoza believes there is always room to develop a personal style, provided the work and advice you deliver is of a consistently high standard. "This is a sign of self-confidence and knowing who you are," she says. "It is also one way of establishing a sense of authority and independence when you present your analysis or ideas."
In the last few years, the use of new IT applications has brought many changes. For example, the professional research firm now uses handheld devices, rather than pen and paper, for interviews and data collection. "It's more convenient and allows us to show more charts and photos without any difficulty," she says.
ACNielsen is also doing more online research, which adds to efficiency and accuracy of certain types of study. It makes for a faster turnaround of surveys, helps to eliminate human errors, and makes it easier to build databases used for further analysis. "In addition, respondents may be more willing to answer questions which they would find potentially embarrassing in a face-to-face interview," Ms Espinoza notes.
Having been in the business for over 30 years, the company is keen to fully utilise its existing databases to attend to client needs more flexibly. One step in this direction has been the introduction of total client solutions with a 360-degree analysis of the market. There is also a software platform that allows clients to retrieve data according to their own selection criteria. This allows them to examine market share in terms of branding, segmentation or product type.
Essential qualities for research analysts and client
- Enjoy learning and good at interpreting numerical data
- Creative in finding solutions
- Accurate and patient when conducting research
- High EQ and culturally sensitive
- Inquisitive, observant and open-minded