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The paradox of protocols

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The global research programmes that deliver the best value are not the most standardised - and they are not usually the most elaborate. Learn how brands have created strong, flexible protocols by focusing on shorter, smarter surveys, local engagement and active leadership at the centre.

Published in: Marketing
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The paradox of protocols

  1. 1. Share this Intelligence Applied The Paradox of Protocols
  2. 2. Share this 2 The Paradox of Protocols Intelligence Applied The global research programmes that are delivering best value are not the most standardised. If you want to drive consistency across your organisation – build in more flexibility, not less, and invest in long term partnerships.
  3. 3. Share this 3 The Paradox of Protocols Intelligence Applied At TNS, we see many clients embark on programmes to define a standard research methodology that will guide research decisions across their organisation. Great care is taken in scrutinising alternative approaches and trying to anticipate all of the business questions that the research should answer. Yet some of these programmes fail to gain traction or deliver real benefits, fading away within a year or two. Paradoxically, a frequent cause of failure is an elaborate survey design which covers all bases, yet still fails to address local needs. In our experience, the programmes which gain momentum are those with strong but flexible research design, where attention has been paid to engaging the organisation. What is it that underpins successful protocols? Three aspects are critical: shorter smarter surveys, local engagement and active strategic leadership from the centre. Sarah Mitson Global Business Director Less is more The traditional way to earn support for standards is to try and include questions to keep everyone happy. In reality though, shorter smarter surveys hold the key to adding value efficiently. Short surveys drive up data quality by reducing irrelevant questions, keeping respondents interested and fieldwork costs down. This involves considerable discipline when it comes to survey design: weeding out questions that we know respondents struggle to answer accurately, such as those based on memory or behavioural intent, and not overloading respondents with tasks such as attributing values to brands that they don’t consider anyway. But taking questions out only works if you leave the right ones in. Smart surveys ask questions that have been proven to reflect consumer preferences accurately, and which are relevant to the way *Protocol: The accepted or established code of procedure or behaviour in an organization – in research terms, a standard methodology applied over multiple studies for a given business question / metric.
  4. 4. Share this 4 The Paradox of Protocols Intelligence Applied Managing a global electronics portfolio How do you manage demanding product life cycles in a global electronics company? Products need to get to market fast. Your research needs to anticipate consumer needs. A set of disciplined and timely research protocols is the secret of success for one of our global clients. The development cycle has four lenses through which innovations are assessed: brand, communications, dealers and shoppers. Each lens has a few carefully designed research interventions at defined stages. The ability to conduct the research to consistent standards across the world is critical for the central Innovation team, which must refine and launch global products to succeed across diverse markets. This client owns the protocol, but chooses from a limited number of global research agencies able to deliver accurately and to time regardless of market. consumers make decisions. They are also flexible, with a strong small core of mandatory questions, consistently applied everywhere, and modular add- ons that can be used to incorporate the local or brand-specific questions that will provide answers to current business issues. TNS has been pioneering the use of shorter, smarter surveys in multiple disciplines. Our core questions are validated to be predictive, and can be completed in three minutes or less. We find that strong consistent core metrics enhance global understanding of local results, and the brevity of this core delivers concrete advantages: lower respondent dropout and fieldwork costs, ability to deliver survey on mobile devices, and room to add tailored questions. The efficiency of shorter, smarter surveys provides global protocols with a great starting point, but their effectiveness at delivering valuable insight also depends upon their ability to engage the organisation as a whole.
  5. 5. Share this 5 The Paradox of Protocols Intelligence Applied Engaging the whole organisation The decision to standardise design for a research area is rarely taken lightly. It is usually part of a wider marketing initiative to improve strategic alignment across the international brand portfolio through common processes and metrics. Despite this, it is often left solely to the Head of Insights to specify the brief and screen potential partners. The best change programmes involve central and local stakeholders, both in creating the brief, screening potential partners and at implementation. They focus on the purpose of the programme as much as the methodology, and they consider the programme an investment in creating better marketing tools, not simply a cost saving exercise. This provides a far better basis for engaging the organisation behind it. The importance of involving local business units early cannot be overstated. Too many central teams assume that it’s enough to hold a brief webinar to inform local teams of the new protocol. In practice, we find that engagement improves with early consultation and is reinforced by embedding core metrics in the marketing planning process. Although it is possible to enforce compliance from the centre, local teams may find ways around the rules: programmes that are duplicative or ignored are wasteful and are a symptom of a programme not delivering value at a local level. The best way to avoid this is choosing a strong strategic research partner with local teams that are experts at delivering at the grassroots and are capable of building relationships on the basis of local and global knowledge. Going global requires protocols that can flex methodology across diverse markets. Understanding the rapid changes in the digital landscape is therefore critical in that it helps inform the most effective methods and hardware for collecting survey data. This ultimately requires device-agnostic designs that can be delivered face-to-face and across different device platforms (PC, tablet, mobile), to suit the target respondent.
  6. 6. Share this 6 The Paradox of Protocols Intelligence Applied Strategic leadership from the centre The role of the centre should be more than best practice design or senior sponsor. For a programme to deliver real value, it needs active management by a strong Insights team as well as sponsorship by the CMO and regional executives. It is usual for the Insights lead to take responsibility for design, compliance and demonstrating how the programme supports business decisions. However, two additional responsibilities are often overlooked: meta-learning and modernisation. The purpose of meta-learning is to increase both the effectiveness and efficiency of the programme. It is surprising how few organisations invest management time and attention in ensuring the organisation understands and acts on the learning from its global research programmes. This can be as simple as ‘knowing what we know’ – having visibility of research done across the world and sharing it between markets and categories. However more value can be generated when the protocol’s consistency allows themes to be captured and Designing the cars of the future The cars of tomorrow are already here: prototypes locked securely into the R&D cycle of global auto manufacturers. How do auto clients test they are going to be a commercial success before they scale up production? The auto industry has a standard approach called ‘car clinics’. Prototypes are flown into a specially fitted out venue and the ‘showroom’ is opened up to carefully selected potential consumers. This requires meticulous planning and tight security. From a research perspective, every ounce of information needs to be extracted from the event to justify the investment. An auto client knows that context is everything. A good meal, the right lighting, can affect consumer response to the car they are being asked to assess. They therefore need rigorous protocols, which control every variable. Clients who specify the carpet colour and wallpaper of the research environment are not being pedantic – they are protecting their ability to predict the outcome of major investments in the next generation of vehicles.
  7. 7. Share this 7 The Paradox of Protocols Intelligence Applied generalisations made, informing global strategy. Ultimately, research that is predictive (and so drives future business decisions) is the gold standard for meta-learning. Many successful protocols become the language of the organisation, a common way of understanding brand and customer performance. Over two to three years, such protocols take on a life of their own and become “the way we do things around here”. Unchecked, this institutionalisation can itself be a threat to future effectiveness. With the rapid move of consumers and customers online, marketing has had to reinvent itself for a digital world – and protocols must keep pace with this reinvention. If a programme has not been reviewed and modernised within the last few years it is almost certainly out of date. We recommend a substantial review of protocols at least every three years to improve relevance and benefit from the latest research technologies, with the responsibility for modernising the programme shared between the central client and strategic research partner. Conclusion The real value of global protocols is not in their economic savings, but in the common language and the meta learning’s that can drive quicker decisions in an organisation as a result of a well-run global programme. These programmes require smart design, a determination to build in local flexibility, and strategic leadership that recognises that metrics need to drive business decisions throughout the organisation, not just at the centre. This is not easy, but changes in marketing, technology and research methods make it necessary, and we see increasing numbers of global clients who are now making it a reality.
  8. 8. Share this 8 The Paradox of Protocols Intelligence Applied About Connected Life Intelligence Applied is the home of the latest thinking from TNS, where we discuss the issues impacting our clients, explore what makes people tick and spotlight how these insights can create opportunities for business growth. Please visit www.tnsglobal.com/intelligence-applied for further information. About TNS TNS advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and customer and employee relationships, based on long-established expertise and market-leading solutions. With a presence in over 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers than anyone else and understands individual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world. TNS is part of Kantar, the data investment management division of WPP and one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups. Get in touch If you would like to talk to us about anything you have read in this report, please get in touch via enquiries@tnsglobal.com or via Twitter @tns_global You may be interested in.. Shorter, more predictive surveys > Sarah Mitson, TNS’s Global Business Director, helps our global clients optimise their multi-country insight programmes and apply innovative research solutions across their organisations. To find out more about how TNS can support you in renovating your international programmes, contact Sarah at sarah.mitson@tnsglobal.com About the author

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