What's New Across The Pond? Marketing Research in Europe
Europe has market research trends similar to those in the United States, but their evolution and final emergence may look different. This article looks at marketing research trends in Europe in comparison with the U.S.
One of the questions I am frequently asked as a European when I meet American Market Research companies (and also End Users of the research) is:
“So, what’s new in Europe in the market research world?” Another variation of this very important question is: “What’s different in Europe within the market research business from what we have in the States?”
Obviously, with Europe being a “mosaic” of cultures, my answers have to be “modulated” to each country, but I truly believe that they nevertheless cross the whole European market research world.
Four main trends are currently driving market research in Europe :
- increased importance of technology in data collection;
- development of the Internet;
- increasing fragmentation of the market; and
- emergence of “green” issues and related products.
1. The increased importance of technology in data collection
The times where tools were nearly limited to face-to-face questionnaires for the quantitative or IDI’s and focus groups for the qualitative is not that far away. Those “basic” techniques are still around, with more or less importance depending on the countries.
But, after the very slow “revolution” of telephone interviews, came first pen-and-paper and little by little CATI, and then CAPI for face-to-face. The strong development of telecommunication technologies led by high-speed Internet has changed tremendously within the last few years the range of tools which can be used for the quantitative data collection: the “classical” face-to-face (CAPI or not) and CATI are right now being challenged not only by the “straight forward” websurveys (see below), but also by:
- SMS and IVR questionnaires more used now because of the very high penetration of cell phones;
- mix-mode, intimately mixing telephone and web during the interviews; and
- telephone recruits to Web.
For international projects, Virtual Call Centers (VCC) allow for better control and monitoring of the production of internationally spread call centers. I am not noting the remote listening and MP3 taping capabilities because they are not yet universally developed, but are becoming strong among the most technically advanced companies.
2. The Development Of The Internet
Not only does high-speed Internet technology allow the development of new tools, mainly boosting the “good-old” (and long time only telephone technique!) CATI, but it has also helped develop-slowly but surely – the use of Websurveys.
However, let’s be very clear here: websurveys have not - by far - developed in Europe the way they have developed in the States, and this is for three main reasons:
The penetration of the Internet, which is globally recent and very different from one country to another. In France for instance, the penetration of Internet has just reached, in mid-2007, 50% of the French households (with a very high % of high-speed Internet). In southern Europe, this penetration is lower and even still very low in a country such as Greece.
Cultural habits which make the return ratio of self-administered questionnaires very low in most countries (with obviously the exception of respondents participating to a panel, which mainly concerns consumers).
The Internet often represents a costeffective solution, mainly in replacement of face-to-face when elements have to be shown such as concept boards, packagings, ads, etc. Consequently, it is very important to use it as an interviewing technic, the telephone is being used through call backs, recruiting calls or mix-mode (Web and telephone) interviews to slightly increase this ratio.
Representivity Concerns: if cost is one important issue, quality of the sampling is very widely considered as an even more important issue, and there still currently are a lot of concerns about the effective representivity of Internet samplings.
In addition to the slow but regular development of websurveys within the quantitative universe, Internet also starts being used for qualitative researches, even though Southern European / Latin countries are much more reluctant due to their historical use of the qualitative to either conduct very much in-depth interviews or moderate with group dynamics technics in focus-groups. Very difficult targets are right now the ones for which Web-focus groups are the most used, even though it is still very minor.
3. The Increasing Fragmentation Of The Market
When it is a very common situation in the States to find very sharply specialized MR companies (Hispanic, entertainment, high-tech, etc.), it is a very recent move in Europe.
As a matter of fact, in the most developed countries as far as market research is concerned (UK, France, Germany), we can now find, aside the largest national firms having specialized departments or branches, small to average-size companies very specialized not only in one technic (qualitative vs. quantitative specialty is a very traditional segmentation of MR firms) but in one “niche” such as public transport, packaging testing, brand name creation and testing, green products, etc.
This business area segmentation is crossed by other dimensions such as added-value (opposed to data collection), national/international, full service opposed to qual or quant specialization, etc. which makes that, at the end of the day, and as it has developed in the USA, the leading European MR companies are in the process of developing a real “cottage cheese industry” with more and more hyper-specialized MR firms which might however belong to larger MR groups.
4. Green Issues
Initiated in Scandinavian countries some 30 years ago, environmental concerns have now spread all over Europe from North to South. Northern countries still remaining, however, leading countries in this matter.
Consequently, pushed by both the public opinions and the EU rules transferred into each country, European companies have developed, year after year, more and more sophisticated strategies to take into consideration those environmental issues. Initially, the strategies were essentially industrial strategies to comply with the legal requirements.
Little by little, those early strategies have developed into marketing strategies as well in corporate communication as in products and services in order to implement environment-related product strategies.
Today, the most advanced European MR firms have developed specific ranges of qualitative and/or qualitative tools (Planet, Green, etc.) dedicated to companies which need to develop and monitor their “green” strategies.
Consequently, dedicated panels, omnibus, ethnography techniques, etc., have lately flourished to better meet the developing needs of the MR firms’clients which want to at least “surf on the green wave” and for the most advanced, pre-empt the very promising environmental territory of their business universe through products, services and communication.
Europe - the “old” and the “new” - is definitely moving and, if it mainly concerns into adapting a few years later trends initially emerged in the States, the current “Green” phenomenon shows that it is also clearly able to develop its own trends.
More than ever, the world is becoming “global”, but it does not exclude trends emerging strongly in one part of it because of a very specific local context in terms of political and/or social issues.
360° vision is the only answer to keep aware of what is going on in this quickly transforming world.
This article was originally published in the December 2007 issue of MRA’s Alert! Magazine.