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Cancer Research UK, MRS Company Partner, talk about how evidence matters in their organisation

Luba Kassova, AMRS, Head of Consumer Insight

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What does Cancer Research UK use market and social
research for?

The Consumer Insight team’s 2012/13 vision explains it best: We understand ordinary people’s lives and deliver extraordinary insights to drive organisational value and income.

Our purpose is to deliver high quality, objective and inspirational insights to support decision-making. We partner with our internal stakeholders in order to build and execute a consumer-led strategy, to develop new consumer-centric products and to maximise value from existing products. We identify unmet consumer needs and help Cancer Research UK (CRUK) to develop ideas in order to meet them. We strive to engage internal stakeholders and empower them with a clear understanding of the consumer.

We believe evidence matters - why does it matter to you? If Cancer Research UK didn’t have a strategy and insight team, what aspects of its work would be prevented or made less effective?

If the Consumer Insight team did not exist, CRUK would not be able to target the right audiences, with the right products and messages, through the best channels.

The team enables CRUK to drive value back to the organisation and ensure supporters’ funds are used efficiently, so that together we can fight cancer. If the Strategy and Consumer Insight team didn’t have a coherent view of the overall socio-economic context that the charity operates within, or know how other charities are performing in the eyes of UK consumers, CRUK would not know which audiences to innovate for or what their needs are.

How closely does the strategy and insight team work with the senior levels of the organisation?

We work across all levels of the organisation all the way up to the Executive Board. For example, this month, the Consumer Insight team is presenting the latest supporter story to CRUK’s Executive Strategy Board - highlighting potential implications on the charity, be it strategic, organisational, or tactical.

Tell us about some research you’ve undertaken that has had an impact at senior levels in the organisation, for example the way that the organisation operates or how it engages with its audiences?

Most of the research that we undertake has an impact at the senior level of the organisation because we are a small team facing high stakeholder demands. We therefore take a strategic approach on how we prioritise the work that we do - according to the anticipated impact on the decision making across the organisation. If we think that the insights from the research that we are asked to undertake will have a high impact in terms of generating value back to the organisation against its strategic priorities, then we are most likely to do it. The insights that we generate from the research that we do, influence or drive the strategic direction of CRUK’s products and brands portfolio. Our work is at the heart of CRUK’s innovation process.

For example, a recent insights programme on our supporters and consumers identified that the optimum way for fostering loyalty was when our products or communications appealed to supporters on three levels: the relevance of the cause, the ability to tap into their individual interests and the potential to enhance the supporter's personal network. This was embraced as a more holistic approach to building fundraising campaigns across the organisation.

Has there been any research you’ve done that has radically changed your way of thinking about an issue – which has challenged convention?

An example of a project which changed the organisation’s thinking in a specific product area is where we showed that the target audience who purchase from our retail stores are very different from the conventional ideas of who we thought they were. The insights also found that there was a significant profile overlap between the target audiences who were buying and those who were donating stock. This led to the organisation changing its approach to the kind of stock it needed to get for the CRUK’s shops.

How do you think organisations like yours can use research more effectively?

In my view, the charity sector would really benefit from having a Consumer Insight Group (similar to the Media Research Group for media companies and agencies) where charities could share their thinking on key supporter and sector questions. It would be great to cross-fertilise our thinking and come up with innovative ideas on how to make the world a better place.

Since joining the sector I have been really impressed with nfpSynergy, who provide enormous intelligence and consultancy on consumer and supporter behaviour for free. For those charities who have not come across them, I recommend that they browse through their website.

How important is market and social research to ensuring the value of what Cancer Research UK does?

It is monumentally important for CRUK to ensure that it delivers value through its consumer insights and research. This is why the organisation created the Head of Consumer Insight role last year. The organisation wanted to ensure that decisions within CRUK are informed or even driven by the needs of our supporters. Separately to that, CRUK wanted to ensure that our supporters’ money was spent in a most efficient manner, which meant that having full visibility of what primary research is undertaken throughout the organisation would eliminate the danger of duplication. 

As part of our efficiency programme my team only does primary research when we have not been able to answer the business questions with our existing data sources.

What do you look for in a research agency?

I look for strong experience in delivering research and consultancy in the area that we are looking at, as well as having a passion for understanding people. Business acumen to add value when interpreting data and research findings and a creative approach in terms of methodology and outputs is also important. My team also looks for ability to deliver succinct outputs in the agencies that we work with, flexibility in client management and the seniority of the team delivering the project. Value for money is of paramount importance too.

I personally feel passionate about beautiful data visualisation, so this is a criterion for success for me too. I encourage my team to spend 30% of their time on project management and 70% of their time on how to drive impact throughout the organisation with the findings across multiple projects. In my view impact is closely linked to simple visual representation.

How important are innovative research techniques to you? For example do techniques like gamification and neuroscience have relevance for your work?

Innovation techniques are very important when they are linked to a particular business question we are trying to find an answer to rather than in their own right. We are deeply interested in techniques that help us to reconcile the dissonance between claimed and actual behaviour, of which is rife when you research areas such as giving. How much we give to the world affects the perception we have of how good a person we are, so as human beings we are likely to think that we give more than we actually do.

I am more and more interested in using powerful imagery instead of language when testing people’s behaviour or values. This taps into the unconscious drivers of behaviour, as well as the emotional, rather than focusing on the rational. In this context we are interested in neuroscience, as well as other techniques and we encourage expression through art forms.

If money was no object, what market or social research would you commission?

I love this question as it liberates me from thinking about cost-effectiveness which is what I tend to do all the time. So, if money was not an issue, I would build an experimental lab and bring experts across multiple disciplines together (e.g. social psychology, behavioural economics, maths, physics, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, biology, theology) to design super cool experiments around how to interact with the public more effectively, in order to drive value for CRUK. We would also test how to drive behaviour change amongst the population around important issues such as lifestyle changes which would lead to cancer prevention.

If money was not an issue, I would definitely look to launch quantitative longitudinal research of different generations measuring a lot of different parameters. Currently there are a number of longitudinal studies which focus in social policy, but very few that unearth giving patterns, consumption patterns and the impact of popular culture. I would supplement this research with annual ethnographic deep dives so that, for example, in ten years time we would have an audio-visual bank of knowledge to complement our hard statistics.

If money wasn’t an issue, I would also commission semiotics analysis as part of all big projects that we do. This would add enormous depth to our consumer understanding.

Why did you choose to become an MRS Company Partner and why is MRS important to Cancer Research UK?

For me MRS stands for high quality and expertise on market research issues. Given that CRUK Consumer Insight team’s purpose is to deliver high quality insights, I felt that tapping into the expertise and support which MRS offers to its Company Partners would be really useful. This is the first reason. The second reason is the fact that we get discounted prices on training which is very attractive for our budget and is motivating for my team.

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