I was recently having a conversation with a client who, having had the traditional CFO late summer whip-round for any unspent budget, had to massively scale back their research ambitions and was now exploring a very different solution.

Now whilst The Forge are massive fans of research efficiency (don’t get me started on the amount of work that is commissioned that just repeats old work…), as the conversation started to talk about the revised approach being ‘no risk’, the alarm bells started to ring.

Because I don’t think such a thing exists.

Let me draw you an analogy.

Football fan or not, you would be hard pressed to have ignored the recent billion-pound cash splurge that was the Football Transfer Window. Topflight clubs, flush with cash, decided a bit of retail therapy was the answer: spend, spend, spend!

But a couple of clubs didn’t – or at least not in the same way their fans demanded. Jürgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool Football Club, decided to ignore the demands of his own fans to buy a new defender, taking a very different view:

In a frenzied market which…provided little value and questionable quality, Klopp was willing to make do and mend. At a time when quick fixes are all the rage, it was a brave decision.
Klopp would rather wait for the players he most wants to become available and make do with what he has than sign ones from the lower reaches of his priority list. 

So why buck the trend? When everyone else is spending, why not through a few million quid and roll the dice. Well one particular reason:

Mario Balotelli.

For those of you not familiar with Italy’s bad boy, the ‘circus’ that seems to follow him around is legendary.

Whether his fault or not, his reputation precedes him and energy sapping attention follows in his wake.

Whatever his individual faults, there is a simple truth: the story of Balotelli is a story about the risks of pinning your hopes on a quick fix delivering a strong return on investment.

In the short-termist football world, the transfer deadline day gamble is often viewed as a harmless risk. When you are swimming in cash, what is an extra £10m on a player that may or may not work? If it doesn’t play out, simply sideline the player and move on next time the shop window opens…

That view becomes even more attractive, when compared to the alternative option – hard work, graft, effort and time to train, develop and nurture the players to make them better.

Nah – give me a new ready-made player to just drop into the team everytime…”

But as ever, it is not this simple.

Gambles aren’t risk free. The downside isn’t just losing the stake. At best the fanfare and excitement is followed by disappointment and lost momentum. At worst, it can cast a shadow that drags down the whole team and club…

Back to our research dilemma. Surely when faced with a knowledge gap, a dip into the insight market will be better than nothing?

Well not always.

We’ve seen countless studies that were commissioned to quickly answer a gap. But rather than provide the kind of insight that helps a business, provoking new ways of thinking & routes forward, it can often end up differently.

Thankfully most of the time, it is just a case of lost momentum – a sense that the findings are not fit for purpose, have not created the promised clarity and still leave several unanswered questions.

But at its worst, ill designed and poorly thought out studies can lead to findings that range from the misleading, through to the downright wrong.

For every research study that comes back to an underwhelming response and more questions than answers, insight teams undermine their position with our marketing business partners. We risk wasting more time, effort and money rectifying the short term gamble…

So what are the alternatives? Do we just do nothing until we can afford the perfect solution?


To get back to our football analogy, we get back to the training pitch:

The message is clear: even if it means using a player in a position in which he does not like playing, Klopp is prepared to do that if he feels the option of buying a new player is not in Liverpool's best interests.


There is an alternative – and it comes back to the idea of return on investment – but the investment of effort and time, rather than cash.

We are big believers that much (if not all) of the answer already exists within what businesses already know. So much knowledge has been created over the years. So much experience resides within our colleagues. So many potential answers lie within publically accessible information freely available with some focused desk time…

Rolling our sleeves up and focusing on what we already have and making it work harder may not be sexy and exciting.

It is hard work. Like improving a sportsman, it takes focus, effort (and possibly a bit of sweat and tears!). But it yields results.

If Leicester City, the Welsh football team and the GB Hockey women have taught us anything this year, it is that this approach does provide incredibly return on your investment.

It might take a bit longer, but if you put that effort in to getting the right answer and avoid the pitfalls of a Balotelli-esque research study, it will definitely be worth it.


With thanks to Kamran Hussein for the image