ICD is ready to tap into the nation’s shopping psyche. Robert Dwek
looks at how the industry will respond.
ICD, the lifestyle database company, has embarked on a two-year
investigation into the nation’s shopping habits. Launched this month and
backed by a pounds 21 million spend, the ambitious project will entail
three separate questionnaires mailed out to the UK’s 24 million
Using a 1996 survey as its guide, ICD estimates it will have a high
response level (about 10 million households) and expects to be
processing returned questionnaires at the rate of 24,000 a day over the
next two years.
All of which sounds very impressive and ICD, perhaps indulging in a
little launch hype, claims the exercise could have a dramatic affect on
marketing by creating ’a new advertising medium’.
According to Martin Kiersnowski, the managing director of ICD’s surveys
division, this project will provide advertisers with a critical mass of
information about niche areas of consumer behaviour.
’It’s the 80:20 rule,’ he explains. ’Eighty per cent of sales are
usually generated by 20 per cent of your customers. But how do you
advertise to these people, persuade them to stay loyal or, if they use a
competitor’s product, to switch to yours? TV and press are not accurate
enough to pinpoint these consumers. But until now, nobody has been able
to generate sufficient volumes from a lifestyle survey to have an impact
on national market shares.
We expect to change that.’
The 150 questions in the first survey are sponsored by a variety of
companies who can ask what they want, albeit with ’editorial guidance’
The survey covers several categories, including holidays and travel,
motoring, health, money and investments, mail order and charitable
concerns. The incentive to complete the questionnaire is the chance to
win free entry into the National Lottery for a year, or a camcorder or
mini hi-fi system.
ICD’s competitors are, not surprisingly, reluctant to see this latest
series of surveys in quite the same glowing light as their creator.
Jason Barrott, deputy managing director of Consumer Surveys, a
subsidiary of the list broker, Dudley Jenkins, sees it as a big vote of
confidence in the lifestyle data market, but certainly doesn’t see these
surveys leading to a dramatic move from above to below-the-line. ’We do
see more companies looking at database marketing, but as part of a total
communications service,’ Barrott says.
Others are not convinced that ICD’s data, heavily reliant on such
questionnaires, is sufficient on its own to convince advertisers to
change their ways.
’We wouldn’t recommend a mailing to a client based on just one
We’d want to use lifestyle data gathered in different ways, from
companies such as NDL, CMT and Consumer Surveys,’ says Chris Love, data
targeting manager of the direct marketing agency, Brann.
Claire Harding, head of list broking at HLB, a subsidiary of the direct
marketing agency, WWAV Rapp Collins and the largest list broker in the
UK, agrees on this point: ’There’s definitely room for more data, but
you need a mix of different lifestyle companies. But it’ll be
interesting to see if ICD can get the volumes it’s predicting, because
it’s not a foregone conclusion.’
Nevertheless, Love admits to using ICD quite extensively and says
lifestyle information now forms the bulk of bought-in data. He likes the
way companies can sponsor questions on such surveys, and finds them
particularly effective in determining consumers’ intention to purchase
or donate. ’Lifestyle data has proved very successful for several of our
clients, especially in the charity sector where you can find out which
charities people are predisposed to,’ Love says.
Another through-the-line agency, Maher Bird Associates, likes the sound
of ICD’s surveys but questions whether their findings will automatically
lead to a shift below-the-line. Stephen Maher, Maher Bird’s managing
director, is wary. He says: ’It might show that a 24-year-old C2 man in
Doncaster is attitudinally linked to a 33-year-old A1 woman in Notting
Hill. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will want to start
direct mailing them. It may be that certain broadcast methods are more
appropriate, particularly if what were considered very diverse groups
emerge as clusters.’
Brian Sassoon, board planner at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, also has mixed
feelings about the standalone value of the ICD data. ’This sort of
survey is quite useful to ad agencies for research purposes. If you’ve
got a small group of people who are difficult to get hold of then this
kind of data can be a very cheap way of getting some top-line
information about their demographics and psychographics. But whether it
will switch advertisers from above-the-line to below-the-line is another
Sassoon believes there will always be a role for advertising, no matter
how impressive the detail that comes out of these kind of surveys. ’Look
at TV, even if it isn’t the most cost-effective way of reaching your
audience, just by appearing on it gives a brand stature and credibility
that it wouldn’t acquire through direct mail.’
This doesn’t sound too promising, but the Luddites may be overtaken by
their clients, who seem increasingly knowledgeable about lifestyle data
and increasingly amenable to its application.
One such client is the recently formed credit card firm, RBS Advanta, a
joint venture between the Royal Bank of Scotland and the US-based
Advanta corporation. Tim Lewis, RBS Advanta’s marketing director, has
been a client of ICD since 1988. He is a champion of lifestyle surveys,
and used such information while working for American Express, First
Direct and Chase Manhattan bank.
His current employer is a 100 per cent below-the-line marketer. ’We
believe lifestyle surveys are a thoroughly good thing,’ Lewis declares.
’We are major users of the data that comes from most of these surveys.’
He admits to being a bit sceptical about whether the latest ICD
initiative heralds a sea-change in marketing, but is convinced that
there is a gradual long-term move below-the-line. Although RBS Advanta
is still deciding whether to sponsor one of the ICD surveys, Lewis
thinks it likely that he will be using the information that comes out of
This is, of course, heartening news for Kiersnowski, who believes his
surveys will hold a particular interest for ’traditional’ direct
marketers, such as charities, insurers, financial services, car
manufacturers and retailers. But, he promises: ’This information will be
valuable to any competitive sector, to companies who need very recent
data on their rivals.’
So, sea-change or hot air? All should become clear two years down the
line, by which time we will be well into a new government. Kiersnowski
claims that an ICD survey sent out before the last general election, the
one that left market researchers with egg all over their faces, came
within 1 per cent of the actual result. As the popular TV programme
might say, strange ... but true?