Stats In The City: panel-based research by BMRB London delivers insights into Metro newspaper's young urban readership
Metro is a free newspaper, distributed in a number of British cities. A panel-based research study proved the perfect vehicle, both to deliver insights into its young urban readership, and to provide editorial copy on their opinions. Liz McMahon, with Jenny Saunders from BMRB, London, outlines the approach.
In today's world young, urban professionals form a desirable market for many brands and products. High incomes and spending power are often combined with brand consciousness and a tendency to early adoption in many markets. As such they frequently form the core of many marketing campaigns.
Yet it is this very group who can be the hardest to reach through conventional advertising. Working long hours. establishing successful careers, combined with often active social lives, this group is rarely at home. They watch little TV, are selective in their media choice and in many Western economies have been the group least likely to adopt newspapers in the same way that previous gnerations did.Metro
is a free newspaper targeted at this urban population. Launched in 1999 in London, it is distributed at mainline and underground stations in the capital during morning commuter time. Designed to suit busy travellers, it is written in a concise format covering just the facts without any political spin. Since 1999 the concept has been taken to a further seven UK cities again distributed at key commuter points. Metro
has been enormously successful in reaching the young urban audience. It fits into their lifestyles and has successfully established a branding that reflects its audience. Within four years it has established a readership of 1.469 million across the seven cities covered.The Urban Life study
Since its inception, research has formed the backbone of Metro's
success. Alongside traditional readership surveys such as NRS and TGI, previous studies have explored the 'Metro
Moment' (using qualitatitve research which uncovered how readers lose themselves in their copy each morning) and have established the presence of an 'Urbanite' tribe or outlook. These studies helped develop the barnd in the eyes of the readership and, just as importantly, the advertising community. The Urban Life study is desugned to take this a step further.Metro's
readership is concentrated around young, urban workers, a group we have come to term 'Urbanites'. Traditional resaerch often struggles to reach them, primarily because they are rarely at home during typical interviewing hours. Urban Life was created specifically to reach and engage them successfully. Metro's
aim was to really delve into their lives to reveal insights that would make advertisers sit up and take notice. Our goal was for a commercially-driven study that advertisers would want to use to ask their own questions but also for results that were sufficiently interesting within Metro
The key aims of the study were:
- To create an attractive research proposition that describes and reflects the Metro audience effectively to advertisers and agencies.
- To develop a deeper understanding of the Metro audience in terms of both behaviour and attitide.
- To be used across the entire Metro business: feeding into editorial; product development, as support for advertising asles.
- To provide a research vehicle to be used in partnership with Metro's clients.
It was always envisaged that the research would take the form of a panel. This gave Metro added flexibility to contact panellists on an ad hoc basis and enabled longitudinal analysis among the group. With these objectives in mind Metro approached BMRB Media for ideas in early 2002. Working together we arrived at a final research design by the middle of the year and launched the first wave of Urban Life in the summer of 2002.
The approach: an overview
Urban Life was designed as a panel study running over six months from August 2002 to January 2003. Key information was collected over six main surveys. This enabled us to build an ongoing rapport with our respondents and generate a lrage body of information without overburdening them in any one questionnaire. Alongside the main surveys e also ran mini-polls of just a few questions to cover topical issues as they arose.
As thisn young, mobile audience is hard to reach through traditional data collection methods we chose a web-based methodology. An online approach fits in with readers' busy lifestyles and is readily available to the vast majority of them (according to TGI 2003 83% of our universe are internet users). It also has the advantage of allowing a fast turnaround of results giving virually instantaneous feedback. In addition we incorporated an element that took advantage of their enthusiasm for their mobiles by using text messaging (SMS) to ask a small number of sumple questions.
The study was designed to be representative of Metro's core readership:
- Regular readers (who read three out of five issues each week).
- Aged 18 to 44 years old and working full time.
Our aim was to understand the core, regular readership rather than total readers or even the potential readership for Metro. We, therefore recruited them through the once medium that reaches these urbanites most effectively: Metro itself. Panel members were recruited through editorial content and advertisements in the newspaper. The sample we derived was as broad as possible. Quota controls were used to manage the profile of the sample recruited and we set targets based on National Readership Survey data for each city. Each potential member completed an initial registration questionnaire online before being accepted onto our panel.
The study ran for six months across 2002 and achieved a phenomenal participation rate of 80% on average for each survey. From our initial pool of 3,000 members, over 2,000 were still on board by the end of the project, having completed all six of the surveys run. In 2003 we have run a second Urban Life study with a further six waves of research following a fresh tranche of recruitment.
When the second wave of Urban Life finishes in November this year we will have asked over a thousand questions. In this way we complete a growing library of information on Metro's core audience which we have summarised in what we have christened the 'A to Z' of Urban Life. The panel has delivered helpful information in four main areas:
Providing us with a finger on the pulse of attitudes
We followed the changing mood of the panel on the highly charged issue of the European single currency. It's a subject which truly divides the public, business and press in Britain. The UK currently is not part of this scheme, it's still pounds instead of euros on our island. When we furst polled our 'Urban Lifers' in August last year the results showed a significant proportion of thm in favour of joining the rest of the Continent in 'Euro Land';
- Yes 43%
- No 37%
- Undecided 20%
Late last year the whole subject of the European central government hit the headlines for weeks on end. The press coverage was highlighting the increasingly powerful role Brussels plays in 'influencing' British laws. It would appear that this this had a negative effect upon Metro readers: repeating the same questions in June 2003 we found 44% of the panel now rejected the idea of joining the single currency, Once again one in five of the panel were undecided.
Commercial marketing advantage
The work in this area falls into two distinct categories, questions that we wanted to answer and questions directly fed into the surveys by advertisers or their media agencies.
From a Metro perspective it was useful to have strong numerical evidence about our core readership to substantiate our sales proposition. We set out at the beginning to build a complete picture of twenty-first century urban life. If you can describe hopes, dreams and fears of your readers then the 'pitch' you can make for advertising business is far stronger. The UK advertising market is very planning/insight focused with accent placed upon understanding who, what and why will generate a positive response from your target audience. By illustration, 76% of the panel wanted to get to the top of their careers with 23% who had received a promotion in the last 12 months. More than two-thirds worked over 40 hours a week (to get the promotion!). We also know when and how much they are bonused, what they spend this on, where they spend it and what they would purchase if they had a little more money than they have now.
We have asked questions on behalf of nearly every top 20 media planning agency as well as many advertisers directly. In January we talked to five major car manufacturers before writing the final questionnaire. This resulted in a 20 question general survey on car-buying behaviour as well as five short specialist sections which addressed the individual needs of Ford, Vauxhall, VW, etc. In our minds this produced a perfect balance bteween 'hard' questions which established what model of car the panellists own currently to softer questions about attitude towards brands and perception of makes and models.
In other examples we asked the panel what New Year's resolutions they were making (for a detox advertiser looking at New Year feature) and panellists' knowledge of 3G technology (for two separate mobile suppliers).
Keeping it fun
We have already highlighted the use of the 'desert island' mechanism to help keep yje questionnaires interesting. Recently, we have asked the panel about their attitudes to the future, how long it would take for flying cars to appear, how long before we all work from home or live to be 100. (Flying cars are thought to be further off than the other two!). Questions about sports and celebrities not only collect interesting profile data but also help balance the questionnaire's most serious and full sections. Manchester United emerged as both the best loved and most despised team in the country (typically British to hate a successful side!). Brad Pitt and Kylie Minogue top the sex symbol league at the present time; however the key learning from this question was the eclectic list of characters picked by the panel to dine on their desert island. Brad and Kylie won with less than 100 votes from a total of over 2,600.
This 'wide choice' phenomenon was at its greatest when the panel picked their desert island musical act (to entertain them during those long days!). There were approximately 2,800 responses. We would claim that this is a strong sign of the intelligent and individual nature of our audience, even though some of the choices were rather strange.
In summary, the insights from Urban Life have fuelled stories in the newspaper, satisfied agencies who were able to justify their recommendations and pleased our clients who have gone on to book more space. We have found that the study has both added to our existing customer relationships and helped to build new ones.
The full version of this article originally appeared in volume 10 of WPP's Atticus Journal.