RIBA Insight Monthly Briefing

Is your construction product research telling you what you need to know?

I keep six honest serving men,
(They taught me all I knew),
Their names are What and Why and When,
And How and Where and Who.

The Elephant's Child, Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling famous poem provides a useful template when thinking about research. Here is a checklist for planning your construction product research:

Primarily, organisations want to research their products and their competitors' products. Do they meet customers' needs? Are the features understood and the benefits valued? How are the sustainability credentials viewed? What is the selection process? And, most importantly, what is the level of brand awareness?


There are so many reasons why you should conduct research. Perhaps it's to identify opportunities for new product development, guide pricing strategy, benchmark against competitors, know the size of the market, guide communication strategies, or understand the decision-making process. But overall, it's about making sure your business is making the best of its opportunities and not being overtaken by events.


Research should be conducted regularly so that decisions are not being made based on out-of-date information. Typically, it might be at the start of the construction product development process, as part of a sales force restructuring, or prior to developing a communications strategy. From a practical perspective it's often got to be scheduled into the budget year.


One option is desk research (see Where) but this does require an investment in time and a knowledge of where to look. Some organisations ask their staff to conduct research, but this can lead to biased results. Online survey software is also available at a relatively low cost, encouraging a do-it-yourself approach. This might be fine for a simple NPS survey but beware of unintentional bias and slippage due to other work pressures. Using a professional research agency has the advantage that they will understand the most effective way to gather the information and probably the right questions to ask. And using a research agency that understands the construction sector will help ensure that you reach the right contacts effectively. They will also be able to interpret the findings more meaningfully, applying them to the supply chain.


Thanks to the internet there is a lot of very useful information in the public domain, it's just a matter of finding it! The Government publishes many construction reports, organisational structures and, of course, its construction pipeline of projects. The construction trade associations also publish useful reports on market size and trends. Journals like Building and Construction News research and publish useful feature articles and there are project databases like Barbour ABI and Glenigan. If you are lucky, a report will have been published on your area of interest allowing you to get the information at a fraction of the price of bespoke research.


The construction industry has a complex decision-making structure, and it is important to include all influencers, not just those who purchase your goods and services. This includes clients, architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, project managers, contracts managers, site managers and stockists – as well as a variety of specialists linked to your business.

In this world of uncertainty, it is important not to skimp on research. The market can change quite quickly, with profitability – and even business survival – dependent on making decisions based on accurate and up-to-date information.

To help you select the right research approach Competitive Advantage has published the Little Book of Research, which is free to download.

Author Chris Ashworth is founder of Competitive Advantage Consultancy, which specialises in market research and training for the construction industry. He is a specialist in specification strategy and serves on the organising committee for CIMCIG, the Chartered Institute of Marketing's Construction Industry Group.


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