Why Brands Are Moving Audience Research In-House

magnifying glass on people

By Lorna Kean, Associate Director, Content Marketing at GWI

The role of the agency is changing.

Many brands are adapting their processes, redistributing their budget to get more control of their output, with a bigger focus on in-house. This shift has been ongoing for years.

What’s more, digital ad formats are expected to take up two-thirds (67%) of all ad sales – and despite huge investment being pumped into digital, many are still struggling to see the return.

This comes down to a number of factors fueling a massive shift in the marketing landscape, ultimately forging a new relationship between agencies and brands.

Consumers have changed, and brands need to too

Here’s what’s happening with consumers today.

  • They’re buying more online.
  • They’re proactively researching products.
  • They’re not afraid to criticize the brands that target them, often through social media.
  • They’re choosing products and services that reflect their views and lifestyles.
  • They’re blocking the marketing they don’t want to see.

To measure up, it takes getting to know your audience – from where and how they spend their time, to what gets them out of bed every morning and what qualities define them.


Taking audience research in-house means investing in your target consumers; splintering your media, content, and creativity to match their behaviors, and shaping these to fit your various micro-audiences.

In the digital world, insight is everything

Consumer insight has always been crucial to brand positioning and marketing strategy. But today, annual planning cycles and year-old personas just don’t cut it – speed and agility are absolute musts to keep up.

And with many brands juggling several different data sets (each with its own methodology), collecting data was not only time-consuming – it wasn’t adding up.

But in the digital world, insight into your target market and consumers is everything. It’s becoming ingrained in every action, every decision, and every idea, guiding everything from brand positioning and strategy to digital advertising, content, PR and beyond. Now, brands are bringing large-scale audience research in-house to get straight to the insights that make a visible difference.

Why? Because the latest tech is making it easy to reach a new audience or optimize their existing reach.

Technology is paving the way for a new brand

We live in a real-time economy where time is money. And off the back of a global pandemic, this has never been more true.

Reaching (and responding to) consumers at that critical moment in their consumer journey is the bread and butter of any brand. But when the insight, the strategy, and the effort sit externally, it’s hard to be reactive enough.

Disruptive tech is empowering brands, giving them more control, more knowledge, and more visibility than ever. By using research to delve into the ‘blind spots’ of their target audiences that were previously off-limits, brands can find out everything they need to know.

Solutions like GWI and its shiny new platform are making ‘instant insight’ a reality, empowering marketers to get the job done themselves – something that simply wasn’t possible before. Now, brands can:

  • Streamline their processes.
  • Align their strategies.
  • Improve their effectiveness in targeting.

Today’s new, data-empowered brands take more responsibility for, and ownership of, their strategy. They keep sharper tabs on how their spending is allocated and invest more into strategic thinking and creative talent. It’s an approach that’s paying off.

Strategic thinking is making a comeback

The radical changes in how consumers behave have left marketers with a new set of priorities. Coming out on top is the move from tactical to strategic. In a bid to keep pace with a high number of fast-moving trends, the focus for many has largely been placed on tactics, short-term wins, and real-time data.

Unfortunately, this meant strategic thinking forged by real research, deep segmentation, and refined targeting took a backseat.

Leading brands are now turning back to the fundamentals of strategy, having realized the overarching need for strategic thinking versus tactical immediacy. To do this, they’re taking robust, reliable, and up-to-date consumer data in-house to infuse consumer-centricity in their strategy from end to end; telling them who to target, where to invest, what to measure, and how to optimize.

Sounds obvious now, doesn’t it.

Agencies and brands are working to their strengths

But all of this doesn’t mean agencies are losing importance.

Agencies will always be essential to brands for their expertise and creative talent – it’s the way they work together that’s changing. This new relationship means agencies and brands work even closer, and are establishing a new dynamic.

It means sharing the workload in a more strategic way that offers brands the transparency and control they want, while agencies get to work to their strengths. This way, expectations from brands can be managed more effectively – and great results are much easier to get.

Fundamentally, you must have a harmonized view of your target audience. This starts with the use of reliable and consistent data. Brands need to learn from their agencies, using the tools and resources at their disposal to put this into practice.

In today’s shaken-up landscape, you don’t just need great consumer insight, you need insight you can trust.