Multi-Client Studies (MCS) fit the classic good-news bad-news scenario.
The good news is the sponsors (clients) receive proprietary-like research results with robust sample sizes at a fraction of the cost of conducting a proprietary study. The bad news is so will all the other sponsors.
However, there is a model for conducting a MCS that minimizes the bad-news portion of this scenario, it is the semi-custom approach. This approach requires an extra effort from the research firm to apply the results in meaningful ways to the specific market conditions each sponsor has to face. For example, an enterprise with the largest market share is interested in protecting that position. A midsize company or new entry to the market will be concerned with how to grab share from competitors. Results from a carefully constructed study can be semi-customized to produce analyses that address each specific but different need.
Back to basics and the traditional MCS.
Of course, MCS come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There is no official definition of what constitutes a MCS, but in practice, these studies share a few basic parameters. First, quite obviously the study is conducted for more than one sponsor or company. This shared cost model is attractive especially when a market has several midsized and small players that would be hard pressed to fund a large-scale study alone. However, there are no defined minimum or maximum limits on the number of sponsors. Practical limits for managing sponsor requirements and the review process for tasks such as questionnaire approval come into play, but the research firm conducting the study will need to determine the optimal approach.
Shared costs between only two sponsors may work to everyone’s advantage, especially if the sponsors are not competitors (e.g., one provides products and the other provides services to the same market – they might be partners).
When do MCS make the most sense?
Look for changes in technology or a market shift like some form of “tipping point” in the market, especially situations where two suppliers create a shift in the market. MCS that explore these changes and follow the trend for at least a year are typically valuable.
In addition, you can use MCS for competitive advantage; while it is sponsored by multiple companies you are still likely to be one of a few companies in the market to participate giving you an advantage over all the non-sponsors. MCS are also useful and a relatively inexpensive mechanism to verify what you believe is happening in the market.
One last word about MCS.
Don’t buy a study based on fear. Fear is a poor substitute for needing to know. Results from studies bought to avoid being left behind are rarely used. As with all market research, to provide value there must be an internal user (stakeholder) who has an identified “need to know.” Without such a person or group of people, the deliverable is likely gather dust and you will have wasted valuable resources.