Diversity in Market Research: Get It Right or Get Left Behind

07 Mar 2021 | Research & Business Knowledge

When it comes to market research, what’s more important than accuracy and relevance? What’s more accurate and relevant than ensuring diversity in studies to fairly reflect the views of the community?

For as long as I have been in business, there has always been a debate about ethnic spending and whether businesses are taking its power into consideration sufficiently. Sometimes known as ‘the brown pound’, people who fall into the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) category of society are considerable consumers who make a big impact on markets and should not be ignored. A great example of this is the fact the UK’s halal market is growing by around 5% each year and has an estimated worth of around £3.3 billion.

Almost 15% of the UK’s population comes under the ethnic minority banner. Together they have a disposable income of around £300 billion per year with an average annual spend of approximately £12-£15 billion. Asians, in particular, stand out as high earners with more propensity to invest and indulge.


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It’s true that some great strides have been made to include diverse representation in commercial advertising but, has it been executed in an authentic way?

Did the advertisers just go ahead and arbitrarily fill their quota or did they consult the ethnic market first? My experience tells me that it’s always wise to carry out an idea with data in hand to back up your decisions. The evidence supports my views too:

Last year, more than 51% of BAME people argued that their cultures were not represented well in advertising. 64% said they would feel more positive about a brand if they had made an effort to understand and showcase ethnic cultures[i].

So, there you have it. The market wants it, the market needs it and all you have to do is consult them. Consultation is the key because you need your decisions to be informed by data that is accurate and reliable. That’s where market research comes in and that’s precisely why we need diversity within the process. However, it’s not simply about ‘more is better’, it requires detail, analysis and sophistication.


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The message is clear and it makes sense. The diversity landscape needs to be explored with sophistication.

There are numerous cultural and religious differences and preferences that need to be taken into consideration. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The ethnic spectrum is complex and requires commitment in order to retrieve reliable insights on habits and opinions.

One of the elements of market research which needs examination from this point of view is national representation. Clients, especially international ones, will come to market research experts such as ourselves and request focus groups that are emblematic of the entire nation. It’s simply not that simple. Otherwise known as ‘Nat Rep’, national representation is supposed to reflect an entire population as fairly as possible taking gender, age, social-economic status, ethnicity, and other aspects into account.

Nat Rep, in its traditional form, is problematic for many reasons.

I have already mentioned one of them which is the fact that ethnic minorities usually get lumped into one basket. This is inaccurate and misleading, but it happens. Another reason is that Nat Rep samples usually only include gender, age, and location. Budget and time constraints can lead to dismissals of factors such as ethnicity, religion, and social-economic status. It’s not just precious pounds and minutes which lead to this though, it’s a lack of understanding from the clients too.

Data weighting is a technique used when there is considerable bias in a sample, it works to try and even it out through statistics. It’s shocking, but perhaps not surprising, to learn that this method is overused for ethnic minority inclusion. It’s also rather alarming to find that the clients themselves aren’t seeing how beneficial, important and lucrative it is to take ethnicity seriously when it comes to UK market research. Is it the client’s fault or is it down to the poor advice of their market research consultants? At Ethnic Opinions, we make it our obligation, as well as our passion, to bring the right people together. We work closely with our clients to find an optimal resolution. Through this process, we’re able to ensure ethnic minorities are included in a sophisticated, detailed way.

One of the biggest points that we try to put across is the idea that city representation and national representation just aren’t equivalent. It can not be assumed that a sample of the UK as a whole will be similar to one of London or Birmingham. Approximately 44% of our capital’s population is made up of ethnic minorities. The figures are reasonably high in other cities too. On a national scale, however, the figure is closer to 15%.

That’s why it is important to conduct City Reps as well as Nat Reps.

According to the team at CORe:

“In Nat Reps, ethnic groups are often grouped as monoliths. Ethnic groups are rarely represented proportionally. Data-weighting is often overdone to the point where it jeopardises the significance of the data.”

At Ethnic Opinions, we totally echo this and work hard to solve these issues. As a business, if you are investing in market research, you should commit to it wholeheartedly and go the whole hog. Equip your consultants with the budget and time necessary to do an accurate, thorough, data-rich sweep of the populace. Otherwise, you will be left with half-baked information leading to generalisations and ill-informed commercial decisions.

I read a post on LinkedIn recently from a marketing expert who said that marketing is less about the ‘ing’ and more about the ‘market’.

It’s about listening to the consumer and understanding what they want. You can be as creative and clever as you like but if you haven’t done your homework on the people you’re aiming at, the campaign is likely to be a lead balloon. Once you dig in and do your due diligence on the UK market, you’ll discover that the web of our population is far more complex than what meets the eye.

In their article entitled ‘under-representation of minority ethnic groups in research’, The British Journal of General Practice mentions the term ‘Super-Diversity’. This refers to the meandering, kaleidoscopic nature of Britain’s ethnic make-up. It perfectly describes modern diversity and its overlapping characteristics of ethnicity, language, religion, regional identities, local identities, migration experience, legal status, and more. It’s not about colour, it’s about creed and all the many components that contribute to the beliefs and behaviour of people. Understanding this, appreciating this, and challenging this is the fastest way to proper, productive, profitable market research.

We have a wealth of experience behind us and I often think about what the legacy of Ethnic Opinions will be.

For me, it’s about holding up all of the aforementioned, erudite assertions and evidence, taking it to our clients, and applying it to their objectives. If we can educate them a little along the way, that’s a bonus. We want to persuade them with facts, not feelings. It’s about doing what’s best for the market and what’s best for the commercial success of the client. That’s why we take our role so seriously. We work with a diverse range of researchers and moderators, all highly-skilled and often bi-lingual. It’s why we continually build our respondent database to represent the full spectrum of the population. Whether you’re interested in conducting focus groups, depth interviews, online communities, or surveys, we know what it takes to generate accurate, reliable samples. We are respectful of the intricacies and complexities of ethnic groups. That’s the way we should be and always will be.