Regular readers know that I think a lot about the future of the market research industry. I make it my business to follow as much news as possible, network with peers, talk with thought leaders, and collect my own primary and secondary research data on the topic. I do all of this for three reasons:
- To protect my own business interests by anticipating trends in the industry
- To give back to the industry that has been so good to me
- Because I find it interesting and yes, even fun
I’ve written before about the tectonic shift our industry is undergoing right now driven by the forces of sociotechnological change due to the rise of social networks and mobile convergence, client demand for greater ROI from the insight function, and the rise of competitive pressure from emerging technology providers outside of the industry. We’re beginning to see these three factors coming together in the form of a rapidly evolving Do It Yourself (DIY) industry. Up until relatively recently we saw three classifications of DIY offerings that impacted MR:
- Online Survey applications such as SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, Survey Analytics, etc..
- Web analytics tools such as Google Analytics, Compete, Omniture and others
- Social Media monitoring platforms such as Alterian, Crimson Hexagon, Radian 6, and many more
Now we’re seeing the emergence of a new class of DIY tool that not only combine elements from the previous categories, but are also developing channels for adapting the DIY model to mobile and qualitative research.
Most of the survey platforms listed above already integrate multi-mode data collection, CRM and web analytics, and are incorporating social media data streams too. In effect, they are morphing into consumer touch point and insight management platforms, not just survey tools and that is very appealing to end clients. It’s no fluke that these companies primarily sell to enterprise markets, not to MR suppliers; they are meeting a need that most MR suppliers struggle with.
The social media monitoring platforms are paying attention as well and are either partnering with other data collection tech suppliers (or merging with them outright) or developing their own integrated brand management and insights products, such as the Alterian Alchemy recent launch. They are not alone though; MR suppliers are also rolling out new products that are variations of these models in an effort to break out of the traditional “market research tech supplier” mold.
The USamp/Gutcheck deal is particularly intriguing since we’re now seeing the start of DIY qualitative offerings.
GutCheck provides a DIY platform which connects businesses and marketers to 3.5 million panelists. When a qualified match is found, GutCheck initiates online, anonymous, 30-minute one-on-one interviews with consumers, at a cost of $40 per chat. USamp is the panel partner supplying access to respondents. The brainchild of iModerate (and a logical extension of their business model) Gutcheck signals the beginning of a new breed of DIY platforms that will seek to do for qual what has already been done for quant and social media.
We also saw a bold experiment in combining DIY mobile and social media monitoring by Survey Swipe during the State of the Union address. and lest we forget, Globalpark has launched an integrated Facebook offering, described by them like this:
By integrating a private single-sign-on feedback platform within the Facebook environment, there is a newfound ability to easily understand who fans are, compare them with “real world” audiences, and engage them as both advisors and advocates. Participating Facebook fans provide their feedback, engage in interactive forums, get alerts for new projects, and even redeem any reward points without ever leaving the social networking site.
I love the experimentation that these two tech suppliers have undertaken and it is indicative of the type of innovative thinking that is literally pouring out of this sector right now.
So here is my overall take: DIY technology platforms are creating cost, time, and data integration efficiencies and clients are flocking to them in droves. They meet critical business strategic objectives that most traditional research suppliers cannot, at least not yet. That doesn’t mean the demand for MR firms is going away, but I do think it will speed up the transition to a new segmentation and financial dynamic for the industry in the foreseeable future.
Here is how I think things might shake out:
1. The MR industry as a whole will broaden to include web analytics, business intelligence, social media agencies, and possibly even CRM. This is already happening at low levels now. These firms won’t consider themselves “MR”, but will increasingly assume roles that MR used to fill. Current MR suppliers will try to morph into similar companies and/or incorporate these offerings into their portfolios. What this new integrated industry may be called remains to be seen; perhaps it will remain “Market Research”, but I think it may find it’s best positioning under a new name, perhaps something in the vein of “Brand Engagement Insights”.
2. More and more tech suppliers from both inside and outside of the current industry will be introducing DIY solutions for internal client side use. Watch Gutcheck, Survey Analytics, Alterian, Clarabridge, txteagle & Communispace; these firms (and new ones like them) will increasingly be the major money-makers in the industry and will continue to pioneer new solutions that will erode away the revenues of most traditional market research suppliers.
3. The rise of the Strategic Insight Consultant and the Niche Methodology. Clients will still need bright and insightful professionals that will be a combination of anthropologist and strategic consultant to help make sense of the data and provide needed support to their internal insights teams. This is when the Big 5 consultancies may make a more direct MR play. At the same time we’ll see specialty suppliers like the neuromarketing, biometrics, and more advanced statistical practitioners rise to the top. They won’t be massive players, but they will thrive within their own areas of specialization.
I think this will take 5-10 years max, possibly faster as the forces of social media and mobile migration speed up the pace of consumer cultural change and the concomitant demand from clients to engage with and understand global markets using insight generation methods that offer real ROI across the organization.
We may see the largest firms combat these trends by purchasing these new tech firms in order to replace their rapidly shrinking primary research revenue streams and having two different internal divisions: data collection technology services and strategic insight consulting. Many smaller MR firms will find it difficult or impossible to compete effectively under this scenario and will either:
- Be absorbed into the corporate Goliaths
- Refocus on niche market offerings
- Develop their own innovative offerings
- Fold up shop
Now, let me clear; these are possible futures that I see happening; I do not think it is preordained that things will unfold this way. I am not a “doom and gloomer” and I believe in the unlimited potential for our industry to create whole new paradigms that we can’t even imagine today that could radically change things. I also believe that we employ some of the brightest and most creative professionals in the world and that raw talent power should never be underestimated; it could take us into new directions as well. I also believe that these trends are real, and one way or the other our industry must adapt. In every sense I think each of us must embrace the idea of Do It (Yourself) or Die.