Nokia + Microsoft = RI + TNS? “Two Albatrosses Do Not A Dinosaur Make”
A lot has been written and debated about the Microsoft and Nokia alliance and that will continue for a while. It is still not clear who’s the stronger partner and who will gain the most leverage (if any!) from this going forward. It will be at least 12 months before any serious impact is seen on the ground.
A similar alliance took place in market research that few could have predicted 2½ years later would be so fruitful. In October 2008, after pursuing the shy bride, WPP finally snared the blushing TNS for an eye popping 1.93 Billion USD (http://www.dmnews.com/wpps-pursuit-of-tns-ends-with-193b-buy/article/119362/). The acquisition catapulted WPP into the No. 1 custom research company spot and No. 2 overall behind Nielsen. The internal turmoil though can only be imagined considering RI, the largest firm in the WPP stable was already a force to be reckoned with even before the TNS acquisition.
Unfortunately as with all early innovators, often they don’t evolve with the market. For instance when I was at RI (very much like Nokia), we still had the geographical reach of our services as our biggest bragging rights, which was awesome a decade ago but had become the norm with the rest of the agencies around too. This of course didn’t diminish its value especially since RI still carried some of the brightest brains in the research industry who I had the pleasure of working with. So despite having bright minds and an unfortunate lack of an USP, in the beginning the firm saw a slow loss of market share followed by a rapid loss across the world. There were a few exceptions like Africa and China, but these were too small markets on their own to rescue an organization losing not just billing in its dominant markets but also its top talent.
The WPP acquisition of TNS and its subsequent merger of the two globally saved RI from the continued spiral it found itself in. It had however the potential of serious disaster considering both were best of class custom research companies at their core with TNS having additional strengths in media and consumer panels. It is a testament to the group as a whole and the people at both the organizations’ helm that no blood was spilled visibly. I say visibly as I don’t believe no blood was spilled, it just wasn’t all over the place. The merger was quite methodical and systematic and both sides clearly saw the advantages they derived from the relationship and worked at it. The recent (http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/disciplines/advertising/wpp-posts-285-profit-bump/3024113.article) announcement by WPP of its results clearly shows the integration has worked well and we are to see better things in the future.
Coming back to mobile, the Nokia and Microsoft romance just confirms that the space will retain its unpredictability with current expectations being Android and Nokia-MS driving the mass markets while iPhone and Blackberry will be sticking to riding the smart wave. But who knows, if a non mobile player like Google can hit the ball out of the stadium as they did with Android in record time, what stops the next giant coming from anywhere – China, India, Russia, Nigeria? Possibilities are endless and I for one relish it – so much for trying to pigeon hole the mobile space.