Anyone who is watching the market research space may have noticed an interesting thing happening; panels are reinventing themselves. Yes, those companies that have prospered so much during the online research boom days are faced with the same challenges as the rest of the industry, and using the same killer instincts that prompted their formation in the heydays of the early part of the new millennium, they are acting accordingly and are making some big changes. Right now it looks like the space is falling into five strategic categories:
- Social networks/communities
- Providers of data and consumer connections
- DIY technology suppliers
- Mobile engagement platforms
The vote is out on which model will ultimately gain the most traction; there are challenges involved for any company that is attempting to reinvent themselves and that is doubly true when dealing with such a highly commoditzed and niche segment as online panel providers. Each strategy has it’s strengths and the firms that are adopting them are likely to continue to experiment as they refine the model to fit within their specific sweet spot.
Of the five strategies I see taking shape the one I find most interesting is the hybrid model. This is a strategy that incorporates elements of all of the others but rather than being disjointed is actually creating a more cohesive value proposition. It probably won’t surprise anyone anyone to hear that the hybrid approaches are being pioneered by companies that are more aligned with the DIY space. Cint, ASKYTM, SurveyMoneky, MarketTools, and Survey Analytics are all companies that are incorporating different elements of the hybrid strategy to create compelling new business models.
Since they are friends of mine and I have greater insight into their strategy as a result, let’s look at Survey Analytics as an example.
Survey Analytics is creating an interesting model leveraging the community, panel and mobile app modules of their research platform. Of course clients can build their own proprietary panels or communities utilizing their products, but Survey Analytics has developed a process whereby users of the platform can also choose to monetize their panel assets. Here is how they do it:
- Survey Analytics offers their DIY tool to thousands of clients
- Clients build proprietary panels or communities
- Clients offer the SurveySwipe mobile app to their members/customers/panelists on an opt-in basis
- Survey Analytics offers a revenue share model to their clients anytime a member participates in a project
- Respondents receive badges, popular apps, and other rewards for participating
It’s a pretty ingenious system for a DIY software provider to use to build highly segmented and niche panels in cooperation with their clients, while delivering value across the board to all stakeholders. And let’s not underestimate the value of those niches: since they are working with web portals, publishers, educational institutions and companies of all types they are gaining access to many hard to reach populations.
This hybrid strategy combines elements of the social sample model pioneered by Peanut Labs and the aggregation models of Cint and uSamp while following the panel management best practices espoused by ResearchNow or Toluna. What is particularly ingenious is that since all of this is driven through their DIY platform and is mobile enabled they take advantage of two of the major trends in the research industry in one fell swoop. Smart, very smart.
One of the most interesting aspects of this model is the use of apps to build a panel population. Thumbspeak, iPinion, On Device Research, Pollbob and many others are following a similar path. This is creating an environment similar to what we saw during the advent of the online migration with a high number of competing “sample” options available, with the difference being these sample sources are also all inextricably tied to competing data collection platforms as well; today you only get their sample by using their research platform. At some point I expect one of the aggregators to work out a deal to access these sample sources en masse, but until then you are forced to choose between multiple providers based upon the needs of the project. The good news for buyers is that this competition should help fuel a steady state of innovation leading into a period of consolidation.
The Survey Analytics model is similar to the app providers in that they only allow access to their sample sources to licensees of their platform, but since they are building their resource from a broader selection of traditional web-centric populations and then migrating them to mobile they have access to a much wider audience than the mobile only providers. That said, Research Now, Opinionology/SSI, uSamp, and probably every other traditional panel provider out there is working quickly to “mobilize” their panels as well. As that trend continues it will really come down to the strength of the DIY market to see how sustainable this business strategy is. Considering all other indications, I think that despite the movements by the established panel companies to innovate they will have a fight on their hands from the DIY segment and will find themselves struggling to sell their value proposition to an increasingly fragmented market.
It’s an interesting time in research and everyone is racing to find advantage in a chaotic ecosystem before it returns to a state of equilibrium. The bottom line for me is that smart thinking evidenced by Survey Analytics and others that takes into account the need for new relationships with both consumers and clients will continue to be a disruptive force for innovation in the industry for some time to come and that can only be a good thing in the final analysis.
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