At the Insight Innovation Exchange event last month two very interesting things happened (well, more than two actually, but we’ll keep it to just two for the purposes of this post). First, I finally met Han De Groot, CEO of MetrixLab. Han and I had a chance to sit down and chat for an hour or so and I left our meeting knowing that Han will be a major player in defining the future of the industry, and that MetrixLab is very likely to become one of the biggest firms in our industry within the next decade.
Secondly, a company that I have been watching for quite some time, RawData, competed in the Insight Innovation Competition and was the 1st runner-up. RawData’s mobile-based media metering solution is highly disruptive and has the potential to be a game changer for our space. It was fantastic to see them getting that recognition from others in our industry and making great connections.
So what do MetrixLab and RawData have to do with one another? Well, today the news came out that MetrixLab subsidiary MarketTools has acquired RawData. Apparently the deal was clinched during IIeX, which is extremely gratifying. After all, one of our primary goals with the IIeX initiative is to build and support impactful business connections.
When I began to think about the other acquisitions MetrixLab has conducted in the past year or so (MarketTools, Precision Sample), adding in RawData seemed to be pointing to a very different direction for MetrixLab in the future, and possibly one that has significant implications for the rest of the industry. With that in mind I reached out to Han to conduct an interview with him. Here is that interview.
This is a discussion with a visionary and very savvy entrepreneur and I think you’ll find his thinking provocative and inspiring. It’s certainly a clear indicator of where at least one significant player see’s the industry going and the bets he is placing to navigate the change.
It truly is a great interview, so without further adieu I give you Han De Groot.
LFM: Congratulations on the deal with RawData! You know I’ve been a fan of them for quite some time so on a personal level I’m thrilled to hear about this. What attracted you to RawData and how will you leverage their technology?
HDG: From the technology standpoint, the answer is: single source, passively recorded media exposure data, extended with mobile surveying capabilities triggered by any of the passively collected data points. Plus a dose of nostalgia: MetrixLab’s first revenues, 13 years ago, came from data sold to website owners, collected through a browser plugin based metering technology we had built at the end of the nineties. So, 13 years later we now own the mobile version of our old platform J What is great about RawData is that they did not simply have a concept or an idea, RawData had completely built and run the technology – from app to real-time reporting. As a fan of Raw Data, you should know that we came to terms for the acquisition during your IIEX event in Philadelphia!
What will we do now to leverage the RD technology? Exactly what we did 13 years ago: integrate and collate this new data with other datasets to build a holistic, insightful 360 degree view of consumers at the individual and aggregate level. There is one significant difference: 360 degrees back then meant 360 degrees on the web and today we deliver a 360 degree view of real life.
LFM: RawData has a unique recruitment model based on giving consumers a smartphone pre-loaded with their passive and active data collection technology; are you going to continue that model or use a different strategy?
HDG: RawData created their original “distribution model” to prove their technology, but we will move away from it because it lacks the scalability required for our solutions. The great thing though is they found their own way to demonstrate validity – completely novel and quite ingenious. However, we want them to focus on what they are best at: development of the mobile measurement platform. We will use our in-house panel building capabilities through Precision Sample to build our mobile measurement panels – they have one of the very few scalable panel recruitment business models running.
LFM: How does the media metering technology specifically play into your corporate development strategy?
HDG: We love technology, we love data and we’re focused on making sense out of it.So on a corporate development strategy level we will be doing what we do best. We continue buying and building (companies with) innovative data technologies, adding structured, unstructured, public and private data sources and (real-time) data streams to our existing single source, predominantly survey based data; we will leverage best in class “data integration” platforms and analytical tools to make sense out of this ‘data collage’ to support marketing decision making (in real-time). As I have said many times: market research was kind of boring 20 years ago (I guess), became interesting over the last 10 years with the advent of the internet, and has become hyper exciting with the tsunami of readily available consumer data.
LFM: It sounds as if you are rapidly moving towards a “single-source, omni-channel” data aggregation and synthesis model. Is that accurate and what is fueling that shift?
HDG: That is correct, with one small remark. As marketing researchers we often think ‘single source’ only, however we believe there are also great opportunities, particularly for the MR companies, in aggregating and synthesizing multi-source, omni-channel data. We call it the “omni-data perspective” on marketing problems. But let’s be honest here, it is still merely a mindset – we do the bread and butter work in ‘traditional’ online marketing research methods; but if I compare ourselves to others, we use and integrate many more sources of data than most of our peers do, such as: web analytics data, search data, media and advertising exposure data, social data, location data and CRM data.
LFM: Metrixlab has made some very high profile acquisitions in the past year or so with Market Tools, Precision Sample, and now RawData. What’s driving that activity and how is it working out for you?
HDG: In our rapidly changing, high tech space, MR companies and their entrepreneurs and managers are better off joining forces – we did the acquisitions because we felt we needed global scale; now that we have global scale, and an extensive global client base, we will invest in more depth – companies like RawData and Precision Sample. Regarding “selling your company” or becoming part of a bigger entity, everybody, at least the good performers, are (still) very conservative on this front – people haven’t woken up yet in my opinion; I talk to many companies all the time, always with the same message: let’s join forces, together we can stay the ‘insights partner’ for your globalizing and growing clients (brands), we can invest in talent and (acquire) advanced technology and provide our services on a truly global scale. Or from a totally different angle I ask the question whether they have seen what IBM has done over the last 5-10 years in our space…? Very few know.
Long story very short: small agencies won’t make it (they’ll be reduced to the level of the freelancer business model; rapid change, too much technology, you cannot build a successful MR business model on top of too many other business models); MR tech companies are often over rated because in many cases they’re ‘just’ providing a tool, applicable to a small part of the ‘insights’ value chain (they can enjoy a nice exit though if positioned well and sold in time, which is rarely the case; and they shouldn’t forget the big buyers will face some financial challenges); companies “owning” and working on top of ‘one’ data source won’t make it – I my opinion many social media monitoring companies won’t make it; many of them basically are small marketing research agencies (without admitting it) working on social data only; with the advent of social media data aggregators the real challenge lies on the insight level, not the simple tracking and the monitoring.
The reason why I find our ‘insights’ industry so exciting is that we will see many new business models arising and new entrants coming up and going down that will challenge the 100 year old marketing research business model. It is never too late to change this mindset. A positive note to end: despite the (recent) data explosion, our clients haven’t seen a similar increase in the quantity and quality of actionable insights that impact ROI. So there are plenty of opportunities! Join us!
LFM: That is pretty close to my take on the marketplace as well Han; with that in mind, what do you think the industry will look like in 5 years’ time? Obviously you’re planning on MetrixLab being a big player, but who else (or what type of company) do you think will be leading the insights category by then?
HDG: Good question; I guess it is less relevant to mention a particular company name, but more relevant to mention what a successful company in the new MR era needs to offer. In my opinion the winners will be a companies providing (1) ultra-actionable in some case real-time insights (2) visualized through comprehensive dashboards and reporting tools, (3) derived from data, coming from both ‘big’ and ‘small’, structured and unstructured, public and private sources, (4) integrated on a single data platform, (5) analyzed with advanced analytical tools and methods, (6) communicated effectively to stakeholders, and (7) translated into action plans that drive results. I therefore see many companies able to get a piece of the pie and become successful in ‘our’ insights space: from data source ‘owners’ and aggregators, through data platform and analytical tool providers, to MR and consulting agencies. Few companies will be able to provide all of the above, but many companies will be able to ‘own’ a piece of the ‘insights’ value chain. I would be inclined to say that the big MR companies today won’t be the big players of tomorrow, but I have to be honest and admit that I thought the same 10 years ago when the internet started to revolutionize our industry – look at today’s Top-10 and compare it to 10 years ago, little difference. The big guys have done an excellent job in adapting themselves to change! But one thing is certain in my opinion, we’ll see totally new entrants becoming very big, very fast.
LFM: OK, final question Han; you are an immensely successful entrepreneur, so any words of wisdom for all of the other folks working to create and build successful businesses?
HDG: Forget the word ‘immensely’, still a long way to go – I just moved to the US, but I would say: focus, hire the right people, be a servant leader, and work hard.