The Top 50 Most Innovative Research Suppliers of 2017
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the most recent GRIT Report for Q1-Q2 2017 with just part of the analysis of the Most Innovative Supplier & Clients sections. The full report with more details and info is available here.
Over the past seven year the “GRIT 50” has become one of the key metrics many companies use to understand their position in the marketplace. At its core, it is a brand tracker using the attribute of “innovation” as the key metric. Each year we measure how market research suppliers and clients are leveraging this brand element through a simple question series:
- Using an unaided awareness verbatim question, we ask respondents to list the research companies they considered to be most innovative.
- We then ask them to rank those firms from most to least innovative.
- Finally, we ask another verbatim as to why they consider their number one ranked firm to be most innovative.
We’re often asked how companies can “get on the list”, and our response is succinct: market more. Because of the nature of the question, there is no option but for a company to build organic awareness among the global industry related to the idea of being “innovative”. There are many ways to get there: events, content, webinars, education, advertising, word-of-mouth, earned and paid media etc… but regardless of the channels used one thing every company on the list has accomplished is “breaking through” to become top of mind for much of the industry when thinking of innovative companies. This occurs because of marketing activities in some form or fashion.
The success of that marketing is what we measure in the GRIT 50 rankings, and we believe it is also a proxy for growth based on other sources of information that detail financial performance, including funding rounds, of the companies listed.
For this wave, using the aggregate of total mentions, we developed a list of over 2,000 unique companies from 6,902 total responses. From that list, we have narrowed it down to the Top 50 (actually 54 for suppliers due to ties in mentions) for additional analysis.
Only brands that received 18 or more mentions made it on to the list, which is a higher threshold than in the past. This is a reflection of the vast number of companies mentioned and the competitiveness now in play for companies vying to be identified with the “innovative” brand attribute.
A note on our process. Because the rankings are derived from verbatims, it’s messy. We utilize text analytics (via OdinText) to help streamline the initial process, but a significant amount of human intervention is needed due to name changes, M&A activity, variants, spelling, translations, etc. It’s as much Art as Science. As such, we established a few rules to guide our process that are useful to know as you review the list:
- Normalizing all spellings or alternates (ex: Nielson, Nealson, Nelson, Nielsen, etc..)
- If a company has changed its name, we recode to the new name (ex: BrainJuicer to System 1 Research)
- If a company bought another company and rolled them in as a division or product, we recode to the acquiring company (ex: FocusVision and Decipher, 20/20 and iModerate)
- If it is a product or division of a parent company, we recode to the parent company (ex: Nielsen BASES becomes Nielsen, Ipsos Neuro becomes Ipsos)
- If two companies have the same name, we default to the larger company as what was intended
- If a company has split, we count both (ex: Vision Critical & Maru)
- Goobledygook, comments such as “I don’t know”, “there are none”, etc… we code as “none”
In previous waves, due to issues around consolidation and multiple individual companies within a single larger entity (for instance Kantar with Millward Brown, TNS, Added Value, etc…) we presented the Top 50 in two ways: without brand rollups, which is based solely on the number of times a company was mentioned with no consideration given to parent company ownership or affiliation, and with brand rollups, where we have consolidated all appropriate business entities under the parent brand.
While recognizing all of the rules we applied above, we have always considered “without rollups” as the definitive ranking so in this wave we decided to simplify things and only report one way: without rollups. This only impacts Kantar companies since every other scenario that we know of was covered in our previously established rules. We also recognize that Kantar is in the process of consolidating all of their companies under one universal “Kantar” brand, but based on these data the individual operating companies still have a strong hold on industry awareness. However, if we were to count the four Kantar operating companies as one, the order of the rankings would change slightly at the very top levels. We trust that you will be able to do that math from the chart if you are interested.
Lastly, we are ignoring “ties” (companies with the same number of mentions) for the sake of simplicity; it is not a factor in the Top 10 at all, but it does make the Top 50 actually the Top 54 due to ties at the lower end of the spectrum.
Now, with all explanations and the appropriate context details, without further ado here are the current rankings as well as changes from the last wave:
|Company||Mentions||2017 Rank||2016 Rank||Change|
|System 1 Research (formerly BrainJuicer)||441||1||1||0|
|20/20 Research Technology||79||17||20||3|
|Join the Dots||22||42||46||4|
|Sentient Decision Science||22||44||33||(11)|
|Happy Thinking People||20||47||32||(15)|
|Hall & Partners||18||50||40||(10)|
So, what does this tell us?
Well first, System 1 Research (formerly BrainJuicer) maintains their perennial position as the most innovative agency, and with a very large lead over every other agency. What is truly remarkable about that achievement is that they did it while in the middle of a re-branding; taken separately BrainJuicer would have still been number one and System 1 Research would have ranked in the top 20 as well, a true testament to the marketing power of the company. While many companies are working hard to unseat them, their dominance in the minds of the industry as the most innovative supplier should serve as an abject lesson on how to create and maintain such a strong brand perception.
A second acknowledgment should be given to Ipsos and Nielsen. Ipsos remained in the second position while Nielsen moved up one spot from 2016 to number three. Both have been in the top 5 since the inception of the GRIT 50. Based on a steady stream of new product and service launches combined with their extensive reach and overall credibility, the industry is obviously paying attention.
There are other big changes in the Top 10 as well, including the re-emergence of OdinText to the upper ranks in fourth place (a jump of 32 places, the largest change in this year’s list) just barely missing the number 3 spot held by Nielsen. Tom H. C. Anderson, CEO of OdinText, is perhaps the best guerilla marketer in the industry and an absolute master of content marketing. For the past year, and especially in the last 6-9 months, he has been a veritable content machine, using the OdinText platform to do inspired and provocative research and using the results as the foundation for blog posts, memes, ads, social media posts, etc. Again, the lesson here is that there are many ways to achieve marketing success from big budget omnipresence to low-budget content-driven techniques.
Insites Consulting rounds out the top 5 at number five, down slightly from number three last year. Another company that is masterful at using thought leadership positioning across content channels combined with a distinct style more evocative of an ad agency than a research company, Insites Consulting continues to register strongly as a leader in innovation in the industry.
In the rest of the top 10, Research Now gained by 9 points to take the 6th spot, GfK declined slightly by 2 to number 7, Kantar bounced back from 2016 with a gain of 8 spots to assume the 8th position, ZappiStore continued their strong upper trajectory to move up 2 points and into the top 10 for the first time at number 9, and LRW declined slightly by 2 but still maintained a lock within the top 10.
We could loosely group the top 10 companies into 3 buckets:
- Next Generation Consultancies (System 1, Insites, LRW)
- Tech Players (OdinText, Research Now, ZappiStore)
- Behemoths (Ipsos, Nielsen, GfK, Kantar)
This basic categorization runs throughout the remainder of the list, with more of the first two dominating as we move past the top 20.
Outside of the top ten there are some much bigger moves. A record-setting fourteen companies made their debuts into the GRIT 50 this year with an interesting mix of newer tech-based companies and more established players that have been making great strides in repositioning their businesses by embracing new techniques, technology and overall thinking.
These are certainly companies to watch as they work to build on their brand awareness momentum going forward.
There were also seventeen companies that moved up, some quite significantly. We already mentioned OdinText earlier, but Luc.id, Voxpopme, Discuss.io and AYTM all made impressive leaps of over 10 spots between 2016 and 2017, and the others continued steady upward gains in brand perception.
This group is almost entirely made up of technology driven companies with the exception of Kantar and Nielsen, and arguably their continual investment in rolling out new tech-driven products gives them some connection to the tech cohort as well.
|Join the Dots||42||4|
|20/20 Research Technology||17||3|
In terms of why these companies are innovative (beyond the use of words like ‘new’ and ‘innovative’), we looked only at the client verbatims to get an understanding of what was driving interest from a commercial perspective. We cleaned out the generic “innovation/innovative” and other non-specific words to get a cleaner synopsis of the themes. Not surprisingly based on the composition of the GRIT 50, the key drivers were fundamentally around technology that reduced cost while increasing speed, delivering actionable insights, and delivering overall quality. There was also a strong undercurrent of behavioral science, perhaps unsurprising considering the dominance of System 1 Research in the rankings.
A few verbatims from client-side respondents underline the broad themes we have identified.
“Willing to try new approaches but well versed in tried and true techniques.”
“Bringing new and relevant ideas into the industry.”
“A quick and cost-effective solution that allows rapid research to answer business questions, meaning we can research when historically timelines wouldn’t have allowed us to.”
“Agile research practices, speed, technology.”
“Collaboration, Partnerships, Technology, Methodology, Talent”
It’s perhaps important to underscore a point we made in last year’s analysis again:
“This finding flies in the face of the people who say real innovation is about people, storytelling, and co-creation. In order to score well on Innovation, having good, new and innovative tech is a key part of the picture. Terms like ‘people’, ‘data collection’, ‘leadership’, ‘virtual’ and ‘quality’ were only used occasionally – with the two key phrases occurring more than ten times as often.”
Yes, good business practices such as service, strong and dependable teams, experience, etc… are necessary for success but in the arena of the insights category, as in so many others, technology and its impact on process and cost is a fundamental driver of the industry.