Marketing and Research Consulting for a Brave New World
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For ten years or more, big research providers have been forced to accept meager organic growth as all they could achieve. Those managing client research budgets accept that they are flat and always under pressure. Research buyers and sellers: you are in this together! No growth = losing relevance.

Yet, growth IS out there. Some small-medium sized companies are showing 20-40% growth. The ones I interact with have this in common.

  • They offer unique technology that addresses emerging gaps as marketing evolves to people-based ad serving.
  • They leverage technology to create a disruptive cost model.

I have been in marketing research and analytics for 40 years (ugh, where does the time go?!).  I have seen research progress from standalone studies, to productized methods that leverage norms, and now to measurement and predictions based on large scale digital data that integrate into activation. I have seen modalities go from mail and in-home surveys to CATI to online and now to passive harvesting of digital, social, sales and media viewing data. I have seen marketing analytics begin to address the question of what WILL happen although sadly, mostly trackers and segmentation studies are still in the “descriptives” business. What is your next step in the progression to create growth?

The acid test for no growth research is this:

If your research could have been designed the same way 15 years ago, it is a no-growth business.

If you are in the research, insights, and analytics business, here is your growth checklist. Do you offer:

  • Studies at large scale for the cost of small-scale studies of yesteryear
  • Linkage to digital ad serving and profiling data at scale
  • Technology to harvest the exhaust of digital behaviors at little cost
  • Addressing the need for media optimization in a digital age
  • Technology that provides a disruptive cost model
  • Offerings that can be largely automated and accessible in a self-serve way
  • Tells marketers something important about digital marketing that they do not know

I bet that 90% of sales of the large research houses fail on checking off two or more items on this checklist…that is why they have little organic growth!

Companies that succeed against this checklist tend to show excellent growth and market value…companies like Survey Monkey, Zappi Store (self-serve, disruptive cost); Marketing Evolution (media optimization, linkage to digital), IAG (bought by Nielsen) and Ace Metrix (disruptive technology to read TV effects at a fraction of the cost). I imagine that receipt scanning companies like InfoScout falls into this group as well (read sales data at large scale that retailers would not share.)

It used to be that a research provider who really understood client problems or had great graphics and story-telling could expect excellent growth. I don’t think that is enough anymore.

The future of marketing is people-based communications…personalized and selective, driven by data at scale. It is programmatically finding the customer or consumer you want to communicate with, whatever website or app they happen to be on, at exactly the right moment.  Buying whole audiences is wasteful…that is why digital has now passed linear TV for ad revenues and why 80%+ of digital is programmatic.  Yet walled gardens and GDPR prevent access to what marketers need to know.

To grow your research business, or to marketer-side researchers, to keep your client-side research job, you must align to the future. What disruptive technology do you offer? What important things are you telling marketers that they do not know?

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2 Responses to “Marketing research sellers and buyers…why are you not growing?”

  1. Great summary, Joel. I’m going to use your framework to build a case for my current firm. My sense from reading your check list is that a firm does not need to deliver on all elements but more than a few. Is that fair? I can imagine smaller firms that are fast, inexpensive and quite flexible, partnering with others who may have “digital exhaust” or tools for media optimization, etc…I think it is tough as a start up to have all the capabilities you describe. Even Zappi, one of the leaders in the New MR, does not check off all these items. Cheers –Frank

    • joel

      Hi Frank. You are right. you need to check off 2-3 boxes but it is unlikely to check them all off. for example, linking ad serving, tools for media optimization, and self-serve platforms would go together as an integrated offering.