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Winds of Change Series: Fishing the River

The next few years will see a paradigm shift for market research. To borrow from Andy Grove in "Only the Paranoid Survive," we are approaching a strategic inflection point. Nobody knows exactly how and when, but we believe that major change will be evident within five years.

by Ian Lewis, Cambiar Partner

The next few years will see a paradigm shift for market research – to borrow from Andy Grove in “Only the Paranoid Survive” we are approaching a strategic inflection point.

As part of the ARF Research Transformation Super Council, a small group of us envisioned how research will look ten years from now. The volume of available information will continue to grow exponentially, driving the need and opportunity for synthesis and knowledge creation. Our fundamental premise is that research in 2021 will represent a continuous and organic flow of knowledge, which Kim Dedeker (Chair of the Americas for Kantar and former head of market research for P&G) named “The River”. There are 1,000′s of tributaries that feed the river, representing individual information sources.

There will be a fundamental shift in how we approach business decision making and influence of strategy. We will move away from a project orientation toward an ongoing process of knowledge access and utilization. Value creation will be catalyzed from the organic knowledge found in the flow of the river.

Today we answer marketing questions by designing a study. Tomorrow we first fish the river of information and only then decide if a study is needed – if so, it will be focused by what we learned from fishing the river. That old 80/20 rule will be flipped – today we answer 80% of questions with a new study, tomorrow it will be 20%.

Corporate leaders will develop fluid, search-able knowledge collection capabilities – an insights-on-demand resource that will not require interruptions to initiate individual studies for most business questions. These “corporate information rivers” will be private, not public – they will contain digital information (from social media, websites, mobile, etc.) and will also contain proprietary information from market and media research studies, competitive intelligence, customers, sales and other sources.

What will happen structurally to client market research departments? With so much information available, who in the client company will “own” this resource? Truly progressive research departments will take the lead and be rewarded with a bigger role, but less progressive departments will lose relevance and risk being dis-intermediated.

And what will happen to research companies? Will today’s research companies develop or acquire complete capabilities to become a true partner with progressive client departments? Or will they fail to adapt and lose relevance along with the less progressive clients? Advanced analytics will flourish, and new entrants will challenge entrenched research companies. Will tomorrow’s leading companies come from an advanced analytics heritage? Will the leaders be IBM? Google? Facebook? Or will WPP just keep buying more stuff? Or will it be a company that isn’t even on the radar? (E.g. Autonomy –

Nobody knows exactly how and when this will play out. But we’re convinced that major change will be evident within five years. Now is the time to stay on top of how clients and existing research companies are evolving, and to study new entrants, so that you can develop and implement your strategy.

For more, read the March 2011 JAR article “The Shape of Marketing Research in 2021” at

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3 responses to “Winds of Change Series: Fishing the River

  1. Great post Margaret and I could not agree more; it’s time for us to embrace our new identity or prepare for a marginalized position in the future. I know which one I choose!

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