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Tom Anderson Describes The New Face of Marketing Research Intelligence

Tom Anderson writes one of the best deconstructions of some of the critical issues impacting market research today. You might not agree with all of his points, but Tom creates a cogent and compelling argument for the need for radical grass roots reinvention of our industry.


Regular readers of this blog, the Tom H. C. Anderson blog, or members of the Next Gen MR LinkedIn group probably know that Tom Anderson and I have an “interesting” relationship. In Tom’s words we’re engaged in “coopetition” and I suppose that is fairly accurate to a degree, but overall we’ve developed a relationship based on mutual respect. We certainly don’t agree on all things, and we’ve been known to have some heated debates, but we share an abiding passion for driving market research forward.

That shared focus comes to light in Tom’s latest post prompted by his attendance at the MRIA conference this week. In it he writes one of the best deconstructions of some of the critical issues impacting MR today. I consider this a “must read” piece; you might not agree with all of his points, but as always Tom creates a cogent and compelling argument for the need for radical grass roots reinvention of our industry.

Here is a large chunk of his post. I encourage you to read the rest at Tom’s site.

Candid Thoughts on Industry Trends & 2011 MRIA Conference

The Annual MRIA Conference was held this week in gorgeous Kelowna, BC, Canada. This was the third time I’ve been asked to participate in an MRIA event. This time as part of the final panel on industry trends and challenges entitled “The New Face of Marketing Research and Intelligence.”

Bermie Malinoff, CEO of element54, did a great job moderating the panel which was to consist of myself and Angus Reid, CEO of Vision Critical; Gary Bennewies, CEO of Ipsos Canada; and Donn Mills, CEO of Corporate Research Associates. Unfortunately, Angus’ private jet decompressurized in mid air and he was forced to return to Toronto. Sounded like a pretty cool excuse to me. I may use that one my self in the future ;) . I was rather looking forward to meeting Angus and hearing his viewpoints as I understand we may share a few similar concerns in regard to our industry. However, Jean-Marc Leger, CEO of Leger Marketing, was good enough to step in on short notice and also had some very good points on where we are going and how to get there.

I’m not going to attempt to summarize the conference or even our panel session. I will however share some of my candid thoughts on a couple of the interesting questions raised by Bernie and the audience, even though we had an hour, we did move rather quickly across a wide range of topics.

How have client needs changed and how do we need to respond?

I think we all agree on the fact that clients tend to want insights faster. There’s also a desire for more DIY (Do It Yourself), in large part, I believe, because of a desire to control the speed and secondly cost of research. Many client side researchers seem to simply be asked to provide a lot more research projects, faster, and for less money. It’s becoming a volume game to some extent.

In regard to DIY Research, personally I don’t believe in fighting trends. This is part of the reason Anderson Analytics recently began our own software development effort (OdinText). I believe if researchers can put some of our tremendous domain knowledge into easy to use software we not only help our clients, but create something that is easier to scale and will have exponential value later.

As importantly, I believe many of our clients are being expected to and want to engage in more than traditional marketing research. Many already see the writing on the wall and understand that “insights” today really does mean a lot more than surveys and focus groups. By working with other data sources like CRM or web analytics, it becomes easier for them to measure ROI and move up the value chain in their organization, thereby avoiding the DIY “Do More with Less” cycle.

I think helping these clients climb the value chain in their organizations, by helping them understand how to leverage Big and Streaming Data are one of the best future strategies many researchers can focus on.

How do traditional research companies avoid becoming road kill?

This question was asked verbatim and it’s telling that many now seem to understand that probably well over half of the ‘research’ firms out there won’t be around 5-10 years from now. Evaluating our industry as it is currently using Porters Five Forces or any other method does not paint a pretty picture.

Other than looking beyond “research as usual” (focus groups and surveys), I do think all the firms in our industry, including mine, have a bit of a positioning problem. This is a problem you wouldn’t think market researchers who help other companies with positioning strategies constantly should have, but in fact we all say we do pretty much the same things!

This problem is even worse for some players like survey software firms who are not just competing with lower offshore labor in developing countries (allegedly offering the same quality service at 30% of the cost), no they are actually competing against completely free products like Zoomerang and Survey Monkey!

Most researchers you speak with will admit that over 90% of surveys can be conducted using one of these free tools. Clients certainly know it. Suppliers have been slower to adopt them on scale partly because they have been afraid to use free tools on client projects because it may question their value and pricing (same reason offshoring is not mentioned by those who engage in it).

However, several researchers I’ve talked to on the supplier side agree with what we’ve been seeing, most clients don’t care to see the details of the surveys (never mind know the source of sample for that matter). That means that more and more suppliers who have been willing to pay a lot more in some cases to use white label survey technology simply in order to make it look as if they have their own software running on their own domains (co. URL) will now start thinking a lot harder about the dollars they’re forking over for some rather high priced solutions which more or less do the exact same thing as the much cheaper or completely free options.

Whether a survey software provider and/or a panel provider, assuming these companies don’t want to become road kill, they will need to start thinking about adding features beyond what the free tools have (such as text analytics or other streams of data with analytics dashboards).

Just about all parts of full service research have now also become commoditized. Set aside the fact that almost anyone and everyone outside of research believes they can create a perfectly good survey themselves (especially true at more tech/engineering driven companies), even the last bastion of value, analytics is becoming a commodity.

What is the future of individual (CMRP, PRC) and corporate (ISO) certification?

From the outset, I’ve said that the ISO certification push driven by ESOMAR and more recently, very unsuccessfully by CASRO in the US, has had the intended purpose of further commoditizing the research process (from design to fielding and even analysis and reporting). Certification like ISO is the ultimate differentiation killer. More useful for factories where everyone follows the same recipe to get the same result (a 9 millimeter widget +/1mm).

It’s obvious why the ISO certification is being pursued. A highly un-proportionate amount of ESOMAR’s and CASRO’s income is from the “Honomichl” Top 5-10 research firms, almost all of which have had a quiet but ambitious offshoring (cost cutting) agenda. ISO certification would partially serve as a protective veil, allowing these companies to say “don’t worry about what’s being done, where, under what rule of law, etc., we’re following the same recipe, it’s the same quality everywhere.” Bullshit!

[If you agree with me check out FTO, a completely free organization founded on transparency]

I urge all researchers to carefully consider the benefits they receive from any trade organization and more importantly to question how their dues and donation of time are used. Ask, who really benefits from the initiatives being pursued, is it really your industry as a whole? I hope in the near future, research trade organizations (those that remain), will pay more attention to the “long tail” of their membership rather than focusing on just the top few firms.

As for individual certifications such as CMRP and PRC, it’s a bit tougher to disagree with as I do understand the underlying desire to create some barriers to entry and prestige in our profession. However, partly for the same reasons I had a problem with ISO, I tend to disagree with these certifications as well. I work hard to position myself and my firm and its members as better, much better, than the competition. If I were to seek such accreditation for myself or my co-workers, we would de facto be saying “look we’re just as good as EVERYONE else. We are AVERAGE.” Thus we would simply be further commoditizing the research that what we do.

Now if PRC and CMRP were only awarded to the top 1% brightest market research professionals, I might be among the first in line to take the exam! Unfortunately, we know that’s not going to happen… There’s no money to be made by the certifiers in such a certification scheme.

I really couldn’t agree more with just about everything here, and bravo to Tom for crafting such a candid and inspiring coda for us all.


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5 responses to “Tom Anderson Describes The New Face of Marketing Research Intelligence

  1. Thank you so much for your kind comments Lenny and for sharing here as well.

    Yes, I know there’s now quite a few of us engaging in “co-opetition” online to varying degrees. But I think this is a very different type of co-operation/competition than has been the norm previously among the various traditional trade organizations.

    I think social media has really helped equalized power across the research community and is finally allowing dialogue that has not been encouraged before.

    I can’t help myself often agreeing on some of the blog posts and tweets by others like yourself, but whom I have even less in common with, because in the end what many of us do seem to share is a desire to change the status quo and make research a bit less ‘Pay for Play’, more egalitarian, and more transparent.

    Again, thanks for your comments!


    1. Thanks Tom; I agree that SM has created an unprecedented opportunity for new voices to emerge and influence open discussions in a way that we have never had before and I’m honored to be “coopeteting” with folks like you to help bring these issues to light. Maybe this is the “Market Research Summer”!

    2. Thanks Tom; I agree that SM has created an unprecedented opportunity for new voices to emerge and influence open discussions in a way that we have never had before and I’m honored to be “coopeteting” with folks like you to help bring these issues to light. Maybe this is the “Market Research Summer”!

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