Ah Conference Season! That time of year when all of the myriad organizations within the market research space all vie for the attention, dollars, and attendance of everyone in the industry. For those of us who tend to get invited to participate in these things a lot one of the critical questions we have to ask is which organization has a mission that I want to support and will also best serve my business interests. That seems simple enough on the surface, but the massive fragmentation within the market research space has produced hundreds (literally, I’ve counted them!) of trade orgs, member associations, networking groups, event organizers, educational platforms, media outlets, blogs, webinar series, and discussion forums. I make it my business to stay abreast of these things because of my role as Editor-in-Chief at GreenBook and I can only keep up with a small percentage of all of the different channels for information available today. If I take a mercenary approach to prioritizing what I am going to pay attention to I focus on two qualities: reach and influence. I’m not saying that criteria drives all of my choices, but it is a factor for trade organizations and media outlets.
Since I am also the Editor of the GreenBook Research Industry Trends Study & Report and I get to follow my interests to an extent with the study, I thought it would be interesting to ask the market research industry what organizations, groups, associations, blogs, media outlets, etc.. they follow and to try to quantify the reach and influence of these organizations. I did this for three reasons:
- I wanted to cut through the fragmentation clutter and come up with a list of the most influential organizations.
- I wanted to understand the role “new media entities” (blogs, social networks, discussion groups) are playing vs. “traditional entities” (publishers, trade orgs, membership associations) in shaping the global industry dialogue.
- I wanted to determine whether there is anything I can do to help facilitate broader collaboration and cooperation between all of these disparate entities for the good of the industry.
Now before we dive into what we found I feel the need to be very clear on my personal position on all of this. It’s pretty simple really: I am an independent. I work with whoever I think is in a position to help support and promote my personal agenda which is quite simply to help the market research industry grow and thrive. That may sound too blue sky for some, but I believe a rising tide lifts all boats and my personal business interests will be served by helping the industry navigate the paradigm shift we’re undergoing. I think of it as enlightened self-interest. As of today I will not sign a “loyalty pledge” or put myself in a position where I am restricted in who I work with or what I do. I may work closely with a variety of groups, organizations, or individuals and even join various forums, advisory groups, or committees but I won’t work with anyone who doesn’t respect my principle of personal autonomy and integrity. Being in this neutral position also allows me to speak out on issues that are important to me and even deliver some unpleasant medicine when warranted. I think the rest of this post is going to fall into that category.
So, as part of the most recent phase of GRIT we decided to explore these issues of reach and influence within the industry. The results are fascinating and quite enlightening.
When asked “What professional and/or trade associations relevant to the marketing or marketing research industry do you belong to?”, we obtained a highly fragmented list of names/acronyms, and that may be heavily influenced by sample composition, as well as events occurring at the time of data collection. That said, the results are counter-intuitive to the sample composition which was broken down as 33% from GreenBook, 26% from NGMR, 22% from MRGA, 15% from AMA and the remainder across the other sponsors. The low sample contribution from AMA is almost diametrically opposite to their ranking within the reach and influence questions. The same could be said about GreenBook as well since they were the largest sample contributor but yet had a relatively low reach score. This seems to indicate that although some sample bias may be possible, the respondents answered the questions honestly and that the data serves as an accurate barometer of the level of reach and influence of each organization.
The organizations most often mentioned by our study respondents include the AMA (at 44%), MRA (21%), ESOMAR (20%), CASRO (10%), QRCA (8%), MRS (7%), MRIA (5%), AAPOR (4%), ARF (4%), NGMR (3%), AMSRS (3%), and PMRG (2%). In many cases there was a significant delta between clients and suppliers in terms of association membership, although considering the nature of many of these organizations that was not surprising in itself.
What is interesting about this list is the relatively large number of people who counted NGMR, a LinkedIn discussion group, as a trade organization. This seems to indicate that the value proposition of trade associations compared to new media players is fuzzy at best. We anticipated that issue so we asked a follow-up question on what events, blogs, or Groups our participants paid attention to or followed. LinkedIn emerged as the clear leader with 44%, followed by NGMR again (13%), AMA (10%), ESOMAR (7%), Facebook (8%) MRA (7%), MRGA (7%), CASRO (6%), ARF (4%) and GreenBook (4%). Notice that there is significant overlap between the two lists and a pronounced divergence between client and supplier participants yet again. Our analysis is that although clearly associations are being followed, new media outlets and groups are assuming a strong role in influencing decision makers.
We obtained NetBase buzz counts on this question as well, and see divergence between the self-reported membership (listed above), and internet buzz as captured by NetBase. Organizations obtaining NetBase buzz counts above 3,000 included the American Marketing Association (AMA), the World Advertising Research Center (WARC), the American Economic Association (AEA), the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association (LIMRA), the American Statistical Association (ASA), ESOMAR, and the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF). These arer the organizations being discussed most on social media sites (mostly Twitter) and we assume is as much a measurement of how well the organizations themselves are utilizing these channels to generate “buzz” as it is people actually discussing these organizations. A Quick look at the results seems to validate this idea, with much of the traffic being generated around events promoted by these organizations.
To underscore this point, we asked each participant to rate the level of influence each organization they had listed in the previous two questions has on their strategic decision making using an 11 point scaled slider. The results were surprising this time, although as mentioned earlier, they seem to validate the lack of bias within the sample due to the counter-intuitive rankings vs. sample makeup. What emerged is that many of the most influential organizations are neither trade associations nor social networks but rather are media portals. This begs the question of whether the extensive fragmentation of various trade organizations and industry associations within the market research space is decreasing the impact of these groups and creating opportunities for smaller entities to assume thought leadership roles.
This hypothesis is starkly revealed in a quadrant analysis we conducted to graphically display the relationship between organizational reach and influence ranking.
Clearly industry bodies designed to lead and influence are losing that mandate to other outlets. Perhaps a movement to consolidate organizations or at least to coordinate efforts is in order to reverse this trend and unify the market research space during this transitional phase?
When asked directly (in our study) about the factors that make any of these “stand out for you as influential and authoritative”, the most common responses were: “quality/expertise of people involved” (30%), “thought leadership” (23%), “quality/expertise of publications/reports” (13%), “networking/connections” (5%), “code of ethics” (4%), “industry standing” (3%), “easy & free” (3%), “impartial/no influence/hidden agenda/marketing” (1%), “cutting edge (point of views)” (1%), and “good training/workshop sessions” (1%). This certainly seems to be a possible prescription to cure what is ailing many of the major trade organizations.
For the record I think the ARF is closest to bringing all of these ingredients together and is doing an excellent job with earning their influence. The AMA and ESOMAR have started down a similar path to really engaging the industry, although I think they have much larger hurdles to jump over in order to assume true leadership positions.
On the “new media side”, certainly NGMR and MRGA are forces to be reckoned with, but both seem to lack clarity of mission and are at the point where they need to develop a strategic plan to guide their development and growth. They have reach, but are not considered particularly influential from a thought leadership perspective and that can only be addressed by bringing thought leaders into their sphere of influence and showcasing them vs. their principles.
NewMR is perhaps best positioned to emerge as a major new force within the industry, although without more reach the influence of the organization may be confined to just the socially media active members of the industry (a truism that is equally applicable to GreenBook and myself, by the way). NewMR is very collaborative and that model will likely help them grow in esteem and reach over time.
IIR has an interesting problem as well; can a highly competitive event business assume a position of leadership? They certainly know how to put on damn good conferences, but without an overarching mission to support and engage the industry from a thought leadership standpoint I don’t think they can truly grow beyond the purely commercial niche they fit into now.
To sum things up, to me it appears that our trade organizations are squandering the opportunity to be truly influential. New players without political and bureaucratic encumbrances are filling this gap and providing leadership to an industry that is hungry for a rallying point in the challenging environment we find ourselves in, although most lack the reach and resources of the trade orgs. Because of my personal involvement with many of these players I do believe that the various trade bodies are trying to correct this, but the fragmentation within the space is limiting their effectiveness.
I believe a significant opportunity exists for all of the influencers in the industry to cooperate and collaborate if they can step out of the competitive mindset they currently function under and embrace a model that is based on real cooperation with each other. I understand that many of these organizations make their money from annual events ( I was recently told by one organization that anything that competed for time or money was considered competitive and would be squashed) and that on the surface it may be challenging to develop such a model, but just as a rising tide floats all boats, a sinking one can just as quickly strand them. Market research has a limited window to reposition itself for success in the new world order and if everyone with a stake in the future of the industry can’t learn to work together at some level, they may find themselves stranded on the mudflats of history without anyone to influence.