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GRIT Sneak Peek: The Top 10 Most Innovative Market Research Firms Of 2011

In this sneak peak at the forthcoming Greenbook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) Report, we look at the top 10 market research firms that are perceived to be the most innovative.

GRIT Top 10 Innovative Firms


The GRIT Team is hard at work analyzing the results of the most recent GreenBook Research Industry Trends study, and you know what that means: time for a few sneak peeks at some of the more interesting results! We have lots to report on methodology usage, emerging technique adoption, drivers of both vendor and method selection, industry perception of change, annual billings, and much more. Considering the level of interest in one of our areas of exploration (companies perceived to be innovative) I thought I’d whet your appetite for the full report by divulging the 2011 list of  the Top 10 Market Research Firms Perceived to be Innovative.

Beginning in 2010 we decided to start tracking which firms were perceived as most innovative within the global market research industry. Last year we came up with a list of the Top 50 Market Research Firms Perceived to be Innovative to much fanfare by the industry. That list was compiled by a simple open-ended unaided awareness question: which MR firms do you consider to be most innovative? Because we realized this was a little light in terms of methodological rigor, this year we decided to go a little deeper and refine our method.  Here is what we did:

  1. Using an unaided awareness verbatim question, we asked respondent to list the three companies they considered to be most innovative.
  2. We then asked them to rank those firms from most to least innovative.
  3. Finally we asked another verbatim in reference to their number 1 ranked firm on why they considered it to be most innovative.

Using the aggregate of the 1-3 ranking question we developed a list of 84 companies that received multiple mentions. From that list we have narrowed it down to the Top 50 for additional analysis. We’re looking at differences between Client vs. Supplier respondents, tenure in the industry, geographic location, preferred methods of gaining information about the industry, sample source, and of course the coded responses for why they are considered innovative. We’re looking at these data in multiple ways in order to glean insight on the drivers of perception around what makes a firm innovative with the hypothesis that these firms will help drive the repositioning of the industry in years to come and are growing despite the numerous challenges to the industry as a whole right now. Despite what some might think, it is NOT a popularity contest; we truly want to understand how MR firms are capitalizing on the idea of “innovation” to grow their businesses, and we believe that this list, developed by our peers within the industry, is a true measure of  how successfully these companies are leveraging this brand attribute.

As I said, we’re in the thick of analysis right now and this isn’t meant to be a report ready summary. I have simply pulled a snapshot from the banners that show the Top 10 and the breaks by Client/Supplier and tenure. I also added their previous ranking information and indicated the change from 2010. More analysis will be in the report, due to be published in February.

So, without further ado, I give you the GRIT Top 10 Innovative Firms!


Congratulation to these industry leading firms, especially BrainJuicer for maintaining their #1 Position and to Vision Critical, iTracks, 20/20, and Millward Brown for remaining in the top 10 list. These firms really drove the conversation across multiple channels in 2011 and their branding continues to pay dividends for them in the minds of the industry.

Of course, BrainJuicer remains the master of this art; at every turn they make innovation the underlying theme of their brand message and continue to drive awareness of of both new approaches and, more importantly, new thinking within the industry. They were ranked number #1 almost twice as often as Ipsos making them the clear owners of the “market research innovation” message.

Those firms that moved up the ranking (Ipsos, GfK & Nielsen) certainly deserve praise as well. Based on a quick review of press releases and news articles about these firms in 2011 they maintained a steady flow of announcements about their own innovation efforts (particularly around mobile and social media) and obviously those efforts are paying off in how the industry perceives them.

Last year Kantar did not rank at all while TNS was #2; they are effectively the same company so I have combined them for purposes of our analysis. I believe the brand identity of TNS is being subsumed into the larger Kantar brand and this is indicated within our own data: this year TNS was not mentioned at all. Although Millward Brown is also owned by Kantar, I think that brand remains relatively independent and specialized within the market, so we have let it stand. Of course I would expect to see a similar phenomenon occur in 2012 in regards to Ipsos and Synovate, but since the merger of those firms did not occur until late in the year and we had many respondents list them separately we chose to also leave them as discrete companies.

Considering that there were no new entrants into the Top 10, I believe the decline in rankings of Kantar/TNS specifically means that this brand is having a challenge with leading the conversation within the industry on the topic of innovation. Since I have had many conversations with multiple members within the Kantar team about their innovation efforts and know that they are taking the challenge of embracing the future very seriously, my advice to them is to focus on this topic in 2012 and showcase examples of how they are changing the status quo at every opportunity.

The full list will be published in the GRIT report. I’ll give you this hint: within the 20-50 firms there are many new entrants and the ranking changes are much more dynamic.

Finally, a little bit about our sample for those who may think there is some bias here. Two of the Top 50 firms were sponsors of GRIT, but I would challenge anyone to explain why these industry leaders had not earned their spots in the ranking, especially considering that neither were sponsors last year but both appeared on the list in 2010, and neither contributed much sample to the study. I also maintain that even if they had been, I have faith in my peers in the industry that they would not let any logos giving our sponsors the credit they deserve influence their thinking. That said, this is a convenience sample although we have gone to great lengths to cast as wide a net as possible though various partnerships with industry leading organizations. In total our sample frame consisted of almost 60,000 research professionals, which is probably pretty close to a census of the industry. Each partner sent invites to their various constituencies via a mix of direct emails, social media dissemination, public announcements on website destinations, and general word of mouth.

Is it a random probability sample? Of course it isn’t, and personally I have not utilized that type of sample model in a B2B study in over a decade. Are the base sizes for some sub segments small and therefore should only be considered directional? Yes, absolutely. However, in total our sample was robust enough to certainly allow for a high degree of confidence in our analysis. To help beef that up even more we agreed to use partials who had completed 90% of the study to augment our analysis.

Here is how the sample provisioning played out:


We’ll continue to look for partners in the future to broaden our reach and get as close to a representative sample as possible. In the meantime, as in all things, I hope you’ll challenge the findings against your own experience and use them as intended; as a barometer of issues impacting the industry and a potential road map for the future evolution of market research.

Thanks to all who participated and to our sponsors!


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5 responses to “GRIT Sneak Peek: The Top 10 Most Innovative Market Research Firms Of 2011

  1. Hello Leonard,

    Very interesting comparison! I have a suggestion for an addition to your sample next year – AURA members. All are research buyers so could add an additional dimension to the mix!

    1. Thanks Amali; I’d love to include AURA members in the next round of the study. Are you the person to help make that happen or can you connect me to the right person?

  2. Hello,

    Could you explain me what “experience level” exactly is ? Is it the average years in the market research sector before the employees join the company ?

    Thanks a lot !

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