By David Rabjohns
Every so often an industry-changing chasm opens up in your path. Just like an unexpected earthquake, you have to quickly decide if you are going to bravely leap across before it gets too wide or totter and fall.
At ESOMAR Congress 2012, a global conference of market research buyers and suppliers, I saw one of those chasms appear. The chasm emerged from a discussion of the future of market research and the impact of big data.
One of the presenters, Lenny Murphy of the GreenBook Blog, presented a chart that shows the new competitors to market research. These included companies like IBM, HP, SalesForce, Facebook and Google–companies that would never have been considered competitors to market research before.
What struck me is that the market research category is going through same sort of transformation that many categories have gone through in the past when new technology comes along and massively transforms the world.
When Apple introduced iTunes, it revolutionized the music business to the point where Tower Records was left scratching its head wondering, “What the hell happened?”. Digital cameras transformed the digital imaging business to the point where Kodak went out of business, something that was unimaginable 10 or 15 years ago.
The most dangerous factor is that, when these new technologies arrive, it doesn’t immediately impact business. It takes about 16 years from the arrival of a new technology to the complete transformation of the category. Sixteen years after the arrival of Amazon, Borders was gone.
Sixteen years after the arrival of the digital camera, Kodak was gone.
My sense is that many people in the market research industry today still feel fairly secure. They’ve still got customers giving them business; they’ve still got clients asking for help; they’ve still got contracts carrying on. In that environment, it’s hard to imagine a world that’s going to be transformed in the way that the music, book and film categories were.
But if you’re in the market research industry, the lesson is be careful–because while you might feel safe and secure at the moment, things can change dramatically. Yes, it takes a little while for people’s habits to change—but once they start to change, your category can transform rapidly.
If you’re in market research today, don’t carry on and do business as usual. Instead, ask yourself: “If I were Kodak and I saw the digital camera arrive, what are the questions I should have been asking that would have saved my business? If I you were Borders and I saw Amazon launch, how could I have protected my customers better? What are the new ways I should be looking at my category and my business model that will allow me to survive?”
Closely aligned with asking those questions, you need to think about the value of what you provide, as opposed to the product or service you provide. For example, if you’re in the music business, you don’t provide records; you provide musical enjoyment or music management.
If you see yourself as being in the musical-enjoyment business, you might be able to transform and make the leap from one side to the other of the chasm. If you see yourself as being in the record-making business, your vinyl is about to be smashed
The way you frame the business you’re in has huge implications for the way you look at today’s challenges and the way you think about the future of market research.
How are you thinking about your role in the research industry? Will you make the leap—or fall into the chasm to join the folks at Tower Records, Borders and Kodak?
As you ponder the question remember this: