Beginning in 2010, we decided to start tracking which supplier firms were perceived as most innovative within the global market research industry. This has evolved into the GRIT Top 50 Most Innovative list, which at its core is a brand tracker using the attribute of “innovation” as the key metric. Now, each year we measure how market research suppliers are leveraging this brand element through a simple question series:
- Using an unaided awareness verbatim question, we ask respondents to list the research companies they considered to be most innovative.
- We then ask them to rank those firms from most to least innovative.
- Finally, we ask another verbatim as to why they consider their number one ranked firm to be most innovative.
For this wave, using the aggregate of the ranking question, we developed a list of 727 unique companies from 3,565 total responses. From that list, we have narrowed it down to the Top 50 (60 actually due to ties in mentions, but we will keep referring to it as the GRIT Top 50 for the sake of consistency) for additional analysis.
Only brands that received five or more mentions made it on to the list, which is a lower threshold than in the past. This is a reflection of the vast number of companies mentioned and the competitiveness now in play for companies vying to be identified with the “innovative” brand attribute.
We’ve set out to glean insight on the drivers of perception in regards to what makes a firm innovative. From this, our ultimate goal is to better understand how MR firms are capitalizing on the idea of “innovation” to grow their businesses. We believe that this list, developed by our peers within the industry, is a true measure of how successful these companies are at using “innovation” to help drive brand awareness.
Due to issues around consolidation and multiple brands within a single entity (Kantar for instance with Millward Brown, TNS, Added Value, etc…) we are presenting the Top 50 in two ways: without brand rollups, which is based solely on the number of times a company was mentioned with no consideration given to parent company ownership or affiliation, and with brand rollups, where we have consolidated all appropriate business entities under the parent brand.
We’re only publishing without rollups in this excerpt, but you can see the alternative view in the full report, available here. As you’ll see this doesn’t change things significantly, but there is a reshuffling of the higher ranked companies, most notably for Kantar-owned companies.
For our purposes, we consider the “without rollups” list to be the definitive GRIT Top 50 and all mentions of the list will be in reference to the list that omits rollups.
Here are the rankings, as well as changes from the last wave:
|2015 Rank||2014 Rank||Change||Company||count|
|21||38||17||Hall & Partners||14|
|29||0||Debut||Join The Dots||12|
|32||21||(11)||Instantly (formerly uSamp)||9|
|40||0||Debut||Happy Thinking People||7|
For the fourth consecutive year, BrainJuicer is unequivocally considered the most innovative company by GRIT respondents, a testament to their discipline, creativity, and focus when it comes to branding and marketing. They remain the “ones to beat” regarding innovative brand identification, and for the past four years no other supplier has come close to usurping this position. The strong lesson here is that any company who wants to be considered “most innovative” has a significant amount of work to do to achieve a comparable level of brand identification.
Other perennial leaders saw some position shuffling within the Top 10, but the real surprise was the number of debuts on the list. An unprecedented 23 companies debuted on the GRIT Top 50 list in this round, knocking out some previous favorites and sending a clear message that new companies are working aggressively to embrace innovation in their marketing and branding efforts. Most surprising was the number of startups— at least 6 companies that made the list are less than 3 years old.
16 brands increased their position by moving up the ranks, with the single greatest gain being made by RIWI Corporation with a jump of 27 spots. 21 brands declined in the ranks.
So what does this tell us? For firms that debuted or moved up in the ranks in 2014, their branding efforts paid dividends for them in the minds of the industry. With each iteration of the GRIT Top 50, we are witnessing how brands are leveraging various marketing channels (social media, conferences, advertising) focusing on the broad idea of “innovation”.
Now for something not in the GRIT report that I think you’ll find interesting. Well, to be a bit more honest I find it interesting, and I hope you do too!
We’ve taken this a step further and created an ad hoc segmentation and positioning map to see how companies are leveraging different aspects of the “innovation” play effectively. The results are informative to say the least:
The model here was simple: we grouped the GRIT 50 by the focus of each company:
- Context is those companies with a focus on a specific contextual framework such as BrainJuicer and Behavioral Economics or LRW and Pragmatic Brain Science.
- Platform are companies that are research platforms: Vision Critical, Focus Vision, Qualtrics, etc…
- Method includes companies largely known for a method such as Insites and Communispace for MROCs, 20/20 for online qual, Gutcheck for agile and so on.
- Research Issue are companies that specialize in business issues such as Affinnova for Concept Testing or Hotspex for Innovation.
- Ubiquity includes the “Big boys”: large multi-national companies that do it all and do it everywhere such as Nielsen, Kantar, Ipsos, GfK.
The size of the circle correlates to the number of companies in each segment and they are positioned within the map by their their market differentiators and number of mentions within the GRIT 50.
What immediately jumps out is that any company that focuses on a Contextual Framework (and markets itself effectively!) tends to get more brand awareness. It’s a true point of difference from the other categories and these companies stand out in a crowded field. Of course being a “universal platform” helps too, hence the drive for technology expansion in the category right now, and specialization in methods helps, but surprisingly focus on research issue and ubiquity are not core differentiators themselves.
Our read on this is further confirmation on the largely dichotomous evolution of the industry, with players in all these segments continuing to fall mostly into 2 camps: technology providers and consulting firms. There will be hybrids of the two for sure, but it is apparent that at least at this stage of the evolution of the insights industry in order to get real brand recognition you must differentiate via either tech or a truly unique contextual framework: size, method expertize and issue specialization just don’t deliver as much bang for the branding buck.