7 Ways to Level the Playing Field with the Giant Research Firms

Small research agencies are becoming more prevalent in the industry and can compete with market research “global giants” by utilizing their innovative and agile traits.

The global giant research firms get 46% of current client spend. What a great time to be a small, nimble, insights agency.

I’m not being facetious (okay, maybe a bit ironic). Sure, this number, especially when considering that the “global giants” consist of a whopping 6 agencies, might paint a dismal picture for small research firms. But it’s only a single data point. As we researchers know, it’s not only about the data, but also the direction the data trend, and the opportunities and challenges they present.

Here’s another way to look at it: Smaller agencies far outnumber larger ones. They’re actually getting most of the business. And now they’re more in demand because they’re innovative and agile. They can deliver more for less. They can implement new methodologies and best practices quicker than slow-moving bureaucratic firms. But they lack the marketing muscle and oftentimes the client relationships (and name recognition) developed and enjoyed by the Kantars, GfKs, and Ipsoses of the world.

Last month I was a panelist at GreenBook’s Insights Marketing Day in Chicago. Held at R5, a large, creative, nontraditional qualitative space in the city’s West Loop, the day featured a host of speakers and panels focused on how to break through meaningfully to corporate-research buyers.

I was impressed by many of the entrepreneurs who attended. Yes, they were smart researchers and strategic researchers; so, they had these two traits in common with many of their counterparts at the global giants. But there were different.

These researchers are agile, energetic, and innovative. They’ve got to be. Unlike the big players, who have account leads planted at many of these big clients, these up-and-coming agencies often struggle just to get their calls and emails answered.

I sat on a panel that shared marketing best practices and perspectives for market-research firms. Audience members offered no shortage of thoughtful questions as they wrestle with the challenge and uncertainty about how to compete against the big guys.

Clearly, GreenBook hit on a huge need. These smaller agencies, though energized with new ideas often fortified by new tech, are at a marked disadvantage. Some simply don’t have contacts within these big research-buying brands. Many don’t know how, or have the time, to navigate the often long and cumbersome process of becoming an approved vendor.

This day came just a few months after GreenBook’s IIeX North America, which is essentially a showcase of innovation within our industry. As I walked through the conference in Atlanta, I was excited by both the variety and quality of the tech development and individuals who are pushing our industry forward.

I’ve had a unique opportunity to get to know some of these individuals and their companies in my position at Collaborata, where we’re re-inventing syndicated research by democratizing the whole process. Essentially, Collaborata serves as a new marketing and distribution channel for multi-client projects. Clients propose projects on our platform to be funded by clients, who can have meaningful input into the research.

One of the ways we help research agencies be successful is by designing more compelling projects and in better articulating the merits of and rational behind their design in a carefully crafted proposal. We typically go through a few rounds of revisions before any proposal sees the light of day on Collaborata. Through this process, I’ve had the unique vantage point of seeing how new insights companies think and how they present their thinking to clients. My takeaway: Oftentimes their proposals — really, how they talk about what they do and why — don’t do justice to their thinking and capabilities.

So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a series of posts offering seven suggestions for how smaller agencies can better compete with the big guys. As I begin drafting these, I’d be thrilled to hear from you. What suggestions do you have to help even the playing field for small and mid-sized researchers? Can you guess my seven?

Until then, happy collaborating.

Peter Zollo

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