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The Emergence of Full-Stack Research

The results of the recent GRIT Report as well as news related to Dynata, Kantar, Nielsen & Qualtrics indicate the era of “Full-Stack” research is here.

In his “Final Thoughts” section in the recently released Q3Q4 2018 GRIT Report, Gregg Archibald concluded:

“For years, people have been saying that our industry is changing. This edition of the GRIT confirms that the change is here, but incomplete. There is a clear bifurcation in what makes up marketing research. The first has to do with data and the second has to do with consulting.

From the data perspective, this is about using tools that can help us gather traditional types of data in more efficient ways, gather new types of data, more effective analysis of data, and new ways to communicate that data to deliver impact. … The expectations of technology-driven research will be table stakes for all projects and all relationships.

The other side of the bifurcation is our ability to be consultative to our clients – be they internal clients 
or external. …
my definition is the ability to provide very actionable recommendations about what the business should do – and not just recommendations based on the results of a single study. “

In many ways, the bifurcation that Gregg talks about has been literal:  in their struggle to move beyond “traditional” market research, many companies and individuals have tended to focus on the technology/data side, and some on the consulting side.  As Gregg notes, changes have not been as advanced on the consulting side.

What we are starting to see though, is evidence of companies trying to bridge that bifurcation, using technology to bring advances to the data side, while at the same time, using those advances to bring new consultative capabilities to the market.  In some sense, this model reconceptualizes the “full-service” model of traditional market research companies, into what we can call “full-stack” research, to borrow the term from computer science.  According to Wikipedia, “a solution stack or software stack is a set of software subsystems or components needed to create a complete platform such that no additional software is needed to support applications.”  A “full-stack” market research company assembles all types of data and analytic capabilities (both for traditional survey as well as various kinds of digital, observational, purchase and social data) through automated processes into a complete, efficient platform, and provides consulting capability on top of that.

Two examples in the news this past week show how major companies are developing this full-stack capability:

  • Dynata (itself the recently renamed Research Now SSI) announced it was buying Reimagine.  Reimagine is comprised of several business units including online survey and digital data specialist Critical Mix; cloud-based SaaS data analysis and visualization platform MarketSight and PopResearch, an automated brand and communications market research platform.  According to the announcement, this will allow Dynata “to capitalize on Reimagine’s automation, software, fraud-prevention technology, and artificial intelligence tools and platforms.”  Thus Dynata will be able to leapfrog over many of it traditional market research clients for panel sample; whether it becomes a “frenemy” to its research company clients, or just a pure competitor, remains to be seen. This new combination still lacks a consulting arm to be truly “full-stack” in the way we are conceptualizing it, but they are only one acquisition away from achieving it. 
  • At nearly the same time as the Dynata announcement, Kantar announced that it is forming “Kantar Marketplace”, which they say  “will be the only on-demand platform that combines high quality, validated sample reach to 80 million consumers worldwide with self-serve custom surveys, more sophisticated insights solutions and expert consulting.”  Further, “Kantar Marketplace will bring the most comprehensive consumer insights together in one place and allow us to deliver fast and accurate research at a fraction of the usual time and cost.” While details have yet to be revealed (including how much of the data they have in entities like WorldPanel and Kantar Media will be included), clearly, one way to think about this is that they’re creating their own version of Zappi, and one that will have the ability to upsell into Kantar Consulting.  One question that comes to mind is whether Kantar Marketplace is an additional service of Kantar, or is this what Kantar will evolve into as a company (and if so, how fast)?

In both of the above cases, these companies will be bringing comprehensive, integrated, technology-driven capabilities to clients – the full stack.   While the news about Dynata and Kantar brings this trend into focus, we need to recognize that other companies are moving towards full-stack too. These are companies like Kantar that started out as “traditional” full-service research firms – an LRW comes to mind – but there are big Consulting companies moving into the space from a different direction, like McKinsey Periscope.

Looking at the M&A movements of companies like GfK, Nielsen, Ipsos and the recent Qualtrics/SAP deal as well as the Salesforce/SurveyMonkey partnership clearly indicate that this move towards owning as much of the data value chain as possible via technology-led platforms is the dominant trend in the industry right now. Some companies are leading with consulting, some with SaaS and others with data services as the “tip of the spear” for their positioning, but what they all have in common is a shift towards a fundamental change in how they collect, analyze and use data to drive business efficiencies and impact.  That is the core of the full stack model in our sector.

The emergence of full-stack brings together several disparate strands we have been seeing in GRIT into a cohesive whole, and represents a muscular future for a re-defined industry.  Market researchers on the supplier side need to be asking themselves how their companies can evolve (quickly) into this new model, or can they survive somehow providing independent parts that can plug into someone’s stack?  Market research buyers need to be asking if they want to build their own stack, or if they want to use an agency-type model and “buy” into that provided by a full-stack company?

The answers to those questions will largely dictate how these movements by a few large players impact the entire market.  However, make no mistake, the shift we have been watching take shape for several years is now playing out in quite dramatic fashion and we are now in the midst of a full-blown sea change that all stakeholders in the insights and analytics space must adapt to quickly.      

The famous Chinese curse is “may you live in interesting times.”  The future is looking more interesting than it has in quite some time.  Hang on.

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3 responses to “The Emergence of Full-Stack Research

    1. Kind of Kevin, but I would argue the basic Full Service model failed because they were not fully vertically integrated, instead it was fragmented and did not adapt to multiple solutions based on client needs. It’s not just about owning the “data value chain”, it’s about building a business that is based on progressive (and optional) cross-selling and up-selling to truly leverage that value chain ownership.

  1. It is interestingly reminiscent of matrix organizations of past. You know Larry, we were in one. Challenge with the larger full service agencies is the P&L (or the “silo”) and not delivering best solution for the client rather focused on how to get the work within their silo. That said, I do believe a well run matrix organization is similar to Full Stack. Key is to have the ideal layers in your stack. Larger agencies should have the advantage but we know how that plays out. On the technology side, I’d selfishly argue that we need to get beyond the “build or buy” and leverage the tools that are already in the market.

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Lenny Murphy & Larry Friedman

Co-Editors, GreenBook Blog