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The 2019 GRIT ‘Top 50 Most Innovative Suppliers’ List

The heavily anticipated GRIT 'Top 50 Most Innovative Companies' list is here. Find out more about the process, what's changed, and who's made it to the top.

For almost a decade, the GRIT Top 50 has become one of the key metrics many companies use to understand their position in the marketplace. It has also become a badge of “bragging rights”, with many companies proudly proclaiming their rankings in their own marketing campaigns. However, being on the GRIT Top 50 serves a far more useful purpose than an accolade; fundamentally, it is a brand tracker using the attribute of “innovation” as the key metric. It has become a reliable way for the players in the insights and analytics ecosystem to measure their own brand awareness and perception. 

The Process

The process is simple. Each year we measure how market research suppliers and clients are leveraging the brand attribute of innovation through a simple question series:  

  1. Using an unaided awareness verbatim question, we ask respondents to list the research companies they considered to be most innovative. They can list up to five companies. 
  2. We then ask them to tell us of the companies they listed, which do they consider to be the most innovative.
  3. Finally, we ask another verbatim as to why they consider their most innovative firm to be most innovative.

We added a new question this year and asked respondents to help us segment the companies mentioned in their responses into a few broad categories. The question text was “Using the following categories, which best describes each company you listed?” 

  1. Data & analytics provider
  2. Full and/or field service agency
  3. Qualitative research provider
  4. Strategic consultancy
  5. Technology provider
  6. Other (please specify)

We then simply count the mentions of each company after data cleaning and adhering to a series of rules we establish based on industry dynamics. It is a pure “top of mind” question type, with no pre-defined lists determined by us; GRIT respondents develop the list based on their responses.  

We’re often asked how companies can “get on the list” and our response is always the same: effective marketing. Because of the nature of the question, there is no option but for a company to build organic awareness among insights professionals in connection to the idea of being “innovative”. There are many ways to get there: events, content marketing, educational programs, advertising, word-of-mouth, social media, etc. Regardless of the channels used and marketing tactics employed, every company on the list has become top of mind for many in the industry when they think of innovative companies. 

While a company’s inclusion and relative position in the GRIT Top 50 rankings mostly reflect successful marketing, we believe the rankings are also a good proxy for business footprint and growth, based on financial performance information, including funding rounds (in some cases), of the companies listed.   

For this wave, using the aggregate of total mentions, we developed a list of over 1,847 unique companies (slightly up from 2018) from 6,663 total responses. Many of these companies are single mention, so during the coding process we focus on firms with a minimum threshold of mentions and then code them. In this wave we coded 145 companies with 5 or more mentions.  

New Sublists

Only companies that received 18 or more mentions made it on to the core GRIT Top 50 list. However, as the industry has continued to evolve we decided it was appropriate to look at more than one list. The reason we included a classification question was to develop sub-list of companies in those categories, so although the GRIT Top 50 is still the definitive aggregate list, we now have 6 new rankings that we believe are just as important to pay attention to: 

  1. GRIT 50 Data & Analytics Providers
  2. GRIT 50 Full/Field Service Agencies
  3. GRIT 50 Qualitative Suppliers
  4. GRIT 50 Strategic Consultancies
  5. GRIT 50 Technology Providers
  6. GRIT 50 Emerging Players

 We’ll dive deeper into the purpose for this expansion in another post.  

As always, a note on our process in warranted.   We go through an extensive process to clean the data, deal with name changes, M&A activity, etc.  We urge readers to read the detailed description in the full report to learn about the process we use.

Now, after providing the appropriate context and other details, without further ado, here are the 2019 GRIT Top 50 rankings:

2019 Rank Company Name Mentions 2018 Rank Change
1 Ipsos 292 2 1
2 Kantar 287 1 (1)
3 Nielsen 220 4 1
4 LRW 207 10 6
5 Zappi 203 9 4
6 Hotspex 194 8 2
7 System 1 Group 169 3 (4)
8 Qualtrics 156 13 5
9 Dynata 130 5 (4)
10 Insites Consulting 111 7 (3)
11 Voxpopme 108 15 4
12 Delvinia 98 29 17
13 Living Lens 85 48 35
14 PRS IN VIVO 84 Debut Debut
15 AYTM 84 23 8
16 Google 83 16 0
17 Lucid 81 14 (3)
18 Remesh 80 26 8
19 Dig Insights 71 25 6
20 Toluna 68 11 (9)
21 SKIM 56 17 (4)
22 FocusVision 53 24 2
23 GfK 51 6 (17)
24 Shapiro & Raj 47 19 (5)
25 MetrixLab/Macromill 46 28 3
26 Fuel Cycle 45 21 (5)
27 20/20 Research 33 27 0
28 33 20 (8)
29 KnowledgeHound 33 Debut Debut
30 Kelton Global 32 Debut Debut
31 iTracks 32 Debut Debut
32 Protobrand 32 50 18
33 TRC Market Research 29 31 (2)
34 IBM 26 Debut Debut
35 McKinsey 26 Debut Debut
36 Streetbees 26 35 (1)
37 Black Swan Data 24 Debut Debut
38 Hall & Partners 23 34 (4)
39 Gongos 22 Debut Debut
40 IRI 22 Debut Debut
41 Join the Dots 22 Debut Debut
42 Maru/Matchbox 21 42 0
43 Gutcheck 20 30 (13)
44 C Space 19 36 (8)
45 1Q 19 Debut Debut
46 Microsoft 19 Debut Debut
47 Upsiide 19 Debut Debut
48 De la Riva Group 18 33 (15)
49 Schlesinger Group 18 37 (12)
50 Vision Critical 18 22 (28)


The Big Three

Nielsen comes in a somewhat more distant third, again very much in line with a trend we have seen since inception of the GRIT Top 50 with the “Big 3” holding significant mindshare for GRIT respondents.  Being avid industry observers and also the industry’s premier marketing platform, we see the high rankings of the large global players as well-earned; they have clearly been leading with innovation in their communications efforts, achieving big impacts in their brands’ perception around the “innovation” attribute.
The big story is a new number one, albeit it was a close thing: Ipsos is now considered the most innovative company in the world by GRIT respondents! After years of being in the top five, this year Ipsos was recognized for their continual efforts to embrace new business models and launch new products to edge out the 2018 number 1, (and 2019 number 2) Kantar. The difference between the two was only five votes, so we expect the rivalry to continue, especially as they leverage their size as two of the largest research companies in the world to continue to stay ahead of the field in both applied innovation and marketing.   

The lesson from the Big 3 hasn’t been lost on their surging competitors however: LRW has become a force to be reckoned with, jumping from 10 in 2018 to 4 in 2019. We should also mention that the company is somewhat at risk of the “house of brands” issue that used to negatively impact the Kantar group of companies before they rebranded all as Kantar; LRW has maintained Kelton Global as a separate brand (ranked 30 in their own right); if we could have legitimately counted Kelton Global using the rules we set forth, LRW would have been ranked 3rd, and been closer to Kantar than Nielsen was.  Regardless of that, LRW has leveraged their ever-increasing size (both organic and through acquisitions) and reach to become a very serious competitor to the Big 3 in terms of mindshare.   

Rounding out the top five, Zappi moved up four positions from 2018 and joins the upper echelon at number 5 in our ranking. This is a remarkable achievement for a company that is only six years old and has not reached real scale yet, and is a testament to their breakthrough as the leader in the research automation category as well as the hard work they have put into marketing. They are prolific marketers across all channels and their leaders are ubiquitous at events and across social media. All other suppliers should pay close attention to Zappi as inspiration for their own efforts.     

The rest of the top 10 shows quite a bit of movement (as does the rest of the list), with significant upward movement by Hotspex and Qualtrics, and down-ranking by System 1, Dynata and Insites Consulting, although all holding in the upper ranks.  

The top 10 companies can be loosely segmented into 3 buckets: 

  1. Next Generation Consultancies – (System 1 Research, InSites Consulting, LRW)
  2. Tech Players – (Hotspex, Dynata, Qualtrics, Zappi)
  3. Behemoths – (Ipsos, Nielsen, Kantar)

This basic categorization applies to the remainder of the list, with more of the first two dominating as we move past the top 10. 

The Mixture of Marketing & Technology 

It’s also worth mentioning that three of the Top 10, LRW, Hotspex and System1 Group are redefining the role of insights and marketing by integrating the two to a great extent, while also leveraging a mixture of technology, consulting, and actual marketing execution all under one roof.  We’ve been thinking about the development of the “Full Stack” model in insights and analytics, mostly with an eye towards technology-focused companies building in service capabilities but this trend may indicate a corollary in more service-driven business we can call the “Full Cycle” model: insights-driven suppliers functioning as a one-stop-shop to help clients to engage, understand, and activate their target populations in a virtuous circle. Both “Full Stack” and “Full Cycle” models appear very much in line with the challenges and opportunities we previously discovered, as well as aligned to the factors that are driving growth. 

The bifurcation of the industry between technology and service is undeniable, and the wall between insights and marketing is still largely in place for many suppliers, but perhaps these barriers are becoming more porous, creating even more opportunities for value creation, impact, and innovation.    

Volatility defines the remainder of the list, with 13 debuts.  PRS IN VIVO debuted at an impressive #14, with Knowledgehound at #29, Kelton Global at #30, and iTracks at #31. Non-traditional suppliers IBM and McKinsey debuted at #34 and #35 respectively indicating the increasing expansion of the industry into new areas and new suppliers. Black Swan Data came in at #38, Gongos at #39, IRI at #40, Join The Dots at #41, and start-ups 1Q at #45 and Upsiide at #47. The other notable debut, similar to IBM and McKinsey, was Microsoft at #46.  The surge of new entrants indicates that the industry continues to look outside of the “usual suspects” for solutions to the issues previously identified in the Challenges section. 

On the significant upward movement trend, we see significant leaps from AYTM and Remesh (8 spots each), Delvinia (17 spots), Protobrand (18 spots) and LivingLens with a whopping 35 spot leap. 

The Big Picture

As we said before: “The GRIT Top 50 is designed to do one thing: identify how much the brand attribute of innovation drives brand awareness and what the term innovation means to the insights industry. Our belief, based on market dynamics, financial performance, M&A activity, and other independent measures, is that the more strongly a supplier is connected with the attribute of innovation, the more likely they are to succeed in the marketplace.  While we are far away from developing a predictive model to quantify this, anecdotal evidence certainly points in the direction of a strong relationship.” This story remains the same in 2019, although we are moving closer to having models that can predict market success as we have shown in other sections of this report.   

The volatility in the rankings shows how newer companies continue to disrupt the status quo while perfecting their marketing, earning the awareness of the industry in the process. This competitive pressure is forcing incumbent larger players to sharpen their own efforts, up their own game, and work hard to stay ahead of the pack, which is illustrated by the strong performance of companies like Kantar and Ipsos. This all points to a healthy and dynamic industry where no one can rest on their laurels, and we look forward to seeing how things shift again in 2020.  

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