Editor’s Note: This subsection is featured in the GreenBook Market Leaders Report. The GreenBook Market Leaders Report is your #1 guide to brand success in the insights industry, featuring the U.S. Top 50, and in-depth analysis from leading CEOs. In its inaugural edition, you’ll learn who is in the lead, who is rising towards the top, and where your company fits into it all.
The origin of the U.S. marketing research industry lies in data collection field services. Even today, the field services segment remains the industry’s bedrock; it just doesn’t seem as obvious.
If you were to search the origin of many U.S. full-service research firms you would likely discover stories dating back to the 1950s or 1960s. And, inevitably, the stories would begin with data collection, perhaps door-to-door or mall intercepts, often for product development or customer experience projects with consumer-packaged-goods clients. Since then, marketing research agencies have evolved to incorporate emerging data collection methods, more advanced research design and analytics, and have eventually leveraged technology-enabled techniques to integrate customer data from disparate sources.
At its foundation, our industry continues to be built upon data collection among the field of customers, or ’field services’. Unlike in the 1960s, few companies today would likely classify themselves as solely in the business of field services. Yet, about half of the companies responding to the 2019 U.S. Top 50 Report questionnaire include ‘Field Service Agency’ among the descriptors when classifying their business. However, within our broader sample universe, only six chose it as their primary descriptors and, within the U.S. Top 50, only one did. So, while many organizations who participate in the insights and analytics market include field services as part of their offerings, very few embrace it as a term that fully defines their business.
The core ingredient in marketing research remains customer data, and that data must be gathered through some sort of field operation. Even purely behavioral customer information (e.g. scanner data) or observed customer information (e.g. ethnographic mobile shopalongs) require a ‘field’ management function. And even passive customer data collection, sometimes referred to as ‘listening’ research rather than ‘asking’ research (e.g. social media monitoring), needs a ‘field’ management function.
As emerging insights capabilities are increasingly introduced into our industry, often by technology companies new to the space (e.g. conversational text solutions), should they not be similarly classified as an emerging form of ‘field services’? Obviously, we see an argument for that, but we suspect the companies themselves will not be quick to agree!
So just as the broader marketing research industry is morphing into a rapidly transforming collection of market intelligence sub-disciplines, the field service segment is similarly morphing, but remains the core element, intertwined with and at the foundation of all insights industry solutions.
Utilizing what we know about these companies from GRIT and other data sources, some common themes recur throughout the top 10 Field Services providers, including:
- More likely revenue sources
- Unstructured data solutions
- Nonconscious measurement tools
- Analytical services
- More likely North American
- More likely in business 20+ years
- More likely to focus on leadership in:
- Using new types of data
- Synthesizing multiple data sources
- Analyzing multiple data streams
- More likely to:
- Benchmark against other orgs
- Use multiple data sources
- Involved in corporate & BU strategic planning
- Give access to dashboards, etc.
Again, comparing to other segments, some intriguing insights are apparent.
Large Field Service and Data & Analytics providers have many similarities, suggesting that a typical path to growth for Field Service providers involves adding data and analytics services and, conversely, the path to growth for Data & Analytics providers includes complementing their core offerings to include more complete solutions. The two groups share the same top three revenue sources: full service, strategic insights, and analytical services, although the proportion of Field Service claiming each is higher. For large Field Service providers, the next most common revenue sources are quantitative data collection, nonconscious measurement tools, and brand strategy. For large Data & Analytics, the next most common also includes quantitative data collection, but there is less consensus across them than there is within Field Service, suggesting that this category has a more diverse history and a less mature identity.
Large Field Service providers separate themselves from smaller ones by developing data-dependent revenue streams such as unstructured data solutions, nonconscious measurement tools, and analytical services. Unlike smaller providers, larger ones focus on competing based on more diverse use of data: new types of data, synthesizing multiple data sources, analyzing multiple data streams, and meta-analysis. Large Data & Analytics providers separate themselves from smaller ones by developing “full service” as a revenue source. Similar to both large Full and Field Service providers, they are more likely to focus on competing based on new types of data, synthesizing multiple data sources, and analyzing multiple data streams. In addition, they are more likely than smaller providers to focus on competing based on multi-disciplinary recommendations.
Large Field Service and Data & Analytics providers have similar proportions who increased revenue and department sizes, as well as optimism about their companies and the industry. However, Large Data & Analytics providers are much less likely than Large Field Service providers to be ‘very’ optimistic about their companies, perhaps suggesting that the transition from specializing in a particular area to offering a more complete solution is more challenging than adding to an existing complete solution.