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The 50 Most Innovative Companies in Market Research (A GRIT Excerpt)

In this excerpt from the Greenbook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) Report, we look at the 50 market research firms that are perceived to be the most innovative. The goal of this inquiry is to glean insight on the drivers of perception around what makes a firm innovative.

Since so many folks are interested in this section of the GRIT Report specifically, here is an excerpt on the 50 companies that are perceived to be most innovative. There is a bit more here than was published in the report, so consider this “the Director’s Cut” of this section.

Beginning in 2010 we decided to start tracking which firms were perceived as most innovative within the global market research industry. Last year we came up with a list of the Top 50 Market Research Firms Perceived to be Innovative to much fanfare by the industry. That list was compiled by a simple open-ended unaided awareness question: which MR firms do you consider to be most innovative? Because we realized this was a little light in terms of methodological rigor, this year we decided to go deeper and refine our method.  Here is what we did:

  1. Using an unaided awareness verbatim question, we asked respondents to list the three companies they considered to be most innovative.
  2. We then asked them to rank those firms from most to least innovative.
  3. Finally we asked another verbatim as to why they considered their number 1 ranked firm to be most innovative.

Using the aggregate of the 1-3 ranking question we developed a list of 84 companies that received multiple mentions. From that list we have narrowed it down to the Top 50 for additional analysis. The goal of this avenue of inquiry is to glean insight on the drivers of perception around what makes a firm innovative in order to 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 successfully these companies are leveraging this brand attribute.

Last year we presented this list as a rank ordered analysis, and in prepublication releases of the findings we initially did the same. However, upon consultation with multiple industry colleagues, most notably the Chief Research Officers of several firms represented within the analysis, we have decided not to assign a rank. We are simply going to report the findings in descending order from most mentions to least. We believe this decision will allay some of the “horse race” aspects of this question while allowing all interested parties to clearly see the strength of their brand within the context of innovation. We also believe this decision will give us freedom in the future as we refine the method used to collect these data.

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During the analysis we encountered the need to develop a framework to guide our coding scheme due to the complex ownership relationships between many of these brands, their marketing positioning by business units, the visibility of key individuals associated with the brands, and merger and acquisition activity within the industry. We consider these guidelines to be dynamic and flexible to an extent, but in general we found that we were able to apply them successfully in most cases. The rules we have established for ongoing analysis of this question set are:

  1. Companies must be owned for at least 12 months before they are rolled up under parent company
  2. Companies must have a research or analytic offer to make the Top 50 list
  3. Legacy brands that were sold to more than one company are not coded under any parent company (e.g., Greenfield)
  4. Companies must be fully owned to be considered part of the parent company
  5. Parent brand must be mentioned at least twice to trigger roll up under parent brand
  6. If a company has two trade names used within multiple markets, both brands will be counted.
  7. Individuals are rolled up into their parent company.
  8. Software sold by a larger parent company would be rolled up into the parent company

It’s interesting to note our second rule. In this iteration of GRIT we saw the prevalent mention of several client-side organizations including Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola. We suspect this may have to do with senior leaders from those brands being highly visible within the industry promoting research innovation. A more challenging example was Google, which would have been in the lower tier had we counted them. Ultimately we decided that although Google has been making some inroads into the market research space we would not include them until that offering was more clearly defined. This begs the question for future surveys of how we define market research, as we fully expect to see more new entrants that may not fit the classical definition of MR entering into the consciousness of the research marketplace.

One anomaly that we could not resolve bears mentioning. Since this question was posed as a verbatim response, spelling concerns occasionally came into play. While in almost all other cases it was fairly easy to reconcile these issues, in the case of one firm it was not: InSites Consulting. Insites had 26 brand mentions putting them in the top quarter of all brands. We also had Insight Consulting listed 10 times, and since there is an MR firm known as Insights Consulting we had no choice but to list them as well. It is entirely possible that spelling played a role here and that InSites may have actually garnered more mentions, but we have chosen to accept respondent answers at face value and are reporting both in their corresponding position within the list.

Since this question is meant to understand how market research firms are leveraging the brand attribute of innovation within their marketing efforts it’s instructive to look at how the most highly rated firms achieved this feat.

Congratulation to these industry leading firms, especially BrainJuicer for maintaining their leading position  and to Vision Critical, iTracks, 20/20, and Millward Brown for remaining in the top tier list. These firms really drove the conversation across multiple channels in 2011 and their branding continues to pay dividends for them in the minds of the industry.

Of course, BrainJuicer remains the master of this art; at every turn they make innovation the underlying. theme of their brand message and continue to drive awareness of both new approaches and, more importantly, new thinking within the industry. They were listed almost twice as often as the next highest ranking firm, making them the clear owners of the “market research innovation” message.

Based on a quick review of press releases and news articles about these firms in 2011 they maintained a steady flow of announcements about their own innovation efforts (particularly around mobile and social media) and obviously those efforts are paying off in how the industry perceives them.

Thanks to the input of several colleagues, especially Renee Smith, Global CRO of Kantar, we’ve been looking at the data a few ways and that has informed our analysis of what the story (or stories) are regarding this list. We keep coming back to one central theme: the companies listed are masters of social marketing, and this idea helps explain how relatively small, new entrants onto the list compete effectively for mind share with large multinational firms. A total of 19 firms debuted on this list in 2011, with many of them being small strategic consultancies that owe much of their DNA to advertising agencies more so than traditional market research firms. These newer players are akin to Generation Z consumers; they are “digital natives” who understand how to leverage various tools and channels to promote their brand. It will be interesting to see how these firms grow in both brand recognition and market share in the future.

Discriminant Analysis of the top tier innovative firms.

As we did in the 2010 report, we conducted a discriminant analysis plotted on a quadrant map to look at the relationship between attitudes around market research by those who selected a company as being most innovative. The goal of the analysis was to determine if attitudinal predispositions impacted how brands were perceived when it comes to the “innovation” attribute. Factors which were more important include speed of deliverables, importance of quantitative, importance of qualitative and general value of research to name just a few. Thus the chart represents multiple attitudinal dimensions in a two dimensional plane.

Where multiple companies were mentioned, the company that was mentioned first was selected as the target variable. Discriminant analysis was run to understand how best to predict the profile of respondents who would consider firms as being most innovative. We focused on the most mentioned 15 brands for purposes of the analysis. Labels which most closely reflect those variables that loaded more heavily on the respective X and Y axis have been added.

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How to read the chart: For example, those who selected Anderson Analytics (OdinText) were more similar in their attitudes toward market research to those who selected GfK, Nielsen and Millward Brown. We interpret that as while these respondents are open to research innovation they tended to favor more traditional, validated methods and were somewhat more likely to favor quantitative approaches.

Affinnova was viewed as firmly quantitative as well as experimental, although not so much that respondents with a more traditional bent could not understand and embrace their offering.

Interestingly,  Ipsos and iTracks straddled the quant vs. qual line and were also favored by those with openness to experimentation vs. Traditionalists.

Those who selected Kantar, Communispace, Insites Consulting and BrainJuicer tended to be open to experimentation and were more qualitatively oriented. Additionally they seemed to feel speed of deliverables was of greater importance than other factors.

Clearly respondents that viewed Vision Critical, 20/20, Qualvu and Synovate would be considered qualitative traditionalists who view the offerings of these brands as innovative overall while easy to fit into their more traditional world view.

Overall, this type of attitudinal analysis should be considered directional in how brands are currently perceived and may offer some insight into how they can more effectively target their brand messaging from their established perceptual base.

The drivers of the perception of innovation

As a follow-up to the company listing exercise we asked GRIT respondents to tell us why they selected their personal first ranked company as innovative. This was a verbatim response, and the coded responses are enlightening. A full quarter of respondents state that offering innovative or new methodologies was the primary driver of perception, followed a by a diverse mix of stated reasons that focused on various techniques, services, and brand strengths—of which no single mention garnered more than 10%, with most being less than 5%.

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Although we have this analysis by brand as well as by supplier/client it is too unwieldy to display here. We encourage readers to review the online dashboard for a deeper exploration.

For those interested, Tom Anderson does an interesting comparison of this year’s analysis to the previous quadrant map, and asks the question:

I also found it curious that none of the new firms were in the “More Quant/Established-Traditional” Quadrant. All the new firms are in one of the other three quadrants. Can it be that is what customers want now, either more qualitative or more experimental research?

It’s an interesting point, and although it’s too early to say that is the case unilaterally, I believe the overall GRIT results certainly point in that direction.

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8 responses to “The 50 Most Innovative Companies in Market Research (A GRIT Excerpt)

  1. Great report overall, thank you. Can you clarify what companies were coded under Kantar this year? It seems like some companies were left separate (e.g. Millward Brown) but others that were listed seprately last year may have been coded under Kantar this year. Many thanks in advance for the clarifcation. Again, great report!

    1. Thanks Jeni, much appreciated. Kantar was particularly problematic since they are a “house of brands”, and often the business relationships between the units are not readily apparent. In general though TNS, all of the various “Kantar” named business units, Lightspeed, Added Value, etc.. were all coded under Kantar. Millward Brown was such a strong individual brand that we decided to leave it separate. An alternate view of the list if we had decided to follow the rules we have set forward for next year in this phase would look like this:

      Company Total Company Mentions (Parent+BU+named staff)
      BrainJuicer 218
      Kantar 131
      Ipsos 115
      Vision Critical 94
      Nielsen 83
      Synovate 64
      GfK 55
      itracks 50
      20/20 Research 40
      e-Rewards 30
      Affinnova 27
      Anderson Analytics 24
      Communispace 22
      InSites 21
      Qualvu 20
      Toluna 20
      MarketTools 19
      Revelation 18
      Harris Interactive 17
      NeuroFocus 16
      Hall & Partners 14
      Hotspex 13
      Maritz 13
      SSI 12
      uSamp 12
      Conversition 11
      Insight Consulting 11
      Qualtrics 11
      Decipher 10
      Knowledge Networks 10
      Burke 9
      comScore 9
      FreshMinds 9
      GMI 9
      Sawtooth 9
      Firefish 8
      Flamingo 8
      Forrester 8
      Lieberman Research WW 8
      MESH Planning 8
      Google 8
      BuzzBack 7
      EmSense 7
      Gallup 7
      Join the Dots 7
      Research Through Gaming 7
      Truth 7
      McKinsey 6
      Schlesinger 6
      SymphonyIRI 6

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