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An interview with MetrixLab CEO Han De Groot on the RawData Acquisition

Interview with Han De Groot, CEO of MetrixLab on their acquisition of Insight Innovation Competition Phase 3 runner-up RawData and the future of Market Research.

Han-de-GrootAt the Insight Innovation Exchange event last month two very interesting things happened (well, more than two actually, but we’ll keep it to just two for the purposes of this post).  First, I finally met Han De Groot, CEO of MetrixLab. Han and I had a chance to sit down and chat for an hour or so and I left our meeting knowing that Han will be a major player in defining the future of the industry, and that MetrixLab is very likely to become one of the biggest firms in our industry within the next decade.

Secondly, a company that I have been watching for quite some time, RawData, competed in the Insight Innovation Competition and was the 1st runner-up. RawData’s mobile-based media metering solution is highly disruptive and has the potential to be a game changer for our space. It was fantastic to see them getting that recognition from others in our industry and making great connections.

So what do MetrixLab and RawData have to do with one another? Well, today the news came out that MetrixLab subsidiary MarketTools has acquired RawData. Apparently the deal was clinched during IIeX, which is extremely gratifying. After all, one of our primary goals with the IIeX initiative is to build and support impactful business connections.

When I began to think about the other acquisitions MetrixLab has conducted in the past year or so (MarketTools, Precision Sample), adding in RawData seemed to be pointing to a very different direction for MetrixLab in the future, and possibly one that has significant implications for the rest of the industry.  With that in mind I reached out to Han to conduct an interview with him. Here is that interview.

This is a discussion with a visionary and very savvy entrepreneur and I think you’ll find his thinking provocative and inspiring.  It’s certainly a clear indicator of where at least one significant player see’s the industry going and the bets he is placing to navigate the change.

It truly is a great interview, so without further adieu I give you Han De Groot.

LFM: Congratulations on the deal with RawData! You know I’ve been a fan of them for quite some time so on a personal level I’m thrilled to hear about this. What attracted you to RawData and how will you leverage their technology?

HDG: From the technology standpoint, the answer is: single source, passively recorded media exposure data, extended with mobile surveying capabilities triggered by any of the passively collected data points. Plus a dose of nostalgia: MetrixLab’s first revenues, 13 years ago, came from data sold to website owners, collected through a browser plugin based metering technology we had built at the end of the nineties. So, 13 years later we now own the mobile version of our old platform J What is great about RawData is that they did not simply have a concept or an idea, RawData had completely built and run the technology – from app to real-time reporting. As a fan of Raw Data, you should know that we came to terms for the acquisition during your IIEX event in Philadelphia!

What will we do now to leverage the RD technology? Exactly what we did 13 years ago: integrate and collate this new data with other datasets to build a holistic, insightful 360 degree view of consumers at the individual and aggregate level. There is one significant difference: 360 degrees back then meant 360 degrees on the web and today we deliver a 360 degree view of real life.

LFM: RawData has a unique recruitment model based on giving consumers a smartphone pre-loaded with their passive and active data collection technology; are you going to continue that model or use a different strategy?

HDG: RawData created their original “distribution model” to prove their technology, but we will move away from it because it lacks the scalability required for our solutions. The great thing though is they found their own way to demonstrate validity  – completely novel and quite ingenious. However, we want them to focus on what they are best at: development of the mobile measurement platform. We will use our in-house panel building capabilities through Precision Sample to build our mobile measurement panels – they have one of the very few scalable panel recruitment business models running.

LFM: How does the media metering technology specifically play into your corporate development strategy?  

HDG: We love technology, we love data and we’re focused on making sense out of it.So on a corporate development strategy level we will be doing what we do best. We continue buying and building (companies with) innovative data technologies, adding structured, unstructured, public and private data sources and (real-time) data streams to our existing single source, predominantly survey based data; we will leverage best in class “data integration” platforms and analytical tools to make sense out of this ‘data collage’ to support marketing decision making (in real-time). As I have said many times: market research was kind of boring 20 years ago (I guess), became interesting over the last 10 years with the advent of the internet, and has become hyper exciting with the tsunami of readily available consumer data.  

LFM: It sounds as if you are rapidly moving towards a “single-source, omni-channel” data aggregation and synthesis model. Is that accurate and what is fueling that shift?   

HDG: That is correct, with one small remark. As marketing researchers we often think ‘single source’ only, however we believe there are also great opportunities, particularly for the MR companies, in aggregating and synthesizing multi-source, omni-channel data. We call it the “omni-data perspective” on marketing problems. But let’s be honest here, it is still merely a mindset – we do the bread and butter work in ‘traditional’ online marketing research methods; but if I compare ourselves to others, we use and integrate many more sources of data than most of our peers do, such as: web analytics data, search data, media and advertising exposure data, social data, location data and CRM data. 

LFM: Metrixlab has made some very high profile acquisitions in the past year or so with Market Tools, Precision Sample, and now RawData. What’s driving that activity and how is it working out for you?

HDG: In our rapidly changing, high tech space, MR companies and their entrepreneurs and managers are better off joining forces – we did the acquisitions because we felt we needed global scale; now that we have global scale, and an extensive global client base, we will invest in more depth – companies like RawData and Precision Sample. Regarding “selling your company” or becoming part of a bigger entity, everybody, at least the good performers, are (still) very conservative on this front – people haven’t woken up yet in my opinion; I talk to many companies all the time, always with the same message: let’s join forces, together we can stay the ‘insights partner’ for your globalizing and growing clients (brands), we can invest in talent and (acquire) advanced technology and provide our services on a truly global scale. Or from a totally different angle I ask the question whether they have seen what IBM has done over the last 5-10 years in our space…? Very few know.

Long story very short: small agencies won’t make it (they’ll be reduced to the level of the freelancer business model; rapid change, too much technology, you cannot build a successful MR business model on top of too many other business models); MR tech companies are often over rated because in many cases they’re ‘just’ providing a tool, applicable to a small part of the ‘insights’ value chain (they can enjoy a nice exit though if positioned well and sold in time, which is rarely the case; and they shouldn’t forget the big buyers will face some financial challenges); companies “owning” and working on top of ‘one’ data source won’t make it – I my opinion many social media monitoring companies won’t make it; many of them basically are small marketing research agencies (without admitting it) working on social data only; with the advent of social media data aggregators the real challenge lies on the insight level, not the simple tracking and the monitoring.

The reason why I find our ‘insights’ industry so exciting is that we will see many new business models arising and new entrants coming up and going down that will challenge the 100 year old marketing research business model. It is never too late to change this mindset. A positive note to end: despite the (recent) data explosion, our clients haven’t seen a similar increase in the quantity and quality of actionable insights that impact ROI. So there are plenty of opportunities! Join us!  

LFM: That is pretty close to my take on the marketplace as well Han; with that in mind, what do you think the industry will look like in 5 years’ time? Obviously you’re planning on MetrixLab being a big player, but who else (or what type of company) do you think will be leading the insights category by then?

HDG: Good question; I guess it is less relevant to mention a particular company name, but more relevant to mention what a successful company in the new MR era needs to offer. In my opinion the winners will be a companies providing (1) ultra-actionable in some case real-time insights (2) visualized through comprehensive dashboards and reporting tools, (3) derived from data, coming from both ‘big’ and ‘small’, structured and unstructured, public and private sources, (4) integrated on a single data platform, (5) analyzed with advanced analytical tools and methods, (6) communicated effectively to stakeholders, and (7) translated into action plans that drive results. I therefore see many companies able to get a piece of the pie and become successful in ‘our’ insights space: from data source ‘owners’ and aggregators, through data platform and analytical tool providers, to MR and consulting agencies. Few companies will be able to provide all of the above, but many companies will be able to ‘own’ a piece of the ‘insights’ value chain. I would be inclined to say that the big MR companies today won’t be the big players of tomorrow, but I have to be honest and admit that I thought the same 10 years ago when the internet started to revolutionize our industry – look at today’s Top-10 and compare it to 10 years ago, little difference. The big guys have done an excellent job in adapting themselves to change!  But one thing is certain in my opinion, we’ll see totally new entrants becoming very big, very fast.

LFM: OK, final question Han; you are an immensely successful entrepreneur, so any words of wisdom for all of the other folks working to create and build successful businesses?

HDG: Forget the word ‘immensely’, still a long way to go – I just moved to the US, but I would say: focus, hire the right people, be a servant leader, and work hard.

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4 responses to “An interview with MetrixLab CEO Han De Groot on the RawData Acquisition

  1. Thank you very much for bringing this interview to us Lenny. I came across MetrixLab before and was truly impressed by their focus and what they were able to achieve; specifically I found impressive that they were able to steal market share from the big boys in specific areas. I agree with most of the things Han says but he does not mention one element in this interview and that is the Private Online Communities for insights, co-creation and advocacy. An exec of MetrixLab once told me that they believe communities are a zero sum game. I would be interested to hear Han’s personal view on this statement. DigitalMR has a slightly different view of the succesful MR company of the future. We believe it is a combination of listening, asking questions (in communities and not panels) and observing behavior. We also believe that MR companies should get involved with more than MR such as customer advocacy programmes because now they are ideally positioned to do so.

  2. Michalis,
    Thank you for your comment. In short:
    – To your point: we also believe research is all about “Asking, Listening & Observing” – with less Asking and more Observing and more Listening. We believe Listening and Observing is all about analyzing (unsolicited) conversational and behavioral data.

    – You are right: Online Communities are definitely an important part of the “Asking-Listening-Observing” toolkit – but in my opinion it is just one of the instruments in the toolkit. Online communities are one of many available data sources these days, but I totally agree with you, they are important. I agree with the power of communities; the proof is out there on the web: there are millions of extremely successful communities, but very few of them are built for research purposes. It is hard to build them for research purposes only (doesn’t mean that it is impossible). I therefore prefer to tap into data streams coming from existing communities and leverage them for MR purposes (“connect” research communities to one single data platform and “synthesize” through available analytical tools to generate insights); alternatively, if a private research community seems to be the most effective and efficient source of your data, treat them as you would manage advertising campaigns, with their own life cycle.

    – To your point on advocacy – for the survival of our industry as a whole, I agree with you that specialist MR agencies may need to expand their focus from ‘marketing research services’ only to ‘marketing services’ where possible. If you are the expert in building and managing online communities for research, why not expand to ‘advocacy’? The great benefit of today’s MR/Marketing technology is that it enables us to bridge the gap, the gap is getting smaller by the day. Only the big guys may be able to afford themselves to remain “pure players”. But as you know, there is one factor determining the success of “MR companies expanding into Marketing” and that is the budget line structure of our clients. They want us to move fast, but if we move too fast, it is hard for them to understand if this project/expense is for the marketing budget or for the MR/BI/Consumer Insights budget? Exciting times!

  3. Indeed Han very exciting times. Thank you very much for your extensive response. I think we are completely on the same page – and it feels good to find a like-minded CEO; It is a confirmation that we are on the right path with our effort to integrate social media listening and private online communities along with a connection to company CRMs. The new market research can definitely be more than just market research: and starting from customer advocacy and brand ambassador programmes feels like the right place to push the boundaries.

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