By Todd Powers, Gregg Archibald & Lenny Murphy
So far 2015 has been breathtaking in the level of interest being shown in the market research space by investors, Private Equity firms, and acquisitive companies. This should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the news in the past few months. PE groups have been involved with SSI, Reputation Institute, Macromill/MetrixLabs, FocusVision/Revelation/Decipher, and Research Now (off the top of my head) and of course VC firms have been injecting capital into SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics, Vision Critical, Pureprofile and a multitude of various and sundry players in the “analytics” space.
Research is hot right now, and one of the biggest reasons is because it is in a massive state of change and disruption, which creates many opportunities for investors.
At Gen2 Advisors, the consultancy I am a partner in, it’s been a virtually non-stop series of engagements with many investment firms, in addition to the usual work with client-side organizations, start-ups, and established suppliers. In all my years in this industry, and especially during the last few years in my role as an industry analyst, I have never seen this level of demand to understand what boils down to two very basic questions:
- What is driving change in this space?
- What does the future look like?
Those are big questions for sure, and there is no shortage of opinions on the answers or efforts to quantify them (such as our own GRIT study). However, what’s been new in my experience for 2015 has been the volume of requests coming from the invest community, who tend to want to look at macro trends vs. the micro trends of what specific methods will be become the flavor of the week or how much of a shift we’ll see from Qual to Quant. Those questions are important for sure, but charting a five year plan as part of pre-investment due diligence requires taking a broader view first, then drilling down into the micro-trends that are important to a specific company’s product portfolio and positioning.
So, my colleagues Gregg Archibald and Todd Powers (who also graciously listen to my own ramblings on these matters) have been working on summarizing these macro trends that apply to the whole industry, regardless of whether you’re a client or supplier, quallie or quant shop, tech company or full service consultancy. Our belief is that these trends are defining our industry now, and will for the foreseeable future.
Here is our take on the 10 disruptive macro trends in market research:
- Transition to Insights: Marketing executives are no longer content to receive results from research providers that are little more than data-dumps. They now demand that MR provide insights, and that these insights lead to improved business decisions.
- Commoditization of MR: Many of the traditional methods in market research have been standardized to the point that most suppliers are implementing methods that are largely indistinguishable, and price has naturally emerged as a primary differentiator. This is nowhere more evident than in the sample or online survey arenas, but analytics is moving that way quickly as well.
- Diffusion of MR: In the face of new tools, many research needs are being picked up by the one that has the need – marketing. This is expected to grow as more complicated questions are more simply answered. IT, Marketing, Operations and Insights are increasingly owning various aspects of the research budget, and speed, cost, and quality are what they are looking for.
- DIY/Home Grown: With companies like Survey Monkey and Qualtrics leading the way, we are seeing more and more research methods offered in a do-it-yourself package, and enterprise organizations investing in proprietary data collection and analysis programs that are perfectly aligned to their needs.
- Automation: For years, we have seen the impact of automation in manufacturing as robots and other automated tools are used to provide better quality and/or reduced costs. Now MR is following suit, with tools finding their way into the mainstream. By creating mass efficiencies in the non-human driven processes of MR (sample, field, analysis) via highly templated, business-issue focused offerings the era of “Cheaper, Faster, Good Enough” is firmly in play.
- Consolidation in MR: Larger research providers are acquiring the needed skills and technologies for them to remain competitive across many sectors of the market, squeezing smaller operators in the process. The question today is that many new companies emerging are cannibalizing the revenue from the larger firms, so the next wave of consolidation may be harder for them incorporate into their businesses.
- Private Equity Investment: As new disruptive tech companies cause competitive price & speed pressure and large players look for acquisition targets to sustain growth, the PE community is funding the development of a new tier of “mashups” and fast growers in the middle market. These mid-market players have less to lose from the disruptive start-ups, thus consolidation may come more from them vs. the “Big 4”.
- Digital Dominance: The pervasive influence of the Internet (and it’s connected technologies like mobile and IoT) into all aspects of business and consumer life has changed almost every industry, and MR is no exception. In fact, almost all of the recent innovations in research have grown out of technologies enabled by Web-based designs.
- BI Disintermediation: Recently, we have seen a flurry of activity from firms that focus on the Business Intelligence (or BI) space, as they apply their particular skills to challenges in big data that have captured the interest of so many in market research.
- Big Data/Data Synthesis: Big data, and its associated developments like data synthesis, has been the cry and hue in marketing and MR for the past couple of years, and this trend is showing no signs of decline. With the mountains of data now captured daily by all manner of devices the challenge is connecting it appropriately and then making sense of it all.
These trends are deeply inter-connected, and while not strictly linear in relationship, there is a certain cascade effect in play, with each impacting and often reinforcing the others.
Collectively they paint a picture of an industry that is facing many challenges, but also has many, many opportunities. Data is the true currency of our world today, and although the types of data and the ways we go about collecting and analyzing it are changing very rapidly our core value proposition of helping organizations make smarter, more impactful business decision has not changed. As we navigate these trends let’s keep that in mind, because it’s the true nature of the value we bring, and that value is only increasing.