As we all know our industry has changed radically in the last 20 years.
From the shift of CATI to online surveys in the 90’s, to the emergence of mobile, big data and insight communities in the 00’s; innovation in research technology has consistently given us the tools to position customer insight at the heart of modern business. However in recent years the pace of change has been accelerating rapidly. Computing is advancing faster than ever before; coding languages such as Ruby on Rails, and cloud technology like Amazon’s ec2 have democratized technology, allowing entrepreneurs with a vision to quickly develop an idea into a robust, scalable digital business. In this context, business ideas are exploited with increasing ease, and new ways of collecting, understanding and disseminating customer data are emerging all the time.
Our clients are also moving faster than ever, and where they were previously content to wait weeks or months for insight, they are now used to waiting minutes; calling on big data platforms or social media queries to inform their decision making, instead of conventional survey data. Where does it leave us you might ask, the stalwart research industry with our rich heritage and wealth of experience in understanding people? Do we still have an indispensable voice in keeping customers at the heart of business? Absolutely. Do we need to evolve and adapt to this new world? Of course.
Join me if you will, and imagine what the insight world will look like in five years’ time. What was once our bread and butter is increasingly at risk from new approaches, in many cases approaches which fit better with the pace and demands of modern business. In five years the insight professionals who will have profited and succeeded in this new world, will have been those who have managed to convey, package and deliver their expertise free of the constraints of traditional market research. Data checking and processing, laborious survey scripting, charting and aligning PowerPoint presentations; all of these will become programmatic, handled by machines. Our future lies in adding value, using our knowledge and expertise to consult and design, to analyze and to put trends in context.
The process of market research will be squeezed and dismantled, and people delivering insight will become increasingly skilled consultants, aided by machines. A wise speaker at a conference I recently attended quipped: we are looking at a “technology revolution, and a consultancy evolution” and I can find no better words to sum up how I see the future of our industry.
The Market Research Value Curve
Our Chief Technology Officer recently gave a presentation at the IIEX conference, delivering a great illustration of the failings of the traditional market research business model. We can all think of projects that have dragged on, squeezing the profit margin with every day spent drilling into the data. The traditional market research value curve has a steep initial climb, where research agencies spend their time understanding a client’s issues and applying their consultative frameworks. Data collection can be swift, and though coding questionnaires can take some time, it’s when we move into processing, analysis and reporting that the profit we deliver drops significantly. Junior research executives are relied upon to review the data and deliver insight, simply because it’s not economically viable to have consultants pouring over every table. Data processing and analysis often take several weeks, and a whole team is occupied making sure that the data is clean and manipulating it when necessary.
This process squeezes the real value; the delivery of strategic insight, which is rushed to meet with tight deadlines and already overflowing timesheets.
In the new world of research that we envisage, the value curve is radically different. Expert resource has been deployed in the design of the project before it has even begun. The process is by and large programmatic, with some time spent on customization, and the value that researchers provide increases towards the end of the project; spending their time consulting and having meaningful conversations, and charging clients for them accordingly. We are still in the early days, but our experiences with our partners suggest that this is more than just speculative musing. They are seeing the early stages of a step-change in their relationship with clients, and it is exciting.
The really exciting change is that the reach of technology won’t stop with process; software is getting much smarter.
At ZappiStore we invest a lot of our time experimenting with automation, and even analysis is on our radar. By employing senior consultants to craft strategic, category, and even brand specific analysis text, then linking that text to changes and permutations in data, we can manage insight generation with the click of a button. There are some limitations to this technology, that’s where researchers step in to give context, but we are constantly striving to improve it. Whatever you may think, the stake is in the ground and the challenge to the industry has been set: evolve or watch your market share erode to new innovations.
Our vision for an agile, consultancy driven, technology enabled research world is validated by the increasing number of entrants to the ‘full-service-self-serve’ space. As but one example, at ZappiStore we have partnered with forward thinking companies such as Millward Brown, TNS and MMR to deliver their IP onto our automated self-service platform, contributing to their thinking with innovative software features that our application affords. Forward thinking people in those companies share our goal; to add value through design and great thinking rather than process. Of course there have been questions around cannibalization, particularly with high value assets such as the ConversionModel and Millward Brown’s creative testing being made available at a reduced price. However I would argue that the far greater threat comes from DIY solutions and other sources of data management which, if left without response, are likely to erode our revenues with increasing severity over the next decade.
It is often all too easy to focus on risk without giving enough thought to the opportunity that innovation enables. We see great potential in the full-service-self-serve space to increase research-use and in some cases even increase research-spend overall. We envisage an agile world, where consumer insight is affordable and accessible enough to be deployed frequently, and iteratively. Where, for example, brand managers can inject the consumer voice at every stage of the creative development process, instead of relying on one or two potentially lengthy and expensive research projects. Full-service-self-serve makes this method of working viable. Certainly our experience is that once businesses adopt this approach, the benefits they reap easily validate their risk; keeping the customer at the heart of the development process while maintaining an emphasis on delivering even more great quality insight.
By cutting down on process and in consequence cost, we are also opening up expert insight to small and medium sized enterprises; companies which couldn’t previously afford the premium that great research delivery often demands. Think for example of a marketing manager for a mid-sized brand, someone who might have an annual budget of $200k for marketing, and perhaps $15k for research. Most research agencies would struggle to deliver real value for that amount, and though we might not want to admit it, many would want to avoid that sort of client; often demanding, and with comparatively shallow pockets. With full-service-self-serve tools like ZappiStore, that client can now run up to 10 projects in a year, testing creative campaigns, understanding brand drivers, filtering tag lines, exploring social media and running online focus groups; in essence a full, agile, slimline research program delivered to an affordable budget.
Ultimately, we are convinced there are benefits for all in the way that insight delivery is changing. It’s a brave new world, and not everyone will jump in head first. However it is a very brave agency which decides to ignore the trends and challenges in entirety. This is agile, it’s the future, and we are proud to be a part of it.