Will market research technology replace the traditional agency as we know it?
The role of ‘Head of Innovation’ or ‘Head of Digital’ are familiar roles in organisations today. These fairly new roles which have been created over the last 10 years have seen their remits expand as more and more emphasis is placed on the ability of digital and innovation to deliver commercial benefits. Are these roles now influencing market research technology adoption and if so, what is the impact on the market research agency!
The influence these roles are playing in organisations is becoming stronger. Many board decisions are made based on the real-time data now available through the proliferation of digital tools in the marketplace. These tools offer stronger analytics than their non-digital traditional predecessors.
Market Research has always had a torrid relationship with marketing teams. Who often, politically and structurally in brands, have the upper hand in the boardroom. The impact on the world or what we’d be without today, if it wasn’t for consumer insight is evident,. However, will that influence extend indefinitely in to the future? Or will new tools and innovation deliver the breakthroughs of the future in a faster, more efficient, & consumer-focused manner.
Currently, there is a status quo! Research teams own the research budget which is methodically spent in-house, or through traditional research agencies. Spent on tried and tested practices, neither party putting forward the suggestion of developing new technology driven ideas, due to a lack of ‘safe’ first-hand evidence of prior successes. But there is a new budget in town, the innovation budget, held squarely by the Head of Innovation within the client. It is the client via their innovation budget that are experimenting with new technologies, proving success, learning from failure and implementing directly within their organisations. To the benefit of the marketing teams and often the detriment of the agency.
As these budgets succeed and grow at client level, the process of experimenting, that leads to commercial adoption has the potential to by-pass research agencies who continue to wait for prior evidence of new market research technology success. This new technology, if integrated in to their existing research toolbox, can add value to their own propositions and differentiate them in a market where competitors of all sizes are prevalent. Many of these new digital tools introduced by innovation teams end up in the hands of the marketing department, who generally show little resistance adopting new technology. This in turn has spurned the creation of the Marketing Ops role in the last few years. This role now covers functions such as data management, talent & skills development, analytic’s & modelling. Roles which only a few years ago might have been separate teams in themselves!
So where is the risk of continuing to rest on our laurels and deploy the same old research techniques in the belief that the client’s core reasons for adopting research has not and will not change? And continue to believe that existing methodology cannot be improved on, streamlined, delivered quicker or deliver better results for the client.
Take social listening as a means of getting consumer insight. This didn’t exist 6 years ago. In 2014, global spend in this sector was $2.2bn and it is forecast to reach $17bn by 2019. These new digital social listening tools are easy to adopt, and have been funded through innovation & marketing budgets. With low barriers to adoption, when it comes to the skills needed to deploy and extract value, these Software as a Service tools, as the name suggests are easy to use, self-serve solutions to problems currently costing businesses big money in lost revenues or inflated cost models. As innovation & marketing teams achieve more success with digital tools, these department Heads will command greater budgets from the board and it is likely they will get it. Where the budget is re-allocated from, will be determined by the organisations innovation gaps allowing a land grab of functions, yet to be digitally enhanced. Shaking up ownership of client/agency relationships with it. The research agency has a key role to play in the introduction and adoption of new research technology. But only whilst the decisioning power remains within the remit of the research team! Agencies should look to ensure the right digital tools exist in their market research toolbox and help the client research teams discover & adopt, before the digital teams take-over!
Food for thought!
This blog was first published on sumoinsight.com in 2015 and has been re-edited.