Simon Chadwick

Never was a phrase more apt or appropriate than ‘Plus ça change, plus que c’est la même chose’ (the more things change, the more they stay the same) when reading the Winter 2013 GRIT Report. It’s not the fault of the report or of the authors, but rather of the situation on which they are training their spotlight. It is a situation of great change that itself is not changing; to which reactions are not changing; and in which there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty and yet at the same time excitement and optimism. At this point, you might be forgiven for wondering what on earth I am blathering on about. So, let’s take a step back.

The publication under review here is the 14th Edition of the Greenbook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) Report, data for which was collected in the autumn of 2013 via the medium of online interviews with 2,229 market research professionals (80% supplier, 20% client) around the world. In addition, the authors conducted two small qualitative exercises among clients (all in the US) to dive deeper into two key issues: what do clients think of “vendor” marketing (i.e. the marketing and sales efforts of those seeking to supply their wares to them); and how do they view the newly burgeoning toolbox of new research tricks that are vying to become everyday staples in their generation of insights?

Quick Soapbox
It saddens me that the GRIT Report authors continue to use the term “vendor”. A vendor is someone on the side of the road selling kebabs, not a professional services firm that you hire to help you provide key insights to your management. In this GRIT Report, it is evident that there is still a communication gulf between suppliers (whom we at Cambiar call “agencies”) and buyers, with the latter bemoaning what they see as unthinking and unfeeling marketing and sales practices on the part of the former. Might I suggest that showing a smidgeon of respect in what you actually call your partner on the other side of the fence might actually close that gap slightly?

As the fact that this is the 14th Edition attests, The GRIT Report has become a consistent and major source of information and commentary in the global industry, most especially in terms of assessing where change is leading us, what it looks like, and who and what is behind it. In this, it joins other cornerstone publications such as the ESOMAR Global Market Research report and Cambiar’s Future of Research series.

Each of these tomes says the same thing these days, almost like a drumbeat: Change is here. Change is real. Change will affect you and how you do business.

GRIT Winter 2013 is no different. How could it be? And yet what it also points out is that change is not necessarily always welcomed with open arms. For as many researchers as there are who wholeheartedly embrace new ways of thinking, new methodologies and new roles in their organisation, there are as many who reject the talk of change as unnecessary hype and overly sensationalist. For as many as are embracing and experimenting with new techniques and technologies, there are equally as many who are very cautious and self-admittedly hesitant and inhibited. Part of the issue is the need for researchers themselves to be pioneers and evangelists within their own organisations, especially client-side. To be an evangelist of something new and risky in the service of a business decision on which the price tag is in 8-plus figures may not exactly be a career-enhancing move.

So, GRIT tells us, change is messy.

There are other areas of mess, too. Clients and agencies still do not seem to be able to communicate properly; are still talking past each other; and view the world through very different lenses. They even view the drivers of the change that is around them differently – agencies see them more from a technology point of view while clients are more interested in methodologies that can answer business issues.

It seems that everywhere you turn in GRIT, there is some form of disconnect between the “buy” side and the “sell” side of the industry. Clients bemoan the way in which agencies market themselves (no differentiation), sell themselves (insensitively and without thinking about the client’s needs) and present themselves (me, not you).[Agencies were not able to respond in this current survey but, based on past experience, would have a few choice thoughts and feelings to toss back over the fence, I am sure! For clients, a new technology is a means to an end; but they see it as the be and end all for their agencies (fair?). Agencies don’t necessarily understand the drivers of selection – whether it be selection to come in and pitch or selection to win the business. They over-estimate the importance of price and of their own prior experience in the category or with the business; and underestimate the critical importance being able to offer an approach that is unique in its ability to solve the business issue.

Which is why there are a number of indicators in GRIT that lack of ability or willingness on the part of agencies to offer innovative solutions is allowing new entrants to make hay. Consider the following GRIT strands in this edition:

  • More online survey methodologies are used client-side than are offered by suppliers. WHY? DIY survey methods are on the rise in client companies.
  • “Previous experience with a supplier” is dropping as a reason to choose. IMPLICATION? Clients are experimenting with new, specialist suppliers in order to get to new techniques and methodologies.
  • Clients are adopting social media and Big Data analytics more than their suppliers are. IMPLICATION? Clients are using specialist suppliers for these types of things.

All that being said, some things do remain constant amidst all this turmoil: the Perfect Research Agency, for example, is still one that listens well, understands the client’s needs, delivers high quality analysis from knowledgeable staff who can consult on best practices and methods. Oh, and it will offer something unique in terms of method or approach (generalist agencies need not apply). I don’t think that would sound bizarre to a researcher from the Seventies or Eighties, frankly.

Finally, GRIT would not be complete these days without revealing the 50 Most Innovative Research Companies in the world. The methodology used here is one that is open ended and unaided, which is why I am more interested in what “innovative” means in this context and slightly less so in who is nominated. (Though how do Brainjiucer keep on doing it? There’s something in Ms. Griffin’s cookies is what I say).

It turns out that there are five drivers of “innovative”, as collated through open-ended responses:

  • Methodology (the class Brainjuicer owns)
  • Innovation and Creativity (closely related to method, but perhaps a little more ‘out there’)
  • Speed and size (owned, interestingly, by Google)
  • Trust and diversity (primarily the ability to be close to your client, flexible and willing to go the extra mile – as exemplified by IPSOS)
  • Technology (as owned by USamp and Vision Critical).

I have long hypothesised that US innovation is more geared to technology, while European is more about method and IP. Looking at the GRIT analysis, I still suspect this to be the case, but it is good to know that there are other definitions of innovative that are still based on human interaction and process.

Through all of this, what is GRIT’s last word?

Happily, it is that we are still a highly optimistic industry, with 80% of us looking forward to good things in the future, however different (or not) it might be. That in itself is worthy of celebration.

Simon Chadwick is Managing Partner at Cambiar. You can download a fully copy of the report here: www.greenbook.org/GRIT 

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