Market Research – Commodity Or Consultancy? – Part 1

Here at B2B International, we pride ourselves on being able to convert data into intelligence. We know that if we can get people, whose responsibility it will be to execute the actions, to own the data, we will achieve a positive outcome for getting action.

However, good research is not just about good interviewing and accurate reporting; it is also about communicating the findings to the research sponsors in such a way they can action the findings and achieve their goals. The B2B International team always work with our clients to develop actionable findings and communicate these in a way that allows strategic decisions and tactical action plans to be developed. From our experience we offer help and guidance in taking projects from initial concept through to implementation and completion; not just data delivery.

Here is an interesting extract taken from AQR’s (Association for Qualitative Research) www.aqr.org.uk ‘In Brief’ September edition by Andy Dexter, Truth. It argues the case that is it time to restructure the market research industry into volume agencies that concentrate on quantitative volume, qualitative specific agencies and consultancy advisers.

We are all in the business of market research. Agencies exist to make money. Clients buy research to make (or save) money. Clearly this works, or there would be no agencies, and precious few clients. But ‘how’ does it work?

At this years BIG, I examined the research industry from a ‘business’ perspective. In turn, this provoked questions about the economics and business models underpinning it and led to three main observations

We measure our industry as an ‘industry’ not a service.

Market research statistics have traditionally focussed on turnover: the amount charged by agencies to clients. It’s how manufacturing and retail industries benchmark themselves – by sales. Yet practitioners in sectors that researchers usually compare themselves to – advertising, PR, brand consultancy, etc. – are more interested in measuring fee income.

This focus on the top line means we tend to measure ourselves in a way that lends itself to industrialisation and commoditisation. This is a global phenomenon. And to reinforce this, we have designated ourselves and ‘industry!

The P&L account of our industry looks production rather than service oriented.

Looking at profitability or research agencies, and the underlying business models that drive them, there is clearly a dominant economic model in the research ‘market’. This is more analogous to production-oriented sectors than consultancy professions.

Similarly, it is clear that acquisitions, economics of scale and cost management – rather than true revenue growth – enables the larger players to maintain profits.

Distinct segments in our market reflect different financial dynamics at play.

In any sector there are three basic ways to make money on the supply side. Firstly, sell lots of stuff very competitively and make production and delivery highly economically efficient: ‘Volume’. Secondly, sell high value, high prestige stuff and ensure it is appreciated accordingly: ‘Value’. And thirdly, sell an idea; create demand for specialist new stuff that may not even exist yet: ‘Vision’.

Readers will have an immediate view on where particular agencies or agency types might sit. Thinking beyond our sector, under (1) we would typically find manufacturing, retail, and production businesses; product and volume-oriented; whose business is cost control and efficiency –led. Under (2)2 and (3) we would find advisory business, with a less pyramid-like structure. So, if there are two different markets, where is qual heading?

My initial instinct was to assume that, as a ‘sub sector’, qual would naturally fall under the heading of the advisory business model rather than the production-oriented ones. But this might not be the case…

This article continues tomorrow..

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