B2B International
B2B International

September 13, 2007

Following on from our post yesterday…

Market research in general is becoming more production oriented, likewise qual.

A common currency of unit cost per group discussion now exists. This key evaluative metric applies to most qualitative practice. Standard qualitative measures are becoming a – albeit high-quality – commodity. As such, there are price and delivery time pressures.

Market research, especially in the qualitative and innovations space, is blurring at the boundaries.

So, what is the definition of ‘research’? Increasingly money is being spent on research activities that are not ‘mainstream’; non-researchers are doing ‘researchy-type-things’ as part of a wider offer. Researchers are doing other things too, of course, but more competitors exist than those we’d normally call research agencies.
Different business models are co-existing uncomfortably.

We established there is no ‘single’ model in our sector. We are structured as a hybrid of ‘consulting’ and ‘manufacturing’. Buying patterns have traditionally reflected the latter: they are mainly driven by fixed price, units of product. In turn models that are appropriate to the buying of large scale data collection are being applied inappropriately to various types of consulting.

In fairness, buyers’ working patterns with agencies are changing too: witness increasing reference to ‘data providers’ and ‘insight providers’ in roster definitions.

So should data collection be seen as a commodity?

Yes. There is a measurable unit of production with associated quality controls, and that’s all there is to it.

Should group discussion, without any bells and whistles, is now treated very much like a basic unit of production.

Will the Market research sector as a whole become commoditised? Yes and no. There is an entire sub-sector of activities and advisory services unrelated to the data machine that should be priced on time/value, not cost, but currently it’s insufficiently delineated.

It’s being treated as one: partly because agencies are selling these activities and clients are buying them as such. Also, partly because it’s clients, and suppliers work to a fixed price overall project model. Is this really appropriate for current work practices?

Maybe it’s time for a structural reorganisation within the Market research industry, and a new narrative. Here businesses would be segmented into ‘makers’ and advisers’. In Market research, the ‘makers’ would include most of the mainstream and might well redefine their core business(es) around ‘Volume’.

But at the ‘value’ and ‘vision’ end of our market, to avoid commoditisation, quallies can continue to fight their corner through relentless innovation. Luckily, this has always been one of their strengths. The best outcome is self renewal; a resurgence of new methods analogous to the original meteoric rise of ‘qual’ in the 1980’s. Clients are saying the this I exactly what they’d like and expect to see. Most importantly, it will be very good business for everybody.