The Times They Are A-Changing; Fundamentals Must Remain Our Bedrock - Articles



The Times They Are A-Changing; Fundamentals Must Remain Our Bedrock

Ed Keller | 21 Sep, 2023 | Return|

By Ed Keller, Executive Director, MRII


The Insights Association recently released its annual Insights & Analytics Market & Top 50 Report, which clearly documents the continued, rapid transformation of our industry. The so-called Established Research companies, those that were the defining firms of our industry for decades (e.g., Nielsen, Ipsos, and Kantar), are no longer the largest of the eight sectors tracked by the Insights Association, overtaken in 2022 by companies in the digital data analytics sector of our industry. While the market as a whole grew by 14.3%, the established research companies grew by the smallest percentage (7.8%), while sectors such as digital data analytics, self-service platforms, and industry reports and research, all grew twice as fast (or more).


According to the report, “While 7.8% is comparable growth compared to pre-pandemic years and considered good growth for a large and mature profession, for the first time the Established Marketing Research segment has the overall slowest growth rate and is now the second largest in size, behind Digital Data Analytics.”


While change is both inevitable and welcomed, one thing is eternal: only when you master the fundamentals can you realize the full potential and value of market research and drive innovation within it.  


The great athletes recognize this, and so should we. Michael Jordan was quoted as saying, “When I was young, I had to learn the fundamentals of basketball. You can have all the physical ability in the world, but you still have to know the fundamentals.” 


Kobe Bryant believed this too. He noted, as his career progressed: “Can I jump over two or three guys like I used to? No. Am I as fast as I used to be?  No, but I still have the fundamentals and smarts. That’s what enables me to still be a dominant player. As a kid growing up, I never skipped steps. I always work on fundamentals because I know athleticism is fleeting.”


In market research, too, without a solid foundation, there can be no success. The fundamentals must always be the cornerstone. This is ground truth for all elements in our industry, from the traditional players to the newer and now faster-growing segments. 


Market Research Industry Expansion

What is clear is that the insights industry expanded significantly in the past year—highlighting the growing demand for data-driven decision-making. However, as mentioned above, this growth varied among different types of businesses categorized under the market research umbrella. The Insights Association report discusses multiple defined segments in the industry, but notes that the lines between these segments are fluid—both among different companies and internally within specific companies themselves.


Newcomers to the Insights Field

Companies that would not have traditionally been included in the market research category are finding their way into the insights conversation, as we see companies like Salesforce and Meltwater ranking in the Insights Association report and the newest ESOMAR Top 50 Report. In addition, the intense venture funding and M&A activity in the industry is bringing in investors and equity players who are coming from outside market research. This brings a whole new dimension to the industry, as the majority of these players are entering the space without any kind of foundational experience in the intricacies of the research sector.


What does this state of growth and significant change mean for those of us who work, consult, and hire in the market research industry, both long-time market researchers and newcomers to this space?


Begin by Building a Strong Foundation in Market Research’s Core Body of Knowledge

As the landscape of the insights space evolves quickly, driven by technology, innovation, and an expanding definition of the industry, encompassing more types of data, it’s easy to lose sight of the basics. Newcomers in the industry should prioritize learning the fundamentals of market research, especially if their background is not inherently rooted in this field. The path to human understanding has many layers, and the right education and training can help make the journey collaborative and deliver better business results.


Committing to an educational path is a win-win. Those who set themselves on a learning journey not only familiarize themselves with market research as a whole, placing them in a stronger position for strategic planning and business success, but also sets them up for greater fulfillment in their career. Our recent MRII-UGA research, "For the Love of Learning," showed that individuals who are most satisfied with their careers often attribute their contentment to the presence of opportunities for continuous learning, which significantly contributes to their overall job satisfaction.


Training and opportunities to learn not only leads to a more satisfied workforce, it also leads to better financial outcomes. McKinsey Global Institute’s recent report, "Performance through people: Transforming human capital into competitive advantage," underscores the significance of skill development for both workers and companies. It reveals that companies that prioritize “human capital development” together with a focus on financial performance, tend to achieve more consistent earnings, talent retention, long-term success, and greater resilience during times of change, greater than those firms that focus on performance only.


Learning Opportunities for Employee Growth

A key insight from our new study underscores the significance of training and learning as a major factor distinguishing highly satisfied research professionals from their less satisfied counterparts. The study also unveils a roadmap for future focus areas identified by research professionals. Training newcomers to our space, as well as helping those embedded in the field, will prove indispensable in this dynamic and expanding insights environment.


Benefits to the Industry

While individual growth and development are important aspects of training and learning, it's essential to recognize that the broader industry also stands to gain significantly when there is a shared foundation and common ground among its professionals. The entire market research and insights ecosystem can benefit through common knowledge, skills and best practices—fostering collaboration and shared innovation and creating a positive ripple effect that benefits everyone involved.


Ongoing shifts reflect the industry's rapid transformation over the past decade, and the rapid growth of ResTech has accelerated the pace of insight. The market research industry remains dynamic, with companies and consulting firms adapting to deliver integrated insights services, shaping the future of the field.


To continue a strong growth trajectory and to deliver on the promise of our field, the people who work in our industry need a strong foundation from which to innovate, grow, and build. 


Michael Jordan recognized this, and Kobe Bryant as well. The greats know that their success begins with a mastery of the fundamentals.


Ed Keller serves as Executive Director of The Market Research Institute International (MRII), a non-profit institute affiliated with the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education. Ed is one of the foremost experts in word of mouth, influencer marketing, and consumer insights. As both an entrepreneur in social data & analytics and a top exec in leading insights agencies, he has built and sold businesses, launched data and insights platforms and products, acquired and integrated businesses, managed global teams, and worked with many of the world’s leading brands. He is a sought-after board member and advisor for SaaS, data/analytics & MRX companies.

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