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Market Research Evolutionary Stages

From Future of Insight blog…

Reading Joel Rubinson’s excellent post over at his ARF blog, recalls some futuring I’ve been doing around the likely evolution of the industry.

Rubinson takes a look at the evolution of the ad agency and applies this evolutionary footpath to MR with media buying the analog to the data collection side of the business and creative the analog to the full service, analytics side of the business. It’s worth a read.
In my thinking about the future of the MR agency, I have developed at least five (5) plausible futures (not mutually exclusive):

1. Army of Davids: In this scenario, the larger firms keep consolidating and attempting to buy their future by acquiring hot new companies, but the systemic change and “free agent nation” overwhelms them. The goliaths are killed off by the Davids. The carriagemakers can’t adjust to the age of the automobile, and they are overhwelmed by new entrants, new technologies, new approaches (social media listening, etc.) and agile specialty firms.

2. Whuffie-Driven Free Agency: A second and more extreme “Army of Davids” scenario, Whuffie-driven free agency develops when individual researchers band together under a kind of digital guild in which each is rated by his-her clients. The resulting client score, their Whuffie (hat tip to Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the MagicKingdom”) roughly determines an individual researcher’s compensation if and when they are chosen to do the work. Sound fantastical? Hardly. Consider: (a) eBay feedback profiles and (b) the mechanical turk. Now assume that a community of credentialed researchers (think PRC or similar) build an elance site on these principles. Insights rockstars, as opposed to large companies or even specialty firms, dominate the scene.

3. Convergence: Under the convergence scenario the MR industry is renamed, rebranded and redefined by a much larger collection of data-driven strategic consultants, including: management consulting, social media listening and analytics firms, predictive markets, game modelled consumer behavior research, foresight practices and IBM. Under this scenario, the first to combine all fields in an integrated way gains a significant advantage. The deepest pockets are the most favored here.

4. Incredible Shrinking MR: In this scenario the market research industry retains its current, distinctive, identity. It is not reinvented or transformed. Plenty of new innovations come along, but they’re not part of MR. MR labors on, like the dinosaurs after the first asteroid strike, oblivious of their doomed future.

5. DIY: Google, Facebook and future social media platforms enter the consumer research business by offering unimaginably massive panels of their users-members. With MR now a simple page on these social media sites, the era of DIY research is fully unleashed. Need a quick, global survey of fashion conscious, well-educated women? No problem. GoogleSurvey will collect data for you in 30 minutes after you have posted your (mandated) 5 questions or less survey. Need some collage-based qual done in 20 countries on a new tourist destination? No problem. 3 hours. Survey quality suffers, but the data is abundant. Insights? Well, those are a bit tougher to come by.

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