“Market research market has become blurry-edged”

True to annual tradition, GreenBook has recently published its GRIT Report, a high-level, internationally scoped overview of market research, agencies and trends. We asked a couple of  CUBE-members to read this document and share their findings with us.


Four CUBE-members and market research experts responded to our request to peruse the report in detail. We are extremely pleased to share with you the expertise of  Nicole Huyghe, CEO at Boobook; Emilie Decoutere, Innovation Architect at Haystack Consulting; Pieter Goossens, Senior Director Technology & Digital Lead at Kantar and Olivier Tjon, Director at Beyond Reason.

We opened the debate with the obvious opening question:

What struck you upon reading the GRIT Report?

Pieter Goossens: “Looking at the agencies’ ranking, it struck me that it features a mix of larger and smaller agencies. It also features a mix of rather more local as well as international agencies. From the GRIT-ranking it is abundantly clear that the market research landscape is changing fast, so it no longer is all that obvious what a market research agency defines exactly … or even what market research is today. The playing field has evolved significantly in the past years.”

Emilie Decoutere: “I have the feeling that this blur is also present in Belgium. Where we used to be able to assess very well with whom we were in pitch, we now sometimes meet new competition. The playing field is wider, which highlights the importance of a strong & sticky positioning.

Nicole Huyghe: “You can feel how important innovation has become to our customers. They keep searching for new tools. The trusted old know elements are no longer absolutely essential to them: they are now trying to capture what the various different players are offering. I think this is an exciting evolution. Besides this shift, the buzzwords stood out. Machine learning is one of those, for instance, but to my mind there is a large gap between talking about that and really doing something with it.”

Olivier Tjon: “I haven’t met a single marketeer yet who really understands what machine learning is. I sense a kind of hunger to start using it, but not the hunger to really get what it is about.”

Is it a means, not an end, for most companies?

NH: “This is also apparent where the report addresses skill development. Developing  analytical expertise and market research expertise is of secondary importance to our customers.”

ED: “I think there is a certain maturity about technology. The buzztopics of five years ago are the same as now. Maybe there’s more of a kind of restlessness in a lot of agencies because all these new technologies have to be offered.”

But how do you explain that AI and machine learning are scoring high as buzz words, while hardly ever having been implemented yet?

ED: “Is that not the nature of a buzztopic? I remember a quote about social media of a few years ago. Social media is like teenage sex, everybody is talking about it, but nobody knows how to do it’.  Everyone finds AI and Machine Learning fascinating, and rightly so. But for the vast majority, there is still a lot of experimenting and learning to be done.

PG: “The results of this study seemed to me to show first and foremost a huge need of communication. Are we doing enough explaining, are we telling customers clearly what AI for example today can and (for the moment) cannot do? I think the market is expecting us to take on a role as a supplier of information. “

NH: “Let us, indeed, turn this into an opportunity, let us show that we can help our customers to see the wood for the trees.”

Both customers and suppliers say that technical skills and computer skills aren’t all that important to them. How can this be reconciled with the genuine value of data, AI, …?

PG: “Many agencies are by now providing technologies that are intelligible to all. So not everyone needs to be an expert. Still, I think the sector could do more to lower the threshold. By now, customers should no longer be allowed to get cold feet when considering the use of data or any new technology.”

NH: “I feel reassured to learn that business knowledge is so much more important to them than technical expertise. Customers will still seek answers to their questions.”

How is Belgium doing compared to the international situation?

OT: “Not bad at all. We work for lots of foreign companies and it is my impression that these have not that much of a head start. The difference in pace is mainly noticeable between sectors, less so between countries. Telecom companies, for instance, are ahead of FMCG.”

PG: “Corona has a lot to do with this catching-up process. Both on the customer side and on the supply side things had to be dealt with in a different way, and this has helped us to largely close the gap between us and other countries. With regard to all things digital, anyway, we are now much closer to the ‘early adopters’ than a few years ago.”

International customers are still expecting a faster lead time for acquiring insights. Did you notice this?

ED: “I found that very recognizable. It is something we are working hard on, to accelerate our processes, without losing quality.

NH: “Is it ever fast enough? Is this not a very human trait?”

PG: “Sure, but still: things have speeded up enormously. Research we used to do at Kantar in four to six weeks is now being done in four to six days or even faster. This is gradually becoming the norm. But this pace of acceleration is not going to continue. By now, the issue is no longer about whether to expect EITHER speed OR quality, but about taking the combination of BOTH for granted. In other words: speed without compromise.”

ED: “A novelty in this area is that companies are increasingly satisfied with 80% certainty instead of 100%, which stems from the agile trend.  Instead of just sitting on the front end and at validation, we rather start working together in a continuous “always on” & iterative way.

Will we be reaching a point where market research is no longer relevant?

ED: “We at Haystack Consulting asked ourselves exactly that question a few months ago. What is our role? How should we operate in such an agile environment? We solve this by working with intermediate deliveries, so that customers already receive bits of information in order optimize and iterate. In my opinion, the evolution will be one in which we will be even closer to our customers and work together.”

NH: “I see two shifts happening. In certain cases, market research as we know it will no longer be used. Agile testing and getting things to market immediately will become the new thing. The other shift is that businesses will become more customer centric and realise they have to do more than just stand out from the competition. Market research is often a major driver for this shift. So I still see a bright future for our profession.”

Check out the report at: https://www.greenbook.org/mr/grit/