1. Budgets squeezed.
Recession looking likely. Most economists predict at least a cyclical downturn some time soon. Then there’s the trade war impact on China, the run-up to the US election, slow growth across the EU … expect smaller purses and greater scrutiny of insight budgets.
Traditional market research teams are struggling for share of voice and relevance in their own organisations. User Research, CX and Analytics teams are taking the money and the glory. Expect more re-badging of CMI teams in big organisations as they get folded into cooler-sounding business units.
The trend for companies to use DIY platforms will continue – but the pace will slow a little. There won’t be a research-tech winter … but there will be a slightly chilly autumn. Many firms are struggling with transformation. IT Security, Procurement and Legal teams make it hard to go agile. And insight teams need to re-skill as well as re-tool – which takes even longer than buying software.
4. Data bloat.
The unforeseen consequence of abundance. Insight teams are struggling to reconcile so many conflicting signals about customers – from sales data, digital traffic, location analytics, surveys, syndicated panels … so expect to see ever more demand for ‘storytelling’ from clients.
5. Public SNAFUs.
Pre-testing concepts and ads is easier, quicker and cheaper than it has ever been. But – like flat-earthers who reject centuries of scientific learning – many Creative Directors and CMOs will persist in believing they know best. Watch out for more Gucci blackface sweaters and Peloton ads – whose proponents were no doubt captivating storytellers.
6. Macro trends.
AI-as-a-service, 5G, conversational interfaces, computer vision, edge computing. And more privacy awareness.
We’ll see a lot more new research-tech players. 3 areas to keep a close eye on. Video and image analytics (especially ML-based tools like eyequant, Aitrak and Dragonfly – video equivalents are round the corner); making AI easier and more accessible (Element Human) and more personal data empowerment tools (UBDI, Citizen Me).
The flipside of startup proliferation. There are already far too many similar software tools for insight. Another NPS feedback platform, anyone? Soon we’ll be in online mattress firm territory. 2020 will see some thinning out to offset the new entrants.
Most of the players in our industry are privately held, making it hard to gauge valuations with confidence. But even a quick look at funding rounds suggests many pitch decks have been over-optimistic. There’s a reason why they all quote the global market research industry at $80bn … even though half of that is analytics, and ‘traditional’ research is barely growing. It’s not quite WeWork pretending to be a tech firm … but the research market isn’t big enough to sustain investors’ growth expectations. Some of the free beer will have to stop flowing in 2020.
10. Adjacent moves.
Partly in response to the above – a mis-match between market reality and investor expectation – we’ll see more tech players acquiring lateral capabilities to grow beyond their current market. Customer Experience Management, for example, has historically been about measuring perceptions and fixing service issues. It can’t support $8bn acquisitions and hundreds of vendors. That’s why Medallia, who went public earlier this year, has been on a buying spree – adding customer co-creation with Crowdicity and journey analytics with Cooladata. We’ll see more horizontal moves like this.
This week, we’ve seen 2020 Research acquire Over the Shoulder, the smartphone ethnography platform, and Delvinia acquire conversational research tool CRIS. There will be more of this in the year ahead. Some of it will be a natural consequence of frothy valuations and over-supply; but some insight platforms are not really sustainable businesses – they are features that will work better as part of something bigger.
12. Technology investment.
More agencies will try to reinvent by building or buying tech. Kantar launched its Marketplace, and will likely have budget from its new owners for acquisitions in analytics. Ipsos has been busy buying software and tech services. Other agency groups are turning their methods into SaaS products – see Maru/Hub – and suppliers such as response-ai and PureSpectrum have tools to help even the smallest agencies get techy.
Lots more of it. The big beasts are struggling for growth, but there is good growth and margin opportunity in mid-sized agencies. Management consultancies will keep picking off research firms – but keep an eye on the growing agency groups with money to invest. Insites Consulting, LRW, Maru Group and others are scaling up around the world.
14. More silly names.
All this M&A activity will fill the pockets of branding consultants. They will search for the last remaining top level domains that don’t mean something filthy in at least one language. And they’ll come up with more Dynatas, Savantas and Escalents. Yay.
15. Bonus prediction
A gratuitous and self-indulgent effort to get to 15 items on the list. Leeds United will finally win promotion back to that casino in the sky, the English Premier League. After 15 long years in the wilderness.
In Bielsa we trust.