Self-Serve & Disruption

THE ANNUAL REVIEW OF THE RESEARCH TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS

The pandemic has accelerated the wider adoption of online research globally, but it has also brought about new developments in methods and changes to the supply side of consumer insight.

Asia Research interviewed the heads of a range of research tech and insight firms to establish what have been some of the key developments in research technology in the last year.

All concur that self-serve online platforms have been adopted more in the past year, with more solution providers operating in this area.

James Rogers, Managing Director of PureSpectrum in Asia Pacific, comments that the market has evolved to utilise both ‘self-serve’ and ‘semi-self-serve’. The totally self-serve platforms often position themselves as SaaS offerings, while the semi-self-serve can be described as enterprise solution providers, whereby there are some service interactions with the agency, and less design and analysis/reporting. James says that users of self-serve tend to be small to mid-sized and agile agencies and brands who are working more nimbly towards rapid insight delivery.

Ludo Milet, Managing Director of Toluna in Asia Pacific, says that those using self-serve can often be end-clients with more straight forward questionnaires, and where speed of turnaround is crucial – for example, they might need to implement a study last minute, to field the survey over a weekend with results available in time for a Monday morning meeting.

Ludo says that pack tests are now being delivered in end-to-end solutions. Clients are looking to buy both speed and economies of scale, for example to undertake 20+ concept tests over a week with fairly minor differences between each survey. This practice has been common in the West and is now catching on in Asia.

James Burge, Managing Director of Asia Pacific for Dynata, says that the pandemic has accelerated the need for self-serve, and Dynata have responded by acquiring specialist firms to increase their capabilities in end-to-end solutions, for example for ad pre-testing. James says that the pandemic has also seen steady growth in research on healthcare and from public sector clients.

Yukiya Nagata, CRO (Chief Revenue Officer) from GMO Research, says that they see two directions in demand for survey panels. One is for simple online questionnaires that are conducted by DIY surveys where they feed their panellists via system integrated API. The other is demand for more complicated sampling for non-standard surveys such as behavioural studies, which require extra permission from panellists in the use of their data. Tetsuya states: “With no doubt these are both growing demands, and that is why GMO Research are driven towards strengthening our panel, both in coverage and quality, rather than expanding our services. There are also more collaborations in data happening through API integrations.”

CHANGES TO THE MARKETPLACE

Ludo Milet from Toluna highlights that the pandemic has disrupted markets such that clients are looking more to “hyper-segmentation” – while there is still demand for ‘general population representative’ surveys, brands see customers changing faster than ever before, such that surveys have to be far more focused with more niche samples.

The pandemic has seen a reduction of in-person research, and with it qualitative has moved more online. Piers Lee, Managing Director of BVA BDRC Asia, says that the use of online in-depth interviews and focus groups has massively increased the geographic reach of their research. Piers thinks that Zoom-based interviewing will replace most of their qualitative interviewing for the longer term. BVA BDRC Asia in Singapore now extends its qualitative research right across the UK and to Europe, including those outside of the major metropolitan areas. It also uses new online channels for recruiting niche audiences to qualitative research without the need (and cost) of in-market recruiters.

Ruchika Gupta, CEO from Borderless Access, adds that there has been an upsurge in digital for qualitative research across Asia, ME, and Africa and they have been recruiting a lot of candidates for qualitative research in the healthcare and B2B segments. Clients find the digital methodology very effective in terms of costs and the ability to observe groups in real time.

James Burge from Dynata says that use of more enriched, open-ended questions in quantitative surveys via video/audio is blurring the boundaries between qualitative and quantitative.

Technology continues to enhance both methods and processes – James says that AI can be used more for automated probing in surveys (similar to chatbots), and automated coding from natural language processing.

Many of PureSpectrum’s solutions leverage machine learning (ML) – James comments that PureSpectrum has been running ML for the last two years, and over time this gets stronger. James says, “PureScore is one of our data-science-driven assets that we call PureSolutions. Alongside PureScore, we are in the process of rolling out PureText, which is our NLP technology, and after that PurePrice which is our pricing recommendation algorithm. All of our solutions take millions of data points and lines of code into consideration; you just wouldn’t realize as we strive to make everything simple at the front end.”

Borderless Access is working with clients to develop “intelligence platforms”, which allow them access to disparate data on one platform. The platform can be a competitive intelligence platform or an all-market data platform where teams from the same/different markets upload their data on one common platform for easy access and understanding. Some clients are extending the same platform to conduct quick dipstick studies.

“Further, we have extensively built our B2B communities that are driving ‘always-on insights’ for the industry-leading global companies in niche B2B segments,” says Ruchika.

NEW COMPETITION FOR TRADITIONAL AGENCIES

Technology has also put data collection within easier reach of management consulting firms. Demand for consulting has increased during the pandemic as business models and markets have been disrupted.

James from PureSpectrum comments that management consultants have embraced the opportunity and need to undertake more outward and deeper market analysis for clients. Many have even undertaken brand and concept consulting work that significantly broadens their relationship with clients.

This has resulted in some consultants developing specialist insight practices – EY in Australia and KPMG in the UK are just two examples of this. Notably in SEA the move by Accenture to create Accenture Interactive has been a big step forward.

Ruchika from Borderless Access points out that their client portfolio in Asia is changing to include many new age companies (start-ups) that do not have an internal insights team.

Companies are also now leveraging international networks of advisors almost akin to open-source insights. In this sector there are many examples like GLG, Guidepoint, and ProSapient who connect brands, consulting, and market research firms with current and former C-suite leaders, decision-makers, key opinion leaders, and other subject-matter experts who can advise on clients’ specific industries and unique challenges. These organisations, that are often M&A or investment focused, can now be seen to be hiring from traditional MR companies and operate as hybrid management consultancies with market research. It can almost be considered the ‘gig economy’ of the consumer industry, showing how far the gig economy will extend into professional services in the future.

This article was first published in the Q1 2022 edition of Asia Research Media