Many of you that have been in the marketing research space over the past few decades will have noticed the trend of insourcing, shifting to outsourcing, and back again. It has been a common behaviour that seems to change cyclically with the economy, often described as a pendulum, where the behaviour of companies defines the movement. Those that get tired of paying higher overall costs by outsourcing to external vendors swing the pendulum in one direction and go through the effort of hiring their own insights teams.
Conversely, we have seen several swings in the opposite direction, particularly when economic conditions dictate tightening of belts, where it’s easy to keep the carrying costs of research off the balance sheet in favour of buying on the open market when necessary. It’s not unheard of for an enterprise to shed research talent only to see that group of individuals create their own research company and end up servicing the company they just left. I'm sure if you took the last 30 years of global economic cycles and charted them over time you could fairly accurately predict the swinging of the pendulum between moving research in-house, to outsourcing.
Recently a colleague of mine suggested that the economic contraction from COVID-19 would swing the pendulum back to the outsourcing side, but this time I think things are different. In fact, I think our pendulum’s movement has changed and our straightforward pendulum example has evolved into a Focault's pendulum – it's moving in two planes. A Focault's pendulum is what you get when you swing any item of weight from a string. No matter how hard you try, the pendulum motion is rarely side to side but, more often, is elliptical or circular in pattern.
Why do I think this is what we're looking at with the most recent economic contraction? It's primarily due to the past decade's explosion of technology and data.
Companies that are now looking at outsourcing are thinking less about unburdening the costs of insights on the enterprise; they're examining how they can simplify outsourcing through automation and democratisation. Many look at the research systems they're using and have realised that there's a pattern to the types of research they buy, and simultaneously, those research projects they run are increasingly becoming subject to automation. Kantar has already embraced this trend with Kantar Marketplace, providing easy access to research tools that can be broadly deployed across the organisation with less insights-managed oversight needed. We've also seen the explosion of new research DIY tools geared toward making the survey creation process easier for broad ranges of customers – both expert and not.
This is enabling enterprises to be more strategic and makes the pendulum not just swing forward and back between insourcing and outsourcing, but between insourcing, outsourcing, serviced and self-service. As a result, companies are opting to pay for licences to platforms instead of paying for insights staff. They're also opting to invest in tools to enable business stakeholders to have direct access for creating their own bespoke research projects, rather than outsourcing or insourcing the work to insights professionals.
This evolution from a decision of “where on the budget does the work sit” (staff vs. vendors), to reduction and disintermediation of a function, will undoubtedly continue as the global enterprise navigates these challenging times. With the contraction in the economy from COVID-19, it’s highly unlikely we'll next see the pendulum swing in the same pattern we've seen in the past – but it will move from where it has been. One thing I think we will see in this most recent evolution is a pressure on key business stakeholders to increase their workloads to accommodate the new tools they have access to. While the tools are now at a place where anyone can programme a survey, most brand managers or strategy planners have don't have the ability or time to spend getting their projects in and out of field.
New ways to get answers
At Kantar we're acutely aware of this. This is why we're doubling down on enabling turnkey automation and accelerated service options. With the launch of our new Accelerated Answers portfolio of solutions, our busy clients now have options no matter where the pendulum swings. Whether it's scripting their own surveys in Kantar's self-service tools, taking a project they've run in the past and creating a template it so it's repeatable and automated, or taking advantage of our managed survey services which let clients submit a questionnaire in an email and our team will program, field and return results in as little as 6 hours.
The modern enterprise is flush with technology and options, and with the launch of Accelerated Answers, we can help our clients turbo charge those offers by taking the manual work out of the process while still enabling flexible data discovery and freeing time for critical thinking. With this new product launch, companies now have long term coverage no matter where the pendulum may swing next.