Outsourcing vs Insourcing: The Pendulum of Market Research

How can enterprise organisations be more strategic when it comes to balancing insourcing and outsourcing research, as well as serviced and self-serviced studies?
11 August 2020
pendulum marketing research
marc ryan

Chief Data Officer, Profiles Division

Get in touch

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, but who has time for that? Before we get into predicting the next swing, lets discuss what market research outsourcing is and how it can benefit any organization.

So, What Exactly is Market Research Outsourcing?

Market research outsourcing refers to the practice of hiring external firms or professionals to conduct market research activities on behalf of your company. It involves delegating the tasks of data collection, analysis, and reporting to specialized research firms, allowing organizations to leverage their expertise and resources. This approach enables organizations to access valuable insights and make informed decisions without the need for in-house research teams or the associated overhead costs.

Why Should Organizations Consider Market Research Outsourcing?

Market research outsourcing offers numerous benefits, including access to cost savings, access to experienced professionals, and scalability.

Cost Savings

By outsourcing research activities, companies can save on infrastructure costs, staffing, and training expenses. Moreover, outsourcing allows organizations to scale their research efforts based on their specific needs, without the burden of maintaining an in-house research team at all times.

Knowledge and Experience

By outsourcing market research, organizations can benefit from the extensive knowledge and experience of research firms. These external partners bring industry-specific expertise, sophisticated research methodologies, and access to diverse data sources, enabling comprehensive and unbiased analysis. They can efficiently gather primary and secondary data, conduct surveys, interviews, focus groups, and perform data analysis, providing companies with a holistic view of the market landscape, customer preferences, industry trends, and competitive intelligence.

Flexibility and Scalability

Outsourcing market research also offers flexibility and scalability. Companies can engage external agencies on a project-by-project basis, tailoring the scope and scale of research activities to their specific needs. This allows businesses to allocate resources effectively, focusing on their core competencies while relying on specialized research firms for their market intelligence requirements. Moreover, outsourcing enables companies to gain fresh perspectives and novel insights from external experts, which can lead to innovative strategies, improved decision-making, and a competitive edge in the marketplace.

What next? Will the pendulum swing back to market research 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.

How technology and data are changing market research outsourcing

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.

Kantar blends the best of both market research outsourcing and insourcing

At Kantar we're acutely aware of the emerging shift from full-service market research outsourcing to more self-service, DIY solutions. 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.

Learn more about Accelerated Answers here.

Get in touch
Related Solutions
If you need answers quickly, our fully managed quick-turn survey solution will deliver in as few as 6 hours.
Streamline your research with survey templates. Automate the process in a custom portal built for your unique needs.
Custom quick-turn survey solutions designed for you to DIT with Kantar’s experts.
Want faster data without sacrificing quality?
Download the Ultimate Guide to Automating Online Survey Research to learn how you can collect reliable data at speed for ad hoc and longitudinal research.
Find out more