Home Blog Thought leadership Winning research agency strategies: premium advice and expertise

Winning research agency strategies: premium advice and expertise

Over the last few years, management consultants have grown their market research activities significantly.

McKinsey Periscope, Accenture Interactive and PWC all have established customer insights capabilities, and these have been growing strongly.

Other consultancies have acquired research agencies with specialist expertise. KPMG acquired Nunwood to build a deeper customer experience capability; PA Consulting acquired Sparkler, an agency with deep expertise in media, digital and entertainment markets.

Whether by acquisition or organic growth, management consultancies are increasing their share of the customer insights market.

ESOMAR estimates that ‘established’ research agency revenues were US $33bn globally in 2020, and that consultancies generated $11bn in research income in the same year. For every 3 research dollars spent with agencies, another dollar was spent with consultancies [1].

The forecast for 2023 suggests that agency revenues will increase by just $3bn to $36bn; but consultancies will grow to nearly $15bn – getting closer to a 2:1 ratio [2].

  1. The importance of customer insights is growing: senior executives increasingly see research, analytics and experience feedback as a source of growth and differentiation.
  2. Research clients are demanding more commercial expertise from their insights partners. Business Knowledge is the single most important skill that buyers want to see their suppliers improve, according to the latest GRIT report [3].
  3. Consultancies have a broad suite of capabilities to connect research with other workstreams, deliverables or transformation programs.

What can research agencies do about this?

The first two trends represent significant opportunities. In fact, many agencies have grown by taking the fight to the consultancies: developing their own premium advisory practices, deepening their expertise and prioritizing the commercial impact they can make for their clients.

By going ‘upstream’, they have been able to:

  • Work with new types of clients in brand, innovation or strategy roles – often at very senior levels
  • Command higher day rates for their services in line with the value they bring
  • Avoid commoditisation and nickel-and-dime price negotiations on individual projects.

 These consultative agencies typically build capability in one of three areas:

  1. Industry or vertical focus, such as media and entertainment, financial services or business-to-business
  2. Research specialism such as behavioural insights, semiotics or innovation forecasting
  3. Business application such as brand strategy, creative development or customer experience.

Such premium advisory services – built around a core of research – are proving to be a very successful strategy for ambitious agencies.

Read the full white paper

At Forsta we’re privileged to work with nearly 1,000 agencies around the world, from boutique specialists to the largest international networks.

Our most successful agency partners create value by connecting the worlds of Market Research with User, Customer and Employee Experience.

Read more about Forsta’s take on the coming golden age for research agencies, and the key strategies being implemented in our full white paper.


[1] Evolution of the Data, Analytics & Insights Industry: a forecast to 2023, ESOMAR, https://shop.esomar.org/knowledge-center/library-2021?publication=2957

[2] Evolution of the Data, Analytics & Insights Industry: a forecast to 2023, ESOMAR, https://shop.esomar.org/knowledge-center/library-2021?publication=2957

[3] Greenbook Industry Trends Report, Business & Innovation Edition, 2021: https://www.greenbook.org/mr/grit/

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