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Winning strategies for research agencies: Process automation and efficiency

Market research is a mature industry with robust methods and effective quality controls. In recent years, however, agencies have encountered a version of the innovator’s dilemma [1] – in which established suppliers are subject to competitive pressures by new entrants.

The explosive growth in research technology has been the catalyst for many of these new pressures. Nearly 1,200 software companies supply the research industry [2]; automation tools and DIY solutions promise lower costs, faster results and ease of use for client teams.

All this has compressed timescales, reduced project prices and squeezed agency margins. The cost of a typical online attitudes & usage survey, for example, fell by two-thirds between 2010 and 2018 from $27,000 to $9,000 [3].

The need for speed is also a major pressure. 2021’s GreenBook industry trends report surveyed both buyers and suppliers of research, and ‘faster time to insights’ was a top priority for both groups [4].

And in recent years, many ‘buyers’ of research have become ‘doers’ as they bring previously outsourced activities in-house. Easy-to-use platforms for surveys, customer panels and structured concept or ad testing have been widely adopted by insights, experience and even marketing teams.

Taken together, these trends imply less agency-led research to go round; and greater time and cost pressure on the work that remains.

So what can agencies do?

Many are responding by fighting fire with fire: using technology to automate, standardize and find operating efficiencies.

They see clear commercial returns from these investments including:

  • Reduced time spent on low value activities (eg rework, manual data entry, etc.)
  • Redirecting resources to more profitable work (eg analysis, insights, etc.)
  • Increased operating margins and business valuations

The most automated processes are survey analysis, text analytics, charting / infographics and integration of other data sources such as social media [5].

The power of automation

We also see agencies applying automation across the full spectrum of quantitative and qualitative research. Examples include:

  • Project inputs: reusable project templates, survey tools integrated with panels, translation databases, question libraries and client portals.
  • Project management: participant scheduling and incentives, live fieldwork monitoring, online focus groups, live streaming of offline groups, live client access to progress reporting.
  • Project outputs: automatic transcription, translation and tagging, verbatim coding, auto-generated commentary, PowerPoint automation, dashboards, self-service analysis for clients and direct integration of data into their environments.

More winning strategies for Market Research Agencies

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.

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