From Data Consumer to Data Generator: Working with a New Breed of Client
We all know the changes that are happening in our industry, whether it be big data, DIY research, agile research, automation etc. These changes often mean that clients have different needs from their research related suppliers that in the past.
I’d like to illustrate a real-life example of evolving client needs, based on the work that FUEL has done with Rabbit in Thailand. Rabbit is part of VGI Media group and is well known in Thailand for the Rabbit card which is used to travel on the BTS and as a stored value card to buy a range of products and services. More recently, Rabbit has moved more fully into epayment with its partnership with LINE, offering Rabbit LINE Pay mobile wallet services.
I believe that Rabbit epitomises a new breed of data centricclient that have different needs from the market research industry. Let’s explore those needs further and look at the implications for our industry.
The Changing Nature of Agency / Client Relationships
Relationships between buyers and suppliers of market research used to be simple. One party (the agency) generated the data and the other (the client) consumed it. Consequently, this meant that clients need suppliers that could work end to end and market research organisations were typically structured around the capabilities required to deliver a research project from brief through to presentation. Data typically came from the agency conducting surveys. The data that the agency produced was a cost to the client, but one of course where there was expected to be a ROI.
Of course, these days clients hold a lot more data – whether it be transactional data, loyalty card data, social media listening, website analytics etc. Even when they don’t hold the data, they have the ability to generate it more easily; clients are often able to use their own customer database to do their own in-house research. Clients able to generate and organize data around a customer’s entire buyer journey are now waking up to the huge value of this data.
So clearly, the old Client / Agency relationship model is outdated. With clients now largely playing the role of the Data Generator, they need to work with partners who enhance the value of data, both for use inside and outside the organisation. This is why we are having to redefine the parameters of our industry to include all the different types of players that enhance the value of data – from traditional research companies to technology companies to marketing scientists. It’s of no surprise that software companies liked Qualtrics are valued into the billions.
The Role of Data at Rabbit
Whilst Rabbit’s roots were firmly in transport (BTS Skytrain), it has now evolved to become the leading cashless micro payment / e-money and ticketing platform in Thailand. This is where Rabbit started to collect huge amounts of customer transit and retail data.
In order to monetise this data internally and externally, Rabbit needed to enhance its platform to collect more data, from which Rabbit Rewards loyalty program was born, allowing transaction data to be mapped with contact and profile data.
To monetise this data, a Rabbit data unit was created to generate a 360 degree customer profile, providing up to 100 data points for Rewards members, which include demographic, psychographic and location analysis.
This rich data source supports the parent company, VGI media, in driving their media business though rich insight and targeting, ultimately leading to an increase in the value of their media assets, which include BTS stations and a number of other outdoor media assets. This enables VGI media to combine both online and offline assets to provide 360 degree media solutions.
So, we can clearly see that creating valuable data is central to the Rabbit business, both for internal use and externally, acting as a direct and quantifiable source of revenue.
Working with Rabbit
With data being central to Rabbit’s strategy, and much of that data produced internally, what then does Rabbit need from a market research supplier? Clearly the traditional model of the agency as Data Generatordoesn’t apply – instead the agency needs to focus on how the can enhance the value of the datagenerated by Rabbit.
Let’s look specifically at Rabbit’s needs and how FUEL was able to help in more detail:
1. DIY Research: Rabbit clearly have a lot of existing data. But ‘big data’ is not replacing survey data – they still need to use traditional survey based approaches. But they do have their own Rabbit Rewards Member base who have opted in for research, which means they can easily
target the right people based on their profile or behavior. FUEL helped Rabbit to equip them
with the skills and tools needed to conduct their own DIY research to a good standard. This
largely involved training across a variety of research related topics.
2. Data Integration: Survey data often needs combining with transaction data to both make surveys lean and efficient and get the best insight. This is not just about the technical issues of combining data but more qualitatively about how to use different data sets in an intelligent way and to set benchmarks for internal measurement
3. Best Practice & Efficiency: Rabbit wanted to implement best practices for working with survey data in the organisation. FUEL helped Rabbit to:
Develop efficient and effective processes
Create in-house manuals for key research applications
Identify opportunities for standardisation
Get the balance right between conducting projects in-house and outsourcing
Broader Implications for the Market Research Industry
This case study has highlighted the evolving nature of the Client / Agency relationship. I’ll leave you with some thoughts on the broader implications for our industry:
1. We Need to Rethink our Roles
We are part of a much larger data and knowledge ecosystem. For many of us, that means, broadening our horizons, understanding new data types and new technologies and learning new skills to stay relevant. It may also mean picking where we want to focus and redefining what it is that we do. Whatever path we choose we need to keep up to date with how data is being used within our client organisations. We can still be experts but with a better understanding of how what we do fits within the broader ecosystem.
2. Shift to DIY is Inevitable
As more and more clients have their own internal databases or are easily able to tap into online panels, more and more clients will do DIY research. It is inevitable. But it doesn’t mean that our research industry is going to shrink. It’s just going to change. There will be new needs and needs will become more fragmented. New providers are emerging without organisational baggage that will increasingly meet very specific and niche needs. How many suppliers are willing to help clients do their own DIY research well I wonder?
3. Increasing Need for Skills Development
We have a much broader range of people, from very different backgrounds who are now working with data and conducting and using market research. With many not coming from traditional market research backgrounds they will not have had training in core research skills necessary to collect, analyse and enhance the data they are collecting. So, I believe there is an increasing need for skills development and consultancy to help organisations equip their teams with the necessary skills.
For example, doing your own in-house research without a basic understanding of sampling theory could be disastrous. Combining different data sets needs the ability to synthesise data, work through contradictions and pull together compelling narratives. People’s attention spans are shortening. Never has the art of storytelling been more important.
4. Specialise (or be agile)
This leads to my final point. With needs being more fragmented and the data ecosystem becoming every complex, with new thinking in the social and behavioural sciences, it’s going to be impossible to be all things to all people. Specialisation is only going to increase.
Indeed, I wonder if the traditional full service agency will exist in 10 years’ time, as it just won’t be structured in a way that can meet the needs of this new breed of client we now see.
'Jack of all trades and master of none' may truly apply.