The future of market research will not just be determined by the data collection modes we will use. The future is not about telephone or online. It is about how we work and how we position ourselves. Size will matter but bigger won’t always be better.

Several years ago, while the CEO of the North American Custom business for TNS, Kimberly Till embraced the notion of a digital factory.

“Why waste time doing all of that stuff when it can be done better by the digital factory, which frees up the people time to do the stuff you really want,” said Till

The digital factory is a notion that brings to mind all of the (negative) implications of commodification but it is an interesting departure point for thinking about what large firms will be about. If you think about it, large firms will drive themselves toward a factory treatment of data because they will be about economies of scale and standardization.

Exactly fitting for … large studies across multiple jurisdictions and tracking studies. If a company is doing a lot of studies then a small research shop may be a poor choice because of the capacity issues that small companies inevitably face. In effect, large companies are better able to subscribe to the motto that they are doing everything and being everywhere.

They are able to do so because they have capacity (physical and human) that can be brought to bear against the assignments available.

Even as mergers and acquisitions continue – the big are getting bigger as they swallow up unique expertise or local capacity – the role of the small firm continues to be important. Being small, particularly very small (e.g. 5 or less full time staff), can be advantageous for a number of reasons.

  1. Small firms can experiment and innovate because they are not caught up in the “digital factory” model.
  2. They can specialize in a particular area and thus develop a niche that will allow them to have a unique value proposition.
  3. Small firms, in pursuit of revenue, are unlikely to be caught up in traditional definitions of what market research is all about.

In fact, there is a good chance that the future of the market research industry will be defined by the very large and the very small firms with those medium-sized firms squeezed out as they try to compete with the large companies on the same terms (e.g. size, capacity).

It is not all doom and gloom for medium-sized companies. They can also develop a thematic specialization (e.g. HR, customer satisfaction, new product testing) or they can take a page out of the book of small companies and focus on collaboration.