person Guy Potter access_time January 15, 2019
2018 – A Year In Market Research

There’s never a dull moment in market research and 2018 certainly hasn’t been a quiet year!  

The industry is constantly evolving and adapting to advances in technology and society, which is transforming the research landscape year on year. We take a look at some of the big research and marketing highlights of 2018.   

Data breaches  

The Cambridge Analytica scandal was not only a shocking story for the industry but was a global wake-up call. Using a quiz format on Facebook, the company was able to harvest data from participants and their friends, which may well have influenced the outcome of the US election in 2016. 

This scandal hit Facebook hard, with Mark Zuckerberg being held to account, with Cambridge Analytica ceased trading. But did it have a knock-on effect and hit the research industry as a whole? Luckily, we think not. There was a risk that participants might be more reluctant to contribute data to surveys on the back of what happened, but this hasn’t been the case. 

In some ways, the Cambridge Analytica story strengthened the reputation of the research industry. Good research is transparent and follows a code of conduct. Having worked hard to maintain a strong reputation, it’s good to see that one company didn’t tarnish it for all. 

But that’s not to say that lessons weren’t learnt; for every Cambridge Analytica there’s always a key takeaway. In this case, it’s about respecting personal data. Technology has the ability to access all types of information, so it’s an organisation’s responsibility to handle it with extreme care. 

GDPR   

By April/May 2018, we couldn’t move for GDPR stories in the press and online. Now we live in a post-GDPR world.  

The way personally identifiable information is stored and used is subject to much stricter regulation. Some companies, fearing GDPR legislated against the holding of personal data without permission deleted their marketing email lists in an act of self-immolation. Actually, GDPR allows the holding and use of personal data in certain prescribed circumstances. You have to follow the Information Commissioner’s guidance. Our spam folders are a lot lighter, that’s for sure!  

For research, GDPR had less impact than many imagined. As an industry most of us were protecting data according to stringent data protection standards anyway, so we were a GDPR-ready industry. At Maru Usurv, we don’t actually hold customer data, so we’re pleased to say this was never an issue for us.

Dollars everywhere 

So much for austerity. There’s been some serious money paid for research houses and survey companies this year.  

SAP bought survey software company, Qualtrics, for a staggering $8 billion. Cash. Yes, cash. SurveyMonkey went to IPO at a price that was 60% higher than expected, and Ipsos acquired four global divisions of GfK Research. 

Analyst house Forrester Research also acquired SiriusDecisions in a $245 million deal. Not as big as the Qualtrics purchase, but still significant, nonetheless.  

What’s interesting about these acquisitions is that they are all tech-based companies, which shows the big players are taking research technology very seriously. 

With big data available in seconds, the research industry has had to respond accordingly, so it’s only logical that they start to acquire the big players in this space.  

Shock exits and consolidation 

Martin Sorrel’s overnight departure from WPP was big industry news, as well as the radical changes taking place at Ogilvy. All its 1,000 staff have been offered voluntary redundancy, and there have also been departures from the senior team as the new CEO looks to streamline the company into one cohesive brand.  

If that wasn’t enough, WPP also announced that it is merging JWT with Wunderman. The aim of this is to provide “end-to-end solutions – through creative, data, commerce, consulting and technology services.” Again, we’re looking at a more tech-focused approach, even agency-side.  

We’re also seeing more agencies streamlining their offering, especially in more ‘traditional’ areas, such as PR and Advertising. With digital marketing going from strength to strength as businesses increase their digital budgets, the big players need to respond accordingly. 

2019 predictions  

For 2019, we feel 2018’s trends will continue. We haven’t seen the last of the great consolidation story. We think there’s going to be a lot more. The same with acquisitions. As vendors, analysts and agencies see shortfalls in their offering, they’ll go on a spending spree. 

We’re sure we haven’t seen the last major data breach either, so we should brace ourselves for some more big stories to hit the headlines. Facebook, battered and politically bruised,  seems to be faring well in business terms after the Cambridge Analytica and other scandals, but will it be enough for the long term?  

There’s a lot going on and we haven’t touched on what’s happening in the world of social media, which is now doing its best to use customer data ethically. Instagram is on a Fake Followers mission, especially when it comes to influencers, and Facebook’s ad campaign (“Fake news is not our friend”) is a charm offensive to win back trust. So, will we see a mass data clean-up amongst the social media giants? Let’s watch this space. 

Guy Potter is maru / usurv's head of research and clients.