I picked up this month’s NZ Marketing magazine focused on the disintermediation of the marketing industry by specialist agencies and it got me thinking about my own journey and what is happening within my industry...consumer insights.
Like many other professional services based on human capital and earning an income from our expertise, independent specialists and boutiques are on the rise. I left agency land over 10 years ago and have never looked back. I enjoy the freedom and flexibility that working independently affords me. I have more control over the type of work I do and now have the privilege of being able to turn down jobs if I want to.
“The secret to job security in 2018 and beyond is to remember that we build our own security and carry it around with us. No employer can assure you lifetime employment anymore. No private company can. No public employer can." Liz Ryan, CEO/founder of Human Workplace
Adapting to the Fourth Industrial Revolution
As we enter the age of Professor Schwab' s Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are reminded that this move toward more autonomous working conditions is not without its challenges. Workflow and wondering where the next job is going to come from has forced me to adopt new business development and networking skills – not as easy for a closet introvert. In the early days…this means having to take whatever job comes your way just to keep the lights on. Finding the right partners to collaborate with both from a skill and culture fit... wrangling Xero, paying salaries and wondering whether the bank will mind extending my overdraft one more time :-)
But it seems the trend toward independence in professional services is here to stay and consumer insights is no different. So what is behind this rise of the ‘Free Agent Nation’?
As Richard and Daniel Susskind allude to in their recent book ‘The Future of the Professions’, technology and cloud computing are disrupting the 'traditional contract of professional services' enabling ‘corporations of one’ to operate and act like larger organisations through the use of virtual assistants, outsourced admin, machine learning, collaboration with peers, online service platforms, accessible data visualisation tools and online accounting software.
“Online platforms allow traditional professionals to convene, collaborate and deliver services in teams and structures that were not possible in the past.” Daniel Susskind
Millennials’ have also exerted a significant influence on this entrepreneurial approach to work and career. Technology has lowered the cost of entry where younger employees can launch a ‘side hustle’, join the global gig economy or be part of the burgeoning start-up culture. It is this cohort that also respond positively to more flexibility and meaningful work in their career.
Client brands seeking more ‘bang for their buck’
There appears to be a shift among some client brands looking for more value and specialised expertise that is not always available within full service agencies. With experience and expertise comes speed and higher cognitive thinking. Brands are able to extract more strategic value from the specialists they engage with in a more efficient way. This has become particularly valuable in today’s environment where brand marketers are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data they are now dealing with.
Through this decentralisation, there is also an opportunity to make marketing research and consumer insights more accessible to a wider range of businesses, not just the few that can afford it.
“Most people in most organizations cannot afford the services of first rate professionals or indeed any professionals. Think about the expertise of legal professionals...it is a very, very scarce resource in society. We’ve built a Rolls Royce service for a few and everyone else seems to be walking.” Richard Susskind, The Future of the Professions
So, what does this mean for the independent consumer insights specialist?
Like other professional services, the impact of collaboration on the cloud, machine learning and enhanced data capture will continue to disrupt the reliance on large, full-service agencies for insights that can be sourced and managed internally. However, what brands will continue to seek out is the ‘why’.
As experts in this field, the future is bright for consumer insights and human behaviour specialists. With marketing shifting from mass to personal, the need to move away from a 'one size fits all' approach is imperative. "Consumer insights research gets under the skin and inside the consumer’s head to find the “why” of a purchase, to understand what happened, and to project what could occur in the future." Jure Klepic
“When handling data, researchers see so much more than just numbers. We are consistently looking for the “why” behind each data set and ought to view ourselves as storytellers and problem solvers— as our role is one that aims to enrich, not only the market, but the daily lives of consumers.” Zoe Rose, Sr. Research Associate,
So to all my fellow indies in the consumer insights world, stay strong knowing that we are at the cusp of change and a brave new world lies ahead. Carpe diem!