Facility Shake-Out on the Horizon?

Is a shake-out looming among focus group facilities?   Its definitely a topic among researchers at conferences and wherever “old quallies” gather.  The conversation usually revolves around the obvious fragmentation of our industry with all the new methodologies and capabilities popping up.  The speculation is that many facility owners may simply be holding on until their expensive, long-term leases expire so they can close down the facility.  There is no way to know if this is true.  If so, it represents a major shift in our industry.

The specter of a facility shake-out was raised anew with Leibowitz Market Research‘s announcement that it sold its facility building in Charlotte after 50 years in business.   They are “retooling” to better meet today’s needs.  Stay tuned.  Even so, it reminded me of other friends who have closed and moved on.  I wonder if there are more closings just over the horizon?

I don’t expect the facility business will completely go away any time soon.  But, we have to ask the question, “Will there be enough business to go around?”  If not, “What will the surviving industry look like?”  I think we will see many more closings.  The trends suggest it.  Business is fragmenting.  Owners are aging.  Leases are expiring.  Big firms are flexing their muscle.  Schlessinger keeps growing, Focus Pointe Global had a capital infusion. Fieldwork seems to be maintaining its network.

MRA’s 2012 Blue Book lists 424 facilities in the U.S.  The 2013 edition will come out soon.  I wonder how many will be listed then?

Fortunately, at 20|20, our facilities have been healthy and are adding capabilities to “retool” for the times.  So, its a little difficult for me to judge.  However, the signs point to a new age in the facility business.  If a shake-out is coming, lets hope for a soft landing.


MRA on the Upswing

Last week, I was thrilled to be inducted along with Janet Baldi‘ Senior VP of RTI Research, to the Board of Directors of the Marketing Research Association (MRA).   It was an honor to be nominated and to be elected.   This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved with MRA because of the amazing leadership, and in some cases sacrifice, that has been the MRA Board in the past few years.

MRA is an association on the upswing.  As I noted here a year ago, there is a noticeable sense of mission and energy with MRA that indicates strong leadership and purpose.  Leadership changes everything.  Your MRA leadership has made some difficult decisions and executed them well over the past couple of years.  Here are a few that caught my eye:

  • Hired David Almy as Executive Director.  Obviously David is a leader and visionary.
  • Moved the headquarters to Washington, DC.  This move made a bold statement that MRA was serious about representing the industry in the halls of Congress.  The move also positioned MRA among a wealth of association management talent so that the Associations’ leadership needs can be met for years to come.
  • Reduced the side of the Board of Directors from 18 to 11.  The Board was simply too large to be agile.  Several Board members were selfless in voting for the reduction and the elimination of their own seats.
  • Repositioning the “Fall Conference” as the “Corporate Researcher’s Conference.”  Not only does the conference now have a clear target market, the change boldly focused MRA on its greatest perceived weakness, the inclusion of research buyers.  (Did you know Corporate Researchers are 1/3 of MRA members?)  Now research buyers are involved and several serve on the Board.  MRA will now truly serve all facets of the market research community.

So, I am honored and a bit awed to be elected to the Board of an organization that is so clearly on the move.  Its an exciting time to be a part of this organization.  I can only hope to continue the legacy of the leaders who have made such dramatic and forward-thinking decisions before me.  The actions of these MRA leaders have ushered in an era of promise and possibilities.

Thank you to those MRA leaders who have laid the groundwork and sowed the seeds of a new era for MRA industry leadership.

MRA Conference hits a Home Run

I never thought I would call an MRA Conference a “home run” but MRA put together a terrific conference this week. There were plenty of areas to nitpick but on the most important element, content, MRA got it right.  The content stimulated high level thinking and was forward-focused.  Most of the speakers were well prepared and well briefed.  They focused on research as an industry rather than the details of a few methods.  Most of these speakers caused the audience to ponder the future of the industry and their place in it.

My two personal favorites sessions were:

  1. The face off between Bill Neal and Marshall Toplansky was one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking sessions I have seen in a conference in quite a while.
  2. “What it means to be a connected human in the 21st Century” by James McQuivey of Forrester Research.

This conference and recent MRA decisions gives the impression that the MRA is on the rise.  The Marketing Research Association (MRA) has long been a great place for “data collectors” to gather, build friendships and share/commiserate with one another.  The association had little to offer other players in the industry.  That impression is changing at warp speed.

First of all, as mentioned, the conference content was far and away the best of any MRA Conference I have ever attended.

Second, the MRA Board announced that MRA is moving to Washington, DC.  This is an overdue and gutsy call by the Board.  MRA has long been the only MR association with a full-time presence on Capitol Hill.  Now MRA will solidify their leadership as  our industry’s government relations voice and be located in the rich association talent pool of Washington, DC.

Third, MRA is boldly reaching out to Corporate Researchers by eliminating their fall conference and replacing it with a conference specifically programmed for Corporate Researchers.  MRA has grasped the understanding that if Corporate researchers are involved, the rest of the industry will follow.  Given MRA’s historic weakness in this area, establishing a Corporate Researcher Conference was another gutsy call.

There is only one way that an organization changes its trajectory so quickly:  leadership.  I want to publicly commend David Almy (the new CEO), Elisa Galloway (outgoing President) and the MRA Board of Directors for making some tough but necessary calls that put MRA in a new trajectory as an industry leader.

MRA Conference Quotes: Bill Neal and Marshall Toplansky face off

The MRA Conference started Tuesday with a bang!  Industry veterans, icons really, Bill Neal and Marshall Toplansky, faced off on a debate about the future of the industry, specifically social media.  The debate was fun, opinionated and wide-ranging.  Some great quotes emerged.  Here are some of them that may make you stop and ponder.

“The (technology) train has left the station.  If the research industry does not get involved, it will relegate itself to the dustbin of history.” Marshall

What bothers me about our industry is that the answer to “It isn’t perfect” is I won’t bother with it.  In technology, the answer to “It isn’t perfect” is “I’ll work to fix it.” Marshall

On Corporate Trends:

“Corporate researchers are investing in ongoing, real-time information systems.  They started with financial systems and they are moving to marketing systems.  They are moving from a focus on strategic research and into performance indices.” Marshall

“Our role is to be the arbiter of the voice of the customer in the C-suite.  Unfortunately we do not have a voice in the C-suite today.” Bill

“Corporate researchers are not able to make judgments to understand what is good research and what is not.  They want the top numbers to pass up to those paying for it.” Bill

“Big M marketing is waning; Little m marketing is increasing.” Bill   (Big M = branding and long term positioning.  Little m = tactical marketing to result in short-term sales.)

“The fundamental flow of information to the decision makers is inadequate.” Marshall

On Social Media as a Research Tool:

“I don’t care how big the data set is, if its not representative then its not valid.  There are gobs of people that are not represented in social media…I’m not sure its ever going to get to the point where it is representative.” Bill

“It’s the “why” part of it that a lot of this new technology is not addressing.” Bill

“Despite what I have seen at this conference, social media research has not reached the point where you will bet the company on it.” Bill

“Gobs of data does not relieve us from conducting statistically reliable and trustworthy analyses…(and) relieve us from making reliable projections that can be defended in the court of reality” Bill

I remember when people stood up and said “Scanner data is going to end all research.” Bill

“I remember when people said that scanner data was no good because we didn’t know anything about the people that the data represents.  It wasn’t long until loyalty cards were invented to solve that problem.  We will solve these problems with social media.” Marshall

“I am concerned that this drive to use social media as quantitative information is going to lead too many people to drive off the cliff.  I guess that’s my major problem with it.”  Bill

“I want to address this idea of “representativeness.”  Do you realize that this whole idea of “representativeness” is a load of crap?…We are stuck in an old paradigm that even Proctor & Gamble is moving away from.” Marshall

“We have a herd instinct going on with social media and we have a lot more work to do to make it predictable.” Bill

“I don’t think you appreciate the scale difference between social media and traditional research.  To give you a sense of scale, just in consumer electronics we analyze and collect 120 million comments a month.  We are looking at this as the law of large numbers.  A lot of the comments we would normally delete in a typical research project get bled out in the millions of comments from social media.” Marshall

“So woman comes on and complains about diapers and more moms agree and add on.  Eventually the discussion cascades and the entire social media discussion is about a topic that may or may not be important to the majority of moms.  This is one of the problems I have with social media.” Bill

“Its (social media) not the end all, its just another tool.  Don’t oversell it.  Don’t overuse it.” Bill

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