As the Greenbook GRIT survey opens for another year, and I answer questions about the role of automation, technology and working practices in market research — I find myself reflecting on the role of innovation in the sector, and what has made it such a valuable part of our sector.
To preface, there are many perspectives as to what makes a company great. I often hear arguments that sales velocity, revenue growth, great customer service, a well-respected culture or even just pure profit are the hallmarks of success. But whether said out loud or not, there is one thing that underpins all of these factors — innovation.
And that’s something I’ve had a turbulent relationship with in the past. Because for the past 15 years (almost), I’ve been at the helm of FlexMR. And, in that position, it’s easy to be critical of the market moments we missed, and wonder about the paths we didn’t take. That’s a challenge for all business leaders. But, in all honesty, simply surviving in business is hard. So to survive and deliver on all those hallmarks of success? Well, that’s unicorn territory.
Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of the progress that FlexMR have made across all of those performance indictors. But as I reflect more deeply on how we have succeeded, the concept of innovation is frequently near the top of my mind. If someone were to ask what the one constant has been over our 15+ years in business, my answer would be simply that we haven’t stood still. We’ve embraced change. We’ve always moved forward.
I have to admit, it’s not the force that gets me out of bed every morning. That is down to everything else. I want us to grow. I want us to deliver unbeatable service. I want us to be profitable. I want us to be the best we can. But none of that can happen if we don’t innovate. Over the past decade, there have been so many steps forward in market research. We’ve seen the market grow, behaviours change, technology evolve and competition explode. As partners to our clients, we operate in shifting sands. As the world moves around us, it’s vital that we move to; exert our own momentum and strive to bring our own vision to life. All this to say, just like many other research vendors and insight agencies, we exist today because we have remained relevant and firmly fixated on the future.
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Very few businesses are started because of what they will be doing. I know from experience that in the early days, just getting through each day can be a struggle. So what leads to a culture of innovation? That’s a question I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for. But I firmly believe it starts by listening to your clients and your audience. Everybody wants tomorrow to be better than today. Whether that translates to improvements in working practices, new technologies, or better societies even — the best people to explain what should come next are those that live with the realities of the present. Your customers. (And for researchers: your stakeholders & participants too.)
“Innovation requires us to systematically identify changes that have already occurred in a business, and then to look at them as opportunities. It also requires something that is most difficult for existing companies to do — to abandon rather than defend yesterday.”
- Peter Drucker, Author and Educator
This is why it is so important we, along with the marketing and insights industry as a whole, support and embrace the Greenbook Research Industry Trends survey. Because it promotes innovation and champions the need for it. I was incredibly proud that we debuted last year in position #44 of the most innovative suppliers list — because it helped me come to the realisation that, despite never formalising a policy or approach to innovation, it had pervaded our culture. The simple mantras of moving forward and always doing better had manifested into a tangible recognition of our commitments to industry progress.
The Past, Present and Future of Innovation
Over a number of years, FlexMR has evolved from humble beginnings as a research agency (that specialised in telephone surveys) into a boutique agency, a pioneer of online research, a driving force behind the agile research revolution, and more recently into the flag-bearers of insights empowerment. We’ve embraced technology, built a world-class development team, pivoted towards platform development and embraced the hybrid-service future.
In the last eighteen months alone, we re-developed our InsightHub platform to add new integrated video capabilities, we embraced new coding languages and launched five new service programmes that support our insights empowerment vision. In 2022, we plan to release ActivateMR, a radical tool for building and embedding a collaborative culture of insight. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Of course, none of this is easy. Product, service and business development takes a creative culture, a top-notch team and huge investment. Plus a little patience. The outcome? You could say it’s innovation, but it’s also just who we are — and the path we’ve chosen to walk. And while there are no certainties in life or business, what I do know is that if we had not chosen this path (consciously or otherwise) then the last great economic shock of the 2008 financial crises would have spelled the end of FlexMR.
So I can only come to the conclusion that innovation in market research doesn’t just unlock new efficiencies, new ways of working and new economic value — it’s an essential investment. One that protects our industry from a multitude of threats, helps us gain a seat at the proverbial table and, ultimately, gives us the agency we need to succeed. I, for one, hope this never changes.
Lastly, a massive thank you to everyone at FlexMR, and all of those that have worked with us over the years. And thank you to Greenbook for shining a much needed light on the necessity of innovation in insight.
This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insights Blog and can be accessed here.