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Kaizo Live – How has the pandemic impacted market research?

Kaizo Live – How has the pandemic impacted market research?

[00:00:29] Hello and welcome to the 10th edition of Kaizo Live. It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing this for 10 weeks now, but this week we’re going to be having a look at the impact of covid on the world of B2B market research with a specific focus on the tech sector with one of our research partners on some board. That’s important as a UK based market research consultancy that specialises in providing B2B market research services, although much of it will go to the technology sector. And I’m joined today by its managing director, Neil Thornton. Now, Neil spent the first part of his career at the coalface, so to speak, as an I.T. consultant working in the IT departments of large Blue Chip companies, including GSK and Anglo American and leading software houses such as the last 20 years. He’s been leading the way at some of the largest and most innovative market research firm, says JFK and Newark of all before landing at Van Born two years ago. So welcome, Neil.

[00:01:32] Thank you so much. That much to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

[00:01:36] Well, thank you very much for joining me. And if we could if we could kick off with hearing a little bit about how this period has been for Vance and Bloor and how your team has adjusted to, you know, a world impacted by Corvet.

[00:01:53] Yes. So we’re very fortunate in that during this period, we as an agency have been very resilient. There are a number of factors that are driving that resilience that I can touch on. But I think in terms of how we’ve changed and working from very much as very much an office based organisation towards more of a remote working organisation as as many as many have around the world, I think it’s going very well. It’s gone as well as we.

[00:02:23] We are a digital agency, so our ability to deliver services has not been adversely impacted to any extent that we expect our staff will come together really well to ensure that we’re able to continue to collaborate as effectively as when office based. We we have many clients who aren’t faced with a large client base, and we’re so used to working in a way with clients. So we were able to continue doing all of that. And our infrastructure is fairly solid. So for me, the biggest challenges that we faced were really in supporting our staff and making sure that we take care of their well-being and appreciating that their work life balance might have to change, not just because they’re working in a different location, but also because, you know, there may be factors that are affecting their work day that allows them. You know, we’ve encouraged actually a greater degree of speculation, but we’ve come together while we’re doing well as a company services sector that is itself resilient so that this can stand. And unlike some others in market research, this stuff is going through some very challenging time. But we know we remain robust.

[00:03:43] Yes, I’ve said it before and these sessions, but there’s not a day goes by that I think I don’t feel very grateful that our businesses and models were so easy to transform and and keep running remotely.

[00:04:00] And so, obviously, you focus on B2B market research services and tech techs obviously being heralded as one of the most robust sectors. But what changes have you seen in client research requires both to be really good to hear both from advance and for perspective. And also, what are you seeing and hearing within the wider research sector?

[00:04:24] So let’s start with the first part of that question, then bouncing ball and the changing nature of the request that we have, and I think there are some there are two or three developments, two or three things that have developed strongly for us over the last few months. The first of those with the demand or quick turnaround in sight to help clients understand what’s happening in a very fluid and very uncertain market. So we are having lots of requests for that kind of insight to support companies in strengthening and developing their service offerings. And they go to market strategies and generally their engagement with their customer base. We’re also seeing an increased focus on international research because the way that different countries are going into the lock down, where they are doing lockdown’s managing those lockdowns coming out of them is very, very different. So it’s very difficult to just extrapolate globally from a few countries in the way that we might use. And I know that through this series of discussions with other agencies about the changing landscape of our agencies and that events and conferences, those kinds of very important forums that it’s been historically used to, great effect on the markets, which are research historically shown to be really important in helping IoT SD-Wan strategy and and selectivity, because those are denied. Now, those forums are denied. So they are using the digital channel more. And so we are seeing an increased demand for the research that we provide that helps that the content of the white papers. We see a lot of research based on technologies as clients focus on nation. So we’re we’re seeing good demand for those kinds of services across the board. The second part of your question was around how the market is being impacted by all of this. The U.K. market research industry. It’s very diverse. It’s very innovative, innovative. The UK is one of the world leaders marketing services. There are hundreds of companies, small and large, all different focuses on different sectors. Some of them are specialists, some of the measurements. And so the way that the pandemic is targeting those companies varies to great extent from one company. There are two or three factors that drive whether or not companies are able to use at this time and the industry bodies that oversee this industry. So the market is exciting and some are banking both to their members. And they published a few studies showing how the pandemic is impacting members. We are seeing nine out of 10 research companies are reporting that their revenues are being impacted. I think nearly 30 percent are saying that the impact on them, 75 percent or more. So there are some companies that are really exposed to the impacts of the lockdown. I think 60 percent of market research firms right now are furloughing staff off of market research firm. And the US are expecting to see declines in staff, certainly once following start to come to an end. I think that chair of the MRSA letter to the chancellor, she got a response to something in the same statement tomorrow that is really challenging. I think it comes down to each individual market and it comes down to that, as you alluded to earlier, what sceptred said. So in our case, we still have a very resilient sector. But if you’re a market that specialises in not energy sector, these are very challenging times. As I said, we are indeed companies that the vast majority. What do you give to the patient? You use some telephone Redhat optimal, but most digital. So we are able to continue working as normal and still providing some companies specialising Face-To-Face so that my focus groups or ethnographic studies or in-depth interviews, those companies don’t have a way to research. In fact, I think that markets just opened up and there are guidelines, but the three months have not been able to. Yeah, and then the last factor is the types of services that you provide. So I mentioned that was one a most relevant today. There are maybe by example, there is a very good company that I know that is excellent. It provides services, fast moving consumer goods sector. Those services are typically around innovations and packaging, innovation, product innovation. So there’s very little innovation going on anywhere, including in fact, I think months ago when we had the pasta shortage and we had the opposite of innovation, companies were looking at producing. You were variants of pasta in order to increase output and address shortages. So there are companies that are very strong in that space, but they are furloughing staff because even though the service sector and the demand for the services that they buy.

[00:10:02] Yeah, that’s interesting because I just want to ask you and about whether you’d had to make any adaptations to methodologies to reach panellist’s. You know, what have been, I guess, what have been the challenges and opportunities of of of what you do and this new normal.

[00:10:21] So in terms of being able to reach panellists directly, that’s that’s not been a stumbling block for us. I think it’s always been a great strength that informs our ability.

[00:10:31] To execute new search robustly and reliably, we developed a very strong network of suppliers and we mix and match those suppliers based on the needs of individual assignments, and that network remains resilient. And we are still able to to work through that network to gain access to I.T. professionals, to support the research that we do. The main impact in terms of our approach to research on the way that we design research and the way that we don’t. So in crafting survey questionnaires, we are we always have to be very mindful of context and very sensitive to the response. And so within this environment, we are having to craft our questions. So, for example, we are not asking a question, I.T. professionals, about their long term plans, because it would be rather disingenuous to expect that too many people have an idea about what might happen next year after or if we do need to get some indications as to where they might be, the culture in very sensitive terms and contextualise it quite heavily in the analysis that we then use that coming out. So it’s it’s it’s fundamental market research practise that you contextualise the research that you do and you are mindful of the circumstances in which you’re what you’re designing, your your your questionnaires, for example. So right now there is this set of circumstances in which we’re very mindful of.

[00:12:06] I think it’s very interesting your point about sort of fast turnarounds, because it’s obviously a lot of what we as PR communications professionals say is what we can with clients and big global campaigns.

[00:12:23] And they do focus on on longer term strategic insights and predictions. And I think certainly in this market, whichever sector you’re in, that that’s a tough nigh on impossible to actually get valuable data that’s going to stand up in the longer term.

[00:12:44] So I read a very I read I read a very good quote on LinkedIn where I think he was exaggerating to make a point. But the Post was basically saying, you can almost forget your data. That’s yesterday’s big data has almost no bearing in today’s market. And so if you if you’re used to using your own big data to extrapolate as to where your business might go, it has no more.

[00:13:06] You need to get topical data today and tomorrow and the day after. And that that that reflects that.

[00:13:14] Absolutely. And it goes back to what sales teams and account managers need to be the aides and cut through a very different communications environment.

[00:13:24] Absolutely. Absolutely.

[00:13:26] So I know that you guys recently produced a study specifically about corvids impact on IoT departments. And the resulting challenges may be brilliant to hear about what the main insights were and trends that you saw arising from that research.

[00:13:44] Yeah, so we undertook that research, I think, towards the end of March and published a report in April.

[00:13:50] We did that to try to provide some assistance to our vendor clients and also to our agency clients to give them some guidance on what’s happening in this market. And that report is available on our website. You don’t need to register if you want to download. It would be slightly disingenuous. You can just go and access it and download it without having to tell the people we interviewed. I think it was three hundred I.T. professionals in the UK and that’s with a whole range of industry sectors. And then, as you say, I think there are a number of really interesting things that came out of that. The first of those would be just really how well the whole working remotely at scale exercise. If you think about it, hundreds of thousands of companies shifted millions of employees from office space, working to home base, working virtually overnight. And it was almost seamless for the vast majority. We had responses from our I.T. professionals and 75 percent, three quarters of employees in that way. I suspect everybody else either couldn’t or had already done it in the past. The vast majority of those people did shift employees to work from home, wanted to try to maintain business as usual as best as they could. Reported that at one extreme, we only had two or three respondents out of all of those who said that they felt that their business hasn’t responded quickly enough and three quarters of those who were home grown exceedingly well. And it almost seems now that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some residual concerns and maybe that was another thing. And on the one hand, you might think, of course, the technology round companies would have been repurposed for working from home, but at the same time, the scale of what they did is phenomenal. Satya Nadella, the head of Microsoft, said recently that they had executed two years of digital transformation in just two months. It was a phenomenal undertaking and it went pretty seamlessly. And I think we all pleasantly surprised about how well this went. And if you think about it, departments were under the same stress as the husband wants doing, networking, working. When budgets are being spent. Their companies are aren’t really concerned about their operating prospects, where there are stresses around people being furloughed or potentially made redundant. So under all of this pressure, executing all of this information very well and it was a strong message. And this was all very encouraging to see if you’re looking for positives in all of this.

[00:16:51] Absolutely. I think when we look at the speed of that and, you know, the vital, critical, necessary speed is that digital transformation and was what I was living or happened.

[00:17:03] I’m just wondering if you saw anything from the research that indicated changes in spend, because particularly around, you know, the amount of focus that has had to be put on what some might say are the basics of digital transformation and rather than what we have all love to talk about, especially in the media and on light and, you know, issues.

[00:17:30] You know what I and now where the VMware to what is the feeling currently around investment levels and focus.

[00:17:37] So certainly we did ask that in the survey. We asked the professionals how they saw their budgets being being managed. And it’s exactly as you say right now, effective. Working from home is a business critical mission.

[00:17:55] And so investment is being redirected towards network architecture, network security tools that will help staff become operationally more efficient in their work and some investment into hardware and devices. All of our staff had laptops, for example, but that isn’t universal. So of staff didn’t have laptops and laptops and going by the laptop. And then, as you say, the more disruptive technologies that we were all talking about six months ago that had been gaining traction in the past and being seen as the kind of game changes for the future, we’re seeing investment in those and focussed on those way and quite significant. So anything to do, a new disruptive application, the Internet of Things, as you say, machine learning or intelligence, even Finchy, you know, these are not top of mind for companies that are the in order to survive and working hard to maintain business as usual by being at the biggest area for investment over the next few months. It’s security networks. There are huge concerns despite the transition to remote working at scale, having gone really well, there are huge residual concerns about what that means for the security of those of those 20, 19 was a new and unprecedented level of hacking attacks and phishing scams. And it was you know, it was a really nervous time for professionals if they suddenly take a more controlled environment. And there are plenty of threats to the to the network security there that their organisations so with people working at home, they have less monitoring people and there is a greater propensity for personal devices to be used in accessing company assets and networks. People at home are a little bit more unsure of themselves. It’s not an environment that is familiar with. And so therefore they are more susceptible to attacks and they prey on that kind of uncertainty. So in this phase, now that we’re out of that phase of that initial push to remote working in this phase, we’re now seeing I.T. professionals focus on addressing the shortfalls in their security or other aspects of their architecture. They weren’t able to.

[00:20:35] I lost.

[00:20:38] Although once you talk about some other issues that arise from the from the research, and we certainly see that there’s reduced focus on those more disruptive technologies, and we would certainly not expect it to be focussed on investment in those areas for the foreseeable future. They really are focussed on helping their companies continue to operate. So unless the vendors of A.I. Solutions find a solution for various other disruptive technologies, unless those vendors know that those technologies have a return for companies who are looking to establish their normal, then I don’t think I honestly think any.

[00:21:27] Yes, I think so, and I think there’s I think the security area is a critical one because obviously it touches everything from classic end point through to, you know, the higher end network security. And I think probably what we’ll see is, as you say, where, you know, alien and they’ll can form a critical part of that solution and make this a best give business advantage as part of a security solution. That’s where the focus will be in these highly, traditionally highly innovative areas.

[00:22:02] Yes. I don’t have a direct impact on those things that are important to companies right now rather than a potentially Disruptive Live beneficial impact three, four, five years down. Yeah, yeah.

[00:22:14] So on that note, I mean, it feels like we were making you know, we’re moving at breakneck speed in terms of technology, adoption and development and everybody, AML, IoT, everything was moving so quickly. Do you think that we’ve seen it’s almost like we’ve we’ve had we start a little back to basics, get to the crux of digital transformation. Right. But what does that mean for the future? What does the future hold for the tech sector? Have we lost our imagination and innovation for a little while?

[00:22:55] So I think the answer to that question is probably in two parts.

[00:22:59] I mean, go back to the research that I was talking about. There’s very much a feeling amongst professional that greater value is now being placed on the IoT. I think there was an appreciation of the value of information technology and the role the I.T. department could play in helping companies to continue to innovate and continue to be competitive.

[00:23:24] We also run a state of IoT annual report and that showed how the evolving, the evolving relationship and the rest of the business going forward. I don’t think that those disruptive technologies are lost forever and they’ve been contextualised completely different. But I think what it means is that the IT department is now going to have a very different role, a much more and much more involved role with the rest of the business in terms of how businesses because if anything, this pandemic has shown how integral it is. This is kind of been known for a long time, certainly within the finance industry. And you occasionally hear of systems going down and and how that affects companies. But if anything, it’s not just the fact that the new technology underpins business advancement, but new technology plays a part when businesses is under stress and resilient. So I think that the role of the Department of Information Technology is going to continue to evolve, to evolve in a very, very positive way regarding those new technologies. As we’ve come through this first phase of looking at scale, going through the second phase and then going back and tightening up the security and ultimately around the phase three will be companies like yours and mine looking at how we evolve a new normal post pandemic, Watsa operating model going to be and the IT departments will be very focussed on on how basic those transitions. And for our companies that would straightforward for companies in other sectors like manufacturing, they want to see more resilience. That might mean quite big transformational change. Those companies don’t have to have to support beyond that, assuming we get to a new normal world cycle and the time scales on that in the next, Gramlich, is discussions with those, you know, anything from start moving all the way through to a long haul that could take the best part of a decade. So who knows what the timing is going to be in space? Yes, let’s hope not for that. Beyond that, beyond that, the disruptive technologies will come back. That that involvement of the disruptive technology to the landscape can be accelerated if they’re shown to have benefits. And if not, then industry companies will eventually get to it. But it will be further down the line because they’re really focussed on on business as usual, on surviving some of them and on including those.

[00:26:04] And what about the future for market research, is the future bright as we see shifts in channels of communication?

[00:26:14] So I think, you know, market research has has has had its challenges exposed in the same way that many other sectors. I think we will see a little bit of shrinkage in the sector because I don’t think some companies are going to survive through this. All remaining companies are going to want as every as every company that we just had, a Black Swan event that has just tested companies all over the globe. And so coming out of this, companies will want to look at their operating model. They want to look at the products and services they provide, and they’ll want to improve their resilience, which will mean, I think, two things, diversification, so that you’re not particularly exposed to one sector or one product line. And there has been a trend towards digital in this sector for the last few decades. But I expect to see that you see that accelerated because, again, if anything, this pandemic is generated more than IoT.

[00:27:17] Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining us this morning, Neil. It’s been exceptionally insightful, I think, with the full economic ramifications of covid still really unclear and lots of debate still raging about, as you say, the the depth of recession and the course of the shape of recovery. And I think the one thing I’ve taken from this is the level of insight used in the right way right now. That level of quick, fast turnaround and site data is going to be absolutely valuable and critical to a lot of business strategies, never mind just in the tech sector. And we’re looking forward to the next phase of of the corporate report. I’m sure with that will be on the on the website demerging the one that’s currently up there.

[00:28:12] And so just a reminder, you can find this episode and on previous episodes on our website, Kaizo to the U.K. And in the meantime, we’ll be back next Tuesday at 11 and with our next episode. So thank you again, Neil, and see you then.