The ‘Most Innovative’ Imperative For Every Insights Firm

Alex Hunt, President, System1, discusses the latest GRIT findings.

This morning, GRIT released its annual rank of the insights industry’s ‘most innovative’agencies. Having been #1 globally for the past six years as BrainJuicer, it was inevitable that as System1, we’d need to prove our innovativeness all over again to retake the #1 spot. So we’re delighted to take this year’s global #3 spot and are enjoying the challenge and working hard ‘to go where no research has gone before’ and see over the coming years if we can reclaim pole position. In the meantime, congratulations to Kantar and Ipsos for winning this year’s #1 and #2 spots and a shout out to all agencies driving the exciting wave of much needed innovation our insights industry is experiencing.

The GRIT Report is especially significant this year due to the innovation imperative that has become visible across the insights industry over the past 12 months. GRIT lays bare the advancement of new technologies and trends relentlessly sweeping our, as well as many other, sectors. As one of our clients recently remarked, market research has changed more in the last 3 years than it has over the past 30.

But despite new tools and trends, the innovation imperative we collectively face in adapting to a transformed landscape can be boiled down to a familiar business challenge; brands want – and quite rightly now demand – better, faster, and cheaper insight into how and why their customers will behave in a certain way to inform marketing efforts that positively increase their odds of being chosen. It’s always been true that the most adaptable survive, so what does this mean for us at System1 as we endeavor to live up to being a ‘most innovative’ insights firm? We commit to three things:

Lead by contributing to client business outcomes. Applying the behavioral sciences to understand how people make decisions, which System1 has pioneered throughout the last several years, is now mainstream industry practice. Better understanding of why people decide, and we would argue for the first time an accurate understanding of human behavior, has therefore enhanced the potential of our entire industry to contribute to brand and business growth.

Yet at a recent industry conference, I was struck by how many on the agency-side are satisfied to stop at passionately serving up the ever improving method and science behind behavioral research, before declining to follow through and state the profitable business outcomes the insight uncovered can and will deliver – this despite clients’ near universal plea for support as many of the large consumer facing brands they manage struggle to grow. To be better in the future, we at System1 commit to shaping and building our organization around our mission to guarantee profitable outcomes for our clients, versus purely stopping at interesting science and outputs. We accept that if we in our insights industry don’t, another sector will – enter the consultants.

Embrace an instant world. Think about how long it used to take to send information to someone in another city. First you had to wait weeks for a piece of mail to arrive at its destination, then minutes for a fax to transmit, then seconds for emails to send. Email is now becoming obsolete and experiences can be broadcast and fed back on by massive networks instantly via social media. Data availability and access sees a similar trend and at System1 we recognize that the insights and findings which only a few years ago took 2-3 weeks to deliver, should today be available instantaneously. We’ve therefore reimagined a world where, for example, every commercial that airs is audited for its effectiveness within minutes. We know it won’t be long before validated, quantitative feedback on pre-tested advertising creative becomes instant, opening an exciting new world of scaled growth opportunities for our clients and industry.

Honest about the source of the value we deliver. Better, faster insight also needs to drive profitable brand growth at a lower price point. In 1983, Motorola sold the world’s first commercial cell phone for $3,995; now, you can get a cell phone for well under $50. When an innovation is no longer new, customers expect to pay less for it. Data is now in such abundance, it alone no longer offers a competitive advantage for large brands – and in an industry that has made margin out of data collection, this presents an obvious challenge. Yet those who are genuinely differentiated by delivering outcomes that drive profitable growth, have no value prop concern. At System1 we simply commit to being honest and accountable for the fact that the value we offer lies in the profitable outcomes we shape, versus the data we design for and collect. We’ve re-engineered our entire product portfolio to reflect exactly that promise. We’ve also made it possible for clients to pay us based on the incremental profit our value-add delivers!

We appreciate this year’s recognition from GRIT and hope to continue to live up to our ‘most innovative’ rank (whatever it may be in the future!). When it comes down to it, this requires the sort of bravery and creativity that our business has demonstrated time and again during 18 years in business – from pioneering online research, to automating the structuring of unstructured data, through the adoption of behavioral science. Bravery and creativity are not attributes market researchers traditionally over-index on, so that’s the final commitment we make – to exhibit bravery and creativity in our business and in service to clients, while celebrating all others in the insights industry who follow their own ‘most innovative’ imperative and join us in adapting to and creating the future. Congratulations to all of the GRIT winners!

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