Late last night the market research vendor landscape became a little more consolidated with the announcement that e-Rewards reached an agreement to acquire Conversition Strategies. This is not the first, nor probably the last, move that e-Rewards will take in growing a versatile offering in the market research industry. In 2009, e-Rewards, acquired UK-based online panel provider Research Now, which allowed it to become an online panel provider with global reach. And in 2010 e-Rewards acquired Peanut Labs, which enhanced its panel by offering a social media specialty sample that is recruited and surveyed through social and gaming networks. The acquisition of the Conversition platform EvoListen will allow e-Rewards’ clients to listen and analyze, in a market researcher’s terms, what consumers are saying on social media.

 This announcement is significant for the market research industry because it:

  • Reaffirms that social media is a source for consumer insights. Forrester’s Technographics® data shows that more than 80% of online US consumers regularly use social media. And this high level of engagement is not exclusive to developed markets. Even emerging markets like Brazil and China are voracious consumers of social media. In market research, we need to be where our consumers are, and now more than ever, social media is that channel. What sounds better, access to 6 to 8 million actively engaged online people globally, which is typically what you find with global online panel providers, or access to more than 600 million active online people? With that wide scope of access, it should be a no-brainer that social media is an important channel that we should be using to gather consumer insights.
  • Speaks to the importance of “listening” to consumers.There is significant value in being a “fly on the wall” during consumers’ conversations with their peers about their experiences and their feelings regarding products, brands, and services. Listening to consumers and analyzing their conversations can help market insights professionals build more holistic profiles of their audience segment, understand their positioning relative to competitor brands, track product or campaign performance, and generate new hypotheses that can be tested in other research. Many other departments are already quite engaged in social intelligence activities, and this acquisition bolsters the idea that listening also has a place within market research.
  • Speaks to the major concerns of Market Insights with social research. In our research around social market research at Forrester we identified three major areas of using social media for market research purposes: accessing, listening, and embracing. (For clients that want details on these three areas, see this report.) In our conversations with market insights professionals they regularly expressed their concern around representativeness of social media research and understanding how to convert it into more quantifiable terms. e-Rewards has addressed these concerns two-fold. First, they are delivering a service whereby market insights professionals can get context around the insights generated from the social media conversations they listen to by benchmarking and testing their hypothesis against their panel of consumers. Second, they smartly acquired a listening platform that was built for market researchers by market researchers that converts the listening data into terms that market insights professionals are accustomed to. Thereby bridging the gap between the unstructured nature of social media and the structured world of market research.
  • Demonstrates that the market research vendor mash-up is happening.Over the next two to three years, we will see a lot of consolidation of firms as well as a repositioning of their value proposition in the market. The overall movement will be in the direction of either acquiring niche methodology vendors in areas like neuroscience, mobile, and advanced analytics or with consultancies that provide the strategic business insights needed to deliver the story and not just the data to clients. e-Rewards is, for now, following the former direction with the building of its suite of social media capabilities. 

e-Rewards clearly understands the first three points. It has responded by providing not only access to social media sample but also a tool to collect and analyze the conversations this sample is generating, as well as the opportunity to match the results from social market research with information collected through its samples. In fact, it’s a first step to a more holistic approach to social market research.

However, there is piece of the puzzle that is still missing, and right now, it’s theirs for the taking. e-Rewards needs to incorporate consultative services either through internal organic growth or with another acquisition of a firm. Market insights professionals need not only the access and tools to listen to consumers through social media, but also the guidance to help them understand what this social media information means and how to convert it into actionable insights and deliver the recommended next steps that align to their company’s key business initiatives. It won’t be long before other players move in and deliver a full-service offering that marries traditional market research, emerging methodologies like social and mobile, and insights all together. And it may just be that the new competition is already an e-Rewards client.