What makes the analyst/market research business so fascinating and yet challenging is how one competes in a space where there are either established firms with solid market positioning, brand name people, scale etc., or a multitude of generic report factories that push out reports via a process of scraping web-based content, applying generic strategic analysis like Michael Porter, and then lowballing on price.
I was having a conversation with someone the other day on ways in which they could get their small firm up over the hump and become a profitable and sustainable business. They operate in a space populated by established analyst firms in a market segment with a fair amount of media coverage and marketing noise. My first thought was in how they needed something that would force people to stop and take notice of them. Was there some set of findings, analysis, or content that the firm could offer that would grab market attention? Was there a way to drill into a part of the market or subject area that no one else was doing or offer something unique that could be properly messaged?
New ideas or conceptualizations are hard to come by and it is often painfully obvious when analysts create new categories to get analyst relations departments to throw them some money. Some markets are simply too well defined to offer a credible new taxonomy. However, there are times when markets become too myopic, the thinking is too stale or just too noisy. Herein lies the opportunity.
It is a mistake to do what everyone else is already doing, even more so if they have greater resources, scale, reputation, or huge digital marketing budget. Also to consider was how much of a commitment it requires to win business via engagements, data collection, analysis presentation and requisite personal and firm brand building. There are often opportunities to carve off pieces of a market as a niche player, but business scalability is extremely challenging.
Another consideration was that the market they were in was an analyst-oriented business and not report-focused. A lot of important differences between these approaches and likely a reason that the offshore factories do not make any major headway. Analyst oriented markets require identifiable persons that are out in front representing the firm/practice. The reports business can have value where you are in an early stage of market formulation or in less dynamic environment but there is always the matter of offshore factories and tons of content marketing that is not always low-grade.
One suggestion was splitting elements of the published works and generating more forecast oriented products. Take the reports, break them down into product specific categories, pull out the related forecasts and content, add some additional qualitative elements and there are more things to sell. Does this practice cut into existing product line though or does it open the door to new revenue and customers both inside the target market for the firm’s products or outside of it? There are all of the various product marketing and sales issues to address here as well.
Financially, the model of niche player can work if the sales requirements are not too onerous. I have directed and sold reports that generated in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales, far more projects in the several tens of thousands and yes, ones that the market simply did not embrace. There are a host of reasons why reports fail and said reasons/lessons can be addressed ad nauseum in other venues.
An independent or start up can do quite a bit to garner some market traction with making connections, doing quality interviews and email check ins. I recommend the provider target 30 companies that comprise the supply chain and some additional firms that serve as sales channels or end user. From the supplier side 8-10 interviews with another 12-15 email check ins with 5-6 questions generates 20-25 touches. Convert 5-6 into sales and your project is viable. Conversion rate will be influenced by how well the analyst engages the market obviously but also in the go-to-market plan.
- News release
- Talking points to market and industry media
- Product sample
- 3rd party content placement
- Marketing events
- Sales follow ups, meeting set up and presentations
Having analysts that can be presented and promoted in a market are an important component of success but not a sufficient determinant. Where companies have invested time building expertise and reputation, these serve as powerful barriers to entry thus the differentiation becomes paramount. Hedging risk by offering lower quality or somewhat indistinguishable content to the market is highly inadvisable. Capital is important and hard to come by, but I have seen people with wealth assume that what they did in other businesses (or in another era) will apply to current circumstance and that simply is not the case in such an evolving and highly nuanced business.
Being undifferentiated is deadly. While playing the role of the barking Crank in the public square might garner some notice it will not get someone paid. The parrot is more pleasing but offers little true value and no one will pay for it especially if the provider has no influence.
An analyst practice with some chance of success must be founded on data-orientation, being a market influencer, or providing thought leadership. Some combination is better. Developing that unique brand that makes a market take notice of you is a complicated process but not having some distinguishable characteristics.