FEATURE17 October 2013

Automatic for the people


As TNS launches an automated, app-based version of ConversionModel, Jan Hofmeyr explains why this isn’t the death of conventional research as we know it, but an expansion of opportunities.

Steve Phillips and Jan Hofmeyr

Steve Phillips and Jan Hofmeyr

Why would a research company, with a long-standing and successful brand equity measurement tool, decide to make that same tool available as a significantly cheaper, automated online ‘app’?

Jan Hofmeyr, founder of ConversionModel and head of behaviour change at TNS, was expecting that question when we sat down to interview him recently about the decision to launch ConversionModel Express – the aforementioned app – on the ZappiStore online research platform.

As of today, web users in seven countries can visit Zappi, click a button, and buy a ConversionModel study for their brand or company for a fraction of what it might cost if bought directly through TNS. The surveys, analysis and outputs are all automated. The consultancy layer is missing. But essentially it’s the same product, for less.

“The questions many people might have are, ‘Doesn’t ZappiStore present a threat to your traditional business model?’ and ‘Aren’t you afraid that you might be cannibalising the kind of business that you normally do?’,” says Hofmeyr.

His answer, on both counts, is ‘no’. In the following Q&A with Hofmeyr and Steve Phillips, founder and CEO of ZappiStore, he explains his rationale.

“All of this automation is going to take the drudge-work out of market research and give researchers the opportunity to spend much more time consulting”

Research: What led you to start thinking about making ConversionModel available as an app?
Jan Hofmeyr:
When I first heard about ZappiStore, I had absolutely no doubt that the sort of thing that ZappiStore is doing is the kind of thing we’re going to see more of as marketing research changes, and as market research leverages the new technologies that are available to it.

So while I’ve got no doubt that ZappiStore is part of what the future research landscape looks like, I’ve also got no doubt that companies like TNS are going to be part of the future landscape as well. It’s just a question of how rapidly companies like ours recognise that what’s going on isn’t the death of conventional research, but the expansion of the number of ways that people can do marketing research.

For me, Zappi was a no-brainer as a channel through which I can distribute ConversionModel. I think it creates a new kind of market for ConversionModel, and it’s not going to kill the business we’re already doing with ConversionModel within TNS. I just don’t see a cannibalisation threat because the offer is slightly different.

If you want an additional consulting layer, if you want the insights that come from our executives and all the experience they have got working with ConversionModel, then you come to TNS. But if you want a really accurate snapshot of what your brand position is, what your competitive position is, and if you feel you don’t need the additional consulting component, you go to ZappiStore. I don’t see this as a win-lose situation; it’s a win-win.

Steve Phillips: Hopefully it frees up market researchers as well. We absolutely see the ZappiStore model – and things like ConversionModel Express going on to it – as a way of enabling clientside researchers and agency researchers to focus on additional analytics, to do consulting around it, to put strategic thinking on top.

What we’ve done is take out the boring process bits from the researcher’s job, so we’re hopefully enabling the industry to do what it’s always wanted to do: to be much more consultative and to really help clients understand and solve their business problems.

So if I come to Zappi to buy ConversionModel Express, I get the same battery of questions as a full-service project?
It’s not ConversionModel Lite. It’s going to give you the same basic cut that you would get if you came to TNS. It’s not going to give you different numbers. You’ll get the same view of your marketplace and your competitive position, how strong your brand is, which competitors are a threat to your brand, which competitors are weak enough for you to go after. It’s a single cut, a basic cut, without a consultative layer on top.

Is there a way of upselling within ZappiStore, though? For people to buy in the consulting layer if they want it?
Yes, very much so. ZappiStore, as Steve describes it, is a research app store. But you’re always going to have access to the human beings behind it if you want that access.

I think that, initially, a first-time user might look at the numbers and they’ll have difficulty figuring out what the strategic implications are. So there’s always going to be access to a consultant behind the scenes, a telephone number they can call up, so someone can take them through the results.

Will TNS now be looking to take advantage of the cost benefits that ZappiStore offers, so all ConversionModel projects are run through the automated system – or will you still be offering a much more directly-managed project?
That’s actually a really interesting question. I’m not going to speculate on what our local offices might do. I think there might be times when they do and times when they don’t. It’s really in the hands of the local MDs around the world.

Does the launch of ConversionModel Express challenge you to up your consultancy game?
Absolutely. We have so many researchers who are stuck in process, who don’t have the opportunity or the time to add the consulting value. For me, ZappiStore is just one form of automation that’s going to penetrate the industry. It’s just one. But all of this automation is going to take the drudge-work out of market research and give researchers the opportunity to spend much more time consulting.

What will success look like for this trial run, both from a Zappi perspective and a TNS perspective?
There are multiple things here. We’re absolutely looking to get other branded applications on to the store, so we would like to encourage other agencies to put their thinking on to the ZappiStore platform. So success would hopefully be that this pioneering TNS venture makes other people think, ‘Let’s go for that as well’. That’s one success. Another would be to get more clients using and engaging with the system – but we understand that’s a significant behaviour change, and behaviour change is difficult at the best of times.

JH: For us, success means sales that we wouldn’t otherwise make: new potential clients who don’t have the budget to come to TNS direct. But I think it’s also going to lead to incremental sales for TNS.

1 Comment

9 years ago

Very interesting, almost Business School approach to Disruption - engage in your own version of disruption via an external "entity" before it moves up the value chain and eats away at more profitable business. What it does suggest to me is that Disruption will accelerate - when DIY is used, and is significnatly cheaper, what is the risk that you will screw up and need a "professional"? If DIY is good enough, and Clients feel they can actually make sense of the data themselves, then there is little reason to pay more. On another note: how "old" is the Conversion model, where is it in its Life Cylce? Are growth rates still positive, I wonder, in which segments/markets? All in all - a very interesting approach, I'll be scrutinising the space carefully.l

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