FEATURE4 April 2011

Didier Truchot on reinventing research


Robert Bain speaks to Ipsos CEO Didier Truchot about why the research industry needs to redefine its position in a changing world.


Research: What’s the most important thing that’s changing in market research at the moment?
Our clients’ business is changing rapidly, and because of that their needs from market research companies are also changing rapidly. Our clients’ business is more and more global, so they need to work not only in their own small territory but all over the world. Our clients’ customers are changing, they are more educated, they are less naive about what advertising and communication is doing. They’re talking together more through social media and so on.

“If people are starting to think and act a bit differently, there’s a greater need for measuring well and understanding deeply what people have in mind”

In a way – and this is my personal view – we are in a period that is close to the sixteenth century in Europe where, after a long period of time when people have just worked and worked, they are starting to think differently, to challenge their thinking, to communicate differently, and this creates a lot of interesting new things but it also creates challenges for public institutions, corporations and so on. In that period people started to read books in their own language, not in Latin, which was the beginning of a very important revolution. Now we are at a time when people can move from one [media] channel to another very rapidly, where they can move from just listening to the media to being part of news generation.

There is no politician around the world who six months after winning an election has a rating above 50%. Obama was a miracle for six months, but went down [in the ratings after that]. And what’s true for our politicians is true for anything else, including for brands. There are some brands which seem to be very high and who then five years later are going nowhere. Nokia, for instance, five years ago was the king of the mobile market, and now they’re having to work with Microsoft to stay in the market.

For us it’s a great time, because if people are starting to think and act a bit differently, there’s a greater need for measuring well and understanding deeply what people have in mind. It’s fantastic.

How do these changes affect the way we conduct research?
Firstly we have to think about an activity which will be much larger than it was even 10 years ago. In 2011 Ipsos will reach £1bn, and we are not a very large organisation, we are still a medium-sized organisation in many instances. Secondly we need to think broader, meaning we need to not just execute the project that our clients have given to us, but think around these projects, bring our knowledge to clients beyond the project they’ve given to us. Thirdly, from a geographical perspective we need to think of our business as an activity where we are linking the knowledge that we’re getting in different parts of the world.

What about the role of social media?
Social media was not developed to do market research; it exists by itself. But it’s an opportunity for us because it’s another way to engage with people, to be able to develop some protocols which will give people the possibility to interact with one another, to exchange experiences and so on. But it’s also important for another reason, because social media creates a situation where brands and businesses are made public. It comes back to the old time when many marketing decisions were taken by the boss’s wife, so the ad agency was developing a campaign, the guy went home with the storyboard and his wife would say no, it’s terrible, they should start again. It’s like that now with social media – my daughter may see something about Ipsos and say, “What’s your company doing? Are you crazy?” There’s a kind of public-private linkage which gives us the opportunity to work with our clients on trying to understand what is really important, what is not important; what they should take care of, and what they should not be so stressed about.

“The research industry needs to be more specific and probably more ambitious about its role”

How good a job does the market research industry do of presenting itself to its clients and to the public?
We need to review everything. We need to restart from scratch – firstly because we have a very poor definition of what market research is about. Right now the official definition of market research is the research services which are sold by market research companies – but there are a lot of research services which are sold by non-research companies: consulting firms, universities, a lot of advertising agencies, web agencies… So we need to define what research services are about, and we need to measure it. Then we will understand that the market is much broader, much larger than what Esomar is saying [in its annual industry report]. It’s a different market, and once we understand that, I think the market research agencies will start to position themselves a little bit differently. I think the research industry needs to be more specific and probably more ambitious about its role.

Our job is more difficult because it’s more international, and because there’s more information – not just produced by us but all around. Companies need to put that together, and we are one of the industries which has the skills and the ability to put that together, so it’s up to us to do that instead of other people.

For our part we’re working on how we’ll create a new positioning for Ipsos, because we think that we have probably defined Ipsos in quite a narrow way as a survey-based organisation, by the techniques we are using to get information out of people. We need to have a definition of Ipsos that is much more professional and positive about how we are helping our clients to measure and to understand people.

What sorts of techniques do you see Ipsos using in future?
We have to be able to deploy any kind of channel which can give us good access to people. It’s up to us to have all the channels, all the methodologies, all the analysts who can provide answers to our clients. We need to be able to master all of these techniques, all of these channels to do our job.

I think we are at the beginning of a very interesting and productive period for the industry. I’m probably more confident now than I’ve ever been about the next ten years.

For a company the size of Ipsos it’s important to balance scale with the right level of service. How do you go about getting that right?
First of all we take care about the quality of the people we recruit and put in front of our clients. Secondly we try to find ways in which these people can not just work well themselves but work well together, collaborate and share knowledge. Each Ipsos client may have less chances to meet me than 30 years ago, but they can meet people who can deliver the right level of service to them.

“We have, as a large research company, some social responsibilities for our industry”

It’s interesting that if you look at the average organic growth of the large market research agencies, as a group of companies we have lost market share in the last ten years. We have only grown faster than the market because of acquisitions and so on. This means that in some cases the shareholders of the large research agencies should not be very happy about the way their money has been used. So even if we are competing very seriously against one another, we need to find a way in which we can collaborate in the right way in helping this industry to go to another stage.

There are a couple of things we should avoid – one is to become complacent and lazy and to believe that because we are large we are good, two is to stay very conservative in how we are working… and three would be to try to compete in a way which becomes unsafe. For instance when one of my competitors has hunted 400 Ipsos executives around the world very recently, we’re going in a direction where companies will spend more time protecting themselves than working with their clients. We have, as a large research company, some social responsibilities for our industry.