Telecommunication Market Research: Syndicated vs. Proprietary

Syndicated vs. Proprietary

Most market research firms specialize in syndicated or proprietary (i.e., custom) research. Depending on the firm’s offerings, account reps usually give one-sided justifications why their approach is superior. Market Strategies has custom and syndicated practices so the purpose of this article is to present a more balanced view of the benefits and risks associated with each type of research as they relate to the telecom industry. We pose three key questions that will help you determine which type of research is best suited to your brand’s unique needs, and we explore why custom research may be more advantageous given current industry trends.

1. How different is your business model from your competitors’?

Syndicated research is ideal when most of the competitors in an industry are evolving their business models in a reasonably similar fashion and, hence, care about similar key performance indicators (KPIs). A great example of this is in the retail sector, where purchase behavior and intent may be fairly similar across companies. Imagine the measures that are likely to matter to Walmart vs. Target. As their business models are reasonably similar, their research questions are likely to have many similarities.

This used to be true in the telecom industry. It wasn’t too long ago that wireless carriers measured pretty much the same KPIs—customer satisfaction, NPS, brand equity—with the same focus on how the issues related to the wireless sector. Likewise, internet and Pay TV providers had similar interests as they relate to their sectors.

Today’s telecom landscape, however, is no longer neatly divided into clearly defined sectors.

While there are still pure-play wireless carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile, there are also a growing number of players that have blurred the sector lines. AT&T and Verizon, for instance, are now very active in the high-speed internet and Pay TV sectors (Verizon with FiOS and AT&T with U-verse and DirecTV). And Comcast recently made it clear that it is looking to expand into the wireless sector.

Then, there is a newer trend of breaking through the traditional telecom industry boundaries.

Google is now building fiber networks to deliver high-speed internet and Pay TV, and its Project Fi is challenging the traditional view of the wireless business. Apple is rumored to be considering a move into the wireless business. And many traditional telecom companies (most notably Comcast, AT&T and Verizon) are becoming content providers rather than simply focusing on the delivery of third-party content.

If this weren’t fragmented enough, you now have a shift from what was once a clearly defined US geographical boundary to one where global telecom is becoming more prominent.

US-based AT&T recently purchased Mexican wireless providers Iusacell and Nextel Mexico, as well as DirecTV throughout Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Softbank (a Japanese telecom provider) owns Sprint. And T-Mobile is owned by Deutsche Telekom. And this all occurred at the same time that Verizon purchased all of UK-based Vodafone’s ownership in Verizon Wireless.

With all this industry movement, it is hard to imagine that the very diverse telecom providers share the same KPIs, not to mention measure these KPIs the same way. As the business models become more diverse, syndicated research becomes a far less optimal option.

2. Do you need stability or flexibility?

There is more to the syndicated vs. proprietary research decision than the diversity of business models. Another benefit of syndicated research is its ability to measure stable, long-term data trends. Syndicated research, by definition, does not change very much. It measures the same things over and over and can effectively identify shifts in these measurements over time.

The downside to this consistency is that it becomes very difficult for syndicated studies to keep up with the changing fundamentals in an industry. For instance, when measuring wireless customer experience a decade ago, the questions were focused around mobile voice communications (think back to the days of the Motorola RAZR). Back then, nobody could have predicted the massive industry changes brought about by the advent of the smartphone, iPhones, iPads, wearables, personal hotspots and the like. And hardly anyone even used SMS text-based communications.

To keep these cherished (and valuable) trends intact, syndicated researchers cannot make radical modifications to their surveys. In order to include relevant advancements in telecom technology and use cases, syndicated research tends to add “bolt on” questions that address these new factors. The problem is that these bolt-on modules are not easily integrated into the survey which, at its heart, is a measurement of mobile voice communications. What is needed is a research instrument that is as integrated as the user’s actual telecom experience. Today’s telecom user does not think of her telecom experience in silos where voice is separate from data and text. This is becoming even truer as mobile streaming becomes more prevalent. Today’s consumer wants to be connected 24/7 regardless of the device she’s using or how she’s using it (voice, text, email, data, streaming, etc.) or where she might be. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, to shift a syndicated study’s focus this radically.

3. Is syndicated research really cost efficient in today’s telecom world?

This brings me to the next benefit of syndicated research: cost efficiency. Typically, syndicated research is less expensive than proprietary research, as the costs associated with creating the research can be spread across many paying clients. So, a $300,000 custom study might only cost $50,000 as a syndicated study. This too, however, is becoming less true in telecom research. As the industry experiences rapid change, the syndicated model of “build once, sell often” starts to fall apart. Instead, considerable additional resources are put towards trying to keep the research current and relevant while protecting sacred trend lines. We have recently seen that, to our surprise, replacing a large, complex syndicated telecom research study with a custom solution can, in many instances, actually save the client money while delivering results that are much more relevant to the business.

Staying with syndicated research makes sense when… Switching to custom research makes sense when…
  • Competitive business models are similar
  • Stability of historical trends is of paramount importance
  • The industry is stable and slow-changing
  • Budgets make custom research cost-prohibitive
  • Competitors are building their business in differing directions
  • Flexibility of what is measured is most important
  • The industry is changing rapidly and unpredictably
  • The syndicated research is already so expensive that switching to custom is budget-neutral or cost-saving

Winning with the right research

My first research mentor, Fran Linnane, once told me that there are two ways to win in market research: “Take the same data that your competition has and analyze it better than they do, or take data that only you have and analyze it.” In the first way, there can only be one winner—the company that analyzes the data better than everyone else. However, in the second way, the data is the competitive advantage and analyzing it (even if not the best analysis in the world) allows you to win.

There is certainly a level of comfort with tried-and-true syndicated studies. Sometimes, this comfort is warranted when the underlying industry realities are relatively stable and most players are following similar and predictable business models. But this is proving to be less true in the telecom industry. As scary as it might seem at first, there can be an enormous upside to working with an established industry expert to explore how switching from a syndicated solution to a custom proprietary solution can open up a whole new world of meaningful insights that drive your unique business model ahead of your competition.

Greg Mishkin serves as the company’s primary subject matter expert for the wireless communications industry. He writes frequently on industry trends and has recently shared results from Market Strategies’ self-funded study, Telecom Brand Love. Watch the on-demand webinar or download the white paper.

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Greg Mishkin

About Greg Mishkin

Greg is a vice president in the Telecommunications Research Division but works across all divisions and is in high demand as a speaker and author in the market research and telecom fields. Greg's responsibilities include managing and growing key client relationships while maintaining a special focus on the integration of large-scale behavioral data with Market Strategies’ traditional market research solutions. He is known for turning extremely complex data into actionable insights and turning data into competitive advantages for his clients. Currently, he has four patents related to data-focused market research methodologies. Greg earned a master’s degree in business administration from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA; a master’s degree in clinical psychology from University of Hartford in Hartford, CT and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Union College in Schenectady, NY. When not on the road for work, Greg can usually be found chasing after his 17-year-old twins to their respective musical theatre performances, symphony rehearsals, piano competitions or various other performing arts activities that are invariably too far from home.

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