I spend a lot of time talking to businesses, naturally. And in the digital era, it’s startling to learn of the archaic methods and infrastructure firms still use to deliver vital insights.
Outperforming competitors – being one step ahead of the game using smart data – should be a priority. And yet, through either insouciance, intransigence, or being set in their ways, firms battle on with technology better suited to a museum.
This is something that Ged Parton, a market intelligence veteran, formerly of Synovate and IPSOS, and now chief executive of Maru Group, was perturbed by in his previous roles.
“Clients responded positively to the stories we were presenting them on the back of the data, but they’d often have questions. And our response would invariably be: ‘it’s a great question, we’re going to have to go back to the office, reanalyse the data, prepare some more slides and come back to you. And that’ll be two or three weeks’.”
Southampton to New York
Parton founded Maru just a couple of years ago: a technology-enabled professional services group on a warpath of global acquisitions.
In that short time, the firm has obtained offices from Southampton to Los Angeles, New York to Vancouver, making its mark on an entrenched industry, and is set to turn over $100m this year.
The emergence of social media and instantaneous harvesting of data created a paradox: on the one hand, clients were experiencing immediacy and efficiency. On the other, the insights they needed came from an industry that had failed to embrace technology.
Parton juxtaposes his industry with that of media buying, which was transformed by the emergence of programmatic bidding. The insight services industry however, was lagging.
“The private equity houses recognised that there’s a series of very big service businesses that operate on a traditional manual model; that there’s technology which allows you to operate in a very different way, but that nobody was setting their business up to embrace it.”
Parton’s proposition was to create a group of firms operating on a single technology platform that could be added to as new companies were brought into the group.
No easy task, I suggest.
“The first acquisition was a buy and build model: identify a platform business, acquire other add-ons, and use the platform business as a mechanism to accelerate the growth of those other businesses.
So Southampton was critical because the business has this technology infrastructure.”
The firm in question was eDigitalResearch, rebranded under the name Maru/edr. It’s a “voice of customer company,” which captures feedback from in-the-moment experiences, such as surveys. It captures the data in real time, analyses it, and reports it back to the client in a hierarchical structure, from chief executive to shop assistant. Parton gives the example of a major international airline client of Maru/edr.
“The data is so commercially useful. Take a high value, gold card customer – this is a true story. They’re in the lounge at the airport, and wanted pink champagne, but there wasn’t any. They’re tagged as a high net worth customer, that data lands with the airline, and by the time that individual passenger sits down in his business or first class flight, an attendant says ‘there wasn’t any pink champagne in the lounge, we’re really sorry would you now like a glass?’”
Maru/edr itself is fascinating, but it was its existing infrastructure that set it apart for Parton and his co-founder. Already able to handle massive volumes of data, it became the backbone of Maru’s proposition.
“It had the capability to provide a base skeleton for much bigger business, and if we then go out and target other technology companies and acquire those, we can pull their technologies into the base, and create an ecosystem of technology capabilities”, says Parton.
From there, the group acquired three more firms for its portfolio, each operating autonomously under the Maru umbrella. Maru/SynGro, Maru/Usurv, and Maru/Matchbox work in fields from customer intelligence, to professional services, and agile research, all with a technology background and focus.
Parton adds, though, that self contained cultures are the best environment for people to work in – all the firms are disaggregated, but complementary. Maru as a group is almost phonetically silent, providing access to underlying technology and capital to help each firm grow.
“We’re not trying to crash all the companies that we buy together to make a single uniform homogeneous mass of automatons. It’s about finding businesses which have the right culture to build upon. We use the platform to manage projects, to execute work in a different way, and to conduct those projects in as digitally enabled a way as possible. It has turbocharged our professional services people”.
I ask Parton to give me the elevator pitch – with so many parts of such a young business, what is it’s central purpose?
“We answer the why question for client companies. They want to know: why you choose as you do? Why you travel as you do? Why you feel as you do? That’s what we do, we specialise in collecting data, analysing it, interpreting it, and using that information to explain to the client why someone is thinking or feeling or choosing as they do.
“We’re trying to use technology to allow clients to get information quicker, that’s of a guaranteed quality, and because we’re using technology, it costs less. It’s a value proposition, which is pertinent given the times that we live in – getting things ever faster and reducing the cost.