Global market research industry worth $76 billion, top 10 companies

13 November 2018 4 min. read
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The size of the global market research industry has grown by 6% to $76 billion in 2017.  While the US remains the globe’s largest sector for market research services, followed by the UK, the Middle East and Asia Pacific are the fastest growing regions. 

According to data sourced from ESOMAR and professional services firm BDO (‘Global Market Research Report 2018’), spending on the traditional market research sector grew by just 1% to $46 billion last year, up from $44.5 billion in 2016. However, the newer and emerging segments of the industry, such as data analytics and AI-driven consumer research, boomed in 2017, adding $3 billion to the industry’s roster.

Companies that provide market research services help their client gather and interpret information about individuals or organisations, with the insights (market size, competition, market need, consumer behaviour, etc) leveraged to shape strategies and marketing/sales activities. To come to their findings, market researchers use a range of both qualitative techniques such as focus groups, in-depth interviews, and ethnography, as well as quantitative techniques such as customer surveys, analysis of secondary data and statistical / analytical methods.Size of the global market research industry

Across all corners of the globe, quantitative research accounted for 81% of all spending, while qualitative research held a 14% share, a decline of 1% on the year previous. The remaining 5% of the market is distributed across other research methods.

Commenting on the market’s development, Finn Raben, Director General of ESOMAR, said: “The industry continues to grow. We see growth both from within the traditionally defined research sector, but also from the newer, expanded definition of our industry – evidence that the demand for actionable, evidence-based data and insight remains strong.”

The US is the globe’s largest market for marketing research services, enjoying a 44% share of the worldwide industry. The UK's market share has declined in the past three years, sliding from 17% to 14%, although turnover is still a quarter more than Germany and France combined. The German and French markets represent respectively 6% and 5% of the industry, followed by China, which saw its local market grow by 6% in the previous year. The fastest growing regions are the Middle East, up 2.9% year on year, and Asia Pacific, up 2.6% year on year. From a country perspective, Kazakhstan (19.9%), Myanmar (13.8%) and Laos (13.7%) were the star performers.

Ten largest market research companies

Analysis of the industry’s make-up shows that the market research services landscape is highly concentrated. The top ten research companies, led by the six largest players – Nielsen, Kantar, QuintilesIMS, Ipsos, Gfk and IRI – generated $18 billion in fee income in 2017, accounting for nearly a quarter of the entire industry. Runaway market leader Nielsen is headquartered in New York, US, and employs approximately 44,000 people in over 100 countries. The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and is part of the S&P 500.The 10 largest market research companies in the world

Top rival Kantar, founded in 1993, is headquartered in London, UK, and employs around 30,000 employees. The firm is a subsidiary of WPP, one of the globe’s largest agencies for advertising, public relations, media and market research. Kantar operates with several brands in the market, including Kantar Health, Kantar Media, Kantar Millward Brown, Kantar TNS, Kantar Retail and Kantar Public. 

QuintilesIMS, formed by the $17.6 billion merger between Quintiles and IMS Health in 2016, is an American company that provides market research services to the health, pharma and life sciences sectors. French-origin Ipsos, launched in 1975 in Paris, France, has offices in 80+ countries, employing over 16,000 professionals. Gfk has over 13,000 employees globally, and generates most of its sales in Northern Europe, where it realizes nearly twice as much revenue compared to North America. In July this year Gfk sold four divisions within its custom research business – Customer Experience; Experience Innovation; Health; and Public Affairs – to Ipsos. As part of the deal, close to 1,000 GfK professionals in 25 countries joined its rival.

The other companies that are among the globe’s ten largest market research firms are IRI; a US market research company that focuses on the consumer packaged goods industry; Westat, a US firms that supports agencies of the US Government, as well as businesses, foundations, and state and local governments; Wood MacKenzie, a research and consultancy firm for the energy, chemicals, renewables, metals and mining sectors; Intage, a Japanse market research firm; and Dunnhumby, a UK-based customer science company with over 2,000 experts in offices throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.