5 Minutes with… GfK

Ryan GarnerIn our 5 minutes with profiles, MEF members talk about their business, their aspirations for the future and the wider mobile industry. This week we meet Ryan Garner, Research Director at GfK.

What does GfK do?

We are a global market research company that provides data on what consumers are buying and insight into the mind of the customer. I specialise in digital and technology markets and work with mobile handset manufacturers, network operators, consumer electronics firms and Internet companies.

When did GfK launch and what growth have you seen?

We’ve been around since the 1930’s. Probably what’s more relevant is that the technology division has grown substantially since 2007 as smartphones have changed the way consumers socialise, interact with brands and transact online. The growth of mobile has been a big driver of growth for GfK – not just working with mobile companies within that industry but with client sectors impacted by the new behaviours it creates.

What are your main goals?

We work with clients to achieve a range of objectives but here are three broad themes:

  • Innovation: we help clients foretell market movements and identify emerging customer needs. In a disruptive marketplace we aim to help clients remain focused on product innovation and identifying the next opportunity.
  • Brand & Customer Experience: as technologies mature and competitiveness increases, differentiation is increasingly difficult. We aim to help clients develop a strong and distinctive brand, deliver first class customer experiences and retain valuable customers.
  • Digital & UX: Smart, mobile devices and the pervasiveness of the internet has changed the way consumers discover, research and purchase products and services. We aim to help clients cut through the masses of big data to reveal the motivations of the new digital customer.

Where do you see GfK in three years’ time?

Clearly big data is impacting our business. Data collected from mobile devices and the social web needs to be synthesised as quickly as possible to maximise opportunities for data users.

Furthermore, as we move closer to the Intention Economy, consumers will gain greater control of their personal data. This provides exciting opportunities for brands to build stronger more meaningful relationships with their customers.

As a market research company, we are right in the middle of this trend which is both disruptive and exciting. In three years’ time GfK will need to be using data to match people to products in much shorter time frames. Social, location and mobile will central to this.

What aspect of mobile is most exciting to you right now?

Until Nanotechology arrives the most exciting developments are in mobile services and apps and how consumers are using their mobile devices to do more. The most exciting use cases are coming from smaller economies. For example, in the Nordics (Norway, Finland, Estonia) they’re using mobile phones as a means to identify themselves and transact online with higher levels of security and authentication. In the developing world, especially Africa, economies are built on mobile infrastructure with M-pesa and Bitcoin all having dramatic effects there.

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What’s the most critical issue that will hit mobile within the next 12 months?

Mobile manufacturers are continually struggling to make profit with only Samsung and Apple making any significant profit from their smartphone business. The increasing commoditisation of smartphone hardware and the low cost challenger brands from Asia are only going to accentuate this problem. It is important for the whole mobile ecosystem that there are more than just two mobile hardware manufacturers.

Apart from your own, which mobile companies are the ones to watch in the year ahead?

One of the most interesting developments I’ll be keeping tabs on over the next 12 months is progress of Firefox mobile OS. It is interesting from an open web, open source perspective but it is also interesting to see how mobile network operators can use Firefox OS to add value to the customer experience… something they have struggled with in the post iPhone market.

Ryan Garner is Research Director at GfK. Follow him on Twitter.

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