MWD closes: can independent analysts stay relevant?

MWD Advisors’ analysts joined IDC last month, putting on ice one of the most respected independent analyst organisations. Neil Ward-Dutton and Craig Wentworth were two of my most impressive colleagues when we worked together in Ovum’s IT Analysis group 20 years ago, and they can only have grown in capacity since then. Moving to IDC is certainly not a defeat for them, but it shows complexities for firms with one or two analysts.

Both at work, at CCgroup, and in my PhD at the Analyst Observatory, I’ve seen the increasing pressure that independent analysts are under. Analyst firms with lower cost staff in India or Eastern Europe can have more labour-intensive approaches to analysis, undercutting brand-name analysts dramatically. Even mid-size analysts are getting more aggressive with their business development.

It’s not all bad news. Several strategies are working well for smaller analysts.

  • Just sell. It seems to be the analysts who’ve come from Gartner that understand that their second, third and fourth employees should be sales and marketing, not other analysts.
  • Use contingent pricing. Buyers want outcomes. Measure the outcomes, and then charge uncertain customers with proof-of-concept pricing plus a share of the upside.
  • Get amplified. Credibility isn’t about personal insight, it’s about the authority that people grant to analysts. Analyst value grows when vendors amplify analysts whose views they agree with. Sadly, that means analysts lose control over who amplified them and how meaning is contextualized and co-created.
  • Diversify. Analysts are well placed to build portfolio careers.
  • Relevance isn’t enough. My former boss Andy Coville tried to save the soul of B2B communication with her book on relevance. She explains how customer stories were the tools needed for brands to stay relevant in different industries. Shared values, community identity and the sensory perception of brands. Tech brands are heavily reliant on facts to show relevance. However, this relevance is more than marshalling facts. Relevance needs to be amplified, and that’s why firms need communications. Today relevance is co-created by other stakeholders who share the interest in changing outcomes.

A lot of these issues are picked up in our research project into the market for influencers. We’re finding that there’s a lack of certainty into the importance of individual influencers, their audiences and how far third parties that amplify analysts endanger can either their credibility of authenticity. If you have comments on these ideas, and especially in what analysts and other influencers need to do succeed as authorities, please let us know.