SSI steps out of the shadows, looks to grow local client base

Data company SSI (Survey Sampling International) is looking to increase its prominence in New Zealand by putting boots on the ground in the local market.

During a recent trip to announce the offering, SSI global chief executive Chris Fanning met with potential partners and agencies to explain the aspirations of the company in the local market.

Fanning tells StopPress that SSI already has offices in Melbourne and Sydney and that establishing an arm in Auckland was the next logical step.                 

“New Zealand is a big enough market for sure … and, based on our research, it’s been under-serviced,” he says.

SSI has been active in the local market for some time, largely working behind the scenes as partner to New Zealand’s major research organisations. So, in some ways, this move is a case of the company emerging from the shadows into public view.

“’Stepping out of the shadows’ sounds a little like a spy thriller, but we’re not quite as sexy and intriguing as that,” laughs Fanning. “I’d just like to see us have a very strong sales and service capability here.”

Fanning’s first step in the local market has been to appoint research agency veteran Mark Lloyd as the client development manager in New Zealand, making him responsible for growing the business on this side of the ditch.

Fanning says that based on the Australian growth, which has seen the Sydney and Melbourne operation expand to over 50 people, he expects it won’t be long before Lloyd calls for reinforcements.

“Australia’s growing double digits very strongly and so I see us investing more in building the team out in New Zealand,” Fanning says.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity and I’m sure that Mark will very quickly be overwhelmed as a one-man team.”

Lloyd will be responsible for expanding SSI’s current partnerships with major research agencies while simultaneously looking to increase its client base.

Globally, SSI provides its panels to research agencies and consulting firms, as well as corporates looking to answer a specific question about their business or market—and he hopes to grow the business along similar lines in this market. 

“Whether it’s Nielsen or a one-person research consultant somewhere in New Zealand that needs access to audiences, we’re happy to serve their needs,” Fanning says.

The reason SSI is able to service these needs to such a broad range of potential clients is because it’s in the unique position of owning all its own research panels.

“One of the big differences between us and other companies in our space is that we are very clearly focused on proprietary panels,” Fanning says.

“We want to own that data because, over time, you can make it richer with profiling.”

By making its presence known in the local market, it does seem to some degree that SSI is looking to get a bigger cut of the research spend pie by cutting out the middlemen—research agencies—and perhaps start working directly with clients.

However, Fanning doesn’t see it this way.   

“We’re not an agency. We’re not trying to do research. We enable research. Our business is about building a large and very robust set of panels that gives clients access to audiences.”

Fanning continues by saying that the industry has evolved from the linear landscape that once existed.   

“There was this very linear thought process from years ago where it was the panel companies, the agencies, and the end client, [but]I think the world is trying to operate at far faster speeds these days and not all research has to be the same,” he says.

Modern marketing departments are always on, and marketers and research teams often need to respond in real time to ensure they aren’t left behind. So by giving marketers direct access to its panels, SSI essentially wants to give research teams the ability to test the pulse of an audience segment at any given time.

But with this demand for speed, also comes the issue of accuracy. As was seen during the American election, researchers looking to test the mood of a nation can sometimes get it wrong when they’re working so quickly.

Fanning doesn’t believe that this is necessarily an indictment on polling or research overall, but he does think that we need to be careful about drawing assumptions from raw data. And this is particularly pertinent when viewed in the context of polls running on unashamedly partisan news sites.

“People will believe what they hope to be true,” he says. “There’s a lot of bias across US media outlets, which are increasingly polarizing, and often serving [an incorrect]segmentation of the market.”

The difference, Fanning says, in working with an independent survey provider is that there’s no inherent bias.

“Our tech platform… allows us to take all these different panels and connect and blend the audiences in a very statistically sound way that gives a balanced representative sample.”

Fanning says this also applies to brands looking to find out more about a specific group of New Zealanders. “One size does not fit all,” he says, before explaining that this is why SSI has invested in audience panels across both the North and South Island.

“You’re looking for different demographics, and so we use different recruitment vehicles, different reward vehicles,” he says.

So far, this approach has seen SSI attract over 3,000 customers to its services on a global level. And it will be hoping to now add a few names to that list as it ramps up its operations in the local market.  

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