The concept of an ecosystem in business is not a new one. In fact, the insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London was founded in the 17th century and is a classic example of a business ecosystem – even if it wasn’t called that at its inception. However, it wasn’t a fully articulated concept until the early 1990s, when James F. Moore coined the term.
Since then, we have seen virtually every industry, from automotive to agriculture, incorporate these connected business ecosystems. Often, they take the form of vertically integrated supply or value chains. Over the past decade, however, we have seen a new kind of ecosystem – the digital ecosystem. It includes the so-called super apps and platforms, which can be massive in size; in many cases, these tangent businesses can even become larger than the hosting platform itself.
Mike Lazaridis, fellow Canadian and Blackberry founder, coined the term “super app” in 2010, defining it as, “a closed ecosystem of many apps that people would use every day because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience.”
Fundamentally, the concept really is that simple. There is one app that connects an ecosystem of other apps via its main platform. For consumers, it means everything from connecting with friends, sharing experiences, or seeking expert advice to listening to music, ordering food, and checking bank balances can be managed from one central place. The super app seamlessly integrates all of these facets of their lives and collects data on them at each touchpoint. This enables a business to get to know its consumers more intimately – from whom they love to their emotional state – and frame the information within the context of their current situations.
The benefits of a super app or platform are not just for consumers, though. From a corporate standpoint, the utilization of such a platform enables small or young businesses to access established markets and generate more stability. They can also help to lower the overall costs of bringing a new business to market by sharing technologies and resources. According to the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute, “platforms have dramatically lowered the costs of development and distribution of mobile applications and other complementary products connecting to platforms that now worldwide app developers and other agents can exploit using heterogeneity of knowledge resources."
We can see exactly how successful a super app can be by looking at WeChat’s Mini Program offering. In it, millions of “mini apps” are available to be accessed via one central interface. WeChat reported that in 2019, their Mini Program ecosystem generated more than 800 billion RMB in transactions. The pandemic has seen other platforms excelling, as well. From Amazon, Apple, and Google to Alibaba and Salesforce, there are a growing number of platforms that constitute some of the world’s most successful businesses today. In fact, a study by Deloitte suggests that “four of the top five most valuable global brands are largely based on platform business models.”
Not all platform businesses started that way. Salesforce is a great example of a company that evolved into the space. While its original offering was a customer relationship management (CRM) system, it has expanded well beyond that and into a true digital ecosystem. They have a network of partners that includes e-commerce systems, payment apps, content management, enterprise resource management, and many others. The one thing they all have in common? They are built on and tightly integrated into Salesforce’s core technology. This model is clearly working for them – an IDC report found that by 2024 Salesforce’s ecosystem will earn $5.80 for every dollar Salesforce makes. In the process, this will create 4.2 million new jobs and $1.2 trillion in new business revenues worldwide from 2019 to 2024.
It is clear from these examples – and myriad others out there – that digital ecosystems are not only being adopted at a rapid pace, but they are also here to stay. The World Economic Forum estimates “70% of new value created in the economy over the next decade will be based on digitally enabled platform business models.”
These platforms don’t just allow more small businesses to thrive, thus creating new jobs and stimulating economies, they are also more resilient in the face of changing times – such as the ones we are living in. The digital ecosystem allows for scalable, rapid growth of the providers within it. Working in an ecosystem provides diversification of revenue for the main provider company; and in turn, many of the smaller businesses within the network are buffered from the worst of economic crises, thanks to the stability and lowered costs provided by the platform.
So how does this apply to market research and consumer insights? We have seen a rapid acceleration in the digital transformation of the industry. With market research being flooded with new technologies, it is time for them to begin to work together. To do this, a platform of market research is needed. A platform that connects technologies, samples, and organizations will be a critical next step in the evolution of consumer insights.
A platform of market research will help to make insights more accessible, even by those not traditionally conducting the research. It will help make the research process faster without sacrificing quality and foster an environment of collaboration that will ultimately push the entire community ahead.
Adopting this collaborative approach is not always easy, despite seeing it work well in many industries. Consumer insights and market research is one such industry where I have witnessed firsthand the struggle to transform to new digital platform models.
However, a report by McKinsey explains that digital ecosystems are succeeding in large part due to “the growing ability of data and analytics to transform disparate pieces of information about a consumer’s immediate desires and behavior into insight about the consumer’s broader needs.” Meaning, the consumer insights industry is perfectly primed for entry into the digital ecosystem. The new digital mindset awards those who connect different business offerings and people to create connected ecosystems that benefit all involved.
Super apps, platforms, digital ecosystems – these relatively new phrases mark a distinct transition in the global economy. It is a transition that favors collaboration over competition, integration over isolation, and experience over exclusion. Digital ecosystems thrive the larger they are, making room for more businesses to participate and providing customers with tailormade solutions that truly fit their lives.
About the author
As the President and Chief Innovation Officer of one of the fastest-growing companies in research tech and data collection, Steve Mast excels at challenging the status quo. He has transformed Delvinia from a digital strategy and design consultancy to an incubator to transform the consumer insight and market research industry. Trained as an architectural technologist, Mast uses this unique perspective to inspire and spearhead his team, tackling opportunities that no other company is addressing in order to help an impressive roster of Fortune 500 clients gather, use and protect data.