CEO of GfK Matthais Hartmann on Expanding into Global Markets

HARTMANN_170389_korr-72dpi Matthias Hartmann is currently the CEO of GfK, a leading market research provider. Hartmann has previous experience at IBM in several different positions, including Vice President and Head of Global. The Makegood recently spoke iwth Hartmann about the company’s global expansion and market trends.

The Makegood: GfK is aggressively expanding its horizons both in the U.S. and abroad. Could you elaborate on what the company does and why it has moved so fervently into the U.S. and global markets?

GfK has 13,000 experts worldwide who deliver global insights with deep local market intelligence. We use innovative technologies and data sciences to turn big data into smart data.

Today, we are present in more than 100 countries. We have to follow our global clients as they expand their businesses; so we have become a global player, as well. We are shadowing our clients’ regional and global expansion. Building on our strong base in Europe, we have been investing a lot in Latin America, the US, and Asia.

The Makegood: With the marketing industry growing, what sort of insights and trends could you share? Do you believe that any particular trends will emerge in the near future?

We believe two key trends are changing the industry – globalization and digitization. There is a growing demand for reliable and actionable insights into consumer trends as companies are expanding their footprints globally. To create successful strategies in a globalized world, our clients need comparable data for all the markets where they are active.

And, of course, companies need to reflect the digitization of consumers’ lives. Generations X and Y are especially likely to spend large quantities of time online; this offers tremendous potential to marketers, but also brings a lot of challenges. Competition is always just a click away, and business models of entire industries can change quickly. Just think of how the internet transformed the music industry.

I believe that we are just at the beginning of the smartphone revolution. Mobile and constant internet access are starting to change consumers’ lives tremendously, and there will be a lot of opportunity for the marketing industry in this sphere.

The Makegood: GfK has partnerships with major mobile operators in order to provide clients with insights from mobile browsing. Have these partnerships increased the company’s client base?

We see mobile as a major part of consumer insights going forward; cellphones, smartphones, and tablets have become essential tools for people throughout the world. GfK has partnerships with some major mobile operators; however, we are just starting to roll out in three countries – the UK and Germany, with the US to follow. To date, our focus has been on bringing the technology and new offerings to the market; we just launched, so we have not yet won a considerable number of clients. But we are on our way.

The Makegood: GfK spent $30 million in 2013 alone on a technology that mines and provides real-time analytics for its clients. Could you elaborate on this technology, and why the company thought it was necessary to invest such a vast amount of money in the technology?

We acquired Sensemetric Web & Social Media Mining in 2013 to act as the core of a new Social Media Intelligence offering, combining innovative Web crawling and crowdsourcing data collection with insights from other areas of GfK.

In 2014, we are planning to invest 180M euros in capital expenditures, primarily focusing on the buildup of new panels in media, as well as a strong investment in our digital systems. With GfK Echo, for instance, we are using our new, real-time data platform to transform the classic customer satisfaction process – something that would normally be done via surveys alone – into a fully integrated and digital approach. This is just one example of how tech investment is driving the transformation of the market research business. We are already at the forefront of those changes and we plan to stay there.

The Makegood: The company’s key global clients include Proctor & Gamble and Renault. Do you foresee more of these types of companies utilizing GfK in the future?

We already count as clients most of the large companies in consumer electronics and fast-moving consumer goods industries. Our client base in automotive is also very broad. As part of our strategy, we intend to do more work with these clients in global research projects, so we can leverage our footprint to cater their needs. We have made good progress on this, focusing on key markets; for us, the goal is not just adding new clients – it is bringing deeper value and insight to the ones we have.

The Makegood: Thank you, Matthias.