The online sample market was thrust into the spotlight late this year with two big announcements. Cint acquired Lucid for a whopping $1.1 billion, and Zendesk acquired Momentive Global (Survey Monkey) in a $4 billion deal. These two acquisitions underscore the growing popularity of research technology and validate the value of data insights. This is a win for all parties involved, including online sample providers like ThinkNow, who have delivered quality sample and multicultural consumer insights for the past ten years.

In general, however, online sample has always struggled with finding an identity within the market research industry. Are we technology companies? Is sample a commodity? Does data collection even belong in the market research community? These are just a few of the questions that sample providers have had to contend with over the years. But with the payouts we’ve seen for “sample companies,” the sample industry seems to be finding its identity in the form of research technology, more commonly known as “ResTech.”

Evolution of Online Sample

Despite playing a significant role in the development of new products and services, the online sample business is a niche within a niche, comprising a small group of players relatively unknown to the public. Even within the market research industry, there’s been debate over data quality and responsible data sourcing. But online sample isn’t new. The first iteration evolved in the late 1990s through the early 2000s with Web 1.0 as market research online communities, or MROCS. Programmatic sample came along about ten years later giving rise to the exchanges. This new technology broadened the borders, enabling affiliates like Prodege, P2Sample (acquired by Cint), and Market Cube (acquired by Schlesinger Group) to enter the online sample industry.

Nevertheless, despite the momentum, the technology still struggled to establish its identity during this time span. It wasn’t SAAS enough to be traditional tech software and didn’t fit neatly into the market research category. Then Patrick Comer introduced the world to the concept of research technology when he founded Lucid and built it to “democratize data collection by applying programmatic technology to market research.” His gamble paid off, the game was changed, and now online sample is entering yet another phase of transformation in the form of ResTech.

The New Era of ResTech

So at this point, there is no debate over traditional online panels vs. programmatic.

Programmatic sample software is the future, and the billion-dollar valuations we’ve seen recently is a call for bigger players to invest in ResTech, and for online sample companies to re-evaluate their worth.