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Lead up to the IIR TDMR: Interview With Robert Moran of StrategyOne

Robert Moran discusses MROCs. the future of MR, evolving ethics, Neuromarketing, the Tech Driven Market Research event & more GRIT sneak peeks!

For the third installment of our interviews with presenters at the Technology Driven Market Research Event, we’re talking with Robert Moran, Executive Vice President at StrategyOne.

Robert Moran

Robert and I connected a few years back after he read the 2008 edition of the GreenBook Research Industry Trends Study, and we immediately bonded over a shared love of “trend spotting” within the Market Research industry. I have since come to regard him as a trusted colleague, good friend, and one of the preeminent futurists working in market research today. Robert and I have had many conversations about the future of market research; it’s a great pleasure to share one of our discussions with you as well.

LM: Thanks for making the time to talk with me Robert; I’ve been looking forward to this interview for awhile!

RM: My pleasure Lenny; it’s always great “talking shop” with you, and since this time we get to share our conversation with others, how could I refuse?

LM: You have built quite the reputation for yourself as a thought leader and futurist, with many people paying attention to your blog. Why do you think you’ve struck a chord with the research industry?

RM: There have been plenty of voices in this discussion and the dialogue has become urgent because we’re at the threshold of another epoch in market research.  I’ve written a chapter for a new book, “Leading Edge Marketing Research: 21st Century Tools and Practices”.  The chapter is titled “The Futures of Marketing Research.”  In this chapter I argue that market research has gone through and will go through several developmental phases, which I label epochs and eras.  Essentially, market research is nearing the end of the “Asking epoch” that has defined its development for years.  The industry is now entering the “observational epoch” defined more by listening, observing biological response to stimulus and mining huge purchase and web analtyics data sets.  This will be followed by the “co-creative epoch” (crowdsourcing and UGC) and then the “anticipatory epoch” (games as research).  These changes won’t fully eliminate past tools and processes.  But they will be more heavily used than the old standbys.  Folks in the industry feel this change coming.  Some appear to be very concerned and defensive about this change.  But, I’m very excited about what we can do with all these tools in the futures.  And, I think there will be a very strong demand for insights brainpower.  The demand won’t be great for people who can manage projects, but it will intense for people who can pull insights out of an ever growing ocean of data.

LM: What do you think are the major drivers of change in the market research space right now and how are you guiding StrategyOne to take advantage of those trends?

RM: There are many significant trends shaping the futures of market research.  But, before I outline these, I think its worth noting that I don’t think we’ll call the industry “market research” in the future.  And, we may not all share a unified view on what is inside and outside our industry.  My view tends to be fairly expansive on this issue.  But, getting back to the main trends, I believe (a) super-abundant data, (b) the shift from asking to observing, (c) community intelligence, (d) foresight and (e) demand for strategic counsel are the core drivers of the future.  If you take these to their logical conclusion, you have a very, very different looking industry.  We’ll still do surveys and focus groups, but they won’t be the kind of workhorses they are today.  StrategyOne’s heritage in communications research puts it in a very advantageous position to compete in a peer to peer world.  We plan to build on this strength.

LM: I’ve heard a lot of buzz about that book; when will it be published and how can I get a copy?

RM: Leading Edge Marketing Research is slated for release in the fall of 2011.  It is being published by Sage and should be easily available.  For a look at some of the topics, go here: http://www.leadingedgemarketingresearch.com/id9.html

LM: I tend to agree with that vision of the future of the industry, and you and I have collaborated on a few initiatives now that seem to verify that view. The cipher for me is timing; what is your sense on how long this transition will take? It seems that the pace of change is increasing, but I still sense a lot of resistance to embracing the new paradigm.

RM: I’ll answer your question with a quote from one of my favorite authors – William Gibson.  “The future is here.  Its just not widely distributed yet.”  There are all kinds of weak and strong signals about the future of insight.  And, these companies and methodologies have been covered by you and other thought leaders in the industry.  In many ways there are essentially two industries.  There is the traditional market research industry which we both grew up in and there is also what I have been calling the wider insights industry.  This wider insights industry encompasses many of the nextgen players that folks in the former group might not consider a part of “the market research industry.”  But, times change and I expect MROCs, as just one example, to evolve as a core (and possibly the core) insights method.  I also anticipate futures in which (a) insight becomes more forward leaning by incorporating foresight tools and (b) management consulting and insights begin to radically bleed into each other.

LM: I see the industry segmenting into Tech Providers (including DIY and field services), Insight Consultancies, and Niche Providers (Neuromarketing, Advanced Analytics & Modeling, etc..). The vast majority of the current MR supplier space is already working to reposition themselves as Insight Consultancies, and failing due to their commodity positioning with clients. First, do you agree with that assessment and second, how do you think this will play out within the industry?

RM: I generally agree with you here.  But, I’m not sure I see the same repositioning efforts that you do.  I see a great many suppliers saddled with legacy businesses and processes wedded to an industrial view of research.  I’m skeptical about the ability of some of the larger suppliers to make the transition.  I also generally agree with your industry taxonomy.  However, I would add mega-panel providers as a distinct group.  In any event, I anticipate significant change over the next few years.  I’m excited about it.  We’re going to have many new tools at our disposal.  I’m very optimistic.  Loads more data, easier access to opinions and rapid change in consumer behavior around the world will create enormous demand for analysts and strategists.

LM: Your focus on MRCOS (or perhaps social networks in general?) as the possible primary channel for gathering consumer insights strikes me as pretty right on, but there is a another shift occurring driven by the evolution of PR/Ad agencies where they are now acquiring companies that offer those and other capabilities as a means of both collecting insight and promoting brand awareness/engagement. WPP has been doing it for years, and of course the recent deal between Omnicom and Communispace is another example. Are we looking at a new model where the broad categories of “marketing” and “market research” are effectively combined, both from a business standpoint and in how we engage with consumers to generate strategic insights?

RM: The feedback loop is going to become very, very tight, and this is going to blur some traditionally bright lines.  I’m very bullish on community intelligence solutions.  My view is that MROCs will become as central to the corporate insight function as the brand tracker has been historically.  These MROCs will take many forms.  The core will be proprietary communities tailored to a business’ key market segments.  They will be proprietary for competitive reasons.  In addition to this there will be short term communities developed as purpose built, listening-co-creative exercises designed to explore a single challenge or opportunity.  There will also be omnibus-style category killers, like the Millennial MROC StrategyOne created.  The potential here is enormous.  And, finally, there will be massive open-ended communities either (a) sponsored by marketing or the insights function or  (b) arising spontaneously by a companies raving fans.  Brands like Coca-Cola, Disney, Harley, the NFL, Formula1, etc. have this kind of fan base now, and MR doesn’t do enough to harness this brainpower.  At some point most or all of the MROCs I’m describing will have a prediction market or predictive exchange.  These will become incredibly powerful.  Brainjuicer is experimenting with this now, but I think firms like Spigit or Inkling Markets can truly lead here.  Community Insights + Predictive Markets will become a killer app and someone will look back on this and write a very interesting book about the genesis of it and the players involved, including Robin Hanson at George Mason University, PAM, and DARPA.

As to the blurring of marketing and marketing research in this area, it is hard for me to see how they won’t begin to converge somewhat over time.  One approach to maintaining the integrity of each is to call MROCs “Insight Communities” and marketing communities “Engagement Communities”.  The challenge here is that the more marketing-focused Engagement Communities are going to give us very rich insights.  I think the Insights Industry needs to fully embrace the pure research Insight Communities, but also build Engagement Communities.  Massive Engagement Communities are going to become a critical feedback loop full of new insights and offering corporations glimpses of unmet needs, alternative product usage, and better experience design (which may be all that matters if you follow Dan Pink’s line of reasoning.)  But, to make these community intelligence tools work you need (a) capable and dedicated community managers and (b) some very good text analytics.

LM: You are on a panel discussion regarding Ethics and Privacy at the IIR Technology Driven Market Research event. What is your take on the current state of the industry regarding privacy and, considering your thoughts on the future of MR, what will this issue look like in the future?

RM: I think that privacy will become a massive human rights issue, especially in the US and Western Europe.  Some intellectuals view the idea of privacy itself as one that evolved relatively recently.  And, they’re already writing privacy’s obituary (The best writing on this is Lew McCreay’s piece in HBR titled “What Was Privacy”.)  They may be right.  Younger generations may have different ideas of privacy (see Facebook), and citizens may increasingly be willing to trade their privacy for security, a better job, faster travel.  I’m not so sure.  I think that there will be a backlash against public space surveillance, web tracking and data scraping (see the Nielsen – Patients Like Me mess covered in the Wall Street Journal), etc.  This could pose some significant challenges for market research, especially in the social media analytics space.  It could also make opt-in research communities, and opt-in sample providers  even more valuable.  A great starting point is Henning’s thoughts at the CASRO Tech Conference titled “We Didn’t Know You Were Listening.”     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NymMKgwYFzQ

At the macro societal level, it is an interesting issue.  Everyone has focused on the threat to privacy from government tyranny, often alluding to Jeremy Bentham’s “Panopticon” – a prison in which every prisoner felt he was being watched by a central guard tower.  But, social networking turns this on its head.  We historically feared that we were being watched by a tyrannical other (think Orwell’s1984), but social networking creates the “Polyopticon”, a situation in which we are monitoring each other.  Ideas about privacy are evolving rapidly.  I expect some percentage of the population to react to this and become what I call “the new offgriders” – people who pay only in cash, have no presence on social networks, etc.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

LM:  If you knew someone who was exploring starting a new company in the broad “market research” space right now, what would you tell them? Where are the opportunities and what are the challenges?

RM: First, I would tell them to read Smith and Rapin’s book “Creating Market Insight”.  I always come back to this book as my touchstone in thinking about our role within the wider enterprise.  Next I would tell them that they need to ask the where question as much as the what question.  ESOMAR’s data finds that approximately 2/3rds of global market research spend occurs in the aging industrial democracies of the United States, UK, Germany, France and Japan.  That’s going to shift over time to the BRICS plus the emerging economies in the Middle East.  I would steer them away from reliance on “asking tools”, and instead argue that they should focus in the areas of group intelligence, Neuromarketing, community insights, research-driven gaming (here I recommend reading Jan McGonigal’s book “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World”), foresight and social media analytics.  Finally, I would argue that their business should inhabit the insight-driven consulting space, as opposed to DIY or low value add data collection work.  The margin compression in these latter groups will be intense.

LM:  Great advice Bob; thanks! You’ve been great and I can’t think of a better person to discuss these topics with. OK, last question: you have been instrumental in the GreenBook Research Industry Trends Study and you recently did the analysis for the section on the report focused on emerging technology adoption. Care to give us a sneak peek at what you found during your analysis? What findings jumped out at you?

RM: Three findings jumped out at me.

First, there appears to be an age gap in experience with online communities (MROCs), with new professionals having much more experience with this tool than more senior professionals.  Younger professionals are embracing this new technology rapidly.

My second key takeaway is in the mobile data collection space.  Researchers in Asia appear to be way ahead of American researchers on this critical data collection platform.  This suggests to me that the large American research conglomerates need to actively recruit strong mobile researchers in Asia.  I will admit that this finding recalled our mobile research challenges in the middle east, where face to face research is a strong option, but where the large youth population means mobile is the future.

Finally, there is Neuromarketing.  There has been so much hype about this area and ARF is doing an excellent service to all of us by investigating the field in depth and querying vendors.  But, only 6% report that they have used or commissioned this type of research.  As an industry, we need a deep and difficult discussion about this emerging field.  Two years ago at TMRE in Las Vegas it spurred a heated discussion around dinner one night about free will, our historical assumptions about the rational man, etc.  Behavioral economics is unearthing all kinds of examples of where this rationality is warped or has possibly been shaped by our evolution.  Just one example is “temporal discounting”, where humans prefer a smaller initial reward to a much larger delayed gratification.  Neuromarketing will unearth many more of these over time.  I sat through an ARF presentation last year that, if true, would be somewhat provocative to the average consumer.  Neuromarketing is where MROCs were 5 years ago.

LM:  Good stuff Robert! I think the GRIT report is going to shake up a lot of folks! Thanks for sharing all of your great thoughts on the future of the industry; it’s certainly an interesting time to be in market research. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation in Chicago at the Tech Driven Market Research Event.

RM: Thanks Lenny, this has been good. I’m looking forward to more conversations in the future as well.

About Robert Moran:

Robert Moran is Executive Vice President at StrategyOne, manages the primary research teams in Washington, Chicago, Atlanta and Silicon Valley, leads the Corporate and Public affairs practice, and is the Director of Product Marketing.

As a researcher Robert has experience with subject matter as diverse as e-commerce, mobile commerce, Internet privacy, electric power, biotechnology, health care and health benefits, banking, credit, home loans and a variety of social issues like data privacy, and education.

Over his career he has conducted market, opinion, crisis, or brand research for Visa, DuPont, Boeing, Monsanto, Aventis, Wal-Mart, The National Federation of Independent Business, the Business Roundtable, the American Medical Association, the American Public Power Association, The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, the Air Transport Association, American Association of Port Authorities, the Cuban American National Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee and many others.

He has degrees in Political Science and History from Ohio University, where he conducted research on the attitudes of Perot voters in the 1992 election. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and American Mensa.

Robert is also contributing blogger on Pollster.com, manages the Future of Insight Project at http://www.futureofinsight.com/, and has written extensively on the evolving market research industry and the future of market research.

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2 Responses to “Lead up to the IIR TDMR: Interview With Robert Moran of StrategyOne”

  1. Bob moran | AlmeriaCity says:

    March 3rd, 2011 at 11:03 am

    […] Lead up to the IIR TDMR: Interview With Robert Moran of … […]

  2. Laurence Bernstein says:

    September 8th, 2011 at 10:59 am

    A belated follow up to this interview: RM suggests that Community Insights + Prediction Markets “will become a killer app”. ProteanPrediction is just such an application of MR (not app in the app in the app sense, but app in the methodology sense). For a couple of years we have been using prediction market algorithms and structure as a quick, efficient and (relatively) accurate way of aggregate crowd wisdom to determine potential effectiveness of advertising, concepts, Messiaen, etc. We work with QMarkets who manage the prediction market back end, and overlay our extensive MR experience. You can see more about this at http://www.tinyurl.com/proteanprediction

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