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The Future of Market Research Debate: Getting From Here To There

Last Thursday I participated in a webinar debate on the "Future of Market Research", hosted by Vision Critical. I was joined on the panel by Laura Davies, Vision Critical's Senior Vice President and Bryan Dorsey, Manager of Online Research at John Deere. You can find a complete recording of the debate here. Laura and Bryan are incredibly brilliant research professionals and outshone me 1000%; it's well worth the time to listen to it and hear the great insights they had to offer. What struck me after the debate was two things: first, how much in alignment we were overall on the current state of the industry and where we are likely going, and secondly how far we still have to go to get there.

Last Thursday I participated in a webinar debate on the “Future of Market Research”, hosted by Vision Critical. I was joined on the panel by Laura Davies, Vision Critical’s Senior Vice President and Bryan Dorsey, Manager of Online Research at John Deere. You can find a complete recording of the debate here. Laura and Bryan are incredibly brilliant research professionals and outshone me 1000%; it’s well worth the time to listen to it and hear the great insights they had to offer.

What struck me after the debate was two things: first, how much in alignment we were overall on the current state of the industry and where we are likely going, and secondly how far we still have to go to get there. I maintain that the future of market research can be very bright if we make some changes now and those actions should occur within three business areas:

  1. Human Capital
  2. Design Innovation
  3. Data Analytics

Let’s look at each of those a bit more closely.

Human Capital: It’s becoming increasingly apparent that market research needs a major injection of new talent. We need to rethink our value proposition at all levels and develop whole new ways to build upon what is best within our industry and jettison what doesn’t work. We should be actively recruiting creative and energetic business leaders who can help redefine what market research is, does, and delivers. A few firms are certainly doing that, but we need a lot more activity here and we need it fast.  A whole new generation of college grads are about to be on the market; bright-eyed young professionals with degrees in anthropology, sociology, business, marketing, journalism, fine arts, network science, etc… maybe we should start there? After all, two of the brightest minds that I know in research (Ben Smithee and Betty Adamou) are 25 years old!

Design Innovation: A lot of energy is being channeled right now on creating new research designs, with much of the focus being around mobile, gamification, and communities. That effort is wonderful, but it’s not enough. Our clients are looking for data integration and synthesis. They want a 360 view of the consumer and how consumers relate to their brand. Ultimately, they want to leverage the power of data to predict behavior so that they can sell more stuff. Our focus on leveraging new technologies to produce discrete opportunities to collect data just isn’t enough; we have to focus on combining all data channels into a holistic framework. I’ll even take it a step further; we need to craft methodologies that add direct bottom line impact by engaging consumers in an ongoing relationship with brands. MROCs pose great opportunities to redefine this paradigm, but so do mobile approaches that incorporate elements of Foursquare and Shopkick (or as PepsiCo saw, IntoNow).

Data Analytics: As consumer data becomes more 360 in nature, market research must incorporate more tools being used within the larger business intelligence space such as text analytics, CRM integration, data mining, etc… Many companies are pursuing this opportunity now, but very few are within the market research space. It strikes me as exceedingly odd that an industry that is based on the idea of collecting and understanding data should lose on this opportunity, but that is exactly what is happening. We need to retrench, reinvest, and reposition ourselves now before we lose too much of the market to recover.

One thing we need to keep mind as we go down this path is that much of the technology to make this happen exists today, but that doesn’t mean it is the BEST technology yet. We need to ensure that we’re establishing a flexible infrastructure that will allow us to respond quickly to new technologies. For too long market research suppliers have invested heavily in technology solutions that become a core part of their market position, binding them to outdated legacy systems. Of course there will be a segment of the industry that are primarily technology suppliers, but for those firms that are more focused on “insight consultancy” positioning  I argue that we should all be technologically agnostic.

Case in point: social media analytics. This is a rapidly changing field with multiple approaches being touted right now. Which is best? How do you evaluate quality in a crowded field with competing stories? David Johnson, CEO of Decooda tackles this via a nice little piece on the state of play in social media analytics on their blog:

Frances Marion, the Revolutionary War general known as the “Swamp Fox,” codified the concept of guerilla warfare as “Fight, then run away to live and fight another day.” When you’re outgunned, when a frontal assault will simply expend resources rather than assure victory; you’re better off to escape the battlefield, conserve your resources, and, at least, survive to fight another day.

In today’s real time, constantly changing, digital world, in many ways, marketing is a war, and Social Media is a critical battlefield. The opportunity that Social Media presents is to “listen and understand” what the market is saying about us, our competition and the market at large, so that we can foster dialog, promote advocacy, facilitate support, spur innovation and make intelligent decisions. But using the solutions offered to date, which are based simple word sampling and cursory analytics, is like going into battle unarmed, or worse, with outdated weapons.

Unless your leadership team has blessed you with extraordinary budgets and resources for staff, marketing partners and consultants to mine insights from the overwhelming flood of Social Media and enterprise data, then, like the “Swamp Fox,” you will probably not be prepared. In fact, many businesses actually end up diluting their efforts by using ineffective tools, which ultimately end up generating more questions, not answers.

Instead, what you need are weapons with intelligence. Tools that can accurately and precisely assess the flood of Social Media and enterprise data that will directly aid you in making the right marketing and investment decisions. This way you will not only be able to respond to the challenges of Social Media but anticipate them. You’ll seize the opportunity and put your competition on the defense.

Now granted Decooda is a tech company making an entry into this space, but I think this really serves to underline my point. Here is a company that has the vision of integrated data as a core offering and they are not a market research supplier; instead they see market research data as just another channel that can be mined for insights in order to give brands a competitive advantage. Shouldn’t this be the same model that MR suppliers adopt as well?

The future is fast approaching my friends and the market research industry has a lot of work to do to capitalize on the promise of it. We can get from here to there, but we need to start now before we lose the opportunity.

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2 Responses to “The Future of Market Research Debate: Getting From Here To There”

  1. The Futures(s) of Research: A Slew of Views | GreenBook says:

    May 19th, 2011 at 8:16 am

    [...] the unofficial theme we’re developing this week on exploring the future of research; joining my post from Monday and the contribution from Ian Lewis from Tuesday is a really fantastic piece of thought leadership [...]

  2. Johan says:

    April 19th, 2012 at 4:44 am

    Thanks for this great article. There is a lot of new technologies and activities to be done in the market research industry such as Virtual environment, eye tracking etcetera. But a lot of companies haven’t even started using market research tools or services. The market for the more simple solutions are still growing fast and smaller survey companies are doing really good.
    However it will be interesting to see were the industry is going and as I read in an article earlier today, it’s extremely hard to predict or estimate the behaviour and needs of the future.

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