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Market Research 2012 – The Year in Review From A Client-side Perspective

2012YearinReview

 

By Edward Appleton

Incredible how time flies, but 2012 is almost behind us. Time perhaps to lean back and reflect on the year in Research from the Client-side perspective – here are seven observations about what to me seemed to characterize the world of MR in 2012.

1. Budgetary Pressures are Here to Stay

Hands up if you’re working in an environment where there is little pressure on budgets – not many, I would guess.  2012 was a year of slow growth in many Western European countries, of continuing economic uncertainty, and widespread, ongoing de-leveraging (as it is so horribly called – trying to pay off your debt is a more pithy way to put it). This impacts on investment decisions – if you’ve got limited visibility, you hold back. Plus appetite for risk is limited.

MR is impacted by this – can we do the same for less? Be more creative, find a different way? I can’t see the situation changing much in 2013.

2. Market Research is Changing – but is it Transforming Itself?

There’s no doubt in my mind that tectonic shifts are happening in the world of Business Intelligence that will influence the way “Market Research” is perceived and practiced in future. Just take one example: more and more Companies are beginning to wake up to the power of the data they already have, looking at ways to interrogate and segment available databases, mining them for insights. Transactional data documents behavior and as such is more robust than self-reported data. As e-commerce expands, e-retailers will understand the power of insights – but it will be more profiling and segmenting rather than survey-driven.

Is this Research as we know it? Are we part of the change process, or merely being swept along by it?

Whatever else happens in future, I’d dare to make one prediction: despite its much battered status, the Survey will not die as a tool, even though it will almost certainly lose its hegemony. Change often doesn’t happen as rapidly as many of the oft-cited examples have us believe. Video didn’t kill the radio star (http://dai.ly/Ts2jvt), just knocked him or her off their perch.

3. DIY – The Elephant in the Room?

It’s not something you read about so much in MR social media, but I’d say that DIY was the elephant in the room in 2012. It’s going on all the time – and is a hugely disruptive force, for better and for worse. As appetites increase for insights Client-side, but budgets remain flat or even slightly negative, DIY is an obvious way to do relatively uncomplicated pieces of research. There are increasingly more and more ways of making DIY MR more sophisticated – buying in Analytics tools, for example, that your own software cannot handle.

I’m not going to comment on whether the above is a good or bad thing – economic forces aren’t like a football match, where shouting “that’s unfair” is a commonly accepted response.

4. Social Media – Have We Peaked?

2012 was the year for me where the level of debate about Market Research on Social Media dropped off. I can think of a number of established names in MR that became notably quieter on Twitter. I can also echo +Ray Poynter’s suspicion that it seems to be always the same people that are engaging.

Are more of us Researchers beginning to question the value of Social Media Engagement? It would begin to look like it – if anybody actually has the stats, I’d be interested. I personally found this a rather sobering trend and hope that conversations continue on the web with renewed vigor. Hence this blog effort.

5. Price Differentials are as Big as Ever

From a Client perspective, I can honestly state that the differences in pricing amongst Agencies offering very similar methodologies remain surprisingly large. Maybe some suppliers are doing extremely well and simply price from a position of strength. A more likely explanation is a time-lag phenomenon – a slow-motion reaction to a realization that supply is outstripping demand, and commoditization continuing apace, with all that means from a pricing perspective. Some sectors of research are, in my view, still overpriced, something that market forces will no doubt correct.

No idea how quickly price-adjustment will happen – lowering prices is even more painful than raising them. In the meantime, for Clients of all shapes and sizes, there’s always the DIY option.

6. Research Roles are becoming Hybrid

I’ve noticed a trend amongst Client-side Researchers’ job roles and titles expanding to include responsibility for a second role – Insights and Strategy, Insights and Segmentation Management, Insights for Product Development are some examples.These roles place responsibility for Execution on the person generating the Insights – join Actionability and Insights at the hip. There is an organizational logic to this – closing potential gaps between an Insight and what actually happens to it by creating integrated or hybrid roles enhances efficiency. It also increases creates a more direct link to sales and profitability by shoving Researchers towards the front line.

7. We’re beginning to Shape Up

As a profession, we’re not exactly sexy – tell someone you’re a Market Researcher, and you often wonder if the response “that’s interesting” is heartfelt. This perception as “dull” isn’t without cause: we’re supporters of other people making decisions, we are always immensely (read: irritatingly) precise, reluctant to sing our own praises, and often slated as being negative and methodologically primitive by the Creative professions.

I sensed the first stirrings of Change here in 2012 – Agencies presenting themselves better, engaging more professionally at Trade Fairs, listening more carefully to my needs for a given project, responding more crisply to RFPs.

There’s way to go, for sure. But I sense that we are moving out of our comfort zones in a positive sense, taking our purist hats off, and embracing change more wholeheartedly.

You’ve probably noticed that there’s very little about new methods or tools in the above -which isn’t because I don’t value true innovation and improvement in MR, just that from a Client perspective, it is only ever a means to an end. Plus: incremental innovation is hardly ever enough to drive a change in behavior.

What will 2013 hold? I’d see the pace of change increasing if anything. Many of the underlying drivers will still be there.

I continue to think that as Researchers we’re well placed to benefit from Change – but that the onus is on us to be out there, position ourselves well, continually learn new skills, interface with new disciplines, engage with people whose opinions and decisions matter at the highest levels of Business.

Our image may be dull but it certainly isn’t tainted – we just need to dust ourselves down and shape up.

And on that positive note, I’ll raise my glass to 2012 and look forward to an invigorating 2013!

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.

Please share...

12 responses to “Market Research 2012 – The Year in Review From A Client-side Perspective

  1. All great points, Edward! Just two responses:

    1. Social Media – Have We Peaked? I know I have cut back a bit. While social media has been good to me (I have clients that I met on Twitter, for example), with time I have become more disciplined about how much time I spend–it really can suck me in if I am not careful!

    2.Research Roles are becoming Hybrid. I actually see changes in the definition/structure of research jobs as a major shift that will take off…and am actually finishing an article on this very topic!

    K.

  2. @kathryn, Tony – thanks for the feedback.

    Tony – very happy New Year to you!
    Kathryn – be curious to read your article, let me know when you’re publishing. Good to hear that Twitter worked as an acquisition tool for you, and I am sure that SM will continue to thrive as a B2B tool. Of more concern to me is how the word “engagement” is interpreted. Exchanging views rather than just services or products is is to me what SM (sh)could ideally be about – and one not defined by a buyer-seller relationship. I’ve been called naive before for expressing this view, but so be it.

  3. Your post made me think….Can clients side researchers change on their own in the face of pressured budgets?

    Do they need a different kind of help from their suppliers?

    Maybe they might need to stop thinking of themselves as researchers and become more like pioneers and explorers and even take a co creative stance with internal stakeholders, or even partner with suppliers (who invest in understanding business issues, not just research issues)

    What could a supplier do or become to really help an add value for the Client side Researcher in 2013

  4. @martin – it’s an interesting question you raise. Clientside, as I am sure you know, one the challenges for MR is to become a strategic thought partner to Management and Marketing. The type of help that MR suppliers give is invariably in the area of methodological guidance and advice to ensure quality, validity, and on -the-pace. So the Conundrum is clear: until MR companies are asked by Clients to do different things, it’s difficult for them to reposition and add a different kind of value. But until Agencies clearly show an ability to deliver more than just good Research, why should Clients ask them to do more. I guess – tentatively – we are looking at the need for different kind of consultancies that offer insight and advice based on Research. Thoughts?

  5. I recognize all your points Edward. I think we’re in the middle of a major MR revolution and already in 2-3 years the MR world will be very different to what it is now: new players, new tools, new ways of using existing methodologies.

    Oh and to your point on Social Media, hopefully I helped spice MR things up a bit in 2012.

  6. @AngryMR – you totally spiced up MR in Social Media, perhaps we need a bit more provocation rather than conciliation…..and who knows, maybe it has a therapeutic effect? SM as a component of Anger-management, maybe 😉
    Yes, MR is changing, lets see where it takes us and if we can grab the opportunities. Happy New Year!

  7. Edward – great summary. Interesting to me is the range of pricing from suppliers for similar studies. I would like to hear from suppliers about this – my hypothesis is that this could be related to the range in expertise of an Insights department. For example, some suppliers may be dealing with an inexperienced insights department that requires lots of handholding during all phases. But, where a dept is well-seasoned, they may prefer – and even deserve lower pricing since they will be clearer on study specs/expectations etc. This leads me to another thought – what is the ideal place for the well-seasoned client side researcher, on the client or consultative side?

  8. The DIY elephant in the room comment is a big one. In 2012 three (now) clients came to me saying ‘we’ve got this survey data and don’t know really know what to do with it’. These weren’t small peices of work (one had n=2500 sample) and they weren’t bad questionnaires. They’d captured what they wanted to know about – just didnt know how to interpret it.

    DIY data collection is alive and well, MR firms do not own the means of production anymore.

  9. @simon – thanks, good to hear we’re aligned.

    @jeff – interesting question. high impact MR talent can, in my view, flourish on either side of the fence, as long as we are well placed to deliver, ie have the right environment.

    @christine – well put, especially the last sentence, which nods in the direction of a well known 19th century thinker 😉

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