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.