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2013 – The Market Research Year in Review (A Client Perspective)

The year is pulling to a close, and rather than look forward and make predictions about what 2014 will bring, I have taken a look back at 2013 and pulled out what for me were the year's highlights - the things that stick in my mind as having import for the Market Research Industry.
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By Edward Appleton

The year is pulling to a close, and rather than look forward and make predictions about what 2014 will bring, I have taken a look back at 2013 and pulled out what for me were the year’s highlights – the things that stick in my mind as having import for the Market Research Industry.

There is an inevitable European bias, so apologies in advance to those elsewhere in the world.

1. DIY goes mainstream.

Stephen Phillips of Spring Research (a UK qual. boutique – http://bit.ly/19t1CrK)  launched Zappistore (http://bit.ly/KbAhkg) in Q2 2013, with the aim of automating, simplifying and drastically reducing the cost of a range of quantitative research tools.

In an interview in Research Live he outlines the core promise: research at 5% of the cost and in 5% of the time of a typical project.

With a slightly different twist but similar thrust of cost-reduction – Do-it-For-You rather than DIY – the venerable Jeffrey Henning also sees the opportunity in simpler, cheaper market research. The person I originally got to know – mainly virtually – as the author of methodological insights at his excellent Vovici blog – is now running Researchscape (http://bit.ly/1hLPV1r), a new company focusing on the DIY area of MR, but with the aid of experts.

The DIY space is no longer the elephant in the room – through visibility it gains credibility. I have no data on its success to date – but I would think it’s here to stay, with suppliers currently positioned at the bottom of the price pyramid nudging their way upwards….

2.DIY gets sophisticated

Even bigger news than Zappi was TNS linking up with Zappistore to offer its Conversion Model in full, at a lower cost. The difference: it only delivers raw data, with no help in analysis or MR consultancy – http://bit.ly/Jzuk01 – as explained by Jan Hofmeyer, of Conversion Model fame.

TNS stresses the need for faster turnaround, faster insights – they use the word “express” rather than “DIY”. The cost is stated at GBP 4.950 (http://bit.ly/KbC8pd) – not having used the Conversion model, I don’t know the current price differential.

Why would TNS offer this flagship tool at a lower price, cutting out MR consultancy as an option? Are they choosing to participate in disruption before they feel disrupted themselves – a case of “if you can’t beat them join them”? It’s a fascinating and potentially powerful development.

3. MR Industry societies refreshing the image of MR Image.

The MRS 2013 Event “Shock of the New” (March 2013 – http://bit.ly/1aeO53V) which I couldn’t attend) was the work of UK MRS CEO Jane Frost. Speakers were from all walks of life, people doing inspirational things – artists, sportspeople, journalists. The implicit message: MR needs to reduce a tendency to be inward-looking, engage with a broader stakeholder audience. I applaud this.

The BAQMaR Conference (http://bit.ly/18pmNXW) in December (where I did attend as a speaker) was equally innovative. There were two sessions, one in the afternoon starting at 2 pm, one in the evening starting at 7pm. Cocktails, canapes were in evidence – and the speakers were on a catwalk, with the audience sitting like at a fashion show at either side. I didn’t spot Kate Moss, but maybe I need new spectacles. In any case – more applause from yours truly.

The ESOMAR 2013 Qualitative Conference (http://bit.ly/1eLAJnl) – entitled Brilliant Transformations – was brilliantly produced. It started with a stamp – or multiple stamps – rather than bang, with a quality Flamengo trio leading us into the day. Bravo – or olé!

All impressive, enlivening stuff – positioning us as a profession that is anything but dusty, boring, “analytically-retentive” (if I may allow myself to coin a phrase).

4. The Death Knell Sounding for Purchase Intent…..

One sentence hit me hard in 2013 – in an article published in June the GreenBook Blog by Dr Larry Friedman, TNS’ Chief Research Officer in North America:

“…some “standard” metrics like purchase intent for established FMCG brands, have a zero correlation with behavior – why are we still using it?”

The phrase was actually in parentheses – almost a throw-away comment in the context.

For me it signaled a revolution – and perhaps this is just my perception: a leading global MR firm publicly stating that a key KPI that I suspect is used in thousands and thousands of surveys worldwide is effectively useless.

This obviously raises the question: what other metrics will be consigned to MR history? And which new measures will take their place?

5. Mobile Research is Shaping up to be truly Transformative. 

In a talk at the MRMW Mobile Conference in London in Q4 2013 (http://bit.ly/1aeYQ6d) TNS’ Jan Hofmeyer suggested that to overcome recall gaps and achieve global coverage, all trackers and customer satisfaction studies should aim to transition to mobile – and that mobile surveys should be no longer than 3 minutes. ( I paraphrase, hopefully correctly, from memory).

Could this signal the end of the 20 minute, tedious questionnaire format that is still alive and kicking and is immensely damaging for the image of MR?

6. Emotions, Emotions, Emotions…..

GfK launched its facial scanning tool EMO Scan in February (http://bit.ly/1logHgq), a biometric tool of emotional response, as an integral part of its advertising tracking service.

Why does this stick out for me? Because it suggests that the major players – Gfk in this case – are moving towards wholescale adaption of new techniques.

The facial recognition approach per se was convincingly critiqued by Decode Marketing (http://bit.ly/19ugyIB) later in the year – but still, debate was created about something potentially powerful, intuitive and refreshingly new, a step-change rather than another incremental innovation.

7. Analytics: Hot, hot, hot…but for how long? 

To not mention Big Data (BD) as a key buzz topic of 2013 would be an omission – talk of BD was seemingly everywhere, catching the broad public imagination in both a positive (ooooohhhh……improved efficiencies via machine intelligence) and negative (privacy concerns, surveillance issues….OMG) sense.

There were equally plenty of BD caveats from Analytics experts such as GfK’s Colin Strong and Ventana’s Tony Cosentino, not to forget Nate Silver himself: analytics can be very time consuming, misleading (false correlations) and easily raise as many (or more) questions as it deliver answers. Notably, BD doesn’t give an answer to the question “why”? This suggests that Qualitative – a small, fragmented segment of MR – will enjoy a renaissance.

That’s my topline. There’s masses more that I could mention – not the least being ongoing downward budgetary pressures, the need to square the circle by providing better insights in half the time, and lastly the continuing and striking price differentials for very similar supplier tools.

Google Consumer Surveys (GCS) features smaller for me – I operate in European markets, as yet GCS is only available in US, Canada and the UK. I heard rumblings about its impact in the US. One client side researcher at a major US DIY retailer told me (and many others at the conference in question) that by switching his ad tracker to GCS he had reduced costs to 5% of the original. Wow. Would love to hear from other people about the impact the Google tool is having.

Was it a good year? In many ways, I sense it was a year of transition: change is palpably happening, and it would seem that the major players are pro-actively working to shape a healthy, profitable future for MR against a backdrop of disintermediation, disruption and margin erosion.

We live in exciting times – hopefully Research will emerge re-energized, with a broader, more powerful toolkit, with the potential to add even more value, and slowly but surely shake off its dusty image.

Here’s to 2014.

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.

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