The Technology Dilemma
By Zoe Dowling
We live in a tech-centric world. It is rapidly changing how we live. It is driving cultural change. It is challenging and revamping almost every brand and industry, and market research isn’t immune to this change. The Insights Innovation Exchange (IIeX) conference, held in Atlanta 15th–17th June, demonstrated just how much technology has infiltrated our industry. Not only did the conference have a disproportionately large tech presence, its parlance infused many sessions with references to ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ approaches to ‘hacking’ solutions and ‘start-up’ mentality.
Technologies providing automation and computation are leading forces, followed closely by those providing access to consumers, be it as a sample source or a means to connect directly with them. The question then becomes how to leverage these technologies, how to innovate in this new order. And how to do so with the same refrain of ‘better, faster, cheaper’.
In one of the opening talks, Reality Mine’s Rolfe Swinton talked about the exponential growth of massive computing power, coupled with the trend towards technology becoming nearly ubiquitous and nearly free. This inadvertently hits upon a Catch-22. Technology is powerful and cheap, comparatively speaking from 10 or even 5 years ago. Furthermore we, as consumers ourselves, have become used to getting technology for free. How many of the apps on your phone did you actually pay for?
This hides a truth that while the technology may be freely available via open source code or inexpensive off-the-shelf packages, customizing it to meet research needs takes specific skills, time and financial resources. This quickly removes free, and even inexpensive, from the equation and yet talk of better, faster, and cheaper prevails. TNS’ Kris Hull suggested that a language disconnect between clients and agencies is a factor. When clients hear innovation, they are hearing ‘faster and cheaper’ but the agencies saying it are actually implying ‘upfront investment’. There needs to be more upfront conversations around the real cost of implementing these new technologies.
More broadly, it feels like the word ‘Innovation’ has become the ultimate buzzword. There are continual cries around the need for the industry to innovate or that we aren’t innovating fast enough by adopting all the new technologies available. This skirts over the gritty truth that innovation isn’t easy, even beyond the simple financial constraints. It was encouraging (perhaps even comforting) to hear some focus on this reality. Lisa Courtade, Merck & Co, spoke directly to the point that innovation is hard. It requires focus and tenacity. We need to ‘do it again, and again, and again’ before we’ll get it right. Another refreshing talk came from Lowes’ Tanya Franklin who highlighted the need to build a culture of innovation in order to be successful. This means bringing in the right skillsets and individuals to do so.
So what should we take from this? The first is to celebrate that there are a lot of exciting, and very worthy, technologies for us to employ. The second is to openly acknowledge that employing them involves a lot of hard work as well as significant human, financial and time investment to get it right.