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Market Researchers Need to be More Commitment Phobic

Technology is already outpacing us and our industry, so we need to be smarter in how we collect, interpret and communicate data and insights.


By Heather Williams

Market researchers need to be more commitment phobic.

Yeah, I said it. Now I bet you can’t wait to find out what on earth I could possibly mean by such a statement.

As an industry of very bright and inquisitive people, researchers are often too committed to doing what they know. There only seems to be a handful of people in the industry who are truly shaking things up, apart from some super-dynamic tech start-ups who are banging their heads against walls to get researchers to work with them to create a more harmonious balance between tech and research method.

I don’t need to waste your time with another blog post about how the world is changing all the time, that change is inevitable, that smartphones are our best friends now, etc. You know all that. You LIVE it.

However, I don’t have a problem reiterating the fact that technology is so incredibly central to our lives and it’s already outpacing us and our industry. We need to re-focus. This does not mean we are going to lose our jobs to robots, it means we need to be smarter in how we collect, interpret and communicate data and insights.

How can we expect to accomplish intuitive research and technological harmony if we aren’t happy and willing to adapt to new ways of working, new technologies and methods?

Dr. Albert Einstein famously said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.

Ultimately, research is about exploration of people and culture as to produce a new way of thinking, a new perspective or angle that can help brands be more relevant to their customers. Clients depend on us for exactly this and, as our industry matures and many of our techniques stay the same, I am sceptical of what we are bringing to the table that is genuinely ‘new’. I personally believe we can do a lot more.

With new technologies comes unfamiliar data sets. This can be intimidating and enough of a reason for many people not to engage with a new method or technology. However, I can’t think of an instance where we’ve done something experimental at Firefish where we didn’t uncover something new. In our experience, that gem of an insight you couldn’t have found in a traditional way is always worth the venture into the unknown.

Why do you think Tinder, the dating app, became so popular among those looking for love? Vast amounts of choice could lead to meeting ‘the one’, but you would have to put in the work into going through the ‘data’ (i.e. possible partner profiles) in order for that to become a reality.

The GRIT Report from June of this year states that one of the four most sought after training topics among researchers is ‘Introduction to emerging technologies & methods’ (32%1). It’s wonderful that the appetite is there, but I can’t help but notice the ‘Introduction’ part. A third of our industry has barely touched the surface and is without a solid foundation in how to deal with emerging technologies and, dare I say, possibly an even bigger proportion aren’t actively building their skills & knowledge in this area.

I can empathise, to an extent, as I know it’s not as easy as it looks. I understand that we need to be confident in the work we deliver to clients and this can hold us back when we have 24 hours to deliver a dazzling proposal for a 5-market global study. I also understand that, when you’re an agency who doesn’t have your own platform, you can end up with a patchwork of costly technologies that creates a lot of data streams. This gets expensive and complicated, but this is not a good enough reason to give up. This is the time for us to be brave and to experiment, to break free of our commitment to doing only what we know.

However, what if we weren’t so committed to doing only what we know, but worked harder to push technology along so that it did everything we needed? The brains behind our tech counterparts in the research business crave to be the best but they are also challenged by roadmaps and priorities…but are their priorities the right priorities for us? This asynchronous approach isn’t working. We need to work together.

This is a hot topic of conversation that I frequently have with many of the leading tech companies in our industry. Robin Hilton, Co-Founder and Director of UK-based ResearchBods, has this to say on the matter:

“The market research industry has been one of the latter to embrace digital and technology – and this has seen MR lose its relevance in businesses as marketing, digital and new tech sectors have developed their own techniques and methods to obtain consumer insights.  Many researchers are now starting to use and look at how tech can improve their offering and provide solutions, but agencies are in a difficult place when they receive briefs with very short timelines to respond, so understanding how technology can best help to provide the best solution in a short time and with limited budgets can be difficult. 

The ideal solution is for tech providers and researchers to work together much more closely, using the knowledge of each discipline in a genuine partnership, rather than a client/supplier relationship.  This approach needs genuine trust between agencies and must be worked at – but it also provides researchers with the knowledge and understanding of how tech can help their clients get closer to consumers, and in doing so, provides genuine added value for working with that agency.” 

Ask yourself: why are you so committed to something? Just because it’s easy? I can’t imagine anyone in an analysis session giving up on finding out that ‘ray of insight’ to settle for the easiest and most convenient answer, so why aren’t we challenging the commitment quo to achieve a higher level of technology and research harmony?

To close, I’d like to share 5 tips on how we approach working with technology at Firefish:

  1. Invest time to build knowledge and confidence: We regularly invest time in learning about different technologies available. We know tech isn’t going anywhere and we also know how effective and inventive it can be when part of our projects.
  2. Ask the people what they want: We conduct ‘research on research’ at the end of every digital qualitative project, to learn about the end-user experience, so that we know how to be effective in our research design. For example, we have learned that nearly every study should be mobile-first with the option to seamlessly switch over to desktop/laptop, simply by asking people what worked/didn’t work for them at the end of their project.
  3. Have a clear point of view: We continue to develop our best practice which gives us a clear point of view when speaking to clients and colleagues. This is also a great way to socialise thinking and consistency within your teams.
  4. Be part of the journey: We don’t accept everything at face value because, just like people, technology changes and evolves. We try to be part of this process as much as possible. This includes providing feedback to suppliers and learning about what is on their roadmap so that we can have confidence in the technology we employ for each project
  5. Be bold: We know that we can be creative with technology. A tool sold for quantitative data collection & analysis might also be effective for qualitative research when executed in a smart and clever way. For example, we used online eye-tracking with a robust, quantitative sample size, but our analysis and the way we pushed our supplier to use the tech was underpinned by a strong qualitative approach and analysis.

Commitment is for marriage, children and filing your taxes on time. If the objective is to make data collection, interpretation and communication easier, simpler and faster, then let’s break free and explore, together, how we can become a little more flexible in how we work as a wider industry. Share your experiences and your commitment to this cause in the comments below.

See you at TMRE.

1GRIT report: https://www.greenbook.org/grit

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