What does 2018 have in Store for Qualitative Research?

Laura Livers details five trends that will redefine qualitative research in 2018.

The end of the year and beginning of the new one is almost upon us, and among the time honored holiday traditions we all enjoy at this time of year, one of my favorites (at least from a business perspective) is looking back at the past 12 months and predicting what may happen in the next year!

Part of our job in research is to use data to predict the future, so let’s turn that lens back on our own industry and see what some of the trends we have seen playing out in 2017 may mean for 2018. Here is my take on five trends that will impact the face of research in the year ahead.

  1. Customer Experience & Engagement: In the era of individual marketing, brands will continue to focus on technologies and partners that help them to engage, understand, and activate on a one-to-one basis to create a strong affinity to their products through storytelling. For research, that means we will see a shift from trackers and segmentation to approaches that help brands achieve that mission: communities, diaries, agile qual, as well as iterative surveys, Data Management Platform (DMP) integration, and single-source panels.
  1. AI & Automation: AI and automation will continue to be in the forefront in 2018, with many researchers seeking new ways to fuel their need for shorter, faster, and easier data collection methods. This, together with a rise in demand for reports and dashboards that are to-the-point and visually compelling will allow researchers to cull through large concept sets, either as part of a more comprehensive qualitative study, or as a stand-alone, “quick take” method. On the horizon – using home-based voice-controlled smart speakers as interview devises.
  1. Consumer Closeness: With technology that allows for the fast and efficient storage and analysis of images and video, the prevalence of smart phone cameras, and the use of geolocation, in the moment picture-taking and video will increasingly take center stage in providing an unprecedented view into the daily lives of consumers. The era of self-directed and observational mobile ethnography has arrived, including more researcher participation through video introductions as well.
  1. Data Privacy and Accountability: The near-constant news around large scale hacks like Equifax, Yahoo, and Uber combined with European initiatives like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will force greater adoption of secure transactional technologies, and a new focus on gaining explicit consent from consumers for marketing and insights. This new level of accountability for data-driven marketing will mean more than evolving Terms of Service for consumers; it will necessitate transparency on how data is used and its value. Savvy consumers have an increasing understanding of the value of their personal data and are less likely to give it out for free. As a result, expect new models of personal data monetization to emerge, led by opt-in panels and loyalty programs.
  1. Consolidation: Finally, on the overall industry front, with the economy booming and plentiful investment capital flowing on one side and increasing competition from new players in the insights world on the other, expect a continuation of consolidation of companies, especially in the below-$50M in revenue range. Many smaller companies will be looking for strong partners to help them grow, and larger companies will be anxious to buy market share and capabilities to better serve their clients’ increasing need for faster and more efficiently-gathered insights.

I think these five trends will influence the industry in 2018, but I am also sure I am missing some things or that “black swans” may occur that could become major drivers of change. With that in mind, what are your thoughts?

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