I had two interesting Research experiences over the last 7 days, both of which brought home to me how extremely varied and complex the world of Research is likely to become in future, and that the areas where Researchers can add value may well shift significantly.
Both occasions were with myself as participant – always interesting.
My first MR experience: I came across what to me was a totally new form of data gathering (part Research, part user profiling) by the spirits brand Hendricks Gin. It was an extremely interesting take on the “survey”, all the questions were put not just in a very playful way – gamified, if you like – they were totally in the spirit of the brand (excuse the pun). Take a look yourself: http://bit.ly/14nWG31
I found it highly entertaining – and wonderfully short. Branding Market Research in this way is to me a step-change – and I bet it catches on. Imagine your brand’s identity infusing a survey process – how much more fun would that give particularly loyal brand respondents?
The second example was a mobile survey I took in a restaurant in central Munich two nights ago. The set up was simple – every table had a little stand-up card with the word “Satisfied?” and a QR code, inviting guests to give feedback on their smart phone. I gladly participated, the survey took less than 5 minutes, it was very simply structured, clearly designed – I enjoyed the process to the extent that I turned off my critical MR mindset, not paying attention to how well the satisfaction rating scales were done. I felt I was truly sharing something rather than being asked for opinions I didn’t really have.
The two experiences are to me good examples of what’s going on in our world: Market Research is spreading fast, more and more Companies are engaging in Customer feedback directly, very possibly without the help of a professional Market Research company. Technology is helping them get feedback cheaply, fast and with a degree of contextualisation (the mobile survey) that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.
Where does that leave the clearly delineated world of “Market Research”?
The world in which we add value currently is changing quickly – we need to consider where we can profitably bring our MR skillsets to bear in future. Here’s my take:
1. Data Interpretation will increasingly be the area for Value Add Services.
Companies will be inundated with data in future about their customers – their thoughts, behaviours, reactions, very often organic data that people are freely volunteering. Making sense of that data will be of high importance – filtering for relevance, recognising patterns, identifying limitations, building a story. The more time and energy we spend on interpretation, the better. We need to spend time and effort communicating the importance not just gathering data but using MR professionals to interpret it.
2. We need to Become Synthesis Experts
One data source will seldom be enough to understand a problem; each data source has its own inbuilt strengths and weaknesses. We need to look at multiple data streams – sales data, mobile inputs, social media inputs, survey inputs – identifying potential contradictions, building a picture of a situation that offers the best fit overall. I think this is our largest single challenge right now – accessing the data, bringing it into a manageable form, finding the time to synthesize.
3. We need to Bring traditional Methodological Expertise to bear on New Data Sets .
Our MR skills in say statistics, significance testing, or the understanding of potential cognitive biases need to be brought to bear on new data sources. Take the above example from the Restaurant: it’s likely that direct feedback to a Company as on the mobile survey will have a bias to the positive, whereas comments coming from say Foursquare are likely to be more honest. Business people probably wouldn’t necessarily pick up on this, but it’s important. We should unstintingly stress our core strengths, but in a practical rather than theoretical context.
4. We need to put ourselves more in Decision Makers’ Shoes
To be powerful, our insights need to clearly impact on a business decision. To continue on the Restaurant scenario, likely decisions to be taken could be on a range of satisfaction drivers, including menu choice, quality of food, quality of service, lighting, music…..to name a few. Decision makers will need to look not just at the challenge from a Customer perspective, they’ll need to factor in a number of other business variables – the cost and ease of implementation, timing considerations, planning permission, or even the ease of recruiting if you decide you need a new or additional Chef. By getting familiar with the sort of factors that Decision Makers live with, we can become more valuable business partners.
5. We need to become relaxed about Data Diversity, while remaining strict on Data Quality.
The future of Research is likely to characterized by a whole myriad of data sources and streams – social, mobile, qual., quant., behavioral, netnographical (if that word exists) sales data….Likely everyone running a business will be doing some kind of research in their own way because they can do so cheaply and quickly. We need to accept that taking an orthodox approach to this – having issues on sampling representativeness, concerns on scaling for example – are fine, but should only really count as to how they impact a business decision.
One of the tasks in front of us is to ensure that new audiences – start-ups or Small Businesses, for example – both know and value Market Research’s full capabilities, that they don’t simply share the oft-cited negative prejudices about us.
The future of MR is going to be a lot different from the past, probably a lot more fun for participants, with a lot less hard-and-fast rules. Orthodoxies will be constantly challenged, innovation will abound. Importantly, I think the thirst for Customer Insight will increase. As Market Researchers, we will need to show we can adapt, and add value in different ways. As long as we can do that, I believe we will continue to flourish.