Download the
Join VisionCritical and Forrester's webinar exploring the playbook of insight-driven business on April 4

Is The Term “New MR” Still Meaningful?



By Edward Appleton

The last week a couple of Market Research articles caught my attention and made me wonder if the term “New MR” has effectively lost its meaning as New MR practices seem to have become firmly part of the mainstream.

Both articles were by TNS – one of the driving forces of MR globally.

The first, entitled “Breaking the Habit Code” (, looked at the phenomenon of habit, distinguishing between quasi-automatically repeated behavior and brand loyalty, and suggesting the need for different marketing strategies for each. It’s a thought provoking piece, well worth a read.

The second – “The Trouble with Innovation” ( – posits that innovation processes can be managed more efficiently, the flop rate reduced, by paying more attention to incremental sales potential in concept testing, and using individual (as opposed to aggregate-) based sales modelling for volume forecasts as a better predictor of future behavior.

Both articles were refreshingly different from so much of the “worthy” material to be found in MR journals, blogs, Social Media forums. TNS addresses highly topical marketing challenges such as NPD and loyalty; importantly, they focus on the Marketing application, the commercial benefit. Their intended audience seemed to be Marketing people, not Researchers – not a bad thing, I would suggest.

Both also built on insights from neuroscience and behavioral economics – the twin pillars of thinking underpinning New MR approaches – using them as springboards to offer Insights Consultancy. Great stuff.

Where does that leave New MR, I wonder? All the rather excited debates about New vs Old MR techniques? Has the tipping point perhaps been reached – New MR being merged into the mainstream, so to speak?

Do we need to refer to “New MR” at all in future? Has the Revolution silently happened, with the Big Guys simply adopting the techniques of the newer players, thereby eroding their positioning space?

More importantly, is MR shaping up to offer Insights Consultancy? I certainly hope so -here’s my take.

1. Research Gains Weight by Engaging Head-on with Business Issues

Much market research is still very much reported out in the context of the Survey Design – we report Results, often with reference to Insights Objectives. Research gains proper weight when it is integrated into a business context, suggesting how research findings impact directly on marketing programs or challenges.

We often leave this last part open for others to fulfill for us – Management Consultancies, PR Agencies, Marketing Consultancies, Advertising Agencies, journalists.

Regardless of our proposed methodology, our views on the pros and cons of “the Survey”, we need to re-frame our findings – as part of a top- or bottom line Agenda – and be unmistakeably identifiable as the folk who deliver impact. That in turn means we need to engage in Branding our output – something TNS did well in the articles I read.

2. New MR Has Way To Go.

The first wave of the “New MR” revolution is possibly coming to an end – a bold prediction, perhaps, but it’s Summer and why not 😉 Behavioral Economics and Neuroscience are slowly but surely being adapted by MR Agencies of all shapes and sizes; more and more marketing folk are being educated about the limitations of direct and overly rational questioning methods, the problems of recall gaps, overlong and tediously designed questionnaires, the need to engage respondents differently, use multiple data sources, multi-modal Research approaches.

I’d guess the future is going to be unpredictably innovative, even if this phase may be shifting towards its completion. Web-based technology will almost certainly continue to open up new opportunities for MR to tap into the measurement and understanding of sentiment. Google Surveys are surely just beginning on their MR quest. Mobile MR is only a year or two old, newer tools such as attribution modelling show promising signs of being powerful. Whatever shape it comes in, I am sure there is plenty more of the New to come for MR.

3. Insights That Add Value Should Cost More

One of the vexed issues of Market Research is remuneration. Compared with Marketing, Sales, not to mention Management Consulting, MR invariably lags behind in the salaries offered – a potential barrier to attracting and retaining talent.

If MR can add value differently – using data from multiple sources to advise brand owners on how to go about most effectively achieving their Innovation or Communication goals – then we need to ensure that the impact is documented, and the fees suggested are in line with the contribution made.

Charging more is admittedly an extremely difficult exercise for incumbents acting against a backrop of partially negative associations (slow, expensive, unreliable), and a context where MR DIY software abounds. It’s nevertheless something all of us should address – even (or especially) from the Client side: identifying where paying a premium makes good commercial sense, and exploring how best to make the argument to both Marketing, Purchasing and other Budget Owners.

Overall, my sense from the Articles mentioned and other Client side experiences over the past 4 weeks is that the leading MR Agencies are very much responding to the challenges posed by New MR thinking – and are equally leaning forward more seriously to help identify the opportunities and indicated Actions resulting from data analysis. It’s extremely refreshing – especially when the material is so well presented as was the case with the TNS articles.

It bodes well for us as an industry – even if some of the excitement and online noise generated by the “battle” between New MR proselytes and the increasingly invisible purveyors of “Old MR” may diminish. I’d say there’s no need to panic though if you’re maybe a little worried that the cut-and-thrust of MR online debate is about to diminish…no doubt the next “Big Thing” is just around the corner.

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.

Please share...

23 responses to “Is The Term “New MR” Still Meaningful?

  1. Every now and then someone speaks out boldly. Good piece of thought, well laid out. The problem with social sciences (as opposed to natural sciences) is that every logic has an equally logical counter logic. IMHO, New MR is not irrelevant now and never shall be, because there’s no end to human creativity and innovation. Some to all of the “New” of New MR might have been implemented or are in process of implementation. But, does that mean the pockets of New MR are now empty? With great disruptive thinkers and change agents in the MR industry, there will always be something New and, accordingly, New MR will always be (or should be) relevant.

  2. Nice article, as always Edward. And I didn’t realize that summer is the optimum time for bold predictions. I better get working on some claims of my own before September rolls around.

    I’m reminded of the line from The Who “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. If we’re substituting behavioral economics and neuroscience over our traditional measures of stated preferences, then it seems to me we’re upgrading our tools (maybe to the New Stone Age or even the Bronze Age). But the reasons for using our services remain the same. Our potential tools are probably of great interest to only those who inhabit our cottage community. To those who use are services, it’s still I need it fast, accurate and preferably cheap. So to you last point, in trying to gain proper remuneration for our insights, that remains an unmet challenge.

    I think if we can better document our contributions (e.g. ROI on projects largely guided by MR than those relying on the gut instincts of a few execs), we might be better able to make that argument. I have clients that have produced a “Sell Sheet” for their department extoling the direct revenue contributions that their research has brought to their organization. If we want to charge more, I suggest we start with solid financials that document our value.

  3. Nice one Edward. Makes us think, which is the main purpose of such articles. Do answer your question though, New MR will remain so, more pertinent than ever. Adoption is happening, but at a much slower rate out here in Asia. New MR, more than technology or methodology, is a change in mental thinking – the very thought process. Therefore, with each generation – and there are statements that generational thought process changes every 5 years – New MR will remain important as ever. The jargons, catch-phrases may change but the core, to seek out, challenge, think and adapt newer ways of doing things, will continue to remain – and thrive….

  4. Edward – good points as usual. But I’d suggest that the term NewMR has never been useful, except to those who believe they are selling it. Marketing Research has always evolved – it certainly looks different today from when I started 33 years ago. But I could have said that 5 years ago, 10 years ago, even 20 years ago. So yes, BE and what passes weakly for Neuroscience are becoming more common, more mainstream. I’m seeing evolution, not revolution, nor the end of any particular cycle or phase.

  5. I am in complete agreement with this view of yours,
    “One of the vexed issues of Market Research is remuneration. Compared with Marketing, Sales, not to mention Management Consulting, MR invariably lags behind in the salaries offered – a potential barrier to attracting and retaining talent.”

  6. @nasir – thanks, love your optimism. I wonder how many non-MR folk are aware of the “great disruptive thinkers and change agents” – the people controlling our budgets. Seems to me we have way to go there, and that New MR tools aren’t well known at all outside of a narrow ciircle.

    @kevin – to your point on remuneration, agree this is a central unmet need. Who to blame other than ourselves? Selling sheets sound sensible, ultimately if we don’t get better at seelling ourselves, we will continue to be undervalued. Shouting more loudly and broadly is sth I’d say we need to get better at – and value more.

    @pravin – thanks for pointing out differences in the pace of adoption by geography. Which of the new MR tools have the greatest relevance and are used most in your region?

    @steve – interesting, I’d have thought one of the central thoughts behind eg BE is that we often “don’t know what we know” (or sth like that), this (just an example) challenges direct questioning methods head on (old MR), and that in so far as NewMR refers to BE thinking it is more of a step change than you suggest. I would also suggest when large MR suppliers state that purchase intent is a useful measure then we are indeed talking revolution – certainly to many marketing execs who have grown comfortable with Top Box norms.

  7. @Edward – I’ve been saying, in print and in practice, for over 20 years that people cannot ALWAYS tell you what they’re thinking. That doesn’t mean they can’t SOMETIMES tell you or even MOST OF THE TIME tell you (caps just for emphasis). Good researchers get the data most of the time – researchers who think consumers can answer any question they ask don’t. What BE shows us, imho, is that not all economic decisions, of which product purchasing is a subset, are always economically rational. Kahnemann’s and Tversky’s and Ariely’s work provides an explanation for this, by positing that humans prefer to not think that much about stuff, opting for habit (system 1) rather than considered thought (system 2). This does not mean we don’t think and deliberate about stuff, nor does it mean we cannot do report our thoughts. It’s just that we mostly don’t.

    If we were not capable of making good use of self-report data, marketing research as a discipline would have shut down years and years ago due to the numerous failures we’d encounter. The fact that we are still around suggests that self-report is not as bad as BE and Neuroscience folk would have us believe. And thus my belief that their positions will be more evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

  8. @steve – when are you in Europe next? Continuing this conversation without a beer or a glass of wine seems sadly lacking….;) Seriously – we should continue the dialogue. Maybe I need to get the States more often, or we should create a forum/need…..

  9. Thanks to Ed, as always, for stimulating our thinking and doing so from a client perspective. Steve also makes important points. I tend to see patterns developing over time rather than “New” versus “Old”, and “MR” has always referred to a very diverse set of practices. One practice that some colleagues and I have been trying to put to rest for many years is what I would call Field & PowerPoint studies, in which the deliverable is a massive deck that does not clearly address business or marketing issues. Unfortunately, this habit is still very much alive. Poor design and execution is typically the root of the shortcomings of survey research, not the methodology per se – administer an amateurish questionnaire to professional respondents and the results will most likely fall below expectation. Partly in response to this, competition between customized research and standardized methodologies will probably intensify, and DIY will grow. Regarding BE, renowned economist Daniel McFadden offers his views in an article that made the rounds earlier in the year and is still worth a read (though technical in spots): .

  10. @Edward, you may be right about NewMR and the breakaway group, but I think you would be shocked where the peloton is – most people are simply churning out the old stuff.

    In an attempt to help the majority catch up with the leaders have a series of lectures from Betty Adamou (Gamification), Annie Pettit (Social media research), and Melanie Courtright (Mobile surveys) – check them out at – they may be too introductory for you, and many of the people who post here, but will helpful help others bridge the gap.

  11. @Ray – thanks. Knowing you a little, I imagine you wouldn’t use the phrase “most people are simply churning out the old stuff” lightly. Find this claim disturbing – if true, even broad-brush, then it’s perhaps an additional reason that MR isn’t transforming itself as quickly as it might.

    Curious – do others agree with Ray’s statement? Is there any way of somehow quantifying how much research is “old”?

    1. Ray is correct: both GRIT and ESOMAR reports validate that within the traditional definition of the MR space. However, there is growth (and it is significant) from “outside agencies” that none of our studies track effectively or at all that validates your view on where it is going Edward. I agree that there are very promising signs from large suppliers and, most importantly, from client demand that this is changing. I suspect we won’t ever see a big decline in the usage of surveys, although surveys as a driver of revenue (at least as a standalone project) will decrease dramatically over the next few years. The traditional 80/20 quant/qual mix will likely change quite a bit as well, and with that will become a broadening of definitions and restructured taxonomy of what constitutes each.

  12. Thanks @Lenny
    @Edward, several sources, in addition to Lenny’s comments. I run lots of training session, for example for ESOMAR and MRS, and the people who attend are ahead of most in that they know they need to learn, but about 80% have done nothing in the newish areas – and when we discuss what their companies do (which means what their unit does if they are a big company) it is very little.

    With my Vision Critical hat on I meet lots of clients who seem leading edge because they are using communities, but in many cases that is the only newish thing they are doing, and most of their time and energy is being devoted to 20 year old, 40 minute long, tracking studies.

    The most worrying is working with new staff, especially if hired from large agencies. In many cases they now how to do one part of a process, say the mystery shopping analysis of a large tracking project, but they don’t know how the other parts of project work, nor how other clients do it. Many bright young researchers are effectively working on a production line, similar to workers who were really good at putting on the rear nearside wheel of Cadillac

  13. @Ray – many thanks for the insights, sobering stuff. Are large Agencies effectively creating specialists that are a very long way from understanding broader business issues? If yes, then in this sense they are effectively hindering the process of educating Researchers into becoming Insights Consultants – or do I read you wrongly?

    If the state of play is truly as “conservative” as you suggest with MR, then it makes me more than a little concerned about our industry’s ability to negotiate the change wave that no doubt will hit MR, indeed is hitting it.

    1. @Edward and @Ray, I don’t disagree that there are challenges and our industry must rise to the occasion to stay relevant; heck, that is one of the main missions of this blog and most of our other related activities. That said, the pace is slow and MR is losing ground daily to disruption from “outside” entities, and those companies are making money so obviously the client-side demand is there. I think the missing piece of the puzzle is that many client MR organizations are still focused on the traditional stuff too, while the Marketing, IT, Business Intelligence & R&D units are driving the growth of “New MR” thinking and applications. In more progressive organizations the walls between those internal groups are coming down and we’re seeing a more holistic “insights” group forming that is leveraging the best from each of these areas of focus and they are driving the change in MR as a whole. No surprise that the big global brands tend to be the leaders on that front. Ad & Marketing agencies are also going through a similar transformation, again driven by client demand. This transformation will eventually spread to most companies due to the need to stay competitive so we’ll see the client dynamic continue to change to be in line with what Edward sees happening. My concern is that if MR firms don’t think ahead to what the next 3-5 years look like then they will be left with very little room to reposition themselves and adapt when the transformation waves sweeps over them. We’re already seeing the early signs with growth slow-down (and even decline) for many MR firms, especially those that make their money from Field & Tab and Trackers. That will only get worse in 2014 and by 2015 the full-scale shift will be well underway.

  14. Perhaps this goes without saying but to gauge future trends in MR I think we should also keep tabs on trends in the Advertising industry. Much of what happens there historically drives what happens in MR. They also are frequently our direct clients.

  15. Well done. We have been having this very conversation a good deal lately with our leadership team. The fact is, The business of “New” MR requires a strategic offering – the meaning (and quite frankly, the profit margins) are in the time, insight and skill used to both address a clients’s strategic issues that lead to a need for expertly scoped MR as well as the ability to take the discoveries from MR and flow those into strategic direction. We have frameworks we use for both scoping and deliverables in that regard, but are also in the process of building up our business / management strategy teams so our clients have the benefit if strategic partnership and meaningful, business-growth oriented follow-through. It means adapting a higher order consulting model. Granted, many of our senior team are brand strategists wearing “researcher” name tags- but the business strategists are the evolution of the offering that will be required to drive and sustain business growth – working bit just with research directors and VPS, but CMOs and CEOs.

  16. @ray and @Lenny, Always great to have many perspectives! The word that seems to be lacking in these conversations is integration. Using data streams is not new but what is new is that the role of MR in many organizations is shifting toward data management and away from volumes of surveys. Surveys are still being done but they are shorter, more focused and often more behavioral. That’s why communities are thriving, they can deliver real time results. While the industry continues a technique focus, the corporate buyers are going where the money is – the insights. There’s no value for a client in a technique but rather in what the technique can deliver. Does it add a new dimension? Does it have a calculable ROI? The real problem is that old techniques are just too slow and they rely too much on inference. Newer types of research rely on patterning to create predictability which in its best form, still tries to transition mass marketing principles to a diverse audience with infinite types of stimulus on a 24/7 basis. Decision makers want hard data. “Soft data” such as behavioral insights are important, but they are important in the refinement of innovation and product development not as a primary driver. In a perfect world, behavioral economics would be the key but it needs to be real time, not a post assessment. We tout ourselves as data analysts yet we leave the bigger and more profitable part of the analysis to the internal staff of the organization. If firms take that step to provide more integrated assessments, the profits soar. What that means for firms is shorter, quicker surveys that underpin findings in the data. It’s actually easier work and the sample often comes from the customer… and respondents find the process more fun because they don’t look like traditional, boring surveys. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we need to redefine our focus.

  17. Edward,

    Interesting perspective which I absolutely agree with. MR companies have lagged behind consultancies too long, new players are changing the shape of the industry, new data is influencing the way we understand customers and neuroscience is teaching us how consumer think. There is a need to look at these issues and use them in how MR provides answers to question clients have.

    I believe the industry has sat back too long and accepted the old ways of thinking. We must challenge this thinking and evolve the way we do things. How can we accept the failure rates of New Products and not do something different? We all know the definition of insanity and this is a classic case.

    Bigger players (including big clients) in the MR research industry have been complacent for a long time. Resting on the laurels of past success and techniques. I hear everyday from clients that no one ever gets fired for hiring *****. As long as this is the belief in the industry we will continue to see the failure rates of the past decade. How do we as an industry realize that the old ways of testing and working thrugh our development process needs to be revamped and in fact a big reason for failure is the reliance on thinking born in the 60’s?

  18. Dear Edward,

    Always nice to see one’s work being referenced in a positive context! Thanks for the nice words, and I am glad you picked on the most essential aspect of the ‘habits piece’, i.e. the need for different marketing strategies. It would have been quite easy to miss the point, for the paper focused on aspects of ‘research’ , e.g. habits strength, and formation. But the whole point is really about the implications. It’s when research bears implications on behavior (e.g. strategies), that it’s most powerful. The study of habits (more generally research) can’t be the final destination, but only one of the elements of the journey. The destination is about business outcomes and recommendations for growth given the research findings. I guess what we refer to as ‘old MR’ has often put this back to front, focusing on the journey as an output, and not the (client) destination.
    “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore” (Andre Gide). This probably captures how i feel about new MR versus old. Too often, we cling to the ‘old’, because we simply find it too difficult to let go, even when new evidence suggests otherwise. Steve Landis’ last comment reminds me of one of my colleagues saying most of the industry’s practices or metrics were developed before i was even born. I am not exactly ‘young’ anymore, but certainly old enough to be aware of the new thinking that have emerged from other disciplines in the last decade, and impacted our understanding of just about everything. But often, looking at questionnaires etc, i find myself thinking: “Surely, there must be a better way!”. New insights into how people feel, think and behave have profound implications for what we do as researchers; wonder “surely, there must be a better way”the wind from the ocean is becoming more intense- it might be a good time to let go of the shore. I am not (personally) afraid of drowning for my company has set its sail some time ago- but the journey should be fun as more boats join the trip 🙂
    Best regards

  19. Dear Edward. Thanks for mention our work in your article. Totally agree with your POV. The world is changing and the MR industry needs also to evolve, but not only in terms of cost & speed of reaction. If we want to understand why the people do what they do (and this is the core essence of what we need to do), we need to update also techniques and theoretical frames. A lot of things are happening in other fields (from science to consumer behavior) and it will be difficult to do something relevant without assuming some risks. But this is what ever happened in the discovering process. MR could be a creative field, and need to!
    Have a good summer and be careful: summer time is one of the moment where your own habits could be affected!

  20. Hartmut Scheffler

    Being out for holiday in Northern Europe it was a pleasure to follow – thanks to Edward excellent thoughts – the following discussion, which gives a good overview of risks and opportunities for MR in next years. Concerning 4 aspects some remarks. 1. Old and New MR: I do not know, what is what and we should use the phrase “state-of the art” instead. Is primary research old in a world of Big Data? Is verbal + reactive measurement with a questionnaire old? Even if in an online panel? Is a face-2-face group discussion old and same done online new? My impression is, that for all of us it is for sure: primary research will go on / reactive research with a traditional questionnaire will shrink, but play a role also in 5 years for special types of research / non-reactive, qualitative and secondary all will increase / DIY is neither old nor new, but an opportunity as well as a quality risk / new suppliers (from Google via SAP to data analysts) will open new opportunities as competitors and as partners. To be state of the art means for suppliers of MR and for MR teams on industry-/client side to be faster, bolder, taking risks, allowing learning by doing – but all these coming from a clear and sometimes not yet existing POV and combined with a strict understanding and demand of quality. 2. Why and how is MR still necessary and can build a strong and unique position in this transforming world? Because at the end human behaviour and attitude are in the focus – and MR skills are (still) those of human understanding (Sociology, psychology…). Because data is nothing without evaluating the quality of data (and which data are useful for what kind of issues) and MR skills are those. Because the MR industry was over decades quality oriented and is aware of the quality standards, playing (a real pity) a more and more irrelevant role in public discussion). Because to answer most of the questions from Marketing, R&D, CRM etc. you have to answer the What- and the Why – question: traditionally a strength and in the centre of MR. So it is in the hand of the MR industry to build new activities and offers on this strong fundament.
    3. Too many specialists? To do all this, it is more than ever necessary to be a interdisciplinary profession with a lot of specialists. But of course not only that, but on top of these specialists generalists as project manager, developer, advicer, Key Accounter. 4. Boring and inefficient? Indeed: by far too often MR cannot show the effect and relevance of data or recommendations up to a RoMRI – figure and by far too often the front end has to be improved: more story-telling, (interactive) portals, implementation offers – in other words bringing the position of a data-based consultancy, a data-based trusted advisor alive.
    To sum up: a lot of opportunities. Is everyone aware of that (No!) or is MR too conservative (Yes!)? This blog and discussion can be a step to change this, a step forward.

Join the conversation