By Edward Appleton
I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago suggesting that the term “New MR” had become redundant given its apparent widespread adoption. I was prompted by having read a couple of stimulating thought pieces by global MR giant TNS, which drew heavily on New MR thinking to suggest new approaches to innovation and “loyalty” (or habit) research.
A number of people commented – you can see them here. Quite a few disagreed – intelligently and politely, as is so often the case with Market Research. One comment in particular, from Ray Poynter of Vision Critical, stayed with me for a number of days.
Ray’s view was that New MR was in his experience not widely adopted at all – Online Communities were often the only “new” activity engaged in, most of the time and energy of the clients he encounters being devoted to “20 year old, 40 minute long, tracking studies”. Oh.
It got worse. He continued by highlighting the extremely narrow skill sets learned by younger MR professional working for large agencies. He compared them to manual laborers in a car production facility, describing their skill set as equivalent to “really good at putting on the rear nearside wheel of a Cadillac”. Oh oh.
Are we – myself included – kidding ourselves that Market Researchers are on a positive trajectory to becoming Insights Consultants?
Is “New MR” more necessary than ever?
Is Ray’s view of the MR world broadly correct? If so, what does that mean for our likely future? Here’s my take.
1. Budgetary Pressures Will Drive Change
The responsibility for overly long, tedious questionnaires has to lie with the MR clients who pay for them; from Ray’s evidence, there are enough MR client-side researchers that still have internal stakeholders and Budget owners who value the data output.
But for how long? And in how many Companies will this be the case in future?
My sense is that annual Marketing Budget discussions will become increasingly critical of large-ticket, often legacy MR items. MR managers will be forced to find cheaper ways of executing: reducing questionnaire length, lowering the frequency of interviewing, cutting out irrelevant sections. Lower cost suppliers will be invited to present proposals – can Google Surveys help? Can the Company’s own internal Panel be used with a modified sample structure?
Budgetary pressures will drive change even if New MR does not.
2. Market Researchers Must Become Insights Consultants
Market Research is in many ways in fine fettle – there are few business people and brand owners who blatantly don’t wish to listen to the voice of the Customer.
The more pressing question is: at what cost? And how should VOC work be executed?
Can the Marketing Department execute the Research themselves (with a little help from DIY Software and non-specialist external Agencies) and get 80% of the solution for very little additional cost?
These to me are real dangers for the Market Research Industry – that our tasks get subsumed by Marketing, simply because our Expertise isn’t deemed unique or valuable enough.
We strongly need to demonstrate how powerful and strategic MR can be, and how using a professional to execute will add significant value. That requires ensuring MR professionals have good business acumen, understanding how Marketing works, what Branding is – the list is long. Just having narrow specialists as described by Ray above is not enough.
3. New MR is a Useful Label
Dr. Steve Needel of Advanced Simulations LLC commented critically, stating that the “term NewMR has never been useful, except to those who believe they are selling it.” His view was that the New MR label is artificial, a marketing gimmick – MR has always evolved, renewing itself regularly over time.
I tend to disagree with Steve. The world is changing fast around us, driven by technology, social media, the mobile internet – also by advances in understanding of how decision making works. We need to react to that in order not to appear off-the-pace.
The term “New MR” is to me a way of helping us say “we’ve changed”, we have expanded and modified our toolkit, we are moving away from a world of long, tedious trackers where respondents are forced-fit into answering questions they possibly have little opinion on. We need to worry about the image our industry enjoys.
To conclude: Ray’s comments on my original blog were sobering, brought me up short. They contrasted starkly with much of the overtly enthusiastic, innovation-embracing MR material published.
If there is indeed a gap – between perception (unsubstantiated euphoria) and reality (myopic low-value specialists) – it’s one we need to work hard to close. If New MR can help us do that, then we need to embrace it. No one is going to be served by an industry populated by Market Researchers who figuratively speaking can fix the wheel of a car but have no clue about the bigger picture of the business they are working in.
Curious, as ever, as to others’ thoughts.
P.S. Many thanks to all the folk who commented on my original blog – Steve Needel, Kevin Lonnie, Nasir Khan, Leonard Murphy, Pravin Shekar, @pureresearch, Kevin Gray, Jamie Gordon, @ellen