By Phil Sandy
Market researchers today are under pressure to give greater certainty to their stakeholders, while at the same time they see shrinking budgets, a glut of data sources to make sense of, and new technologies. While such technologies offer promise, they also introduce confusion and risk.
The below analysis highlights the challenges confronting client-side researchers and solutions to make Research & Insights functions the heroes who bring clarity through data.
PART 1. Three observations of risky behavior in organizations today
Insight exploration gets cut
When research budgets are under threat, early exploratory insight work is often sacrificed. Spending is instead prioritized only around later stage validation research. But without that early exploration, teams lack fresh insight and understanding they need to ideate breakthrough ideas that will excel in the validation stage. Thus a dangerous and costly cycle gets triggered, even though it’s under the guise of cost cutting.
Methodologies get over-stretched
The reaction to budget cuts may, understandably, be to eliminate elements of the research mix. Teams may then try to get more out of research techniques than they are designed to deliver. Perhaps qualitative research is conducted…but used to try to give ‘quali-quant’ validation, basing high-stakes decisions on the opinions of just a handful of consumers. Alternatively, when skipping qualitative altogether, teams run the risk of developing a quant questionnaire without a true understanding of consumers’ issues or even natural language around the topic at hand. Although one can understand the temptations, in these instances research can be more misleading than helpful.
Big data gets shafted from real science
While big data offers promising advancements, the danger is that organizations see the data they’re sitting on as ‘free’ and therefore use it in place of the scientific approach of hypothesis-driven research. Mining loads of already-collected data to find correlations means one then has to post-rationalise a hypothesis to fit the pattern. But correlation does not mean causation, which is the foundation of true insight.
PART 2. Solutions to better cope with budget and validation demands
Here we propose alternatives to enable Research & Insights teams to give their stakeholders what they need, in place of the riskier tactics mentioned above.
Design small, iterative research steps
We advocate phased research that’s designed to provide the right data and insight at the right time. The benefits of such a system of smaller research steps are: the best research tool can be applied at each stage, without retro-fitting methodologies; teams gain the understanding they need to make fast decisions at key moments; and the risk that one big piece of research has to satisfy all learning needs is diminished. It also ensures MR has a seat at the table throughout the initiative, to infuse consumer understanding into every decisive moment.
Use big data as one resource among several
Data mining can be an excellent means to reveal quantified meaning, but should be analyzed within a context of broader category and consumer understanding, never just mined on its own with fingers crossed that a logical pattern will emerge. This also means big data should be used in accordance with scientific research principles: generate hypotheses to then mine the data to validate, build upon, or disprove. In this way, big data can play a vital role because it provides a window into consumers’ unfiltered responses (i.e., what they say when a researcher isn’t watching).
Share more and avoid silos
Given the need to do more with less and to create brilliant insight from so many disparate sources of data, clients can empower their agency partners to help draw out connections and deeper truths. This can be done quite simply by setting a greater culture of sharing across suppliers. Hold cross-agency debriefs, such as: share panel data with ad hoc suppliers; tracker results with screener agencies; qual reports with quant vendors; etc. This allows agencies to take the larger context into account, and thus deliver multi-layered, more actionable outputs.
Our goal is to keep Research and Insights teams at the heart of innovation and communications initiatives, so that real market impact can be realized. With the steps above we see a bright future for market research ahead.