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An Era of Unparalleled Creativity In Research

“We’re all doomed!”

“No, this is the age of Aquarius!”

These are, in a nutshell, the two opposing arguments that we hear and read at MR conferences, in the blogs and in our trade magazines. The one group would have you believe that the survey will be dead by 2020 (the title of a workshop at this year’s MRS Conference in London, Research 2011) and that researchers who don’t get that will end up like the dodo. Tom Ewing of Kantar more ghoulishly predicted that the survey (and, presumably, survey researchers) will be the “walking dead”. The other believes that this is just the start of an incredibly creative era in research and that our best years are ahead of us. Which is right?

I am naturally a “glass half full” person and so I tend to err towards the Aquarius group. But why this fuss and why now?

The answer is the plethora of new methodologies, techniques, sciences and approaches that seem to be invading the market research industry and sometimes even surrounding it with guns drawn, preparing to take down the poor old venerable survey and all the other traditional techniques that we have been using since the dawn of MR time. Neuroscience, biometrics, gaming, web analytics, text analytics – hell, anything “analytics” – crowdsourcing, netnography… you name it and it’s the next big thing in research.

Reactions to this tidal wave of innovation tend to fall into three categories:

1)    Traditional MR techniques (read the survey, focus groups, IDI’s any other methodology based in questioning people) are on their way out and unless the MR industry wakes up to this fact very fast, it will be wither and die on the vine, much like the buggy makers at the dawn of the automotive era

2)    All of this is just a fad, a rush of blood to the collective head of the industry, and after a while we will all calm down and realize that the survey is going to be just fine. Anyway, none of these methodologies can substitute for proper probability-based sampling and finely-honed questionnaires

3)    This is the new research paradigm and it’s exciting! In ten years time, research will look totally different and we will all be better off as a result.

My own belief is that there is some truth to all three reactions – as well as much hyperbole. It is likely that the survey (and other traditional techniques) will indeed play a smaller role in the totality of consumer research, especially as we become that much more adept at fishing in the “river” of organic information that surrounds us daily. But that is not to say that the industry will not adapt – remember that the very first auto makers (of which there were hundreds) were primarily buggy makers! As it does adapt, we will fairly quickly work out which methods and techniques are indeed fads (currently neuroscience is under this spotlight) and which actually do add weaponry to our arsenal. The survey itself will not disappear – after all, it has had some fairly notable successes in its career – but perhaps the science that lies at its heart will be deployed to some of the new techniques to increase their validity and credibility. John Samuels, the veteran and incorrigible British social researcher, foresees a future that is based on probability sampling but perhaps not on direct questioning.

What is not in question is that this is indeed an era of unparalleled creativity in research. Technology has unleashed the power of research in so many ways that now things that were clunky only a few years ago (ethnography, eye tracking) are much more feasible and scalable today than they ever were; and things that were unimaginable just five years ago (web analytics) are now a powerful tool. At the hub of all this are entrepreneurs and creatives who just relish the prospect of “shaking things up”.

All power to them, I say – it makes life much more interesting and fun for us crystal ball gazers who are wondering where it is all going to end (or begin)!

Contact Simon Chadwick at [email protected]

P.S. Check out:

Ian Lewis’ contribution to March JAR Editorial: The Shape of Marketing Research in 2021


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3 responses to “An Era of Unparalleled Creativity In Research

  1. Neuroscience, biometrics, etc. have all been with us for quite a while. They present ‘newish’ ways of collecting data, but more important – a new rational that expands our ability to understand the human psyche and underlying motivations. There is less emphasis on what people say and more emphasis on how they behave, that is, on top of direct ways to explore thoughts and feelings.

    All this amounts to a rather natural evolution, perhaps with a fnaster pace (long overdue). The advent of the web / internet age has fortunately confronted us with what I consider as a main issue: the old schism between qualitative and quantitative methods. What if we were to conduct 100 focus groups? I would dare say: this schism will be dead by 2020. Analytical methods, such as content analysis, now come – at last – to the front of our efforts to reorganize our tools. And, indeed we must reconsider our methods to the core. Survey dead or alive…. is this the issue?

  2. I agree with much of what Iris has said. Actions speak louder than words! I think surveys will always be needed in one form or another to support various market research initiatives. Gens X and Y are so much more technically astute than many boomers so online and custom apps will be utilized more but that is good. Interesting blog, thanks. Patti at IL

  3. I think we are in agreement for the most part. Interesting you should bring up the schism between qual and quant – my belief is that this will be completely irrelevant within about 5 years. Qual and quant are becoming more integral to one another, more integrated and less distinguishable. About time too!

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