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New Market Research – Still A Ways to Go?

Are we - myself included - kidding ourselves that Market Researchers are on a positive trajectory to becoming Insights Consultants? Or is "New Market Research" more necessary than ever?

long road ahead


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

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16 responses to “New Market Research – Still A Ways to Go?

  1. Thanks for singling me out, Edward 🙂 I was being pretty literal – I don’t think the term “New MR” is helpful to us as researchers. It suggests that Old MR is bad (some is, some isn’t, some could use a tune-up) and that New MR is good (some is, some isn’t, and some could use a tune-up).
    It’s not clear to me that the world is changing as rapidly as you think, and here’s the key to me, so I’ll put it in caps, IN A WAY THAT MATTERS A LOT TO MOST OF THE PURCHASE DECISIONS WE MAKE. Nobody is showrooming breakfast cereal, nobody’s ordering their ramen noodles on their mobile devices, and while those of us who are older can bemoan the lack of attention span among the younger generation (like my kids), I’m pretty sure it’s not a neurological change that has befallen those under 30. So yes, we should continue to use any tool that gives us good, reliable, generalizable answers to how shoppers make decisions. Doesn’t mean we re-invent or rename MR.
    I still owe you a beer.

  2. Hi Edward:

    I think the real issue is how organizations are using data. Whatever you call it, MR data is being used more often as a part of the decision process and less often as a key driver for decisions. MR data is valuable as a part of the dashboard, but its overall value within the decision process has declined. It’s simply not as relevant as it once was, due largely to the fact that it can’t inform at the speed or at the level of granularity needed for the decision process.

    Most operations folks were trained in very classical methods that didn’t account for the speed of digital technology or its ability to accumulate massive amounts of performance data. Given a choice, managers will most often choose hard data over projections.

    However “NewMR” is defined within the industry (that’s part of the problem), decision makers likely have a different definition. Quantitative data is still valued, just weighted differently and the emphasis is on speed; they can accept a wider margin of error because they have other correlative data that can bring it back within range. SPSS and R have also demystified the statistical process, and with most college students proficient at one or the other, it’s no longer a process that creates information gurus.

    In short we have lost our edge. @ Ray is right about communities; they are a differentiation point because they can be focused to offer a better understanding of the pathways to a decision, but they are means to an end, not the full picture. Edward is also right because we need to evolve. MR is the equivalent of television advertising, when it has the right audience it works in a big way, but most of the time it’s just a placeholder, noted for its absence than it presence.

    The reality is that there is an exponential growth of consumers communicating, making decisions and purchasing on mobile devices. They use multiple resources for decisions and they don’t shop in a way in which browsing encourages spontaneous purchases. There’s a lot of talk about predictive behavior, but maybe what is really needed is more listening. Maybe it’s time to focus on what’s needed rather than what is desired.

    My guess is that the “NewMR” will be defined by those with the most passion for the answers rather than the questions. Creating new techniques around data assimilation and defining needs based on practicality (i.e cause and effect) may resonate better than trying to be truly predictive. The one truism that is likely to occur is that answers sell much better than questions.

  3. Hi Steve, I think you are missing the point, we don’t need to change what we do because consumers have changed, we need to change what we do because our customers need change. A very large part of current research spend is spent on clunky, outmoded, not particularly useful practices that Edward correctly describes as legacy items.

    I was recently in a session with a client who was looking to shave $1 million of their research budget, something they have done for the last couple of years. The problem, as we discovered by talking through the issues, is that if you pay less you get less. So, for many companies, they had a service which they feel is not helping them run their business better, which costs a lot of money. Sure, they can trim a bit here and there, roll two surveys into one, cut back on the reporting, reduce the sample size, and save some money. But all of those steps make an inferior product, more inferior.

    Once in a while, a major change comes along that makes a real difference, CATI was one, online surveys was another. Although we don’t always realise what the change is at the time we embrace it. Online was important because it was faster and cheaper, but it lasting importance was that it switched most of market research from a theory of random probability samples to the practice panels. Without that switch, we would not have seen the rise of communities, because we’d have had too many hang-ups about sampling.

    For me, NewMR is an umbrella term for everybody who is looking for better ways conducting research. I don’t care whether the source is new or old, it can be the application of passive tracking through smartphones or the application of 18th Century Bayes Theorem. If it is better, it is new, at least in my terms.

  4. @Ray – I am the first to stand in line and say there is a lot of research done because it has always been done, or done this way for the last “x” years, etc. Of course, we were saying that when I started doing research in 1980, so nothing new there. And I’m very happy with your definition of New MR – Edward’s was much more restrictive.

    If our customers have changed, it is often (not always, I’ll admit) because we haven’t stepped up and educated them in basic good science – I see that all the time here in the US. It’s not that they mean us ill-will, it’s that they may expect more from research than has been given in the past because they want to spend their money more wisely. It’s our job to teach those people the difference between good and bad research, which may be good/bad old stuff or good/bad new stuff. We (researchers) should complain less, as a profession, and do more, imho.

  5. Hi Edward,

    Research in my opinion is a process and an activity, to gather the data & information needed. What really matters is the objective of the Research activity.

    I’d rather be known as an analyst or professional who focus on Market, Business & Competitive Intelligence. We need lots of information, and mind you I not talking about data, which we’re facing an overload of, in today’s internet and cloud computing world.

    What’s valuable is the insights and analysis which lead to appropriate recommendations to support business decision making.

  6. There will always be a need for NewMR, as the pace of change will continue . There is no end point where we can sit back and congratulate ourselves at arriving at NewMR – we will always need to adapt and find new ways to survive as a sector. My frustration is that a lot of emphasis is put on technologies and methodologies to capture data and not enough on the skills and capabilities to make it useful for businesses- so good to see Edward reference the skills gap as well as research methodologies and technologies. More time needs to be spent on listening to what the client really needs from NewMR. As an ex-client my biggest bug-bear was that agencies were very good at talking about their products and how it could provide quicker/ cheaper/ better insight but without any understanding of how it would influence decision making in OUR business. Investing in practical skills is a must and these need to evolve to keep up with changing demands on data and information from the client side. Journalism schools are now teaching their students how to analyse data sets and so the research industry must look to other sectors to develop skills to help identify and solve business problems, connect insight to different commercial audiences, and support business change.

  7. A few comments:
    a. To the extent NewMR means new tools, broadly defined, it isn’t worth much time speculating about. We’re all figure out how to use the ones that catch on with clients (and like panels there will eventually be lots of competing solutions to choose from.)
    b. Clients won’t move away from trackers and the like till they get something truly better or they become impossible (due to respondent non-cooperation). So far NewMR has provided different but not better for what trackers do. (Don’t misunderstand, I think 90% of tracker $ spend is a waste myself but then I think most brand and sat/loyalty research is conceptually flawed from the get go.)
    c. If by NewMR we mean insight, we’ll always bemoan the lack of it as will our clients. Insight requires smarts, sometimes telling clients things they don’t want to hear, general business smarts and experience, and pretty strong knowledge of the client’s business. Even then the odds that you will deliver something they haven’t already thought about is fairly low. I’d banish the term from our lexicon if I could because it strikes me as a largely unattainable objective. But perhaps my definition of insight is a lot more restrictive than others.
    d. Don’t dismiss, Edward, the future of the DIY model combined with outside coaching. DIY tools are going to get better and better but real knowledge about how to use them will remain limiting. Its true full service firms will find it hard to do this well but it is also one of the avenues through which our industry’s client base will expand. BTW, I’m trying through Meliora Research to test the proposition that you can build a business in this way–ask me in three years if I succeeded and how it compares to a more traditional practice.

  8. Surely the fact that so many good market researchers are struggling with all the promise of social media including what seems to be low client interest tells us that the New ain’t being seen as too new. If New is to suggest breakthroughs and new technologies I would ask wheres the proof?

    All I hear is a mix of “well that didn’t deliver as well as we expected ” from major brand marketers If this was really New then why aren’t marketers falling over themselves to get a bit of it. I think may practitioners see this whole area as still a little “Wild West” for them. And despite all the hype, the tools for analysis are not really different from what anyone has been using since time immemorial – does anyone think big data uses anything more sophisticated that regression models and structural equation modeling? Does anyone really think it is hard to collect and analyze social media data? There are so many solutions out there for this, that I am sure one thing that will mark the “new” will be a bust like we saw in the first internet boom.

    This argument Edward makes is no different to the one that surfaced when the big consulting firms entered the arena of market research in the 1980’s through Choice Based Modeling – a tail that really wagged that dog!. The expectation that market researchers are ever going to play in the big data arena is ridiculous. Watch this space as the big players divest their Big Data departments when they find, yet again, that they will never compete well against the major consulting firms..

    Honestly I cannot think of too much that would make a client ever say “you know we better get a bit of that NewMR!”. If we really stand back a look at this as just consumer data and a bunch of collection tools what makes it so New??

  9. One of the biggest turnoffs to me about “newMR” is the arrogance with which it is promoted by many of those who promote it (and they’re often promoting it because they are selling it).

    Basically, when a “newMR” person tells an “oldMR” person “Well, focus groups will cease to exist in five years because they’ve always been crap anyway and you can learn everything you ever needed to know through social media monitoring,” of course the oldMR person is immediately approaching the situation with hackles raised and in a defensive posture.

    Instead of saying, “Hey, what you’ve been doing for the last 20 years is entirely useless and I have the best way of doing it,” how much more effective might it be to say, “Hey, I’ve discovered this new technique that can really enhance what you’re doing – let’s work together to discover how it can be most useful”?

    As Chris pointed out, many of the “newMR” techniques are new applications of traditional approaches. When we started designing for online surveys, researchers had two challenges: convert from phone wording to self-administered wording, and take advantage of what online offers that phone didn’t (such as the ability to show streaming video or graphics). With mobile MR, we need to do exactly the same thing: throw out the elements that don’t work (such as 30-minute questionnaires), and take advantage of new elements we never had before (such as geofencing).

    NewMR gives us some exciting new tools, but the development of a new tool doesn’t always mean the old tools are now useless. I could embrace the change and opportunity much more easily if it weren’t so often coupled with the arrogance of, “All you old dinosaurs (meaning anyone over 30 or who’s ever designed a telephone survey) are about to go extinct and we’re taking over – bwahahahahaha!”

  10. Very insightful Edward — especially pointing out that budgetary pressure will drive change. Adopting new innovations in measurement that are more economical, verifiable and correlate to sales is critical to stay ahead of competitors, but many Marketing folks in the big consumer products space are afraid to experiment.

    Yesterday we released details about the science behind BioNimbus — biometric measures that can be correlated with sales. Plus it’s way more economical and precise. It zeros in on specific parts of something a person is viewing, and measures biological responses, in real time marking a huge advancement in the science of optical, neural and biometric measurement. After four-years of beta testing BioNimbus has proven its validity …

    I hope you’ll take a look and let me know what you think.

  11. Edward, I fully agree that budgetary pressures will drive change, but I think it is going to be a change towards New MR. You have mentioned usage of DIY tools by Marketing Departments as one of the dangers to future of the industry. Personally, I see contribution of new technologies and DIY tools to Market Research in a different way. Cloud-based platforms, with production tools devoted to professional researchers, may help us to cut costs, save time and enable us to concentrate on being “insight consultants”. It is our task to demonstrate how powerful and strategic MR is for business. At the same time we need to adjust to a fast changing world. Moreover, not to be off-the-pace, we need to combine modern technology with a professional expertise and introduce it to the market research industry in a practical way.

  12. Hi Wendy:
    I went and took a look at the PR release that you link to above. I think its an interesting approach and potentially quite useful. If I were in a package goods company I’d certainly be willing to experiment with it and I could see myself recommending to clients that they try it.
    But I think the case, as is often the case in PR releases, is overstated. Your tool, which is after all no more natural or realistic than asking questions in a survey when people see a concept, can get at some interesting reactions, but it is no more likely to get at “the” truth as opposed to “a” truth than any other. Its not a problem unique to your approach of course, it applies to everything we do.
    Jon Siegel

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