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“Shaken, Not Stirred”: The Current State of the MR Community

Suffice it to say that big data, eye tracking, neuromarketing and behavioral economics are ready to make sushi out of traditional MR techniques.


Editor’s Note: I was speaking to a very senior person at a major CPG company yesterday about trends in the industry from his perspective. After rattling off the usual list of  “in-the-moment research, big data, new tracker models, etc.. ” he said something to the effect of  ” That is all just process though, just how we get data. The biggest area for interest for us is understanding behavior. Behavioral science in all it’s forms is much more important for us. And it’s not about statistical rigor: if we can understand the core principles of behavior and apply them across the board, we know success will come.”    This falls very much in line with what I’ve been hearing from clients for quite some time, and it’s backed-up by what we have seen in the levels of interest from clients, investors, etc.. into companies related to automating and scaling neuroscience, behavioral tracking, behavioral economics and anything else that helps fill in the gaps on understanding why we do what we do.

In today’s post Kevin Lonnie dissects the current dialogue in MR and zeros in on the same conclusion: although certainly there is value in the “who, what, when, where, & what” of data, for clients to get excited about the value of insights we need to deliver on the “why”.

By Kevin Lonnie

As an industry, we are shaken!  I’ve read time and time again that all the new tools & techniques available to market researchers have shaken us to the core.

No point reviewing all those new tools here.  Suffice it to say that big data, eye tracking, neuromarketing and behavioral economics are ready to make sushi out of traditional MR techniques.

Heck, we’ve been predicting Armageddon for traditional research so long, we might need to conduct a survey to see if anyone can remember our first “Evolve or Die” conference.

Which brings me to my point, while we as an industry might be shaken, exactly who are we stirring?  It’s logical to assume that disruptive new technology would greatly enhance our standing in the business community.  However, if we were to run a simple regression on this, I don’t think we would find the slightest correlation between all our shaking and our ability to stir.

As long as 90% of consumer based decisions are done without the input of marketing research, there’s (to quote Jerry Lee Lewis) just “a whole lotta shakin’ going on”. 

I have a theory for why we’re failing to stir despite all our vigorous shaking.  I would argue that our innovations have been sustainable and not disruptive.  We are substituting A for B, typically because A is cheaper and easier.  It’s an obvious improvement but not disruptive.

Changes in methodology may seem weighty to us but they aren’t changing the outcomes. Insights aren’t becoming more valuable just because we employ new methods, especially ones that fail to explain the ever elusive; “why?”.

As a result, we’re not moving up the food chain.  The amount spent on consultants is 10X the amount that goes to our industry (roughly $15B US versus $150B for Management Consulting).  As John Kearon of BrainJuicer pointed out “We do one-tenth the work because we present it badly; we charge one tenth of the price.”

New methods for capturing “Who, What & Where” are shaking our industry, but to stir the passions of our clients we need to answer “Why”.  Unraveling the underpinnings of consumer decision making is the only clear path to better, bolder decisions (i.e. Profits!).

SOURCE:  US Management Consulting Spend:

SOURCE:  US Market Research Spend:  Inside Research / May 2014, Issue 317

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3 responses to ““Shaken, Not Stirred”: The Current State of the MR Community

  1. Kevin,

    I agree completely. Market Research has long been about execution rather vision. When things were less granular and more mass related, traditional MR was a fine match. MR has struggled ever since Internet research made it apparent that there are gaping holds in the measurements. Even way back in the days of RDD sampling, MR had relatively high margins of error but it was an accepted caveat as there was no real alternative. Now, with real time analytics, the techniques simply can’t keep pace with the speed of transactions or the capture of multi-sourced information.

    Companies have moved on and are using more analytic techniques for their analysis with MR serving largely has a corollary channel rather than a primary source of information. To be truly disruptive, MR has to either match the speed of dashboard analysis and provide a more robust approach to the analytics (likely through behavioral analysis) or it has to figure out a new way to inform with big data serving as an overarching source of information that can be refined for very specific types of analysis. The caveat to either is that many companies are still not well trained on analytics and aren’t able to absorb what they already have at a rate that equals its creation, so the appetite for more is just not there.

    As with any process improvement, understanding what’s not there (and important) is critical to providing value. Many companies use available and consistent data resources but not necessarily the best resources, so there decisions are often short term. The first step is likely data clarification. When MR becomes a part of the solution, they become valuable and they achieve the all illusive ROI.

    Progressive companies are already realizing this need with CDO positions and other measures designed to create a more robust review of operations with the merging of disparate data. When that is coupled with techniques like you offer such as Crowd Weaving, the analytics become much more informative. If you also incorporate modeling and design your testing around segments that meet specific criteria for a project, the granularity is accentuated and the findings are much more meaningful. It’s unlikely that you can ever pin consumers to a consistent way of thinking ( we are by nature reactive) but we can identify pathways of behavior that lead to new and better products and services as well as nextgen thinking. The answer is likely in the way we redefine MR as a process rather than a single endpoint.

  2. Hi Ellen,

    First of all, thank you for your erudite thoughts. I think the comment has eclipsed the original article, but I’ll still take credit for provoking your thinking.

    I’ll address just one of your points here. I do agree it’s vital that MR be aligned as part of the solution and not just another data source. Being part of the solution depends on our skills in addressing underlying customer motivations.

    Your point about progressive companies marrying disparate data and incorporating modeling techniques to better understand and thus predict consumer behavior is spot on. I think it’s important that we step back and figure out where we bring value to the ecosystem of customer intelligence.

    MR isn’t an end all, but we need to be more closely associated with impacting the bottom line. To illustrate that point, I’ll make another fossil rock analogy, this time from Bruce Springsteen, “Momma always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun – But momma, that’s where the fun is.”

  3. i knew I liked you! I love the Springsteen analogy and thanks for the kind words. In the words of another “kinda” famous rock poet :

    “Deceived me into thinking
    I had something to protect
    Good and bad, I define these terms
    Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
    Ah, but I was so much older then
    I’m younger than that now.”

    You are never old until you quit wanting to learn something new.

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