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Looking Back On, Or Forward To, 2016

Making predictions is a dangerous business, but perhaps maybe, just maybe, 2017 will finally be the year the research participant takes center-stage, alongside the client and the researcher, but let’s see.

No, the title is not a typo.

Over the New Year, Lenny Murphy published on the Greenbook blog a series of predictions for 2016 made by industry thought leaders. I took a moment to read through all the predictions and spent some time imagining how our world looks like a year from now if these predictions (well at least most of them) were to come true. Keep reading to find out.

A huge thanks goes to Lenny for putting the project together, as well as to all the industry thought leaders who shared their predictions for 2016. The points of view raised make a fantastic read and, just in case you haven’t done so yet, you can read them here…

So, here’s my “back of an envelope” report on what happened in 2016 based on the predictions made actually coming true….

An industry still too focused on methods?

By my count, over half of all the predictions made by the 117 thought leaders were about methods and tools. This is no doubt partly a reflection on the sample composition, but even so, it begs the question of whether we, as an industry, started 2016 stuck too firmly in our comfort zone?

Massive changes client-side rock the research industry

Whatever the answer to that question, client-side changes shook the research industry in 2016. The impact of technology on all aspects of clients’ businesses, but of particular relevance to our sector perhaps, the impact of digital technology on marketing had a profound impact on what needs to be researched (and not just how); for example, getting insights from real-time data and forecasting the future became during 2016 two of the key responsibilities of client-side Customer Insight teams. This merging of strategic, tactical and operational processes led to the creation of the Chief Insights Officer position in progressive companies, with Customer Insight teams becoming more consultative, as well as more commercial, with a clear remit to drive change in their organizations. As a result, the growth in DIY continued in 2016, but importantly many relationships between clients and suppliers changed from “buyer/vendor” into more integrated partnerships.

Disruption in the industry picked up speed in 2016

These client-side changes had considerable impact on the business of research: 1. Merger and Acquisition activity increased in 2016 over 2015 in numerous parts of the industry, 2. More and more non-traditional players entered the market / customer data / insight space. 3. The market continued to polarize. 4. Many companies in the industry recognized the need to change their culture, as well as their organizational structure, and to invest in people as well as tools. 

The baby was saved…

Whilst in 2015 the industry toyed with throwing out the baby with the bath water, in 2016 we saw a balancing of the scales, with both survey and qualitative research finding a secure place in the toolkits used to serve the most clients.

… but innovation was king

Having said that, the race towards “better, cheaper, faster” continued unabated, with mastery of technology becoming one of the key drivers of success. The degree of automation in processes grew considerably both in depth and in breadth, with agile research being the “new normal” by the end of 2016.

The jury, however, is still out on whether agile research really means “good enough” research or “just bad” research, but fortunately significant progress has being made into providing clients with the transparency needed to answer this question.

The industry became much better at making use of existing data, as well as real-time passive data, with more and more clients reaping the benefits of successful integration of multiple data sources.

During 2016, techniques continued to emerge and evolve. “Mobile-first” thinking finally did become main-stream in 2016, although some high-profile cases of “inappropriate for mobile research” did make headlines in the trade press. Behavioral economics/design, text analyses, neuroscience, location based research where some of the techniques making ground in 2016, and demand for image/video analyses had grown significantly by the end of the year. Some of the most significant developments happened in social media analyses, with as one expert put it, the discipline “finally coming of age”.

Virtual Reality; almost there

In the second half of 2016, all industry conferences were buzzing about virtual reality, and whilst still clearly in its infancy, the industry was left in no doubt about the impact virtual reality technology is having on both consumers and research methods. Rumor has it, that the first virtual-reality enabled research conference will be held in 2017.

Turbo-charged researchers

A clear paradigm shift occurred during 2016, with broad recognition that technology is not an enemy, but indeed an ally, to researchers. Investment in training by both companies and individuals increased by multiples, with on the one-hand investment in new skills, such as forecasting and lateral thinking, and on the other investment in training on research fundamentals.  The major driver behind this shift was the demand from leading clients for a demonstration of the return on their data/insights investment. The work in this area clearly showed poor quality data as the key determinant of a low ROI, whilst a great story/visualization correlated strongly with a high ROI.

Looking ahead to 2017?

Making predictions is a dangerous business, but perhaps maybe, just maybe, 2017 will finally be the year the research participant takes center-stage, alongside the client and the researcher, but let’s see.


Andrew Cannon

Executive Director, GRBN

8th January 20176


PS. If you haven’t already made a New Year resolution, or if you’ve got room for one more, I encourage you to have a look at the GRBN 100-day challenge!

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One response to “Looking Back On, Or Forward To, 2016

  1. Andrew, I enjoyed reading your 2016 market research industry year in review. This is a great compilation of the “thought leaders 2016 predictions”.
    I look forward to seeing the actual evolution, as the year progresses.
    Happy 2016!

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