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You Can Dance in a Hurricane But Only If You Stand in the Eye

New technologies are rapidly disrupting the way market research has been done traditionally. However, adopting these new strategies will accelerate the breadth and success of the consumer insights industry.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Joaquim Bretcha will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 11-13 in Atlanta). If you like this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more.

What were you doing in 2007? What was the focus of your attention? These questions often come to mind while reading Thomas Friedman’s latest bestseller, Thank You for Being Late. In his book, Friedman states that for the record 2007 is not just the year in which Steve Jobs surprised the world with a new device, the iPhone. According to the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, 2007 is the year the world started reshaping. The basis of big data, cloud computing, open source platforms, artificial intelligence, social media, mobility, and the clean power revolution among others began to pick up the pace. Since 2007, the pace of technological and societal change has become faster than ever. The continuous challenge is determining how to adapt. Will change destroy us or will we dare to dance?

We are experiencing three exponential changes accelerating at hurricane-like speeds: The Market, Mother Nature, and Moore’s Law. The Market is a combination of the digitization and globalization of our societies that have moved from interconnected to hyper-connected to interdependent. Mother Nature refers to the climate change, the biodiversity loss, and the population growth. Moore’s Law is the accomplished prediction of Intel’s co-founder by which the speed and power of microchips have doubled every 24 months since 1965. The combination of the three is reshaping the world. Especially affecting 5 realms, which Friedman outlines in his book: Politics, Geopolitics, Workplace, Ethics, and Community. The realm of market research has not been an exception, either.

These changes caught our industry by surprise, particularly in a technological sense. While distracted by the accuracy and representativeness of the online methodology, an explosion of alternatives started to show up. The wind blew tech-driven start-ups, landing them in the market research arena by accident. Companies with no prior knowledge of market research discovered that their solutions allowed our industry to either obtain new consumer insights or a more efficient way of processing information.

In a stark manner, we could say that the technology revolution in the market research world has been led by “outsiders”. This created a technological whirlwind of confusion, filling the air with a mist of buzzwords such as agile, automation, DIY, artificial intelligence, gamification, behavioral data, big data, text analytics, virtual reality, uberization, data visualization… the list goes on.

My role as a member of the ESOMAR council allows me to interact with many players in the industry– many who in fact have some concerns. As the years go by and the changes continually accelerate, insight purchasers mention how traditional market researchers have struggled to adapt. My response has been, “How have you led your research partners in this adoption?” While we still face many challenges, my perspective is that the profession is beginning to see through the technology mist.

Technology has finally come to the center of our industry, into the eye of the storm. There is no longer any doubt that because of digitalization, the palette of datasets is exponentially increasing at the speed of light. We are also taking into account that our respondents are now holistic digital data generators. As a profession, we are learning to harness these changes in order to increase our relevance and fulfill our missions. We will make it through the storm by integrating the capabilities and rigour of traditional researchers and the abilities and algorithms from the digital data scientists. In the end, market research is still about people understanding people. And technology is just the enabler.

The forecast for the future is that change will continue to accelerate before our very eyes. But, by adapting, we can take these changes by the storm to better the industry. Paraphrasing Brandi Carlile’s song “The Eye” (the theme song of Thomas Friedman’s book), “You can dance in a hurricane but only if you stand in the eye”. Our profession will succeed amidst this storm only if we thrive in framing the eye of the hurricane. The eye is the stable dynamic platform from which our enlarged community becomes more relevant than ever before. Let’s dance!

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