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Are We Entering The Golden Age of Market Research Technologies?

We are in the beginning of the Golden Age of Market Research Technologies. Let's look into five recent effects of technology on the relationship of consumers and brands and their impact on Market Research.


By Adriana Rocha

I’ve been a hybrid technologist, marketer and market researcher since the early days of the Web and, for the past 13 years, I’ve been working with MR agencies, end clients, panel companies and technology companies.   I’ve had the privilege of seeing the evolution of market research technologies from several perspectives – and how technology is changing the practice of market research. I can say these are exciting times for this industry.

Let me start with a thought on digital. I think we can accept this truth: digital has won. It’s not new that discussions around digital and market research have been fertile and multiplied in the industry. In fact, MR agencies will have to quickly adapt their digital strategies.  The digital MR specialists will have to evolve from “online research experts” to encompass digitally-savvy specialists for social media, online communities, mobile, text analytics, “big data”, gamification, DIY tools and more. It almost goes without saying: a digital market researcher must be fluent in using technology. Actually, we could even say more broadly: pretty much every modern market researcher needs to be fluent in using technology.

But not necessarily building it; many tech companies are vying for that role and MR agencies will be hard pressed to compete with them, and some should argue they should not all. 

I could imagine some market researchers thinking “Oh! I can’t recognize this industry anymore. Are we technologists or researchers?  I have data collection automation, social media listening platforms, facial coding technologies, panel platforms, routers, online communities, text analytics and sentiment analysis technologies, big data, dynamic dashboards, mobile research platforms, and the list doesn’t end – I can’t afford all of these technologies!” Yes, it’s a complex world, my friend!

However, I believe we are in the beginning of the Golden Age of Market Research Technologies. Let’s look into five recent effects of technology on the relationship of consumers and brands

  • The experience consumer-brand has become almost entirely digital-ish — even real world events, coupons from the store, calls to call centers, visits with a sales rep, discussions with friends sent via email or remarked on Facebook, etc., have a tendency to end up echoing somewhere in the digital space.
  • The purchasing decision is not taken in a single instant anymore—shoppers more and more acquire information from different digital sources before considering a purchase (query search engines, visit brand’s web site, read educational content, follow related accounts on Twitter, visitor competitors’ sites, read reviews, discuss with friends, check online communities, comparison shop, etc.)
  • The decision is shaped by real-time dynamics – a consumer’s perspective and interest evolves over a time period, and there’s a tremendous opportunity for marketing to adapt with them.
  • The boundaries between prospects and customers are blurring – Consumers don’t proceed precisely, lockstep through a funnel — they zoom in and out, up and down. The cycle goes through — discover, search, research, compare, decide — leveraging the web, mobile, physical stores, call centers, and social media.
  • The entire experience now defines the brand. What used to be separate —marketing/advertising, product/service, prospects, and existing customers — is now being mashed together, and from the first touch point onward, this whole mix is the new customer experience. And its loop defines the brand.

With that in mind, can we imagine that market research will continue applying the same methods and tools for understanding consumers, measuring brand awareness, purchase intention, ad recall, shopper behavior, etc?  Of course it won’t work!

But let’s not panic! Digital can be the root of the problem, but can also be the answer. And thanks to cloud computing, SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) models, open source, expert communities, and a plenty of new languages and frameworks, it’s never been easier or faster to build great software. This means a huge opportunity for disruptive innovation in market research.

New technologies will continue to be developed and opening doors – almost every single day we hear about a new technology, a new startup or a new entrant in this industry. But these new creations will increasingly need to integrate with the client needs more deeply as well. Agencies that have the right teams and quickly adapt will be in high demand. With the advantage of many clients demanding for such transformation, MR agencies have the potential to become curators of knowledge and best practices for the future of market research. This too can be a high value service.

Something to think about…

References: “Agencies and the Marketing Technologist Revolution”, Scott Brinker 2011; “Platform as a Service – a logical evolution from SaaS”, Manjunath Gangadhar – Sun Mycrosystems 2008; “Zero Moment of Truth”, Jim Lecinski – Google 2011

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26 responses to “Are We Entering The Golden Age of Market Research Technologies?

  1. Great article that provides both a historical as well as a futuristic look at the impact of digital as a tool for understanding what influences the consumers purchase decision. We also need to keep in mind what Procter & Gamble used to refer to as “The First Moment of Truth”……what in-store conditions influence the consumer at the store shelf or display area to select the brand, flavor, size, etc. they do.

  2. A well-written over-hype of digital’s role which completely ignores media other than digital and the fact that most of our purchases in life are not researched. Indeed, it’s a relatively small subset – durables, that tend to be. You don’t see a lot of people researching pasta sauce, toilet paper, or toothpaste – the stuff we mostly buy in our lives. Hardly a golden age, unless you are researching stuff that has gone heavily digital. Indeed, this may become know as the Age of Crap Science in marketing research.

  3. Hey David, Mike and Steven, thanks for your comments!

    @Mike, yes and Google created “The Zero Moment of Truth” concept, based on P&G’s ““The First Moment of Truth” model. Google’s ebook about the ZMOT is free and available here:

    @Steven, you’re right – there are many differences among product categories, but one could be surprised with the amount of data available on the “blogosphere” and social media around toothpaste – forums, discussions, online reviews, communities, discount coupons, etc. BTW, toothpaste is one of the most popular topics commented in our online consumer forums in Brazil and LATAM. Just an example, here are some nice info on Sensodyne (a product that I recently needed to buy and used digital info to select the retail and better understand the product benefits) : price comparison, Free samples , Online reviews, Google Trends:

    Technology will continue impacting people’s lives, and be a market researcher these days can be very inspiring.

  4. To your point we think DIY is hear to stay and needs some support so we just launched our new website research management tool OnCue that enables on-demand, no coding, no waiting on IT research on a website. We are letting you perform behaviorally targeted website research using inexpensive do-it-yourself tools like SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo and ClickTale. So instead of always going to an online panel OnCue turns your website visitors into a research panel where, if you have enough traffic, you can run multiple research projects with a group that is already pre-qualified. to try it out.

  5. Hi @Russel, thanks! I agree with you on DIY and think the “OnCue” platform has a very interesting concept – seems to be a cost-effective tool for helping website owners capitalize high traffic websites.

  6. Paraben’s – thanks for getting your arms around a lot loose ends and distilling them into a cohesive snapshot. There is so much data available and there is no shortage of methodologies to choose from – I suspect that we are on an irreversible trend – more data, more accuracy – we will all have to be a hybrid executive like you.

  7. Thank you @Sal! Yes, we are on an irreversible trend. In 2011, IDC predicted that overall data will grow by 50 times by 2020 (( ) but last year they revised that number and stated it will be 14% more than previous forecast ( However, they also estimate that only 0.5% of the world’s data is being analyzed.

  8. Hi Steve, no. I’m affirming the overall amount of available data (and free data in many cases) will continue to grow, and we will need different tools and methods to collect, mine, process and analyze them – and more important to generate relevant knowledge that will help clients improve their businesses.

    In January, IDC released the results of their study “IDC – 2013 Chief Marketing Officer Predictions: Today’s CMO Becomes Master of Data” (, and in December IBM released the results of the study “Marketing Science from descriptive to prescriptive” (

    One main conclusion of both studies: data driven and analytic professionals, with strong technology background, are in high-demands nowadays, as well as agencies that can help clients thrive through this new “data driven” era. I see as huge opportunity for market researchers who can quickly adapt and attend these new demands.

  9. Data scientists are in high demand because everyone thinks there’s something to Big Data. When many of those companies find out this is not true, or not as true as they had hoped, lots of “data scientists” will be unemployed.

    My disagreement remains – we are hardly in a golden age and just because there’s more data out there does not make for a golden age. And note that what IDC and IBM know about marketing research (no offense guys) is really very very little. And based on IBM’s recent webinars, what they know about consumer packaged goods and their drivers is also very very little. So citing them as experts in anything but computing and information technology doesn’t impress me.

  10. Well at least you made yourself clear Adriana!

    I for one am troubled by the theme of a golden age being linked to technology -I believe golden ages should be associated with best practice with the best of times. And the only golden age I am interested in as a researcher is a golden age of methodologies.Or human understanding. Yes I get that there is a lot of technology available to researchers. And yes it has increased our reach, speed and reduced costs making forms of research which were once prohibitive accessible. But technology by itself doesn’t make for good research. And when you say that consumer brand experience has gone entirely digital. Well I just put the dinner on and no digital technology was necessary – discussing with my daughter what to cook tonight wasn’t digital either – though she’s on the laptop in the same room. When digital content is taken as a perfect proxy for offline living I have red lights and klaxons sounding all over. Digital is analogous to offline life its not a perfect fit. People say and do things off line they don’t do online and vice versa. So my concern about trumpeting a golden age of technology is that you may be right. In which case research is getting a whole lot worse. What we need is a clearer grasp of what it means to be human – I see far more posts about research technology than about an advancing understanding of human motivation and how research METHODS help us to unlock this. Sorry for the rant – I must turn to my analogue (now excessively) carbon based supper – have a great weekend!

  11. Hi @Steve, what makes this space so interesting is that different opinions and perspectives just enrich the discussion, so thanks for your comments! 🙂 Well, I am a technology enthusiast and I will continue following closely IT companies such as IBM and Google as new entrants in this industry. They can learn fast and have the money to build whatever they want.

    @John thanks for your comments. Well, I said that consumer brand experience has gone ALMOST entirely digital-ish. (the “almost” is there 😉 ). I agree with you life is not entirely digital, however I have to admit that my kids don’t know what life without digital is, or even better – they don’t understand what is on-line or off-line. For them, there is not line. They are part of a generation doing “checking’s” in Get Glue or Foursquare, talking with friends through WhatsAPP or Facebook, or tweeting at anytime anywhere. Their school promotes online Math games and competitions, and rewards them in real life, based on their online score. The boys know more about cars and wild cats than me, because they read books and also search on Google. My 5yo daughter is learning to read and write at school and through learning and educational apps (which she plays with through my iPhone or iPad). For them, interacting with digital devices is so natural than drinking a glass of water. So, in my opinion, this trend is not reversible, independent if we like it or not. But as I said, I am a technologist and my kids should have some bias as well. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

  12. Keep in mind (and see the ESOMAR group discussion on this topic from last November – of which are illustrious gatekeeper was an ignominious part thereof) – nobody from outside the market research industry has ever made sustained in-roads into it. Not that it can’t happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.

  13. Well the Golden Age must be starting to show the first signs of tarnishing. I understand there are now some very severe critics of Twitter with some estimates of 70% of the traffic being generated by brands themselves to pump up so called sentiment measures. As one researcher in Italy showed many Tweets seemed to be from fictitious sources. Now we are even seeing Facebook usage in decline. Of course it will decline, just as TV audiences faded people will move on. My daughters now 18 and 20 rarely use it these days and they were power users once!

    And another trend that is disturbing to the Social Media crowd is the increasing rejection of the great hope of the Golden Age, personalized marketing messages. We now find hardly anyone even notices Mobile Phone ads, people are getting annoyed with brands that manipulate the social space and smartphone users are turning off geo-locators. Looking like one short lived Golden Age to me!!

    All this tech is just a facilitator for what people do anyway, connecting, looking for deals, meeting up, commenting, etc but the underlying rule is ultimately don’t annoy me and don’t cross into my privacy. That will ultimately be what takes the value out of the perceived marketing potential … and Golden Age.

    And as for market research value we are all still waiting for anything in the sphere that delivers validity and representativeness. Sentiment analysis with shaky data like Tweets is clearly GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. The great thing about market researchers is they never buy spin and asking marketing directors about the future and the role of technology is just guaranteed to produce spin. Already research by major brands is starting to confirm the limited effectiveness of their online brand strategies. No surprises there. It takes huge arrogance to think Under 30’s will ever buy the bull generated by brands in the hyper-world. They can see through this stuff within seconds. Brands may well rue the day that they misunderstood social media.

    1. Great comments all. Did anyone check out the discussion thread on Joel Rubinson’s post on new segmentation models? I think it helps provide the context for this discussion as well, especially comments by Tony Cosentino and my follow-up. Here they are for convenience, but you should check out that whole thread:

      Tony Cosentino says:

      “Here’s my contrarian POV- To me, the “new” segmentation is based on new sources of information. Location information is allowing point in time identification of the micro-segment that is in your store. Web browsing behavior on their tablet segments them on a purchase funnel level and product level. Third party data sources tells you their demographic, attitudinal, and behavioral profile. Graph analytics segments according to their social network and how influential they are. Given our massive compute power, and the move to ‘in-memory’ systems, we’re able to marry our analytic environment to our transaction environments, combine all of those variables in our model, score the in-store prospect in real time, serve up the next best action, and make targeted offers on the spot based on the their “segment of one”. Now we’re talking new age segmentation!”

      Leonard Murphy says:

      “And with that, @Tony just encapsulated the very essence of why “big data” analytics will lead marketing decision making and MR will be relegated to one spoke on the wheel supporting that process. It’s not an unimportant spoke though; the “why” will still be vitally important, although the “who, what, when, where, and how” that MR used to be one of the main sources of will be driven by the model Tony outlines.”

      The Golden Age of Research that is dawning is driven by new data sources that will allow us to focus on the drivers of human behavior rather than the descriptors of that behavior. It’s a radical change in many many ways, and I do believe that tech companies will drive most of the data collection aspects, but the key understanding pieces can be the domain of MR if we act quickly to own it.

  14. Tony’s point would be more of a Holy Grail position in MR, rather than heralding a Golden Age. Little of what he says might happen (a) might happen and (b) would still not change what MR does – exploring the value of marketing opportunities and serving as a rational check on marketing activities.

    Just because technology enables a new method of data collection (or new data) doesn’t mean it is useful. We haven’t figured out the metrics for social media yet – we know how to listen, but we don’t know what quantities matter. By the time we do, social media may well have changed beyond recognition of what it is today, or it may have gone away completely as privacy and “don’t bother me” concerns overwhelm the need for instant electronic connection. Remember when IRI (I think) was going to offer daily store sales data on a census basis? Nobody wanted to buy it – it wasn’t seen as any more useful than weekly data. Location data is likely to fall into that category – we don’t much know what to do with it and it’s likely to go away or grow scarcer.

  15. Lets follow Tony’s excellent summary from a consumer perspective. I am a 25 year old wanting to buy a camera. I have sent enough search info that all the big data users know I am in the market for a camera. I have shared this information on social media with my friends and they have made suggestions. I am identifiable as male and around the correct age group, so they kind of know me pretty well. I am in the local Mall doing some comparisons shopping. Suddenly I am hit with a whole bunch of offers from a dozen camera suppliers who know I am nearby. Sounds great. However here is what the guy will start to do. It will start with hiding geo-location data, it will become annoyance at brands that are crossing over into privacy areas and abusing my social space and it will eventually see dropouts from now very popular social media channels. If social media analytics are to be useful they will need to find some pretty subtle communications methods to avoid what is looking like not big data, but big brother. The whole popularity of social media is about determining personally who is in your medium, who talks to you. Marketers almost certainly will abuse this opportunity and like TV ads communications will be ignored, skipped or blocked in this case. There is already some convincing data that mobile ads are a flop from top marketers like Coca Cola, P&G, etc. The reason why this rejection is less apparent at the moment is because social media is so biased to under 25’s, so that the people who would really get annoyed (kike us) are not in the target at the moment. It’s a certainty that this antagonism is going to be the potential spoiler for all the dreams of marketing opportunities in social media. These opportunities certainly look good, but there is now first signs of tarnish starting to appear around all this Golden Age hope. The concept of a personally socialized medium is in essence in antipathy to mass communications, even if you want to pretend it is individually tailored.

  16. Hi Adriana:

    I think you are spot on with what is happening. There’s no doubt that the tools will continue to evolve so it’s pointless to argue the value or transience of one or another but rather the fact that the direction has so much momentum that evolution will continue to move us further away from traditional research.

    That’s no a bad thing. You have to evolve to stay relevant and clearly the way we purchase is no longer driven primarily by corporate stimulus. It’s a dynamic world and influences are not pure nor are they always correct but ultimately the strongest survive. I think the real key is that with all the noise, it is clear that companies who listen to customers, produce good products and are transparent in their operations continue to thrive. What is going away is the smoke and mirrors delivery, cloning without added value and people who want to make a fast buck . The entire chain from design to sales can base their value propositions on things that provide value rather than on first to market. Just as demand drives innovation, value drives sales, The ability for MR to discern data for determinate value is far more valuable and actionable than generating stated response studies. The other thing to think about is that past generations were automating laborious tasks that were necessary and the automation improved the quality of life. It’s hard to build anything that disrupts that much these days because the technology has exceeded need in many cases. MR will continue to grow and thrive, but it will be about answers instead of questions, which is a good thing. Thanks for the well written and well stated points.

  17. I think that the future of mining digital for consumer insights is interesting but it is alos interesting to see how many different company types are claiming to do that. From social media agencies to MR firms to consultants to digital analytics companies. The fragmented landscape makes it more difficult for everyone but again seems to be the opportunity.

    One of the things that I have noticed is that the C-Suite often believes that digital and technology often mean radical increases in efficiency and speed. We’ve seen the trend of the “real time insights” spike and fade. We may very well see “Big Data” spike and fade as a magic bullet. Mining twitter, forums, Facebook (Walled Garden), blogs, podcasts and every other media type for insights takes time and it takes humans. The MR industry is used to being able to go to pre-defined sample and quickly pull from those groups. In this fractured digital landscape there is a LOT of noise to cut through to get to real insights that have real impact. At Carbonview Research we are actively exploring social, digital and a combination of traditional with the bleeding edge. Our eyes are always open for new and innovative partners as we realize it is not likely that any single group will come up with the singular solution.

  18. Thank you all for your comments and thoughts! Last week I had the pleasure to attend and speak at the #IIeX conference in Philadelphia, and I could say that I am more convinced than ever that we are just entering an era where technology will accelerate the transformation of this industry. During the event, companies such as RIWI ( , winner of the ideas competition, and VIdentifier ( , both new entrants in the MR space, presented examples of game changer technologies, not even known yet in our industry. Also, there were many case studies demonstrating how some organizations, including P&G, are already taking advantage of new technologies to create new research methodologies or transforming the way they conduct MR. I strongly recommend anyone to check some of the presentations and materials available here: And as I said, technology is just the enabler; the success key to evolve and innovate will be to change “The mindset of Old Research”, as also suggest Larry Friedman in his article “The coming rebirth of Market Research?” (

  19. These “disruption”, “evolution”, “get with the program”, market research is dead” articles just amaze me. Let me just be the devil’s advocate on a few of these “golden age” pointers.

    The experience consumer-brand has become almost entirely digital-ish

    A recent study reported a massive web screening of key words on a major brand positioning project. They reported 22,000 mentions, but only 177 were considered usable i.e. as clearly connected to the campaign. Even then with text sentiment analysis only about 80% predictive power was attached to the text results. And this is considered insightful? Now when you criticize Facebook and Twitter the apologists for social media data say “ohh buts that only a small part of the picture, there are blogs and forums”. Now which is it, is Facebook/Twitter a good source or not? And tell me how, from blogs and forums you can make valid decisions and more importantly communicate with these social media users? Or do we just extrapolate the data to some mass targeting? Unless there is a captive audience (e.g. Amazon customers, retail customer bases), just how do we communicate with bloggers and forum users, all 30 of them?

    The purchasing decision is not taken in a single instant anymore

    But hasn’t it always been? So, surely the moment of truth in social media is getting the customers while they are hot, about to buy. However, a recent study from one of the top consulting firms in the area of geo-location targeting reported a clear failure of geo-location communications as a way of impacting on current moment purchase decisions. They conclude that it is a slow process of building communications by studying behaviour of targets over time. Sounds like old fashioned marketing to me?? And could we conclude the consumer is no longer controllable even when you can communicate to them.

    The decision is shaped by real-time dynamics

    The ultimate real time impact is surely through targeted smart phones and mobile ad communications. The big brands have had a go at that and concluded it is pretty much a dud. Check the study done by P&G recently. What amazes me is that whilst everyone claims to understand the social media user (except me) they still will not accept that mobile users will implicitly ignore ads?

    The boundaries between prospects and customers are blurring

    And … ? What is the point here? Just because the search process and the decision making process are seemingly more complex what special role does social media research play? Is it any different from decision making in the old days of print, TV, word of mouth etc. Consumers have always upped and downed and asked other sources and made their mind’s up at the last moment. Am I missing something “golden” here?

    The entire experience now defines the brand

    Now this is one huge gratuitous statement. Anyone who studied Marketing 1 knows that all the elements of the marketing mix are intertwined. And a brand’s success across all elements of the mix always defined the brand. Are we saying that the mix is now super complex, much more so than in the past? Hardly. Single source data has always been in the realm of marketers and single source social media is patently no different, just messier and probably less reliable.

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