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A Vision Of The Future of Market Research

The industry is abuzz with conversations about how MR can find it’s seat at the board room table. Although many industry luminaries have written about this topic recently, it’s worth noting a few more additions to the growing body of content on the future of the industry.

The industry is abuzz with conversations about how MR can find it’s seat at the board room table. Is it through strategic consulting, new technology, social media, serious games, etc..? One thing seems certain; it will require embracing new models of business that may be radically different than the way we have done things in the past.

Although many industry luminaries have written about this topic recently and you can find discussion threads on it within most every LinkedIn discussion group or on the MRGA, it’s worth noting a few more additions to the growing body of content on the future of the industry.

Ray Poynter posted two stellar blogs this week that get to the heart of the matter. In the first, he asks the question If we broaden the boundaries of Market Research, does it cease to exist? Ray argues that in order to be competitive with firms that offer many of the same services and functions as MR without the limits we so often place on ourselves, we have to embrace some changes in our industry or face increased marginalization or possibly eventual disappearance from the stage altogether.  Here is the crux of his argument:

If market research organisations become involved in these bigger and more market oriented communities we will be just one type of provider amongst many, and our code of ethics will have to be consistent with the ethics that emerge for communities. If market research organisations to not go with the flow then MR will surrender this business in the same way as it has surrendered web analytics, Search Engine Optimisation, and fields such as credit checking.

But if MR engages with these changes what then? Push the clock forward, to a time when market research is predominantly about tracking people via their mobiles, about engaging with consumers in social media, about listening to citizens as they talk to each other online (perhaps even listening in to email conversations). This probably means pushing the clock forwards about ten years. Most of the companies in these fields will probably not consider themselves to be market researchers, they will not subscribe to market research codes of conduct (nor will they bother with MR specific ISOs). Our success in operating in those fields will depend on being able to deliver what clients need at costs that are competitive and to a quality that means client specifications. (emphasis added)

We are already seeing this play out. Due to my involvement with my own business endeavors and consulting practice, each day I seem to discover a new company that I would consider an MR player, although they take a decidedly different position and do not consider themselves as such. Moreover, there is increasing activity of firms outside of the MR space acquiring traditional research companies to complement their own offerings, which are increasingly in competition with MR.  Of course, the opposite is true as well, with some savvy MR players acquiring or partnering with non-MR technology providers in order to stay ahead of the the shift that is occurring.

In Ray’s second post, titled Can market research dominate business intelligence? he takes the idea of what this new industry may look like a bit further, and his vision is compelling:

In my previous post I asked “If we broaden the boundaries of market research, does it cease to exist?”, talking about my thoughts about what will happen if MR moves out of its niche/bunker/laager and engages more fully with marketing and with business intelligence.

Shortly after posting the article I finally got round to reading last weekend’s Economist and noticed a really great example of the scale of the task that confronts MR in seeking to colonise new areas. The article looked at the ways companies and Governments were using network analysis to improve their performance. In this context, network analysis is taking very large amounts of data about people, for example their call history, social media connections, spend patterns etc and extracting insight.

…This field, at least the commercial side of it, looks like one that market researchers should be trying to dominate. It is about people, it is about what people do, how they connect, what they say, and what they think. But the scale of the task was revealed in one line about one piece of software. One of the companies who make network analysis software is IBM (the people who make SPSS). They expect the sales revenue from their network analysis software in 2015 to be US $15 billion. To put that in context, the recent ESOMAR report puts the global revenues for the entire market research industry at just under $30 billion.

…Should market research expand into these areas? In my opinion, yes. But I think it should look for niches where its market research heritage can leverage competitive advantages (remember a niche of some business intelligence areas might account for more than the whole of the current MR business). And, as I said in the previous post, I suspect that the most successful companies will cease to be market research companies, and market research itself may cease to exist as a defined profession.

The key point  here is the question of engagement with related fields, and I think the time has come for us to do that with open arms.In fact, I don’t think it’s a choice, because our clients continue to move towards partner relationships that offer them both critical business information, internal efficiencies, and marketing effectiveness. If we don’t move in response, I think MR as an industry will cease to exist.

Here is some more evidence. That font of great information, WARC, published two articles  this week that speak to the increasing demand from brands to find new ways to gain insight into consumer behavior while integrating the process across their organization. In the first article, we learn that Major brand owners respond to new technology. Here are some salient passages:

Major brand owners like Vodafone, PepsiCo and SAP are all adapting their strategies as a result of the increasing overlap between their marketing and IT departments.

Vodafone, the telecoms giant, unveiled a simplified corporate structure this week, scrapping the role of chief marketing officer. It has combined its marketing, business services, global enterprise and partner markets functions into one group, working alongside a single, consolidated technology division.

…PepsiCo will also increasingly demand more detailed statistics from online media owners, as it seeks to gain a true picture of consumer habits. “Don’t just tell me about impressions, tell me about what the sharing capability is. That’s the model to think about,” said Singh.

SAP, the business management software firm, is similarly leveraging innovative tools to ensure its sales teams possess an in-depth understanding of current and developed trends. “The challenge is making sense of data,” Marty Homlish, SAP’s cmo, said. “With 487 billion gigabits of data floating in the entire universe, the point is to turn insight into foresight. This is where the art and science of business comes together.”

…Kevin Quiring, an associate partner at Accenture, suggested the marketing industry may have survived a “nuclear winter”, but further change is inevitable. A survey of global corporations by the consultancy found 65% of respondents believed consumer insights would be vital to future growth, although building new operational systems was also a priority. “Customer analytics is a huge, untapped opportunity for marketers,” said Quiring, both as it drives loyalty and can secure internal buy-in.

JP Gownder, an analyst at Forrester, added that social networks, smartphones and other such devices are now key for two reasons. “[Companies must] give their most innovative employees – their highly engaged and resourceful operatives, or HEROes – the permission and tools to serve customers using these same emerging technologies,” he argued. Equally, these channels “energise your best customers” to spread word of mouth, meaning creating engaging apps, experiences and content is paramount.

On a similar note, WARC also published an article on why an Integrated approach (is) key for mobile marketing. The crux is that mobile is emerging as a highly interactive channel for brands and consumers to exchange valuable information and offers.

The major advantages of using cellphones were said to encompass clearly tracking return on investment, such as by employing different short codes for separate campaigns.

“The mobile channel is a highly effective way for brands and others to obtain responses from US adults,” said Peter Johnson, vice president of market intelligence at the MMA. “This effectiveness includes extensive reach across all adults and within certain demographic groups, such as young adults and Hispanics. “But brands and agencies should pay close attention to which media outlets offer the best mobile response opportunities.”

I think these two examples make a strong argument that if MR firms do not willingly embrace a more integrated, holistic model of  utilizing new technologies for combining the best elements of research, business intelligence, marketing practices/measurement, and strategic consulting that others will certainly move in (as they already are) to meet the demand from clients.

One critical element of success in this transition is our relationship with respondents. We have to find new ways to create value with both respondents and our clients, with MR serving as the connector between the two relationship stakeholder groups. I even have a new term to suggest: “Rugging”, or “research under the guise of marketing”.  As I’ve written previously, social media, mobile services, serious games, etc… all create unprecedented opportunities to engage with consumers on their terms, but in order to do so we have to embrace models that have proven themselves as effective means of consumer engagement, and those models come from the world of marketing, not from MR.

This idea isn’t a new one. Recently Research. magazine published a blog post from Roger Sant, vice president at Maritz Research, who says we need to start thinking of respondents as customers – and give them a little more respect. It’s a great read, but I’d like to share a few key paragraphs here:

Customers are becoming more and more frustrated at being asked to fill out long, boring and often irrelevant questionnaires. Surveys are not giving anything back; people quite reasonably want to know how their data is being used and what they are going to get in return. Furthermore, customers want to tell us about the things they think are important, not the things we want them to talk about. And given the explosion of the internet, they can do this via any number of chat rooms, review sites and social networks in a shared and open manner; so why should people bother to fill out market research questionnaires which do not engage them and give them little or nothing in return?

As a result, people generally find surveys annoying, and as such they are becoming less willing to participate. As we all know, response rates are dropping and if we don’t address this soon, our sample data will become unrepresentative of our target market. Furthermore if people are not engaged with the survey they will not put an adequate amount of thought into answering each question properly – they will simply want to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible.

This makes it difficult to work out what aspects of the experience really matter, and historically we have used bigger and bigger statistical hammers to address this. What we have not done is address the root cause of the problem: long and boring questionnaires that don’t encourage thoughtful responses. Unless customers are allowed to differentiate between the things that did and didn’t make a difference to their overall experience, no amount of analysis can untangle the data and identify the real drivers of loyalty and advocacy.

If we do not start to do a better job at engaging people in the feedback process, the data we collect will become less and less meaningful. This has big implications; if market researchers are to become true gatekeepers of the wide variety of information coming into organisations from different sources, they need to start to facilitate conversations, rather than attempt to control a one-way flow of information.

Roger goes on to outline some great ideas to increase the engagement element of the research process that are certainly relevant, although I would take it a step further. Rather than still thinking about the consumer experience from a research perspective, perhaps we need to do it from a marketing standpoint. Consumers have flocked to social networks, social games, location-based mobile services, and other marketing -centric platforms because they gain value from the experience on multiple levels: socially, in entertainment, and financially through special offers and discounts. In using the “Rugging” idea, we should strive to create research approaches that utilize these same elements, while also allowing consumers to choose to be engaged by brands based upon their own preferences and profiles.  This creates a true win/win for all involved:

  1. Brands gain much-needed data and access to consumers for relationship building, increased measurement effectiveness, and ROI.
  2. Consumers become partners with brands in earning their business and receive social, financial, and entertainment rewards.
  3. MR suppliers increase our value to all stakeholders and earn our seat at the table as trusted advisers and the keepers of critical business intelligence.

To wrap up, there is one more example of where this vision of the future is taking shape, and that is in the field of mobile MR. We’ve seen a recent spate of MR-centric launches using a location-based social media model for respondent engagement, but these firms also have definite marketing components and they are not shy about including those functions as part of their value proposition.For instance, new entrant Thumbspeak is already defining itself as a “Shopper Network” in many places, not as a research app. Those folks are no fools, and we’d do well to pay attention to their lead.

Blogger “Praz” on the Social Wizz site writes about why Why Location-Based Social Media Needs to Get “Passive” Aggress. Although the post gets more into some of the tech applications of LBS, he makes some great points that are certainly relevant to the vision of the future for MR that is emerging. One area that he explores is “passive” check-in using LBS, and the ability to utilize this model to build new permission-based relationships with consumers. It’s a great idea, and one that MR should be moving towards aggressively. I’ll end this post with a quote from his blog that seems appropriate:

Ten years ago, Seth Godin predicted the demise of “interruption marketing” and the rise of “permission marketing.” His idea was that intrusive advertising, like traditional television commercials, were on the way out, and that inclusive methods were on the rise — not just product placements, but customer loyalty programs, rewards and quid pro quo agreements that required some level of trust between the business and customer. He’s been right.

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4 responses to “A Vision Of The Future of Market Research

  1. I think that marketing research’s well-known problem of respondent-fatigue presents as a classic prisoner’s dilemma. All researchers would benefit from treating the public with collective respect. But the firm that deviates from the “respect the respondent model” gains advantage vis-a-vis its competitors. Ergo, firms have heretofore generally adopted a “do what needs to be done to please the client” approach just to stay competitive. Long complex boring surveys? This has long been seen as a necessary evil that one needs to do to stay competitive. Without bodies to enforce “respect for the respondents”, the dilemma in MR is not unlike the phenomenon of overfishing in the fishing industry. The analogous emerging solution for marketing research firms – i.e. to develop their own proprietary “farms” of respondents – will inevitably lead to years of debates about the meaning of “quality” and the ability for firms and the industry as a whole to understand new models of how to project findings with integrity.

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