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The Futures(s) of Research: A Slew of Views

Robert Moran, Margaret Roller, Jeffrey Henning, Ray Poynter, and Kathleen Poulos all contribute great new perspectives to the debate on the "Future of Research"; here is a summary of their views.


I guess it is true that “great minds think alike” based on the unofficial theme we’re developing this week on exploring the future of research; joining my post from Monday and the contribution from Ian Lewis from Tuesday is a really fantastic piece of thought leadership by Robert Moran, President of StrategyOne’s US operations. Earlier this week he presented at the CASRO Management Conference in Chicago on “The Futures of Research” and was kind enough to let us re-post his presentation here as well. I think you’ll enjoy it VERY much.

I consider Robert to be our most accomplished futurist and quite simply one of the smartest people I know. Although we share many of the same basic views on where MR is headed, he routinely blows me away with his ability to extrapolate and explain numerous possible outcomes based on current trends that I had never even heard of, let alone considered! This ability obviously makes him a world-class researcher, but since he often turns his attention to the research industry itself he is an invaluable resource for us all.  Robert frequently writes on the future of market research; he manages the Future of Insight Project at, co-authored “The Shape of Marketing Research in 2021” in the Journal of Advertising Research, and has authored a chapter on the futures of marketing research in “Leading Edge Marketing Research: 21st Century Tools and Practices.”

This is an exciting  analysis of the societal, technological, economic and political forces shaping the industry presents a range of future scenarios worth exploring. Some of these possible paths will be familiar; others will be unusual and challenging. All will be thought-provoking and are well worth considering as we struggle to chart the course of our businesses over the next decade. Click on the embed below and it will open full screen for you.


On a related note, there must be something in air this week (full moon, maybe?) because four other brilliant minds joined in the debate on the future of research with their own blog posts related to the subject, each adding some valuable new perspective to where our industry is heading and some of the things we need to consider on the road to the future.

First Margaret Roller responded to Ian’s “Fishing the River” post with her own on “From “Marketing Research” to “Marketing Information” in 2020”. Margaret is one of our foremost thinkers on the design and practice of research and is a frequent contributor to the ongoing conversation among the industry “twitterati”. Her take cuts straight to the chase on the positioning issue the industry has and makes an interesting recommendation for moving forward:

I also like the fishing metaphor because maybe it portends a future where marketing researchers (and their clients) stop pretending to conduct research guided by specific design principles and admit that their mission is to gain as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time (to meet the fast-paced world of marketing) and, most likely, with the smallest number of dollars spent.  In 2020, understanding the underlying nuances of behavior and attitudes at an individual level will fall away to listening and seeing in the public arena.  Listening and seeing but not really knowing.

So maybe in 2020 we will finally change our nomenclature from “marketing research” to “marketing information,” and “marketing researchers” will become “marketing information specialists.”  And this sometimes difficult marriage of marketing and research will finally dissolve – to cut bait as it were – so that each can go separate ways.

Following up with his own take on Ian’s “River of Information” metaphor, the foremost blogger in the market research industry Jeffrey Henning of Vovici cautions us to make sure we include “ponds” in the mix as well:

Yes, you can go to the river to fish. But the river is a communal resource. People dump refuse in it upstream. Factories pollute the river with social media spam, automated bots and links to blog posts shilling products. I’m not about to eat a fish caught from the Cuyahoga, and you can’t always be certain that the information you “caught” in social media nets hasn’t been polluted by competitors or market participants. Take such information as qualitative and possibly directional, but verify the representativeness of such views by fishing in well-stocked ponds that you manage and understand. House panels are an important part of the transformation of research from projects to processes and are important resources in the watershed along the “river of information”.

Next up, Ray Poynter, another one of my “Smartest People in the World” list members and the Mastermind behind the NewMR social network, virtual event series, and LinkedIn group asks the question “What is market research?” It’s a brilliant piece in which he really drills right to the ultimate fate of today’s market research industry. I won’t give away his answer or his great take on what the real value of the research function is (read the post!), but here is his view on where we might end up:

Another related question to what is market research, is the question of whether market research is a profession, an industry, or skill set? My feeling is that currently it is a business, just as domestic service, the stabling of horses for coaches, and the milkman delivering milk to your door all used to be businesses. It is not clear what will happen in the future, and it is certainly worth our trade bodies and the larger organisations fighting to preserve our business, but I suspect that at some point in the not too distant future (less than 30 years, perhaps less than 20 years), market research will be a skillset within other organisations (in the same what that client-side market researchers are already a skillset within an organisation whose purpose is not research related). I think I can imagine market researchers fitting into wider organisations in the way that logistics, foremen, bricklayers, architects, buyers, lorry drivers, lawyers, and accountants fit into a major building company.

Although I think our business model is probably endangered, I think the future looks great for talented individuals. I think the opportunities for people who can understand a client’s needs, create a method of finding the answers, synthesise several streams of information, and produce feedback that allows the client to make a better decision has never looked rosier.

Finally, Kathleen Poulos, SVP of Social Media Strategy at healthcare focused mobile crowdsourcing provider InCrowd and all around “VCSP” (very cool and smart person) sent me a reply to my post on the Future of MR Debate on Monday. I was going to post it on it’s own, but I think it wraps things up neatly here with a reminder of who ultimately has the most control over the fate of our industry: the consumer themselves. Here are her thoughts:

Since returning from the Technology Driven Market Research Event held earlier this month in Chicago, I have been giving a great deal of thought to the most widely discussed topic during the event  – where does market research go from here and what is the future of our industry? Several things come to mind but they all have the same spark or catalyst for the changes we see taking place – that catalyst very simply being – people.

People want to engage in a way they define, not in a way that is defined for them. That sentiment is echoing loudly within healthcare market research from both clients and physician respondents. Clients are pushing for flexibility and speed. I have personally come to think of traditional market research as ‘wait-for-it data’ and clients are tired of waiting. Physicians are pushing back on the time drain of long surveys and as a result are becoming more elusive. The people are speaking – loudly – are we listening?

In healthcare market research I see greater physician access being achieved through mobile devices that don’t hinder their time management efforts; I see short, single question surveys resulting in higher quality insights that are extremely relevant and rapidly communicated due to the convenience of mobile. I see our role in the industry as honing and facilitating real-time knowledge access that informs very specific business activities.

Vision Critical recently hosted a webinar entitled The Future of Online Market Research, two key learnings from the panel discussion furthered my thinking regarding people as the catalyst for the changes our industry is experiencing:

  • Optimize your surveys for mobile web platforms, your panelists and respondents will thank you with better response rates
  • Speed drives who has the most relevant information

From a consumer perspective I believe the ‘people as a catalyst’ theory rings true as well. Recently I read in the WSJ, Google moves music to cloud. We all know Amazon has “Cloud Drive”, the odd company out seems to be Apple. Rumor management from Apple would have us think they too are exploring moving to a cloud based music service.

What’s that you say? No synching, no managing the number of registered computers, no one-time grant from God access to your overall music library?

What’s that you’re thinking? Apple relinquish control of how ‘we the people’ must manage and listen to our music?

It seems ‘we the people’ might just be pushing Apple to redefine engagement around music. Will it be in the way ‘we the people’ want it defined?  Probably not, but hopefully it is one step closer to the way ‘we the people’ want to listen to and manage our music.

From my vantage point, I see our market research industry mirroring real life, following the lead of the people and becoming more flexible. If we want to engage people, gain their insights, interrupt their lives, and steal time from their day then it increasingly needs to be done on their terms. ‘We the people’ don’t want to be told what to do or how to do it. We will however be happy to engage in meaningful dialogue via our smartphones while we’re watching TV and downloading a movie.

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