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The Winds of Change

Those of us trained in market research thirty years ago entered a world that was stable, established and trusted. For us, excitement came in the form of new methodologies, but the basic format of research itself did not change. Today, we live in a very different world.

by Simon Chadwick, Partner- Cambiar Consulting

Those of us trained in market research thirty years ago entered a world that was stable, established and trusted. We were taught probability theory, sampling, questionnaire design, analysis frameworks and report writing. If we were lucky, we also received training in qualitative methods and content analysis. For us, excitement came in the form of new methodologies (conjoint analysis, volumetrics and brand personality), but the basic format of research itself did not change.

Today, we live in a very different world – an exciting world where the status quo is being challenged every day, even down to the bedrock of what research actually is. Some of this is internally driven – researchers challenging themselves to come up with new and different ways of collecting, analyzing and communicating information and insight. But, truth be told, most of it is externally driven – new types of companies entering our field, new technologies, new media. But, most of all, it is client-driven. Our industry changes fastest and most fundamentally when the needs of our clients change. As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, those needs are changing dramatically and rapidly.

We are facing the five winds of change.

In the coming weeks, I and my colleagues will examine each of these winds and speculate as to what they mean for the profession and industry that we grew up in and came to love. What are these winds? Here’s a quick summary:

  1. Doing More With Less – You might think that this is nothing new, but it is. And with a vengeance. Clients today are being pressured to be more strategic, more proactive, more impactful just as the resources that they have at their disposal are bring cut to the bone. Think of the automotive company that used to have 165 researchers and now only has 8 – and yet those 8 researchers were instrumental to their company’s survival. How do they do it? What does it mean for how they structure their work? And what does it mean for their supplier relationships?
  2. Do-It-Yourself Research – Long derided, the self-serve research software packages that the research industry loves to hate are now becoming mainstream. When SurveyMonkey can raise $100 million in financing, you know something is afoot. What are they being used for? Who is using them? And why? Added to which, the very definition of DIY research is changing. Five years ago, nobody had heard of proprietary panels and market research online communities (MROC). Now they are ubiquitous and an entire industry has built up to provide them. How does that affect how we view what research is? And how do they fit into the rhythm of clients’ research needs?
  3. New Modalities – Once there was the survey and the focus group. OK, that’s an oversimplification, but you know what I mean. Today, we have new modalities (or methodologies) springing up all over the place – neurosciences, biometrics, online ethnography, crowd sourcing, predictive markets, web analytics. Even research robots on Twitter. How does this affect how we view “research”? How are clients fitting these new modalities into their overall research ecosystems? What is being replaced and what is incremental?
  4. The River – No, this does not refer to river sampling. This is the concept of a mighty river of information that surrounds us daily, with thousands of tributaries, swirling around us on the Internet and in social media. If we can learn how scientifically to fish in this river, maybe the insights that we need are instantaneously at hand. How does that affect traditional research? Does the survey lose its primacy as the first way to plumb consumer sentiment and information? Does it move down the food chain into more of an instrument of clarification when we don’t understand what the river is telling us? What does that mean for the industry’s portfolio of techniques? Indeed, what does it mean for the very definition of “market research”?
  5. Pay For Performance – Or, to put it more gently, “Value-Based Compensation”. Coca Cola has announced publicly that it is moving to payment to research agencies based on performance – or value generated. The advertising industry had to accept this ten years ago. Is it now the turn of research? And how will performance (or value) be measured? Is this an opportunity or a threat?

Join us in the coming weeks as we investigate each of these five winds. We promise you a journey that will be fascinating, challenging…sometimes scary and yet optimistic.

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6 responses to “The Winds of Change

  1. Quite interesting, Simon–i would not call these winds new, they are intererrelated as well but you point at multipliers of changes and a process of acceleration which rapidly is impacting MR accountability and performance. Where are we going—that’s the question….!
    Am interested in seeing what others will articulate….

  2. Simon’s incisive thinking opens us up to a realm of new possibilities in marketing research. As always, his vision and quick wit are a step ahead of the crowd.

    George Gaines
    Outback International

  3. As usual…Simon provides clarity, logic, and evidence to support a vision that is hard to argue with. This vision surrounds us now if we raise our sites above our desk and look. Well done SC.

  4. …in what direction will we sail now? And what can we do – if possible- to steer the
    profession? How will our industry look like in say 2020? Would apprceiate sharing some
    scenarios or scripts of possible currents and results…

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