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Will 2012 Be The End Of The (MR) World As We Know It?

The Mayan calendar ends in December of 2012, an ominous omen that many believe will herald the end of the world as we know it. I don’t know about all that, but I do think 2012 will see even more massive shifts within the market research industry.


The Mayan calendar ends in December of 2012, an ominous omen that many believe will herald the end of the world as we know it. I don’t know about all that (I am still making plans for 2013), but I do think 2012 will see even more massive shifts within the market research industry that may not be the end of the world, but could be so profound that it may seem like it to some.

So, in the tradition of year-end predictions here is my list of  what I think we’ll see in the year ahead. I’ll look forward to your comments!

1. Surveys get smart: The survey will get a lot more than a facelift as we move away from discrete ad hoc surveys to broad tracking systems that dynamically create targeted questions based on the synthesis of consumer data from social media, panelist profiles, CRM, POS, and any other data source we can get our hands on. Using the same type of logic processing common in advanced video games, surveys will be based on massive decision trees that will route respondents to the appropriate questions based on past stated and observed behavior. Gone will be 30 question surveys at a sitting; these will be 2-3 questions administered at various consumer touch points on a regular basis. These “uber-omnibus” systems will replace many of the trackers in existence today over the next 3 to 5 years. The systems will also incorporate visual and structural elements of games, and often will reward consumers with special offers from the brands themselves.

2. Qualitative plays connect the dots: Qualies rejoice; your time to shine is nigh! The skill sets of storytelling, connecting disparate data points to form recommendations, and applying the social sciences to understand human behavior will grow in importance. Driven by the demand from brands to truly understand consumers and enabled by the growth of communities, virtual ethnography, “Big Data” analytics, etc… some one will have to step up to make sense of the implications and researchers grounded in qualitative techniques are well positioned to fill this need. It will require learning to use new tools and thinking on a bigger scale than most will be used to, but I think the foundation will be there.

3. Once more, with feeling: As technologies that help us understand emotional decision making mature and new approaches come to market, the merger with behavioral economics models will become the norm. Whether biometric/neuro/facial or cognitive modelling based, brands will be investing heavily in the quest for the Holy Grail: understanding the levers of choice and learning to optimize their offerings based on those drivers. Stated opinions and preferences will still have a role, but only as another data point to help fill in information gaps and fuel the “Big Data” predictive machine. Anything that helps brands get into the minds and hearts of consumers will grow at a rapid pace, and the real winners will be those techniques that are scalable and easy to implement.

4. Google gobbles up data collection: To be precise look for major IT players like Google, Salesforce, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Adobe, Amazon, Yahoo, HP or Zynga to continue to make acquisitions and strategic investments to capitalize on using their vast data resources for insight generation. This will probably be through a mix of predictive modelling, text analytics, micro surveys and video analysis. Regardless of the methods used the end result will be the same: the disruption of the traditional market research value chain. The Honomichl Top 10 will either be acquired for data and service capabilities or will establish new partnerships with these larger firms and thrive. Smaller firms with specialty offerings or proprietary data or technology products will also fit into this new ecosystem. Insight consultancies will be in demand to help brands figure out what this all means. As for data collection providers and field agencies…well, some niche specialists will still be viable, others will be acquired, but many more will struggle to find a role in the new order.

5. Text Analytics reads between the lines: Not only will advances in text analytics increase the efficacy of this approach, but look for text analytics to also emerge as a game changer in both online search and big data analytics. Processing power, depth and width of analysis protocols, and access to a vast corpus will dictate the winners and losers in this race. Simple sentiment analysis and sampling of limited data channels will be overwhelmed by the ability to apply multiple algorithms to gain different levels of insight from text, including emotional affect. The application within research will be profound; applying text analytics to communities, group transcripts, social discourse, CRM data, EFM platforms, survey verbatims, etc.. will just be the start: the merging of unstructured with structured data sets with some of the other models I’ve outlined here will be utterly transformative to many industries, but especially to market research.

6. Brands put their money where their mouth is: In 2011 we had many senior leaders of global brands like P&G, Coke, Microsoft, Volkswagen, PepsiCo, and Reckitt Benckiser fire warning shots across the bow of market research, challenging the industry to evolve to meet their needs. They backed up their words with action and began working with new entrants from outside of the MR industry like Wayin, IntoNow, CrowdTap, Tiipz and of course Survey Monkey (just to name a few). In 2012 this trend will speed up and brands will be looking for more partners that offer increased value beyond data collection and analysis. They will increasingly allocate their insight budgets to platforms that enable them to not just understand consumers, but to actively engage with them and transform their relationships. As these new models deliver greater ROI, MR suppliers will find themselves with a slew of competitors and will be forced to adapt to new business realities at a breakneck pace. This won’t be the type of situation that the Big 10 will be able to just spend their way out of via acquisitions since many of these new entrants will have valuation multipliers far different than they are used to. It will require a cultural shift that embraces creativity, innovation, experimentation, and collaboration that will be challenging for many companies, but most will adapt.

7. Going glocal: Social media and mobile technologies will continue to work in tandem to connect herdsmen in Africa, Wall Street executives, factory workers in China, shop owners in Germany and farmers in Brazil with each other and the wider world around them. The borderless world of digital communication creates an unprecedented opportunity to conduct research that combines a global scope with a local focus without the need to field multiple discrete projects. Gone will be the need to conduct an 18 country tracking study comprised of multiple waves of data collection at a cost of millions of dollars. Instead we’ll be able to build socialized projects that are deployed once across broad networks and be able to capture both the macro and the micro all together far faster and less expensively than ever before.

8. Big Data = big bucks: Most of my predictions are reliant upon the promise of “Big Data”, that amorphous concept of synthesizing and correlating vast and disparate data sets to generate insights and predict outcomes. The science fiction of Isaac Asimov’s Psychohistory and Phillip K Dick’s Minority Report is the science fact of  big players like HP, IBM, Google, Apple, and of smaller firms like Palantir. Data collection, aggregation and analysis is cheap, but combining VAST data sets for predictive  modelling is priceless and those who can help separate the signal from noise will be worth their weight in gold. Big Data falls into the Business Intelligence Industry which is estimated at $300 Billion globally right now; that number will only grow in 2012.

9. Mobile, mobile, mobile: If you don’t think mobile will continue to be THE defining technology of the next five years then I don’t know what else to tell you. We live in a digital world and the future of digital is mobile. Everything MR does needs to be viewed in this context.

10. Research is redefined: The narrow definition of market research that our industry has operated under for many years simply isn’t appropriate anymore. New client demands, business realities, social trends, technology, business models, competitors, and advances in understanding human behavior are redefining not only how research is conducted but also it’s applications. Protectionism or elitist positioning are not viable responses to support growth. We must evolve, and that means we’re going to have to be open to new influences and ways of thinking. This tension will reach critical mass in 2012 and the industry won’t be the same afterwards. Our more progressive trade orgs will help lead the way here, but the momentum will come from grassroots efforts driven by social media outlets.

There we go, my official prognostications for the year ahead. Now, a few caveats. First, economic uncertainty, particularly the threat of another downturn prompted by the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and America, could result in a short term slow down but longer term will actually add more impetus to many of these changes.  Second, new disruptive technologies may pop up at any time and change many of the forces at play here; the pace of change and innovation is only speeding up and who knows what may be next?  Third, I may be misreading the trends entirely or underestimating the force of entropy at play here; only time will tell I suppose.

All that said, I think I’m not too far off and we will almost certainly see these trends taking shape in 2012.  As I said at the beginning, Mayan doomsday predictions notwithstanding, I’m certainly making plans for 2013 and now you know what I’m planning for!

Regardless of how things turn out, here’s wishing for nothing but the best for you and yours in 2012. Happy New Year!

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17 responses to “Will 2012 Be The End Of The (MR) World As We Know It?

    1. You are too kind Alan, but I’m really just the guy who follows them; I just happen to have a bigger mouth. 🙂

  1. I agree this is a great synthesis of what I’ve been hearing over the last year. Well done. 🙂

    “Going glocal” is particularly good food for thought. It really speaks to the need for “research” to be fluid and adaptable to the situation/country/culture. We now have technology that allows us to easily gather opinions in a more genuine, natural and efficient way (vs. the old 20-30 minute survey). Not only is it easier to “administer,” but it’s likely to elicit more thoughtful, meaningful feedback.

    It’s an exciting time to be a researcher!

  2. So glad to see this blunt assessment. We’ve struggled with vendors who can’t seem to “get it” on Items 6 & 10 in particular. Hats off to you for saying what needs to be said.

    Insights work should meet client needs, not be cookie cutter or for the convenience of the vendor. Too many suppliers can’t seem to or don’t want to modify their business model to deliver insightful research stories, synthesis across multiple sources, and platform agnostic data collection.

    For too many, it’s their system for their convenience. Some can’t even follow our basic research report template – a good executive summary and page headlines should not be rocket science.

    The times, they are a changin’ and some vendors are not going to make the cut.

  3. Thanks for the insightful summary of the trends that are shaping the research world. All I can say is Amen!

    I did have one observation to add that is more an internal MR trend, that is, the way MR is deployed in an organization. We began a few years ago to try and embed “consumer understanding and empathy” within the business. In addition, the speed of business was moving too fast internally for our traditional “project” approach to keep up. So. we held intenral workshops, created intranet locations to share tips and tricks for interacting and understanding people, etc. in an effort to “embed” research thinking and questioning into the business. It was no longer sufficient that MR should be the “translator” between the business/innovation and the people we are trying to understand and serve. Hence, our intent was to change our internal role to one of facilitation of interactions between the business and the people we serve. After 3 years, this is beginning to alter our role to become more consultative and to focus more on synthesis and story telling, not just data collection and analysis. So, I would describe this trend as an internal functional change that is going on inside organizations as MR professionals seek to be useful. This is not a new trend and it has been called out before by others, but after 3 years I see the changes beginning to accelerate, and it is a brave new world.

    Keep up the good work. I always look forward to reading your thoughts and observations.

  4. Lenny, this is the best summary of trends I’ve seen yet. I’m so excited about the prospects of increasing the value I can offer my clients from using these new methods. But my years in technology marketing and research suggest that what we are seeing now is the interest of early adopters. I mostly encounter mainstream buyers who, especially in the recession, prefer research from methods that are familiar and easy to understand. In the coming year I hope to learn more from you and other industry leaders about how to make the potential of some of these new and integrated approaches obvious.

    1. LOL, @Marcelo I was very tempted to embed that video at the beginning of the post!

      @Suzanne, thank you for the kudos; that is much appreciated. I agree that 2011 was the year of early adopters and we’ll see some of that bleed into early 2012, but I believe the signals coming from leading buyers and the BI and Tech verticals indicate that overall 2012 will move into more broad adoption, with maturity happening by 2015. Remember, it only took about 6 years for online surveys to become the dominant method in MR and I think the drivers of change are far more dynamic now than in the mid-2000s. Also, we’ll all be learning this together, so welcome to the Baptism of Fire!

      @Tom, thank you for the high praise indeed and for the insight into the business reality driving these changes. I totally agree that we can get blinded by the bright and shiny new toys we have and forget that the bottom line is that the insight function on both sides of the table is transforming into a a more ROI focused, consultative position. The bottom line of all these trends is what will best drive business impact and ultimately that will depend on the human capital invested in the process, not the how/what of collecting information. I love the vision you described within Hallmark and hope others will be as progressive as your team has been in weaving insights into the fabric of the organization.

      @Lisa, thank you as well! I think it is the business case issue that bogs many folks down; MR suppliers tend by nature NOT to be business strategists and often that leads to shortsightedness. It is all too easy to miss the forest for the trees when you’re in the thick of it. As tech dominates our industry it is easy to get caught up in selling the products or methods a firm has developed rather than presenting business solutions, although I would argue that has more to do with the fragmentation within the industry than anything else. Tech suppliers, templated products, black box approaches all have their place in the ecosystem; it seems the missing element is the real consultative model that is agnostic to the “how”. That model is growing with the smaller firms, but it is very difficult for the large suppliers to position themselves that way due to the economic drivers of organizations their size: scalability, production efficiencies, replicability, etc… I think that model will change, but it will take a while fro the big companies to do it. Until then the newer, smaller “agency” type firms will be leading the transformation.

      @Navin, how about a new post from you my friend and you tackle the mobile issue; you are the expert in that arena buddy! 🙂

      @Amanda, I agree wholeheartedly. I think the “glocal” trend will probably be a key driver of these changes industry wide. The opportunity to do things differently in emerging markets is pretty darn cool!

  5. Extensive summary as usual. However, as far as Europe is concerned or the bit I work in, it is still difficult to get clients that interested in new ‘stuff’ at the expense of ‘traditional.
    However, I do see some movement in using Google as a sample source and we have been playing around with this with some success. Respondents are so much more engaged than access panels and of course a lot less ‘professional’. You haven’t really mentioned Google much in the summary, what does everyone think of the use of Google for sampling.

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