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Will Market Research Still Exist In 20 Years?

If we took away the need for quantitative data collection, would your company continue to exist and thrive today? Is it well set to survive the digital revolution? If the answer is no, now is the time to embrace innovation and plan for change.


By Ben Leet

Make no mistake, we are still at the beginning of a digital revolution. Much like the industrial revolution back in the 1700s and early 1800s when we believed steam power was the pinnacle of technological achievement, so today we are in that phase where we believe the Internet and mobile technology are the limits of human capability. Do I know what’s coming next? If I did, I would be a wealthy man, but I would nonetheless bet money that the digital revolution is still in its infancy, with many changes and challenges still ahead of us.

With new technology comes new applications, ideas, concepts. We in MR talk regularly about “mobile research”, “social media monitoring”, “big data”, and many others, as we seek to use these new tools for a commercial advantage, to offer something new, to convince a client that working with our company is good because we are innovative and forward thinking. However at this point it is worth mentioning that online research is no longer seen as innovative, it’s the norm for an ever increasing amount of our industry spend, which is why “online” is no longer an industry buzzword.

So what if we project forward 20 years, an even bigger time frame compared to that which saw online research born and raised into an adult methodology? On the long term horizon we have huge changes ahead in the way that humans consume media, buy products and services, and interact with each other in our social lives. And all of this will be played out through a digital revolution, where the “big data” we see right now is only the tip of the iceberg compared to the data surrounding our everyday lives that will be captured, stored and used in 2032. So how much research will we really need, when we will think we know everything there is to know about human bahaviour and decision making through the simple tapping of a data stream?

Of course, MR will very much be alive in the longer term future. But it will probably be in the form of consumer engagement, psychology, interpretation, emotional measurement, all things distinctly unattainable from data alone. This will be intertwined with technology that helps us capture sentiment and emotion just as easily as capturing a ten point rating scale is today. In fact, some of this technology already exists in the form of eye tracking, hotspot mapping, emotional response capture to video footage, to name a few, but there will undoubtedly be many more of these products arriving into the MR marketplace in the not too distant future.

I argue therefore, that market research simply for capturing quantitative data will be long dead 20 years from now, since there will be no need for this technique when the data will already exist in cheaper and more accessible forms. I even question the future role of data analytics, as predictive algorithms will become so advanced that human intervention will rarely be needed, because data confidence levels will be well within acceptability.

So ask yourself this question – if we took away the need for quantitative data collection, would your company continue to exist and thrive today? Is it well set to survive the digital revolution? If the answer is no, now is the time to embrace innovation and plan for change, because we are only at the beginning of what the future holds.

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6 responses to “Will Market Research Still Exist In 20 Years?

  1. I have no idea what methodologies will have traction in 20 years time. I suspect fads will come and go. From the Client-side perpsctive, there’s a consistent, and somewhat distubring perspective gap: MR will continue to thrive ONLY if it can contribute to a business decision in a clear and measurable form. Methodologies are a means to an end, and the options are increasing by the month, it seems. Because technology moves fast, and IP is a complicated issue (witnes Samsung vs Apple) I suspec that the notion of a USP wll prove elusive, and even new techniques will be rapidly re-engineered and sold at different price points. If MR is to thrive, then we have to step up and add business impact value that ohers don’t give; the perceptual value of this needs to be captured. The ivory tower needs to be sales conscious at the very least. One day, methodological discussions will be synonomous with navel gazing. Seems like we’re not there yet though.

    1. Agreed 100% Edward, thanks! And I think the days of “methodological navel gazing” is quickly approaching, perhaps far faster than we think!

  2. As long as management needs to know “why” then MR will always be needed. Big data will not answer why, just how, what and when. The major argument of behavioural economist like Kahneman and Tversky is that the “why” is the key. Looking at transactions and demographics and other indicators will never explain real decision making. You might be able to infer from patterns in data, but when the business results start to look uninteresting, as they will, management will soon ask “why?”

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