Market and Social Research – not broken…just bent

I’m getting a bit tired of endless inward-looking discussions in the research industry about why market research and market research professionals are not valued more by business, not to mention the predictions by many pundits of the impending death of market research.

Well, here’s a message to the doomsayers:  if market research was dying why are companies such as Google, Facebook and IBM trying to break/buy into market research? I read, I watch, I learn about business and I still do not see a better way to grow a business than to invest in frequently understanding your customer. The opportunity for customers to change business has never been greater so market research should be growing.  But the traditional measures say that we are not. Why?

Because market research is only bent, not broken.

So how do we unbend it? How does business learn to love market research again? Technology. Technology that has the potential and ability to change everything.

The digitisation of advertising has transformed the ad industry. It has dramatically impacted the margins, the speed and volume of work, the output and skills required by agencies big and small.  It has changed the way budgets are prepared and allocated, and demanded new thinking and process.

So what have we been doing in research at the same time? Yes we do more online, and use mobile surveys, yes big data is here as are social media listening tools and they are all making noise and challenging us, but are we adapting fast enough? In my humble opinion the answer is ‘no’.

I don’t need the CMO or marketing director to understand market research or what we do. Why? Because it’s time for CEOs themselves to fall back in love with customer input.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the most impressive change I have witnessed is how an insight community allows clients (and CEOs) to connect with customers more often, more cost effectively and much, much faster.

This means more issues, more policy and more new products can now receive some form of consumer or constituent lens prior to decisions being made.

In the recent Greenbook Research Industry Trends Report (which has a bias towards North America), the two most used and emerging technologies under consideration by companies are online communities and mobile surveys.  Put these two things together and you have mobile communities.

Well managed and populated mobile communities are the future of research, I am sure of it.

I see this as the digitisation of customer connection and I see it as the future of market research. I see the end of the long form survey coming, it simply won’t work on mobile and mobile will be everything.  I see the liberation of research and buyers of research, real time 24/7 availability of data, interesting engagements, moving from interruption to enjoyment, research interactions that create positive word of mouth and a real want to get involved and tell your friends about.

It’s not qual or quant, its listening, asking, observing, passively collecting and then distillation of all of these into knowledge.

Quality, professional standards and privacy will continue to govern what we do and should always be table stakes, not the premium offer.  We need to ensure new players in professional market and social research adhere to these standards – but we need to bring them into the tent, not fight them off.

Welcome to the digitisation of customer connection, a world where we are working towards a new market research paradigm that will encompass a raft of evolving elements including: customer and consumer feedback that is always on; shorter surveys (six minutes max!); iterative learning; profiling knowledge stored and reused instead of asked again and again; shorter, sharper, longitudinal learning; mobile or Facebook enabled; making good use of valuable open ended responses (especially in B2B); treating customers and consumers like people not a sample source; forming mutually beneficial partnerships between agencies to leverage technology and expertise; leveraging what humans and computers do best; continuous learning not custom research; fewer research ‘projects’ and more exploration of customer needs; real linkages between advertising and sales; agility and most of all…making it all about them, not us.

This is a world that CEOs will find value in. This is a world that they will value what you and I do.  This is a business tool that they will invest in.

Our industry has a great future, one that is healthier and stronger, but only for those who choose to adapt.

Peter Harris
BY Peter Harris ON 15 May 2013
Peter is one of Australia’s leading consumer and insight community experts with 25 years of experience in marketing, research and strategy planning across multiple sectors globally. As managing director of Vision Critical Asia Pacific, he is responsible for a growing team of technology-enabled researchers and community managers, ensuring the quality output of all research and key client relationships within the region.
  • janetkos

    Peter I couldn’t agree with you more. This is exactly what we are doing at InCrowd, Inc. in the life science sector. Sometimes the change in mindset is a challenge for clients to wrap their mind around, but as time passes, more and more folks are getting it. Thanks for this great articulation of the future of our industry!

  • john varcoe

    Hi Peter, nice article thank you, but can I play Devil’s Advocate for a moment. Keen to hear your response:

    Most of us non-researchers know through intuition and personal experience the market research process is flawed – “Does this toilet paper brand make you feel happy or sad on a scale one to five, where one is very happy and five is very unhappy…”. I’m over-egging it for sure, but any adult living in a house with a phone knows what I mean.

    It’s no surprise either that, on average, only about half of the people interviewed by market researchers ever give the same answer to the same question across two interviews. And this instability occurs even if people are re-interviewed only 15 minutes later.

    And then there’s the question as to whether or not market research does actually generate true customer insight. In my experience, market research tools are often used because they’re relatively easy to apply and are available at low cost, or they provide a convenient reason to delay a project until the results are in or market conditions improve. And not because of the quality and value of the “consumer insight” they claim to deliver.

    Other authors have suggested market research is based on behaviourist psychological concepts that simply have little, if any, validity. As a result, they suggest, most marketing organisations actually know little or nothing about their customers—even those that have invested heavily in market research.

    But my real question is this: if scientific research demonstrates respondents readily change their answers to research questions when asked the same question 15 minutes later, and if consumer intentions declared in surveys do not match the reality of their subsequent behaviour, does market research really deserve a future?