The research autocracy is over – welcome to the democratic model of co-creation

In this age of social media, everyone has an opinion. There are almost no limits to what we will share with our peers: favourite foods, worst hotels, coolest shops, best sports clubs, cars, music, entertainment…our most personal preferences are out there for public consumption.

This is just the type of premium data that traditional research surveys can only dream of unearthing. However, the standard Q&A formula has all too often proved too inflexible to cope with the constant, variable torrents of information, and the resulting static responses quickly become out of date. So what is the alternative? The answer lies in reassessing traditional market research methods and looking towards creating a more even distribution of power between consumer and brand – a democracy of multi-directional research where co-creation is key.

Given the rate at which survey technology is currently advancing, in the very near future market research will be both driven by and beneficial to those people holding the purchasing power – the consumer. Consumers will be able to add to, as well as retrieve, relevant research data in real-time via smartphones and tablets, helping them make more informed buying decisions on the move and advise others. As technology becomes more sophisticated, the data provided will become increasingly personalised, enabling brands to extract deeper and more actionable insights.

The global adoption of social media activities – such as Facebook ‘likes’, community forums, online reviews and participation in consumer polls – demonstrates that consumers are already happy to participate in this type of research. We are not a million miles away from being able to survey a wide variety of individuals and instantly recall the data in real-time using interactive techniques. And provided that interfaces are built to be user-friendly and engaging, and are accessible across multiple devices, brands are sure to succeed in incentivising their customers.

What is also crucial is that our new tools facilitate the building of robust online communities. Brands need to harness social media to drive the current and next generation of panels, by which I mean responsive, interactive hubs – not just one-way marketing message boards or membership schemes. For the research democracy to work, consumers need to be encouraged to co-create, meaning brands need to emulate the concept of social media and strike up meaningful relationships with their users.

Deeper levels of engagement come when people are given space and freedom to express their opinions and initiate conversational threads. Consumers want to take part, be heard and exert influence, and will tire quickly of one-way conversations or irrelevant questions. At the same time they are also increasingly wise to the privacy issue and the value brands place on their data, so will become gradually more possessive and cautious about whom they divulge it to unless brands make a convincing case for co-creation.

In practice the advantages for both consumer and brand abound. While review sites like TripAdvisor already exist, imagine a live variant where prospective holiday makers could ask a panel of experienced travellers which resort they found to be better for small children prior to hitting the ‘book now’ button. Satisfied customers are much more likely to leave positive feedback after their purchase, resulting in more quality insights for the brand, and so the cycle of engagement perpetuates. And for those who complain that there is never anything good on the television, wouldn’t an interactive mini-survey during commercial breaks be useful? Using texts, email or app push messages, media bosses could find out what audiences think of new programme formats, presenters or production values pretty much as soon as the programme airs.

With user consent, and the obligatory reward incentive, marketers can record behavioural data and utilise it to design better products, more relevant campaigns or even to uncover reasoning behind non-conversion of tryers to buyers, lending themselves a distinct competitive advantage.

As a research solution provider, Toluna is incredibly excited by this democratisation and unification between marketer and consumer. If we can adopt these emerging technologies and learn to truly co-create, the days of one-dimensional surveys and the market research autocracy are surely numbered.


Brett Gumbley
BY Brett Gumbley ON 20 September 2013
Brett Gumbley is the regional director, Australia & New Zealand, Toluna