Thoughts on market research in 2019

Market research

After spending 25 years understanding how different sectors operate, from agriculture to automotive and cultural institutions to banking, it’s been an interesting year learning more about how the market research industry works from the agency or researcher side, as well as the trends and the likely impact of them. 

We’re fortunate at Take Note to serve so many companies in the market research sector.  After my first year of talking to clients, attending conferences and investigating how new technologies appear to change the landscape for brands and agencies, it seems that the whole research ecosystem could change, or already is changing, significantly.  

However, it’s certainly not as straightforward as ‘new technologies threaten traditional models or agencies’. In fact, current researchers are of course best placed to adopt new methods because of what they do. Therefore, agencies are best positioned to drive the change and are doing so in many cases.

Technology delivering new research possibilities  

Online conference calling and forums have obviously been around for a long time now, but video research, text analytics and sentiment analysis have been added to help form a portfolio of options that simply mean the moderator or researcher and participant don’t have to be in the same place and seemingly, interpretation can be complemented with technology. 

In some scenarios there isn’t any replacement for face to face interaction between a research expert and participants but also, undoubtedly, brands with constant pressures on budgets will continue to be tempted by and approached with apparent alternatives. As researchers know, insight teams are constantly battling for research to feature heavily in company strategy and decision making and apparent shortcuts can prosper in such environments. 

It seems most likely that projects will become shorter and combine a portfolio of inputs to get to an equally powerful output.  This requires researcher expertise to interpret the input from multiple sources, to form the high-quality, expert recommendations they always have. 

Strengthening market research partnerships

The in-depth understanding of the strengths and shortcomings of new options helps protect and grow partnerships between agencies and brands. Clients will value someone else going through the early adopter pain on their behalf and, by understanding how to effectively utilise new methods, bringing them a simple, progressive and differentiated solution.  

This is apparent in the data as well, we recently produced an interactive report which combines the latest research, on market research, as well as sociological changes in attention spans and timeline expectancy for information.

Using data to understand the future of market research

It seems that whilst high-quality insights remains as the number 1 priority, buyers are less interested in the methods used to conduct research but expect the results much more quickly. This appetite for pace is likely to be the main driver behind 25% of insight teams now investing in in-house solutions. 

The good news is that 40% of researchers time is currently spent executing and analysing research but it appears to be clear that some investment could make the whole process more efficient without sacrificing quality.   Providing more inputs that can be interpreted in less time, no less skill.

Below is a comprehensive look at the findings that went into creating our market research interactive report, and how I believe these trends are driving change within the industry. We would love to hear your thoughts.

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Big Data and Storytelling are the disruptive and responsive trends

Big Data is taking over the world. Most businesses now collect data on their customers, from retailers and fast food chains to online service providers and banks — businesses want to know everything they can about their customers.


More data than anyone knows what to do with

While collecting data has never been easier, knowing what to do with it is another story. Several studies estimate that as little as 30% of data collected is ever analysed — and those figures are an improvement from three or four years ago.  

Although dedicated to analysis, market researchers also struggle to sift through the reams of information that new automated tools generate. The sheer number of data gathering tools has also increased, forcing tough decisions about where to invest and requiring the mastery of new skills.


Competition and a focus on insights

The proliferation of cheap data has created another issue for market researchers — competition. Simple and affordable technology can tempt businesses to cut out the middleman and collect their own customer data, most are doing this in some form already.

Not all research is the same, and focusing on high-quality research is a trend to which we will return. However, the perception that ‘anyone’ can collect data removes a historical value proposition of market research firms in the eyes of some customers. This focuses the value of market researchers on analysis. Converging with the fact that many businesses are struggling to find the in-house budget to analyse data, successful market research firms need to make sure that they are able to deliver insights that are relevant and simple to understand.  

Consolidating around unique professionalism occurs time and again in the face of technologically improved access to services, information or products. Market researchers should follow examples of value-focused responsiveness seen in banking, marketing, legal services and more.


Perceptions and investments

Market researches are adopting forward-thinking approaches to continue to capitalise on the importance of quality analysis and the overabundance of data. The 2018 Q3-Q4 GRIT Report revealed that Big Data is the biggest perceived ‘game-changer’ for market research, and data scientists are the most in-demand new hires for market research firms.  

Automation, AI and Storytelling are the other three outliers — each outpacing all other surveyed trends by more than 20 points. Automation and AI help market researches manage and process Big Data. Storytelling allows for that information to be presented to clients in simple and relevant ways.

Check out our market research interactive report to investigate the context of other investment trends in market research.


Drivers of market research buyer satisfaction are more focused than suppliers believe

Again, the 2018 GRIT report delivered fascinating insights into the drivers of satisfaction for market research buyers and the perceptions of suppliers.

From the buyers perspective, satisfaction hinges on conducting the research, reporting results and value for cost — it is that simple. Suppliers agree on the importance of these factors, but divide their priorities across three more categories: understanding client’s businesses, interacting with senior management and designing the research plan.

market research interactive report

‘Reporting research results’ has the largest gap between the perceived importance by suppliers and the actual value attributed by clients. To me, this seems like the clear factor differentiating success and failure. This is especially true in the context of Storytelling trends and Big Data.     

For information on satisfaction rates of market research buyers in different key areas, check out our interactive market research report.


Quantitative vs qualitative data — challenges bringing clarity to buyers

Technology has dramatically changed quantitative research. Online sales and loyalty programmes allow businesses to passively track their customers’ behaviour. The same applies to our general online personas and the ability to purchase data from large aggregators.

For market research firms, automated online and mobile surveys lead the pack by a wide margin as the two most common quantitative research techniques. Online surveys are now used as one of the top three methods for collecting quantitative data by 79% of market research firms.

Technologies like biometrics, neuromarketing and automated measures are still developing, but they are now making real-world appearances.


Qualitative data collection is becoming high-tech, but remains manual

Automating qualitative insights is far more elusive. In-person focus groups and in-person IDIs (in-depth interviews) both remain the staples of qualitative research for market research firms. Discussions using online communities, bulletin board studies and mobile diaries are all in semi-regular use. However, these are still people-heavy processes.  

Truly automated interviews via AI systems are rarely used — arguably because the technology is still in its infancy. Advances in AI may allow for the interpretation and collection of qualitative data to be done with technology, drastically reducing the cost of producing such insights. Searchable video is another evolving technology that may change the value of different methods of data collection. But we are yet to see these solutions materialise.

Change in qualitative research is mostly happening with the introduction of technological tools to qualitative studies. This includes bringing eye-tracking, facial analysis and biometric response technology into focus groups and IDIs. Over half of market research firms are now using some form of nonconscious measurement technology.  


Despite challenges, qualitative data is still in high demand

There is pressure to decrease costs, but the demand for quality qualitative data has not changed. The split between what is being delivered remains roughly 60% quantitative, 35% qualitative and 5% other, and has done so for several years.

market research report

In fact, the introduction of high-tech tools to qualitative analysis is only increasing the cost of studies. What is important is value. Clients want quality, the steady demand for qualitative analysis shows that.

The continued interest in expensive qualitative data also matches the investment in insights, Storytelling, and outpacing the generic Big Data collection techniques many businesses are capable of executing in-house. The big breakthroughs will be in analysing the reams of data generated by both quantitative and qualitative studies, along with ways to automate the generation of qualitative data. But for now, market researchers need to define themselves as specialists in ‘insight delivery’, not just data collection.

Our market research interactive report delivers the full context on investment drivers.


The importance of security and data control

Big Data not only creates challenges around analysis, it creates challenges around data protection. Over the past few years, public consciousness and concern regarding the large streams of sensitive information that we all generate online has increased.

In a recent survey by Deloitte, 70% of respondents stated that “a history of data breaches” would create concerns impacting their trust of an institution. In the event of a data breach, one-in-ten would contact an organisation they had done business with to find out how they had been impacted.

In response to public opinion, regulators have acted. Changes such as the GDPR have made data generators responsible for how processors and recipients care for that information. Market research clients demand spotless records on behalf of suppliers to remain in good standing with their own customers and the regulator. Market research firms need to worry about compliance and maintaining a satisfied client base. The ever-expanding amount of data being generated and processed by market research firms adds to this challenge.

With increased fines and a mandate to prosecute violations, market research firms need to make sure that partnerships struck to augment the use of technology and process data are in confidence with organisations that value data control just as much as market research firms themselves. Maintaining transparent and secure data processes is central to the future of market research.

For more context on public and industry perceptions regarding GDPR and data privacy, check out our interactive report on market research.


Optimism is warranted, but planning is key

Surveys suggest that the industry as a whole is optimistic. Both suppliers and buyers see spending trends increasing and the innovative use of technology streamlining processes, improving outcomes and decreasing costs.  

In most industries, if you don’t take the new options to your clients, the providers of the new options will. That seems to be the same in market research. Leading firms have grabbed the initiative and are blazing a trail using new technology to collect data and streamline the presentation of that information.


The danger of superficial results

The threat to quality market research is most likely to come from budget constrained businesses settling for subpar results wrapped in flashy packages. It could be that a few 30-second videos in isolation become more influential than a thorough research project.

Unfortunately, we’ve got to accept that this may be the case for some, but I believe this will be a minority if the right steps are taken. Innovative investment in information processing can bring down the costs of delivering quality and contextualised research. New methods of delivery will make the delivery of those insights more effective. That means shorter projects that combine a portfolio of inputs to deliver a packaged and powerful output.


Continuity through change

Delivering insight-driven projects will require researchers to interpret multiple sources and form the high-quality, expert recommendations the way they always have. The skill set to grow and protect partnerships between agencies and brands has not fundamentally changed. The real transformation has been the tools used to collect, analyse and communicate results.

Change is disruptive, but always an opportunity. The right market research insights will guide leading market researches to valuable conclusions. Focus on value, invest in innovation.

For more data on investment trends and perceptions surrounding the future of market research, check out our interactive report.

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