Nov 292013
 
By Peter Harris, Managing Director, Vision Critical Asia Pacific.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few MR and Marketing Industry conferences in Australia, North America and Asia over the past 12 months. As always, these conferences are designed to scare the living daylights out of marketing and research professionals. They are highlighting how much things are changing, that consumers are more empowered than ever, that technology is the driving force, that clients are demanding more, faster, for less, and the fast flowing giant river of information (big data). In short, they are driving home the fact that the Revolution is on, i.e. “If you don’t like change, you will like relevance less”. In general I think this is right. But each of us has a chance to make a difference.

As a global profession, our biggest opportunity and biggest threat will be defined and determined by how much we ourselves are willing to be flexible in a digital driven world. We need to find ways to keep up with change and feel comfortable in a land where we don’t know what is around the corner. It’s hard for many MR professionals to do this (as we love to be in control and understand) but we need to try.

It’s cliché now to say the world is changing quickly, but it is. MR is driven by speed, agility, ROI, obtaining answers using multiple data sources and real time reporting. The biggest threats I see for MR in this world include:

  • Ignoring or not letting new players/experts into our tent so we can learn and collaborate from and with them. We also need to co create the new privacy world, convince governments of the benefits and ensure all players follow the rules otherwise we all risk being shut out in a world where customers do want a say in how things are.
  • If we continue to be obsessed with representative samples in a world where this is virtually impossible to achieve and do not take advantage and find ways of using new sample sources that are well profiled.
  • If companies continually try and make all of their money on fieldwork, surely with b2b sample sources like LinkedIn, improving customer databases and the growth of insight communities the days of high margin fieldwork are short-lived.
  • If we don’t change our approaches to contacting people so that we fit more into their lives, vs. interrupting them. Our contact with customers, consumers, citizens needs to be shorter, more engaging and we need to give back once they share with us.
  • If we fail to highlight and monetise our real expertise which is organising and analysing customer or consumer responses (however they are collected) and uncovering real answers to business problems and this doesn’t mean simply what was stated. We know it is about understanding what was meant.
  • If we don’t take advantage of the benefits that technology solutions can bring to MR.

There are however many exciting opportunities to balance out the threats including:

  • Making the most of mobile and new forms of sample to understand in the moment and how people live.
  • Leverage technology to understand the unconscious, reduce time, be able to deliver more for less and more frequently and develop longitudinal sight of customers over time that helps us put the pieces together as to why things happen.
  • Find ways to tell more stories that highlight ROI of MR investment and the impact of getting a customer voice into the organisation.
  • Work more cooperatively and develop trust between clients/agency and between agencies that can complement each other.

I’m extremely positive about our profession’s future and most global studies say that MR professionals want to change. Consumer empowerment and putting the customer at the centre of decision making is a shift, not a fad, so in simple terms the market is heading towards us, and we need to be flexible as we continue to evolve.

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Nov 292013
 

Posted by Tiina Raikko, Director, Fuel, Australia.

These are some of the opportunities. And in many ways have been what clients have wanted since way back when. The only difference is that technology and the digital age has made achieving this more real. It is fair to say that the research industry has been responding. Compared to 20 years ago we can get quality research faster and cheaper – the holy trinity which seemed so impossible back then. Simply moving many traditional tools and methodologies online has achieved this. The opportunity remains to look at our methodologies and approaches and ask “how do we do this even faster and more cost effectively?”

Speaking from an FMCG perspective, the pressure on the research space is continuing to increase. There is less and less budget and less time to turn work around. We can’t create time so sometimes a quick and if not dirty but a little bit grubby method is better than nothing. Doing it right is best but if we don’t have the time then it’s academic.

With less money to spend we need to pick the most important projects and we need to be clever about how we use the budget for greatest effect. Faster, cheaper, less perfect solutions are sometimes the answer. We are an industry that has always prided itself on trying to do high quality work. We should never lose sight of that because the skill and rigour we bring will always be important. Increasingly though we need research that is ‘fit for purpose’, of an acceptable quality rather than necessarily the highest quality, more collaborative with consumers than rigorous in design. We know when we can’t have ‘perfect’ in design, we can get ‘good enough’ faster and cheaper which are often the overriding drivers. Hence the emergence of the Survey Monkey’s, robo-callers, Field Agents…

Obviously not everything can be done in the blink of an eye. Some research will continue to require greater rigour and thinking time which is only right. I don’t want my U&A or my strategic shopper qualitative work done overnight because I recognise it can’t be done well enough.

The good news is of course that some of this represents incremental work. These new methods have allowed us to test and check where money but particularly time simply didn’t allow in the past.

In a world with less budget there is also more focus on return. How did we use the last piece we did? What decisions did we make as a result? Did it predict our success/share accurately? When we get to the bigger, more complex research when we commit the budget and the time we didn’t really feel we had there is more demand for ‘quality’ in terms of our ability to predict success/behaviour and ensure ‘stickiness’ in the business. ‘We spent quite a bit on some research but we didn’t really use it’ or ‘it didn’t really perform in the market like they said’ doesn’t bode well for the next project of its type.

In many ways the opportunities for the industry are the same as they have always been… be faster, cheaper, better predictors but recognise that not all needs require the same ‘standard of finish’. Research doesn’t always need to be perfect, it needs to be fit for purpose.

What has changed more significantly are the threats. The online world, technology, social media have offered up new opportunities for us to connect more directly with our consumers without necessarily working through researchers. New competitors have emerged outside of traditional research to offer ‘fit for purpose’ solutions that don’t necessarily conform to our traditional ideas of good research. The opportunity for the industry is to continue to embrace all the new technology, be open to less perfect approaches, bring what rigour you can to it (which is more than some offering the services currently can do) and manage our expectations and understanding of what we are getting and not…and keep doing the ‘proper’ stuff well☺

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Nov 282013
 
Posted by Rosie Campbell, Director at Campbell Keegan, UK.

So, what I guess I’ve always marvelled at in the industry which happens to have chosen me, is its remorseless ability to shape-shift…to turn itself into an apparently newly-hewn, ready-buffed, more relevant version of itself. Market Research version 13.11.

It’s a combination of survival instinct, business savvy ingenuity… and – yes, I do mean this – playfulness. When I first started as an idealistic and somewhat intellectually-vain quallie, I honestly thought I would know all there was to know about the human mind in a year or so (five at the outside…) But, pleasingly, the human mind has remained slippery to the last, and, more to the point it turns out that understanding how an individual ticks (for commercial exploitation) isn’t really the point anyway.

Just when we thought we had methods for our goals, it dawned that the goals were flawed – or naive, or both…

This has been the pattern down the years…

A circular and evolving interplay between focusing on the goal, the method; new goal, new method; changed goal, changed method and so on…

And it is but one version of the wonderful dexterity and agility of commercial research…

Exactly ‘what’ it is that we do as researchers is also a case of constant Darwinian mutation – we’ve worn different clothes almost every year as far as I can see. To name but a few, we’ve been the cronies of R and D; in the Motivation game, the Relationship Management business; we’ve been Data Managers, facilitated TQM (if you have to Google this acronym you are definitely the right side of 40); we’ve been Trends Analysts, Futurologists, Psychometricians; we’ve been Inward-looking, Customer-focused, Outward-looking, Brand-Focused -…and, of course, most prominently in recent years, we’ve been Mr and Mrs Insight..

Well, I like variety, and an industry with a weather eye to its future is well advised to bend and flex and stay gymnastic in the face of obsolescence, or worse, irrelevance.

We maybe fear that ‘new clothes’ (“yes, I know I was Insight Head last year, but I’m Chief Integrated Customer Imagineer this year…..“) suggest frivolity – but why? And why fear frivolity anyway? We are much better at doing imaginative work if we act playful, feel ‘light’ headed, juggle and tease a little.

Yes, shape-shifting and recalibrating what and how it is we do, helps us stay in good, business-relevant fettle.

To this extent, market research has as many opportunities as it has guises.

And threats? Well, I’d say researchers are their own worst enemies when it comes to self-flagellation (and I’m not thinking Christian Grey here). We are often to be found selling ourselves short, defining ourselves by our limitations (” ….well I can’t promise you any answers..” “..its only washing powder, I don’t save lives..“) or simply putting ourselves down. (“I’m afraid I drifted into this – obviously I didn’t choose market research“)

Well if these are the ways you feel about your work then – guess what ? – others will too! Our apologetic, back-of-the-queue attitudes don’t help us sell business, nor feed our self-regard.

And both of these are of increasingly importance for a researcher in 2013/14.

In a sense the ‘threats’ have, and will, come from noisier, more confident, or more self-possessed business players who find themselves flirting at the same parties; indeed sometimes these are our parties; we are a breed of ‘organisers’ and brokers of network opportunities – too often, for other people.

And our competitors’ weapon of choice?

Big Data. Interpreted in a simplistic and damning fashion, our enemy uber-consultants will breathe out knowingly as they talk us down (while we nod) as merely the purveyors of Big Data…or worse, the pawns of Big Data.

The only way to steer out of the “what are you going to do now there’s Big Data?” trap is clearly to steel oneself, stop ‘agreeing’ we’re done for, and remind any nay-sayers of something from our ‘Relationship Management’ days…
…Actually I was never married to Big Data I only use him for his convenient size….on an ad hoc basis…..it’s very much on my terms…

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Nov 282013
 

Post by Edward Appleton, European Consumer Insights Manager at a major multinational based in Munich, Germany.

Much is written about how much Research has changed over the past few years – mobile is the latest big thing, social media is hovering in the background to be trawled for insights, ethnography is making a comeback, online qual. is proving extremely popular thanks to the speed and ease with which selected consumers can give their opinions on a whole range of subjects. Behavioural Economics has pointed out with much fanfare what qualitative researchers have always known – that context, social influence and emotions play a huge role in influencing what we say and do.

It’s exciting times, and from a Client perspective almost bewildering – the array of options from which to choose from is expanding rapidly, and the new normal seems to be that any one insights challenge requires a mixed methodology approach, using online, offline, qual and quant. We encircle our subject with an ever better (we hope) sense of what’s really going on – making Research an even more powerful tool.

So why the ongoing sense of Angst – that Research is threatened? Shouldn’t we be relishing change as an opportunity to become more influential with an upgraded toolkit?

My sense is it’s actually change per se, that is making many of us feel uncomfortable – margin-destroying, pervasive, ongoing. Low-cost technology software is putting MR tools into the hands of the potentially inexperienced. Our professional status is challenged; our sense of relative immunity to the ups and downs of economic cycles shattered; some of our assumptions on how best to model human behaviour are being shown to be wrong. It’s how we react to this change that will determine whether we will emerge strengthened or elbowed aside in a wave of MR disruption.

Here’s my take on the opportunities and threats.

Opportunities:

Data Experts = Insights Experts
Companies are exposed to ever more information, but we still live in a world short on real insights. This is a huge opportunity for Market Researchers: to widen the scope of our mandate – take on sales data, market data, financial data, feedback from Customer Service, sales force reports, and mine them appropriately for a given business question.

Nearer the Action
The traditional structure of a Research programme was invariably quant. survey plus groups/depths – solid, but hardly spicy and often regarded as costly and slow by Marketing people inspired by the speed with which their Internet Marketing analytics were available. All that has changed with a MR powered by technology which can now deliver data (not necessarily insights) in days not weeks, and where the visualisation of evidence produced by Smartphones gets us really up-close and personal.

This ability to be on-the pace pushes market research nearer to decision making – and helps ensure we are an ongoing and valued member of the marketing team.

New MR = Creative and Strategic
Market Research increasingly plays a strategic role in new product development: we are tasked with unearthing unmet needs, leading ideation projects; we often take the lead in multi-functional task forces made up of R&D, marketing and sales personnel.

This is a radically new position: we’re forced to develop hypotheses, not just evaluate them, to be pro-active, engage in lateral thinking, and step out of our analytical comfort zone. Get this right and you automatically upgrade the value of the MR effort.

Threats

Role-Usurption
Market Researchers used to be data-guardians, people respected for their in-depth knowledge of categories and brands, often gained over decades. The power associated with this knowledge primacy has effectively been exploded – data often bypasses the MR department; Marketing people with good business degrees often have a good grasp of how to use Excel, perform simple regression analyses, certainly track data, and establish benchmarks. The black box, if you like, has been replaced by Pandora’s box.

This data-freedom means Researchers need to work harder to be recognised and valued as the true go-to people when it comes to insights.

“D. I. B.” (Do it Badly) Research
Low-cost, easy-to-use survey software effectively allows anyone with a database to do their own research – social media scraping (netnography at its best) is equally a field open to those with the time and inclination. The DIY trend is unquantified, often under-discussed, but a strong one in MR, driven by cost and speed – unstoppable forces, but with a downside: the lack of understanding of what makes good research, and what dangers and biases are involved in the whole Research process. I recently heard the phrase “Do-It -Together” at an Esomar Conference – which nicely encapsulates one way of addressing the danger of botched DIY Market Research, by collaborating and offering training, expertise.

Volume not Value Growth
The biggest single pressure I see on MR of the future is on budgets – either flat, decreasing, or simply not capturing a larger slice of the Marketing pot. More needs to be done with less, effectively – and once Marketing people have discovered the benefits of using a proprietary panel – radically reducing the per-survey cost – the floodgates can and do open.

This can lead to MR departments being bombarded with Survey requests, with less and less time available to evaluate the results. Larger Client side MR departments can split roles into more senior “strategic evaluators” roles and more junior “data-providers”, but for many smaller companies this isn’t an option.

Outlook

In summary, Research has a broader and arguably superior toolkit than say 5 years ago – we can get closer and closer to an authentic sense of what is driving choice, be it habit, social influence, visceral states or impulse. We have reason to be optimistic, but the hope that methodologies will on their own actually make a massive difference may be naive.

The most pressing challenge for Market Research in future is in my view actually using all the methodological innovations for superior business impact.

The most amazing tools aren’t much use in the hands of mediocre craftsmen, and vice versa: brilliant skills can create much out of nothing. It’s here ,at the coal-face of MR – the area of ROI and impact – that we actually need to see the needle move. I hope that we can look back in 5 years time and say that all our improved insights actually made a bigger difference, and that we captured the recognition for the additional value we bring to the party.

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Nov 282013
 

Posted by Lucy Davison, Keen as Mustard Marketing, UK.

As we race at alarming speed into the future, accessorised with new technologies, swathed in big data and seduced by social media, it is important to step back and reflect on the bigger picture. Sometimes on a day to day level it’s easy to forget that we are living through one of the greatest revolutions the world has seen – the digital revolution. The result of that revolution has been an unprecedented change in the way we communicate. Yet how much has the market research industry really kept up? In the 12 years I’ve spent in research I have seen the ways the World consumes information change radically – now we are used to Tweets, infographics, Instagram, vine and Facebook. And it has become the norm for newspapers and other media to present complex, data-rich stories in visually exciting ways. But during that time I have seen very little change in the way research information is shared. Most market research is still communicated via long PowerPoint presentations and reports.

Two years ago at an ESOMAR Congress, Lorna Walters from Reckitt Benckiser presented her audience with a 278 slide ‘summary’ she had been sent by a research agency. She pointed out that she could run a marathon faster than read the summary. You could hear the shock waves reverberate around the room; yet this is not an unusual situation.

The problem is more fundamental than simply changing to Prezi or sticking some pretty pictures or vox pops in to alleviate to boredom; researchers must become much better all-round communicators. We must learn to understand context, tell stories; package and sell ideas. I have been running a workshop on communicating insights for the past couple of years. We use an example of a real (anonymous) dreadful presentation and ask participants to work on it to improve it. We give teams as much of the context as we can and lots of data. We tell them to work from the data to build the story, create a powerful opening and make clear recommendations. Every single time we have done this exercise, using the same data set, the teams have come up with a different story, different ‘hook’ and different recommendations. So which is right? The ‘right’ answer is the one that is presented in the most compelling, motivating and memorable way – the one that the client or stakeholder listens to and the one that engenders action or reaction. This requires a different mind-set for a lot of researchers, but they are skills that can be taught.

For research to meet the challenges of the new media age, we need to radically rethink how we communicate and deliver our product. We must develop and integrate skills in story-telling and use professional design expertise to change how we get our message across. Or someone else will be doing it for us.


Keen as Mustard Marketing are supporters of this year’s Festival of NewMR, and you can see their booth in the NewMR eXhibition.

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Nov 272013
 

Posted by Hannah Mumby, Sales and Marketing Executive, Vision Critical, UK

Having chosen to study Marketing and Advertising at university, I wasn’t prepared for the compulsory market research module. I faced every seminar with dismay as my classmates and I dreaded the endless dry statistics and spread sheets. The projects set were dull, the teacher unenthusiastic and applications to real life situations minimal. It didn’t take me long to form negative opinions about market research – research was boring, irrelevant and involved a lot of number crunching. Here lies what I consider as the most significant threat to market research. Too many people are put off by a job in research due to the same misconceived perceptions I had.

What I failed to realise, along with many others, is how varied research is and how far it is from the impression I had been given at university. I had no idea at the time how nearly everything we consume – from the adverts we see and the products we buy to the prices we pay for them – has been a direct result of customer insights. Research is impacting everything around us and influences thousands of business decisions, so why is it still so often recognised as being dull and uncool?

Over the past couple of years, two key themes have become apparent. The first theme is that many people in the industry seem to have ‘fallen into a research role’. Like myself, a number of colleagues and peers I speak to had no intention of following a career in research. Research opportunities are vast and varied, local and global, from online to offline, quant to qual. Because of this, I believe there are endless opportunities for people to ‘fall’ into a research role. Whether leaving university with a degree in Mathematics, Business, English or History, the roles of a researcher are so varied; it means there is something for everyone. But with research industry often being perceived as being ‘dull’ or ‘boring’, why would people want to actively pursue a career within the field?

The second theme, is the increasing importance of young researchers to the industry. As a relatively new graduate, I appreciate the significance of encouraging those who are at the start of their career- they are enthusiastic and keen to learn whilst not yet restrained by bad habits and entrenched ‘best practices’. Change is both inevitable and necessary in the research industry. This is a great industry for young graduates to unleash their creative side. Of course, they should be given guidance but at the same time, we should harness the enthusiasm of young researchers to increase innovation, imagination and passion within the industry. The world and research, are changing fast, so we need more people who are willing and able to develop new skillsets and to embrace the attitudes of next generation researchers.

Both these themes highlight a key opportunity for the market research industry. If the industry was marketed better, if it was taught well at university and if its importance was communicated more widely in the media, people would be more likely to actively pursue a career in a research role. We should be not only encouraging young researchers, but promoting research much more actively at an under-graduate level. University courses should highlight the importance research plays in businesses and showcase the range of creative techniques and methodologies that research uses. If I had been made more aware of research at university, I would have been much more active in pursuing a role in the industry.

We need to inspire people to want to join the industry rather than just fall into it by chance, and then encourage them to demonstrate their passion in a creative and innovative way. Research provides something for everyone, it enables you to make a difference to businesses and customers around the world, but if young people don’t realise this, how is the industry ever going to get the talent and recognition it deserves?

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Nov 272013
 

Post by Neil Gains, the founder of TapestryWorks, based in Singapore.

What is the single biggest threat to market research?

Data!

Data represents the existing business model of large multinational research companies who make money by selling as many interviews/surveys/data points as possible for as high a CPI (cost per interview) as possible.

Data also represents a huge part of the future of market research. While “big data” is an opportunity to extract value from the ever-increasing flow of data from businesses and from the multiple devices that we all use at home and as we go about the world, this is also a huge threat. It’s a threat for market research companies and businesses, most of whom do not have the skill set to manage and analyze large data sets. More importantly, it’s a threat to the talent in the industry. As the pool of data grows every year, it becomes more and more important to have the thinking skills to ask the right questions, and connect different information sources together. This is not a skill that can be automated.

And finally data represents the focus of much of market research on “measuring to manage”. By definition, most large-scale data collection exercises can only look back at the past and attempt to explain what has already happened. However, the increasing need of business is to look forward and either predict the future or create it.

So the traditional data driven model of market research is not only being broken as a business model, by the provision of cheap or (virtually) free sample, but also by the increasing importance of using business insight to drive innovation. In a world where the brand and product cycle becomes faster and faster, it is less and less important to look back and more and more important to move forward.

The opportunity for market research is clear. Whatever happens to the business of sample and data collection, there will (or should) always be a need to understand customers. The business of market research is the business of helping other businesses to change the behavior of customers.

And this is where perhaps the biggest disruptions are happening for market research. Market research innovation has focused on technology and new ‘toys’, with less emphasis on changing the fundamentals of asking questions. The debate has been about how you translate a 30-minute survey to mobile phones, rather than asking whether it makes sense to ask questions at all. And we should be asking such questions of the industry, because the evidence of the behavioral sciences on the reliability of direct question approaches is very clear. The old models don’t work.

Looking from the client perspective, businesses increasingly need to use customer understanding to drive a constant stream of ideas and innovations to keep ahead of their competitors. This need can’t wait for data to be collected, analyzed and presented, but has to be a constantly evolving interaction between businesses and their customers to co-create the future.

More and more, businesses need to synthesize data across multiple sources, use customer understanding to drive change and remain agile enough to respond to a rapidly changing marketplace.

The future of market research is not in data. Or insights. The opportunity is to understand behavior and use that understanding to help clients create their future.

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Nov 262013
 

Post by David Smith, director DVL Smith and member of the ESOMAR Council.

Fiedler, in his seminal work on forecasting, said ‘He who lives by the crystal ball soon learns to eat ground glass’ so it is with some trepidation that I outline a point of view on first the threats, then the opportunities, facing the market research industry.

Threats
We could be hit by a tsunami of new data and an avalanche of expectations that overwhelm us as data scientists and other specialists step into the space we once dominated, resulting paradoxically in a dumbing down of our understanding of human behaviour.

One future scenario is that the market research industry loses its way as new data owners take over our former territory. The emphasis switches towards setting up instant, large scale experiments to tell us whether we should do X or Y. In this scenario the importance of asking the ‘why’ question in order to provide a richer understanding of people’s behaviour becomes a lost art. We start living in a culture of experiment: just find the answer and then do it. It doesn’t matter about understanding what could be the subtle and complex reasons and rationale behind this. In this scenario the market researcher’s craft skills of clear, deep thinking to understand the nuances of human behaviour are placed on the back burner.

We enter an era of superficial platitudes and quick clichéd decision-making driven by only a surface understanding of what people are really feeling and thinking. But, as everyone is time pressured and lacks resources, we stop asking those telling and searching Why questions, dumb everything down and settle for second best.

The purchasing process means that market research gradually becomes a commodity which leads to talent not being attracted into the industry.

The way market research increasingly will be purchased could mean that it becomes a ‘commodity’. We start having decisions dominated by people who know the price of everything but the value of nothing – so over a gradual series of salami-thin cuts, we end up with squeezes on the profit margin of ad hoc research.

Agencies will then have to face up to, not the loser’s, but the winner’s curse: if the smallest thing goes wrong on a project they have won, agencies will end up losing money. So it could become better to lose jobs rather to win them! In this environment it becomes difficult to attract talent to the industry because no-one wants to work in such a creativity-stifling, commoditised battlefield.

Playing out this scenario, we see a gradual loss of the craft skills of market research – the ability to join up the dots, see the big picture and provide quality advice. Instead, in this commodity environment with small profit margins, all agencies can do is throw the data over the wall and hope for the best.

Market researchers are their own worst enemy – they ‘self-sabotage’ their own efforts and do not showcase their added value.

Our woes could also be compounded by what we do as an industry to contribute to our own downfall. Seth Godin, the management guru, recently said ‘If you are remaining neutral on any issue, you are in effect taking away value’.

So researchers – both agency and clientside – need to step up to the plate and demonstrate that they are valued ‘admissible evidence’. They need to demonstrate that they are an ‘authoritative prophet’ who can read the breaking news and events. They need to show they warrant the return on investment in insight by constantly alerting organisations to the black swan, whether negative or positive. They need to show how they can bridge the data-decision gap.

But if researchers hide behind their data and methodological prowess – bringing doubt and hesitancy into decision-making – then this self-sabotaging behaviour will mean that market researchers will not get their place in the sun.

Opportunities
The business world is always going to need individuals who see the world through the lens of the customer.

We will always need individuals who have ‘outside-in’ thinking skills and can see the big customer picture. We will need experts who know how to capitalise on ‘new’ behaviourally oriented market research, and those who can frame the decision choices for management. People who can see the big customer panorama and act as the client’s wide-angle lens will remain key to the success of an organisation.

In this scenario there will always be a rosy future for the customer insight professional. This will hold true irrespective of who are the big data owners and what happens in terms of the role played by data scientists, visual analytics experts and others who start coming into the customer insight space. In this scenario the demand for the core skills of the market researchers is never going to go away.

This new world will favour those with the talent to provide penetrating and memorable narratives about what the consumer is feeling and thinking. The business world will continue to need ‘problem simplifiers’ who are comfortable getting into a strategic dialogue with senior management. In this new era, the data landscape may have shifted, but the skills in synthesising the evidence and teasing out the key message for the business will continue to be important. It is simply a matter of customer insight professionals slightly adjusting their current course.

This will mean a move away from traditional market research studies towards accentuating our expertise as lean problem-solvers: individuals who can quickly test the most critical assumptions underpinning a business problem, and then use new, innovative MR techniques to quickly and economically solve this challenge. Essentially, in this scenario, it is business as usual. There will be a slight shift in emphasis, but the core market research craft skills will remain very much in demand.

We continue to thrive by being part of a wider network of related professionals able to help stakeholders make informed evidence-based decisions.

Another positive scenario sees market researchers not attempting to live in splendid isolation. Instead, they will embrace opportunities to work with data scientists, visual analytics specialists, experts on social media, UX designers and developers, as well as others from the worlds of marketing, communications and business consultancy, who also have a strong customer focus.

There is much we can offer these related professions and, in return, they would benefit from our experience in being the ‘voice of the customer’. We could become part of a wider, bigger, customer-focused industry that is all about turning the complex, data-centric problems facing management into instant, intuitive visual solutions.

So, we let go in defending the faith of the ‘pure’ market research craft and embrace a wider, more eclectic world. The customer insight gene remains at the heart of this new model, but we start working harder to hook up our craft skills with kindred spirits.

Playing a key role in a new business and social paradigm in which the voice of the customer could assume a much more pivotal role.

Looking at the Western economies, one can see some tension creeping into how the capitalist model might work in the longer term. We are seeing a squeezed middle class, but the top of the pyramid seems to be getting even wealthier and more powerful. In addition, in the BRIC countries, there seems to be little evidence of much trickle-down of their new-found wealth to those lower down the social and economic order. These trends perhaps suggest that we are heading for a volatile world where there is continuing tension between the haves and the have-nots.

This more divided world could pose a major threat for commercial organisations seeking to engage with customers. To survive in this tinderbox, commercial organisations will need to demonstrate that they are genuine and authentic in the eyes of the masses. So we can envisage insight professionals who truly understand the voice of the customer – together with those working on corporate social responsibility programmes and elsewhere – assuming a more important role within organisations.

We will be operating in a socially networked landscape, where being genuine, authentic and being able to defend one’s actions in the face of tough scrutiny from an ever more demanding and globally vocal customer base will become one of the key drivers of business success. In this scenario, one would have thought that the skills of the market researcher would assume even greater importance.

We would welcome your view

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Nov 252013
 

Post by Liz Norman, owner of Elizabeth Norman International.

Despite the huge growth in technology ultimately market research is only as good as the people managing the projects and interpreting the results. To grow and compete, the industry must attract and retain high calibre staff. It must also train and develop them, giving them the skills necessary to drive the industry forward and make the most of the opportunities technology and global growth offers. The industry is not always doing that now and if it doesn’t have the talent, it will be far harder to succeed in the future.

Research as a career offers enormous variety, the opportunity to work with new thinking and technologies, and the chance to work on really key decisions for household names. Yet despite being an industry that is loved by many that know it, most graduates enter the industry after stumbling across it as a career option. As a result the industry is missing out on the skills of those who have a lot to offer but don’t know the industry exists. Research needs to take the opportunity to promote itself to undergraduates. In that way it will attract the best talent, but also promote the industry to the young business people of tomorrow. Regardless of whether or not they become researchers, we need them to appreciate the research industry.

As well as attracting more graduates, the industry needs to increase the number of graduate opportunities, to ensure a strong flow of future talent. It is also key that the talent is retained within the industry rather than lost to other sectors. As an industry with a lot of small/medium sized and flexible companies, research can offer the individual fast progression, variety, responsibility and recognition. The flip side is the same companies can lack strong HR/training and progression policies, and as a result candidates don’t benefit from the best of what the industry can offer.

As technology leads research into new spaces, researchers need the training in the technical and commercial skills necessary to ensure the industry takes advantage of the various developments taking place. One of the things researchers love about the industry is the huge variety of specialisms and the speed at which they are evolving. However this relies on them having the opportunity and training to take advantage of the various different skills. The risk is that commercial expedience, in a competitive environment, means researchers end up working on just one type of study which doesn’t offer the commercial and technical variety necessary. It’s also difficult, when so many companies specialise in a particular sector, to give researchers the breadth of vision to both develop and interest them but also allow their employer to evolve into new areas.

One way of increasing the variety of work and learning opportunities for researchers is to give them the chance to have sabbaticals with other organisations. Given that large numbers of research agencies are jointly owned by larger parent groups, there is a greatly increased opportunity to set up schemes which move researchers around between companies within the same group, allowing more learning opportunities. In addition as an increasingly established industry can we create key learning criteria and job levels making it easier to establish how careers can be progressed?

As manufacturers have become increasingly global, research has grabbed the opportunity to match their needs by also becoming global. A lot of researchers would also love the opportunity for a global career, yet at the moment very few move around, and those that do move often find it difficult to move back home. To give researchers the skills needed in a global world and increase retention, we need to make sure they benefit from our global networks.

In summary research has a huge amount to offer as employers. It needs to take advantage of that, so we have the talent to be an industry of the future. If we don’t do that, research will not make the best of the opportunities for its staff, and the employers and the industry will suffer as a result.

Click here to read other posts in this series.

Nov 252013
 

Our industry is in transformation and it’s sometimes hard to keep track of all the new developments. That’s why the 2013 BAQMaR Conference will bring you up-to-speed in less than a day. 14 world-class speakers talk about what’s next for market research & data mining on the 12th of December in Ghent.

Join 125+ attendees from 8 different countries for:

  • afternoon session on trends in market research & marketing;
  • afternoon session on trends in data mining & analytics;
  • evening session with top client-side speakers & a ‘futurologist’; Or just buy a full day ticket! :-)

Don’t miss this great content and unique networking opportunity (30% client side attendees). And visit Ghent – the best kept secret of European cities according to National Geographic! Here is a little city guide to help you plan your trip…

Register today via: www.baqmar.eu/conference.

Early bird rate is still open (save 25% on the full price).

See you in Ghent,
the BAQMaR team