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.

Click here to read other posts in this series.

Nov 242013
 
Somra Logonasir_photo

Post by Dr Nasir Khan, known on Twitter as @Banglaman, founder of Somra-MBL, Bangladesh.

Buzz abounds on the MR industry’s future! Is it facing just threats, or fast becoming a ‘goner’? Interesting…An industry that has been doing SWOT analyses for commercial as well as social ventures, is doing its own SWOT now. The right thing to do!

Many researchers think that the global MR industry has gone ‘berserk’, heading towards demise, while others feel it’s doing just fine, provided we think and see the big picture (big data included, pun intended), and accept change.

As I write this blog, I am aware that, being a researcher in an emerging market, I ought to think and express my thoughts on MR SWOT from this market’s perspective. However, the more I think along this line and compare with what leading researchers from developed nations say on different platforms (ESOMAR events, NewMR webinars and podcasts, the GreenBook Blog, etc.), the more I am convinced that, due mainly to globalization, there’s hardly any difference between the state of affairs in the developed and developing world.

True, more than ever before, MR is facing threats from within and without, but we need to think positive! To begin with, GMR 2013 (ESOMAR) shows an industry turnover (global) of almost USD 40 billion, inclusive of a USD 5 billion contribution of “Advisory Services” (welcome to our space!). Further in the report, we can see ups and downs, like Europe taking a dip, or Asia-Pacific relinquishing “fastest growth” title to Latin America, Japan booming again, emerging markets doing fairly well, especially in Africa…All seems fine in the global context. So, what’s the big fuss about threats?

Unfortunately, it isn’t just a fuss after all! Weaknesses and threats are for real within and without the global MR space – threats galore, but due to content size constraints, I will discuss just a few.

In my humble opinion, our greatest weakness is misunderstanding of our own business. Both providers and users of research talk of ‘insights’, but do we really know what that means? We are actually into the business of understanding fellow human beings (as consumers or as members of the society). It’s about understanding one of the most complex biological phenomena. So, our work if limited to questioning and listening, number crunching and finding patterns in texts, can’t provide what research users really need. It’s about understanding…better understanding, which means we just can’t do it the traditional way any longer, nor can we leave our job solely to technology (it helps a lot, but doesn’t have the advantage of human intelligence). Human intervention is and shall be required to understand humans. That’s why we hear from industry thought leaders like Leonard Murphy, Ray Poynter and a very few others that the industry has turned…”The role of research will be so broad that it will require a multi-function team to carry it off” (Murphy). Indeed! Furthermore, we talk of creativity, but what does that mean? The Insights Innovation Competition, “imagined and organized” by GreenBook says it all – “Have an idea that helps brands better understand consumers?…”

An important threat is ‘Quick and cheap’. MR has become a line-production affair. ‘Dough in, cookies out’. Unfortunately, ‘quick and cheap’ ends up being quick and dirty, leading not only to questioning the quality and ethics of MR, but also to opening doors for ‘attack’ from outside our space – from individuals and groups without proper knowledge of what research really is. Everybody is at it from developers of apps to data service providers to direct marketers…!

Another weakness that is threatening the industry is the dearth of interest in MR amongst Gen Y. The future of MR is at stake, because we have failed to correctly promote this exciting profession. True, ESOMAR, NewMR and few other fora are doing their bit, but that’s not enough. Promoting MR as a multi-function profession, where the younger generation has a variety of choice to opt in…Be that as a statistician, or psychologist, behavioral economist, gamer, neurologist, gadget geek, developer, programmer…the list goes on! Interest, creativity and curiosity are the key requirements. In short, we have to revise the ‘curriculum’ for MR learning and sharing.

Strength? MR is a great profession – Period? No!

  • We must understand what we are doing and what we should really be doing.
  • We need to involve all stakeholders, including the most important group, namely, the research participants in the process of co-creation (ways to engage them are a work in progress now – from ‘Research Through Gaming’ to consumer consulting boards to various other creative methods and tools).
  • Let’s be bold and put research first, business second. We don’t have to act as an Angry_MR_Client in order to express our weaknesses. We need to be Angry_MR_Providers and speak out. Research can’t be cheap and quick, because it turns dirty, worthless.
  • We need to provide value for money by practically establishing MR’s business/social value…Storytelling is not making a boring point interesting. It’s about better understanding and passing that on to clients clearly, simply boldly! We must tell the user of research what to do and what not to (penny saved is penny earned) in order to gain, instead of ‘beautifully’ confirming their ‘gut feelings’. If they gain, our industry gains, if they lose, well, no amount of *.ppts, software, apps, dashboards, will help.

It’s high time we turn our weaknesses into strengths. Otherwise, we will certainly become a case of going, going, gone! Instead of growing, growing, going north!

Click here to read other posts in this series.

Sep 302013
 

Market research tends to look inwards when it tries to assess it strengths and weaknesses, but perhaps interesting comparisons can be drawn from the world of stock market research?

A recent article in The Economist reviewed the world of stock market research and it revealed some interesting comparisons with market research. The core of stock market research in the past has been provided by organisation such as banks, in the hope that good advice will lead to investors spending more money, which in turn drives revenues from equity trading.

The first key comparison is in the size of the market. Market research growth has been relatively flat over the last four years, but the stock market research industry has seen a fall from about $14 billion in 2009 to about $9 billion in 2013 in America. In Europe the fall was from 4 billion Euros to 3 billion. The Economist describes the decline as being driven by the shift to passive investing and algorithmic trading – which might have implications for market research automation and the use of DIY solutions by clients.

The Economist highlights some interesting changes in the structure of the reduced stock market research options. For example, analytics have been moved from expensive locations to less expensive ones. Asset managers report that they are increasingly not reading the research reports they are being presented with, a close analogy to many market research clients.

In the stock market research world there has been a growth in bespoke research, an analogy with the boutique agencies in the research industry. In addition, stock market research is seeing a growth in non-traditional solutions, such as commissioning satellite pictures of new mining sites to see if company reports are accurate. Again, this provides an analogy with non-traditional market research providers. As in market research, although there has been strong growth in non-traditional solutions, they remain a small part of the total picture in stock market research. One of the debates, that keep circulating in NewMR circles, relates to the speed that market research will change. Most pundits agree on what the industry will look like in 10 years (more on this in another post). But there tends to be a difference of opinion in the speed of the change, with some (such as Lenny Murphy) believing in fast change, and other people (such as myself) thinking the change will be slower.

The stock market research picture is an example of relatively small shares for new options, but a rapid decline in existing methods – a worst case example that we should hope we do not see in market research! If this model were to appear in market research, it would be akin to companies cancelling their customer satisfaction and advertising tracking studies without commissioning new and exciting alternatives.

Jul 262013
 

From neuroscience to behavioural economics, from advanced and adaptive choice models to participative ethnography, from facial coding to big data there are masses of analysis approaches that are threatening to be the next big thing (yes, I know they are not all new, but they are contending to be the next big thing), and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

However, in my opinion, text analytics (using the term in its widest sense, but focusing on computer assisted and automated approaches) is my pick for the biggest hit of the next few years. There are several reasons for this, including:

  • The software is beginning to work, from tools to help manual analysts at one end of the spectrum, to better coding, through to concept construction software, the tools are beginning to mature and deliver.
  • Text analytics, as a category, is not linked to a niche. Text occurs in qual and quant, in free text, in the answers to survey questions, and in discussions.
  • Text analytics will help us ask shorter surveys, one of the key needs over the next few years. Instead of trying to pre-guess everything that might be important, researchers can reduce the number of closed questions massively, and ask Why? For example? and Which? as open-ended questions.
  • Text analytics will work well with the current leading growth area in research, namely communities. Many communities are kept artificially small to make it practical to moderate and communicate with members. With text analytics it will be possible to have far more members in discursive communities.
  • Text analytics will be essential to help understand the ‘why’ created by big data’s ‘what’.
  • Text analytics is the key to most forms of social media research, turning millions of real conversations into actionable insight.

I am clearly not alone in my view on text analytics, at this year’s AMSRS conference in Sydney there are at least three papers looking at different applications of text analytics and I am going to be running a number of workshops on text analytics in the second half of this year.

What are your thoughts on text analytics?

If not text analytics, what would you pick as the analysis approach which is likely to have the biggest impact over the next five years?