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 272013

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

What is the single biggest threat to market research?


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.

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.

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.

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Nov 242013

To help celebrate the Festival of NewMR we are posting a series of blogs from market research thinkers and leaders from around the globe. These posts will be from some of the most senior figures in the industry to some of the newest entrants into the research world.

A number of people have already agreed to post their thoughts, and the first will be posted later today. But, if you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to submit a post. To submit a post, email a picture, bio, and 300 – 600 words on the theme of “Opportunities and Threats faced by Market Research” to

Posts in this series
The following posts have been received and posted: