There is a pretty big self-directed meme happening the market research world today. Everyone keeps writing these blogs, articles and newsletters proclaiming that market research is dying. These doom and gloom blogs usually have some sort of cliché, inspirational message about how market research is only changing with a need for rapid adaptation. However, people are not specifically identifying the areas of change and honestly it’s quite a challenging thing to predict. Unfortunately, people are throwing around words like “Big Data” and “Advanced Analytics” without fully understanding what they are, what they can accomplish, and whether or not that methodology will precisely meet the needs of their clients. Hopefully, by the end of this three part blog I can give you a precise outline of how the market research climate is changing … or at least my take on it.
I think a good parallel would be the current state of automotive companies that have produced the same type of car for the last 80 years. Essentially the vehicles have become slightly faster, drive longer, more aerodynamic (etc) but there hasn’t been any real innovation until now. All of a sudden, future James Bond villain and entrepreneur, Elon Musk, comes out of the PayPal woodwork and starts pressuring the industry into adopting electric and driverless cars. Now every company that produces cars has a choice to make. Do they keep producing the same cars knowing that trend will likely last 20-40 years or do they spend the resources to innovate knowing it may not pay off fully for a couple of decades?
Market Research is in a similar place. We can continue down the path of traditional market research or start to innovate by meeting the needs of our clients. Quite honestly, both will have their place for some time, but I think the general hypothesis is that things are changing. Everything is not as clear cut as it is in the automotive industry. They are solving for a simple problem. How do you get someone from A to B as safely, conveniently, and quickly as possible? For this first blog, I want to identify where things are changing and where things are not changing.
The first difference is that research is moving away from being methodology-driven into being driven by the objective of the overall business needs. This may seem obvious or already ingrained in your company, but it is often incredibly easy to forget. A good example is the “Big Data” idea that everyone is throwing around saying it will replace primary market research eventually. Well… maybe… but at the end of the day, big data is a methodology. Clients still have a huge need for primary research as long as it’s executed correctly. Too many times we have heard horror stories of companies executing on a methodology because it was new or different and it ended up being unable to answer the right set of business questions.
The second big change is that clients are not looking for the typical vendor (one-way) relationship anymore – they are looking for the consultant (two-way) partnership. Large companies often deal with 2-7 year pre-launch periods for their products which will always have countless stringed together market research projects threaded through the years to help inform the brand launch strategy. We are expected to be experts, colleagues and friends to the clients who have to thread the research needle web of business stakeholders. They often need and rely on our help to take tasks off of their shoulders and make their job easier. Try to avoid getting into the habit of thinking “this is outside of the scope of work” and embrace the overall partnership. As soon as you become an inconvenience, there will be someone else out there who can easily take your place.
Now that we have looked at the overall Meta environment of how market research dynamics are changing, my next piece will focus on why they are changing. This will largely focus on the ebbs and flows of business needs and how they impact research.