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Market research is changing – and, indeed, has changed already. The technology that is available cheaply and the change in the way that business is conducted mean that if you are still conducting research like you were 10 years ago, something is probably wrong with your business. Research agencies that are trying to operate as they did 10 years will not be here from 10 years from now – and, probably, a lot less.
I wrote to the Market Research Society of the United Kingdom in the late 1990s and pointed out that none of their main conference papers had anything to do with changes in technology, data collection, data analysis or reporting. I offered to submit a paper for their Annual Conference if these topics would be considered for inclusion. I received no reply.
The 2017 Market Research Society conference focused on brands, the industry’s role in business and technology. A great leap forward, indeed. However, has the market research industry moved far enough to meet what business demands? This broader role for market research provides an opportunity and a threat. The opportunity means that the research industry is moving into a much broader business area worth millions of dollars more than the traditional market research industry. The threat is that market research is subsumed into the wider area of business information and disappears. Fear of change can manifest itself as a siege mentality with even more reluctance to change – this is a dangerous route to follow.
The smarter companies in market research have already moved in the right direction while others cling to a past where market research is perceived as an independent activity, separated from other business information. The focus on the quality of questionnaire and the representativeness of the sample are still important, but the focus has shifted on to what the data means and how it can be used to explain or improve a business alongside other business metrics.
The five key changes are:
Market research was one of the first industries to make use of computing and data processing. Production of detailed cross tabulation analyses date back to the 1970s. However, market research has been slow to adapt to new technologies. There has been a difficult and sometimes reluctant shift of power from the market research executives to technology experts.
Jeff Huber, formerly of Google, famously stated that “every business is an online business”. This applies equally to a major bank, a local restaurant and, of course, a market research agency. Online research is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Why? Because it’s much cheaper. Pure and simple. Some argue that it is less accurate, but its immediacy and value for money makes it a simple decision in most cases. Just as a consumer will not generally pay twice as much or more for something that is marginally better, businesses will act in the same way.
Businesses are in a world where there is too much information; market research data is just one piece of the jigsaw. Market research data is no longer in the privileged position of being one of the few sources of data. Further, most data sources are available quickly – often within 24 hours or even in seconds. Major retail outlets know their sales figures within hours of closing each day. Research needs to compete. When most data are available quickly, it is no good if contemporary research data is provided a month later.
For the market research industry to respond, it needs to be fast and cost competitive. Information has become a relatively cheap commodity. Online surveys are one way of achieving this, but more modern techniques such as social listening and online communities have brought an immediacy to data provision.
Social listening, in particularly, means that the effects of a new advertising campaigns, social media presence, industry news, brand image etc. can be monitored and managed with a rapidity and efficacy that a quarterly tracking study cannot come close to matching. Social listening has become a big area for growth in MRDC’s business.
When there is too much data, there is a pressure to do two important things – provide that data in the most useful form and, more importantly, to provide that data alongside as much other complimentary data as possible. These might sound like the same thing, but providing two or three (or even one!) key insights from data might be the most useful form – for another user of data it might be feeding the data into a company’s business information systems. Analysing research data alongside other data is an opportunity to make the research data far more valuable. Further, it gives research data the opportunity to be viewed and utilised at a far higher level within an organisation.
The world of technology is scary. It’s easy to assume that everyone out there knows more than you. Whether that is true is a matter for consideration, but what is equally true is that no one knows everything.
The technological world moves quickly. Attending conferences doesn’t always work because you may just learn about what happened two years ago. There is a genuine need to experiment and explore so that you can give clients what they need. It’s easy to say that budgets don’t allow for experimentation, but that just means that a competitor will offer that new technology. Regularly spending time on exploring new ways of analysing, reporting or providing data is a necessity. It takes time and needs room for someone (or a team) to search out the best ways of doing things.
I spend one week every six months where I take a working holiday. I hide from most emails and other company business and just spend a week exploring new ideas and technologies that may help MRDC Software provide more to its clients. And, this is a minimum commitment – ideally, I aim for one week every three months. That’s a big investment, but an important one, in my view. It’s easy to say “I’m too busy” or “Where’s the immediate profit return?”, but this just short sightedness
When I was in my 30s, I used to waste a lot of time worrying about my competition and feeling competitive towards them – perhaps, it was because I played a lot of sport and was very competitive. The world has changed.
As cited in the previous section, there is too much to know to be an expert at everything. I think I am an expert in certain areas, but I can’t be an expert in everything in my field. This means that finding and making partnerships is important. Making it part of your business to know the right people to put together a solution is important. I am always sceptical of websites where the company claims to be experts in everything where technology is involved – unless, perhaps, if they have thousands of employees. I just don’t believe it.
I had a disagreement with a contributor to a business forum. His small company’s website claimed to be experts in this and that and ‘going the extra mile’ to provide the highest levels of service etc. Don’t get me wrong, MRDC Software aims to do everything it does well, but sometimes ‘good enough’ is, well, good enough. Do clients want to pay more for you ‘to go the extra mile’, particularly when the ‘extra mile’ is unvalued? What clients want, in my experience, is competence, honesty, willingness and thoughtfulness.
Competence is self-explanatory – you don’t want to buy incompetence. Honesty and transparency is important in today’s business world. If there’s something that needs to be resolved, burying it or hoping it goes away is just not right. Willingness means that whether things are going well or badly, there is a willingness to make the best from the situation. Thoughtfulness, though, is the most important – thinking about what we are asked to do, questioning it and suggesting ways that improve things – that is, perhaps, those who claim to go the extra mile mean, but I don’t think that is true in most cases.
Well, that’s my views on the market industry that I come to love and how MRDC Software has dealt / is dealing with change. I have always aimed to embrace change, have probably failed at times, but see that as the main goal of MRDC as a provider of market research software, services and handling business information.
If you disagree with me, please say – I will give you my honest and thoughtful answer. Talk to me now! I would like to provide far more than to just go the extra mile.