Market Research as an industry has hit a disruptive fork in the road. As currently configured – around the distribution, collection, processing and reporting of surveys – the industry has basically flat lined. For sure it does great work, but look at the industry growth figures, and meanwhile look at the exponential growth in usable business and customer information and tell me seriously that MR isn’t missing out. MR is an industry geared around a broadcast, mass marketing paradigm. It is petrol when the world is going electric.
Among the disruptive forces faced by the industry are:
- The shift from face to face to PC to smartphone delivery. Each new medium opens the scope but limits the depth of respondent engagement.
- The shift from descriptive statistics (yawn) to predictive. Question, how many analysts are regularly using Neural Networks or other predictive what-if scenario building tools? Any?
- The integration of survey feedback with other channels of customer feedback including complaints data, sales figures, RFID-driven Big Data etc.
- The acceleration of everything.
- The shift to a socially networked society in which unpredictable things can happen and where classic trend-lines simply don’t apply.
All these elements, you can think of many more, render the classic MR model somewhat flatfooted and irrelevant to so many business decisions. We live in a world where superstar marketers such as P&G are getting beaten by surprising upstarts. The old world of 4Ps marketing simply isn’t as reliable. (And it never produced more than 20% success rates to begin with.)
So what directions will MR go in to survive? I think two basic directions.
Light, quick and cheap. New research firms will go with the emergent technologies and provide close to real-time customer feedback gathered via panels equipped with smartphones. They’ll process streams of quick-snap shots and use these to populate a “movie” of the typical customer experience before, during and after purchase. The technology will reduce the need for human input or even analysis. The objective: fine tune the customer experience through tweaking and optimisation. Success through a thousand slightly improved interactions.
Deeper and more ruminative. The polar opposite of light, quick and cheap is to go deeper, and more thoughtful – focusing on the analytics and the contextualisation of information. This kind of research will be similar to anthropology, but with more back-end modelling and scenario testing and hypothesis building. The objective here is not to deliver streamed feedback rather to look for the Next Big Insight – and get there before the rivals do. These research teams will be made up of diverse teams of people with wide-ranging skill sets: story-tellers, anthropologists, data scientists, fashion mavens, subject matter experts. This sort of research will be comparatively expensive, and comparatively risky – but when it hits the Insight Jackpot, this is the research approach that will make the biggest difference.
Right now most market research firms are heading toward Type One – doing the same as before, but quicker, cheaper and with less human input – at least of much value. My bet is that the world will be awash with these providers and they won’t be much fun to work for.
Give me the Big Concept Seeker model. Now that looks real fun.