Welcome to Part One of my coverage of the Insights Innovation Exchange Conference (#IIEX) that recently wrapped up in Philadelphia. The event was three solid days of presentations and panel discussion on the changes and innovations that are shaping the future of market research and the business insights industry. The event targeted insights practitioners and anyone who wants to deliver evidence-based business insights to their clients. The event focused on the future of the industry, and the usual suspects were there: mobile, social, gamification, Big Data, neuro-measurement tools (like eye tracking and facial coding), and communities. The vendor space was filled with companies offering technological solutions, and the lion-share of presentations focused on at least one of these tech aspects. I was surprised, and pleased, to discover that this collection of innovation agents focused less on the tools and technology (partly because speakers were limited to just 20 minutes) and more on fundamental elements of change in our industry. In Part One, I’ll briefly summarize our current state. In Part Two, I’ll describe the manifestation of that change for future growth.
The Shift from Old to New Research:
“We no longer live in a world where information is rare. In contrast, we are overwhelmed with data, Big, Medium and Little. This represents the most fundamental challenge to the business model of market research since its inception.”
That’s Dr. Larry Friedman, Chief Research Officer at TNS, who packed a comprehensive synopsis of the market shift into his 20 minutes. The key points are nicely summarized here.
It’s true that because we are an industry that has established its value through collecting and managing data, market research faces a difficult future; its fundamental activity has become less valuable. For a hundred years, businesses and managers have turned to market researchers to design studies, collect data, and translate the data back to them. Some market researchers might find additional value in providing insights and recommendations, but it’s rare to be rewarded with full “consulting rates” for this work.
Given that data can be collected at low cost, the management tasks of sample design are not as important today, and the science behind collecting the “right” data can be glossed over with more (and cheaper) data. Even the translation and application of research data to business decisions are becoming more common with easier-to-use software and training. Tableau, Good Data and (even) MS Excel are some of the analytical tools that now put data directly into the hands of business decision-makers. Heck, even kindergartners are learning the “basics” of market research.
But market researchers still have a head start. As the professionals who have experience with managing and translating data, we should be able to fill a vast need for curating the wide variety of data files and warehouses to support business analyses. Additionally, our knowledge of data types (e.g., categorical vs. scale, just to name one of the many ways we look at the multidimensionality of data) and structure is critical for laying the foundation for information users to access and translate data most efficiently and effectively.
We might not be able to design the right sampling methods, but who among us has not fixed a study where the sampling was done incorrectly? We might not be able to design the questions to get the best data for analysis, but who hasn't needed to come up with a method to fix data that had been coded incorrectly or had incorrect skip patterns applied? (Just to name a few of the complications that can occur). All of these new data streams bring many more opportunities to fix, translate, and apply the results to support the decisions our clients need to make.
The takeaway: there are major challenges but Market Research isn’t dying, and it’s not on life-support. It’s a reasonably secure business that has attracted other companies to its space because companies find great value in evidence-based decision making. Let’s be honest, Google wouldn’t be making a big investment in Google Consumer Surveys if it didn’t see an opportunity to make a lot of money.
But when Google enters your space, you better believe you need to put your helmet on, and get ready…
Jeff is VP, Market Science Solutions at CMB. He is just as comfortable explaining advanced analytical models as he is parsing the cultural significance of "Tommy Boy." Find him tweeting @McKennaJeff.