What will the future of market research look like?

It can be a wild guess at times to predict the future. And that holds true for the future of market research as well. But, why not try? Why not consider how to future-proof our careers as market researchers as much as we can?

Certainly, some current skills will continue to be needed. Those include:
  • Understanding of the business
  • Knowing how to analyze the data
  • Being able to get the right data
  • And other skills that many researchers already have and can hone and evolve.

The biggest shifts

Perhaps one of the biggest shifts in market research has been that it used to be hard to get data, said Ray Poynter, a 40-year veteran of the industry on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” The focus was more on how to get the data because that was necessary to even have a chance to look at the data.

“When I started in the ’70s you were told to let the data speak for itself,” Ray said. “At that time, they wanted more data. Data was difficult to get in those days. Now data is much easier to get and the people we are giving the data to aren’t just insights managers. That’s why we are seeing things like storytelling and engagement and the use of video has become much more important on the supplier side because we are filling spaces.”

Read next: Why you need centralized data to help your brand be more customer-centric

And now we have more data than what we can do with. So the analysis of the data,  which includes organizing it in a way that makes sense, is more important than ever. The future of market research will likely include this as a main pillar to focus on as well. Especially with technology evolutions and consumer behavior changes.

“Things have changed a lot in the last 40 years,” said Jenn Vogel, host of “Reel Talk” and vice president of marketing at Voxpopme. “Right now things are changing like crazy. We’ve seen a lot of shakeups and funding coming into the industry.”

"It reflects that there's been an immense growth in evidence-based decision making. People wanting to use information to make better decisions."

How best practices change

Sometimes best practices evolve over time as well. Ray mentioned that in the ’90s research participants would typically not be allowed to take a survey or participate in a focus group if they had done one recently. Today, some people do dozens or even hundreds of surveys, online focus groups or video surveys a year.

“That has fundamentally shifted what we think of as the right way of doing business,” Ray said. “Some respondents see more surveys than market researchers in a year.”

How skills change

Part of the future of market research involves understanding what skills to prioritize now and which ones to work on down the road. The biggest one perhaps to consider is to understand and tie everything back to business goals.

How is this research going to help us make business decisions? Then, how are we communicating it? How are we continuously analyzing consumer behaviors and attitudes and then use that knowledge to drive business decisions.

Read next: Do this to be innovative in business

"And then you have to bring something to the game. You have to make sure that every time that problem comes up they say 'oh, let's call for Jenn.' She's really good at x."

“Most things actually are going to be fine,” he said. “Be a great storyteller, be a great cutter-down of a 100-page presentation to a 10-page one. There are so many different skills out there and you want to make sure you are recognized for them. And then that you develop them as part of your brand.”

Predictions for the future of market research

“The demand for speed is going to go up,” Ray said. “The more evidence-based decision making is used in the company, the faster they will need it.”

It makes sense. If I’m trying to make a decision today or I’m looking for an answer now to make a decision, I likely won’t wait a few weeks until I get an official formal report back.

“Let’s say they are sitting in a meeting and say ‘how many people drink cappuccino in the morning but not the afternoon?'” Ray said by way of example. “I don’t know. Do you know? Can we google it?”

And if the answer isn’t readily available, they’ll ask the insights team.

“But they want it that day or the next day,” Ray said.

Speed is massively important. So is easy!

“We don’t want a big definition process for a simple problem,” he said.

The process and technology are setup by insights experts, but are often handled day to day by other employees in their daily tasks.

“Ten percent is the hard stuff and 90 percent needs to be packaged solutions,” he said. “Created by experts but handled by every-day people.”

How to prepare for faster research?

Some potential paths forward, include:

Ray gave the example of AI predicting consumer behavior based on what they are currently doing.

“Does it actually work?” he asked. “That’s the question, but it’s a massive area of investigation going on.”

Another potential area of change is crowd sourcing where companies put the question out there to see if somebody already has the answer.

“You get all these people that are already connected to the company and you get a question from a client and just put it out there,” Ray said.  “Does anyone know the answer to this.”

Ray mentioned video surveys as another area of advancement.

“Do we have people eating breakfast on trains?” he said. “We can see what they are doing.”

Understanding the competitive set better

Understanding of the market place matters. The more companies understand the current state and landscape the easier it is for them to help us get to the future of market research.

Ray gave the example of companies that don’t understand who all does what. For example, companies come to him and say here’s how they are solving this big problem. And they are the only ones that do, they say. And they are indeed solving the problem in a unique way, but so are a number of other companies. They are just doing it in a different way.

“They are not tackling the problem like you are but they are tackling is sufficiently enough that their clients are happy,” he said.

And the solutions need to fit into the system. For example, Google Glass didn’t fit into the system. Now there are Ray Ban Stories, which look less clunky and maybe fit more?

“If it doesn’t fit into the system it won’t happen,” Ray said. That’s where the researchers can come in and ask the questions to determine what is innovative but also can fit.

It is important to partner with somebody who can craft a good question.

How to plan for the future

The day-to-day can certainly get in the way of planning for and being ready for the future. But, we have to make the time. One way to do that is to split up responsibilities. Different parts of the team or company each can:

  • deliver the day-to-day
  • develop the new things
  • do the high-level thinking

“Sometimes those people are mixed together and sometimes they are kept quite separately,” Ray said. “It can be good to have some separation. You have some people over here who are pushing the boundaries and you have people over here being productive.”

And sometimes you have to make a decision to:

  • keep going
  • pivot
  • kill a project

“Industries are getting better at this,” Ray said. “We are probably still a bit weak in killing projects.”

Jenn added that this can be a problem and those lines can be blurred. Just look at some of the job descriptions out there.

“We are looking for strategic thinkers who also can get their hands dirty,” said Jenn. “That blurs the line – the thinker and the doer.”

As a final note…

Trust still matters! And that includes MR automation, which is becoming a bigger part of our lives. So how does trust and automation in technology work?

“Nearly everyone I meet they either trust it too much or too little,” Ray said. Like many things in life, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Have an open mind and see what has potential.

"If it's not going to be reliable it's not going to be valid."

“You probably need to go in there and do some test cases,” Ray said. “Is it reliable? I’m a statistician at heart and to me reliable means that if I do the same thing twice, do I get the same answer?”


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