There’s been a lot of talk recently about New Marketing; how communication is now all about engagement, how the consumer is boss and such like. But there has been very little said about New Market Research, perhaps because there isn’t any! If you’re concerned by this situation, whether you work in marketing, market research or a completely different area, then read on for some thoughts on how this situation can and must change.
Earlier this year I wrote about the future of market research / insight departments and what researchers need to do within their organisation to improve their image and perceived value. This week I want to take a wider look at the profession in general.
Current Perception of Market Research
According to Wikipedia, Marketing is “The process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling the product or service. It is a critical business function for attracting customers” The definition of Market Research is “Any organized effort to gather information about markets or customers. It is a very important component of business strategy”.
What is interesting in comparing these two definitions is the difference in appreciation of the value to business of the two. Marketing is said to be a “critical function”, whereas Market Research is said to be “very important”. Perhaps this is why Market Research Departments continue to be hammered, their budgets are constantly under pressure and their value to the business is questioned.
Well, things are about to change, or at least there is an opportunity for this, if researchers take up the incredible chance offered to them in today’s world of information (over?) abundance. You can’t continue to do the same old same old when marketing, and more importantly the consumer, is clearly on the move.
What Business gets from Market Research
I think that one of the biggest problems that Market Research has (continues to have) is that Marketing and Management in general, find it too complex. What is often delivered from market research, BY researchers, tends to be numbers and findings, not underst anding, insight and recommendations.
We no longer need market research to share the numbers and information today. More and more often, these are coming automatically into companies from an ever-growing number of sources, and a lot of it is even in real-time, something market research results never were! Think sensors on products, GPS on smart phones, retail purchases with debit / credit / loyalty cards, social media interactions …. DataShaka recently wrote in their The Lab an interesting perspective on data management and information sources which you might want to check out.
That’s a lot of data; indeed Aaron Zornes, chief research officer of The MDM Institute, was recently quoted in Information Management as saying that “a typical large company with (has) 14,000 or so databases on average”. And most of that data will be just sitting around in IT storage systems, rarely reviewed and even less likely to be integrated for meaningful knowledge development. It needs analysts and who better to interpret the meaning of all this data than market research?
What Market Research could Offer Business
What an incredible opportunity! The question is whether the market research profession is ready to take it up; whether researchers are ready to move from data gatherers (alone!) to interpreters and storytellers. Signs of the urgency for this change are everywhere. In a recent report by BusinessIntelligence.com (you can download the full report there), one of the conclusions drawn was that CEO’s are not getting what they need (from Big Data). Instead of Dashboards, they were more likely to be getting emails and spread sheets!
The market research profession took a small step to reinventing itself with the introduction of insight development, but this is still well within their comfort zone, and still not being done as effectively and consistently as it should. Today, market research / insight departments are being asked to make a much bigger leap into the realms of unknown territory, even for those already comfortable working with BigData.
The Questions you Need to Answer
In conclusion, here is what I believe all market research suppliers, agency and client-side researchers should be asking themselves today:
- Am I ready to move from data gatherer and sharer, to synthesizer and interpreter?
- Could I agree to the information I will be required to analyse NOT coming from statistically validated, representative samples of clearly identified populations?
- Will I accept that I have little control over the data sources I do use and even less over the information that is streaming into the organisation for all to see?
- Am I willing to shift from sending emails and spreadsheets, or presenting graphs and data, to speaking about how the world and consumers are changing?
- Would I happily move from sharing descriptions of data and knowledge to telling stories built from it?
- Can I get comfortable speaking about maybe just one or two consumers rather than about large(ish) groups of them?
- Am I capable of accepting that true insight development doesn’t come from one study or database, but from information integration of multiple sources?
- Am I ready to give up the name of my profession as market researcher?
If you can’t answer YES to all of these questions, then I believe you should consider changing jobs, before you find yourself redundant and replaced by the information analytic, machine-learning “robots” of the future.
What do you think? Is it already too late for market research? Can the profession reinvent itself? ESOMAR, which claims to be “The essential organisation for encouraging, advancing and elevating market research worldwide” has been asking a lot of the right questions about the future of the profession recently, but it is up to researchers everywhere to make the change happen. Are you going to join the lead now, or follow reluctantly when your own management questions whether they really need a department that clings to the old ways of collecting and analysing information?
Let me know how you feel about your own market research position, whether you are a member of a supplier or client-side organisation. Are there other challenges or opportunities I forgot to mention? What name would you give to your future profession?
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