Edward Appleton, Happy Thinking People The Future of Market Research – Where are we Heading?
Quo Vadis Market Research? This topic is familiar, but clearly still a popular one: over 160 participants attended.
The discussion was collegial, detailed, disciplined, partly familiar, at times disturbing.
The industry continues to undergo profound change. There was a clear sense that research needed to re-invent itself in an ever-expanding world of analytics, e-commerce and more, where vast quantities of data, mainly digital, need to be made sense of. Legacy MR approaches are becoming obsolete.
Our industry needs to re-define itself, skill-up, potentially re-structure, to re-emerge hopefully stronger.
Future opportunities are no doubt there for "research" – data is hugely important for all sorts of business decisions. Data-driven, empirical decision-making will continue to replace instinct.
The key question remained: are researchers collectively and individually willing and capable of grabbing future opportunities, of morphing into more highly skilled and valued analytics and insights consultants? The space is there for us. The jury is out.
Here are the main areas and inputs discussed. Enjoy.
Where is MR going?
Each of the panelists opened with a statement on their vision of the future of research.
Sven Arn highlighted how "research" is about insights rather than data. Activation is a key task, with strategic projects increasingly the norm for agencies. Despite constantly evolving methods and an explosion of data points, the exchange with consumers is central, and a constant. Conversations remain the key to understanding.
Digital for him isn't and won't be the be-all-and end-all in future.
Andera Gadeib noted the overall very slow acceptance of digital in MR over the years, which has improved in 2020, but still isn't really popular she felt. Client-side changes – all about speed.
The human aspect remains is a central factor, but given the mass of available data, often in real-time, this needs to be balanced with the use of algorithms to help researchers cope.
New competences are key to thriving in future – and a central challenge is to ask oneself: what can people do that machines can't – not the least to remain employable. A key challenge for agencies was getting lost on a project tread-mill, often reactive rather than pro-active – an area we need answers to as a profession to remain attractive. The USP of MR as a go-to discipline needs to be crystal clear in a sea of data options for clients, mainly digital...what's the most useful and most relevant?
In summary for her: the ability to re-invent oneself is key – and a huge challenge.
Future opportunities she saw as
- co-operation and collaboration
- a focus on creating experiences,
- making sense of data
- the merging of qual and quant, as well as
- the mix between digital and face-to-face.
Holger Geißler confessed to not being a believer in the power of crystal balls, but still he saw the following future shifts:
- More MR projects, but fewer market research companies. Data collection will lose relevance, esp offline – MR turnover in Germany is likely down vs 2019. Qualitative research will gain in relative importance in his view.
- Market definition will continue to broaden – to include UX, CX, social media, data analytics. Does this leave legacy or traditional MR as the fossilized rump? A clear danger.
- Data isn't "the new gold" – there's too much of it, clients need more people who can handle it all. In-sourcing on client side is a big trend...but maybe it goes back to external experts outside who can help with data fusion.
Finally, he noted lots of analytics activity going on outside of MR e.g. e-commerce, but the data doesn't come from MR companies.
He stressed the need permanently re-educate ourselves – esp. handling different data sources and making sense of it all.
No pressure then ;-)
Peter Kautz differed on data – he reminded us of the ongoing explosion of available data, with almost all the world's most valuable companies being based on data.
A future opportunity and ongoing challenge was how to find the needle in the haystack, sort the signal from the noise? There was also a clear need to answer the "So what?" question – and strengthen our role as consultants.
From a method P.O.V. he saw no money to be made in data collection.
Researchers have methodological expertise and need to find ways of data simplification, curating data points, visualizing....in a short, bite-size format, easy to deal with and intuitive.
Will there be enough Jobs for MR in future?
This very pertinent question came from the audience.
After all, newer analytic competitors – Experian, for example – that crunch data, generate insights, are huge, much bigger than even the largest MR companies. Does that make tradtional MR redundant?
Peter Kautz saw room for both analytics and MR companies to arrive at "human understanding", establishing the context of decision making for example.
Sven Arn stressed that data isn't the same thing as insights. Predictive analytics are powerful, for sure – but insights are about creating meaning for a specific client challenge.
Simpler stuff will be automated, done client side with standardized software in his experience – cheap, quick, efficient. MR folk need to be really insight-driven to survive, and deliver stuff that can't be automated.
Co-moderator Dr. Christian Holst pointed out a paradox: ever increasing amounts of data available, so more room potentially for MR to act...but there were far fewer people working in MR over past five years. He even suggested a headcount reduction of 30 percent in this time-period, an alarming figure which no-one got the chance to understand more fully.
What did MR do wrong in the past - what would it need to do differently?
Holger Geißler suggested that industry associations could have operated more openly in the past, and embraced new fields e.g. UX. Sven Arn agreed. Both bold points of view – given this was a BVM sponsored event (!) – but the-times-they-are-a-changing, it seems.
He also suggested that too little was done for marketing the category space – and we still appear as old-fashioned. Dustiness was indeed a recurring theme throughout – MR having an image problem which seems difficult to shake off.
Andera Gadeib's exhortation was less towards the past – more "think big, innovate.....be idea-driven", however "mad" – adopting simple approaches like "yes, and" instead of "yes but...". Researchers were too risk-averse, in her view, needed to be more opportunity-driven. And yes, MR's messages are not getting across.
Peter Kautz repeated his belief that to be impactful, insights needed to be packaged more attractively, communicated more effectively. The aim: that buyers and stakeholders people really want to use them. Insights should be as desirable as a consumer good – that's what managers expect.
Sven Arn stressed the positives arising through COVID-19, qual research in particular has been forced to accelerate digitally. This full digital transformation has enthused customers, research has become much easier, more comfortable – esp. international research – and a very different experience.
Susanne Stahl posed a key question:
What do Agencies need to do to remain attractive for Clients?
Sven Arn agreed with Peter Kautz, that content needs to be sticky, entertaining, fun. Many marketing directors have short attention spans.
Holger Geißler saw the need to ensure relevance, not just entertainment.
He also suggested that many agencies needed to bite the digital bullet, digital being a deflationary force. They will likely need to take a hit on turnover, shrink to more profitable and core areas, before re-emerging stronger. Some were taking this route in his view, but plenty were not, still hoping that legacy business models would carry them through.
Andera Gadeib beat the digital drum, stressing that MR folk need to up their digital skill sets, above all be open for it. Then the task is to find the right mix and balance between algorithms and people. Clients would continue to need help in sorting through the sea of data available to them.
Who is our client?
To conclude, the panel discussed the changing nature of buyers of research on the client side - briefly, as the discussion was curtailed by time running out.
A few clear themes emerged: an increase in diversity of the types of buyers on the client side, traditional client-side researchers were decreasing in numbers.
"Newer" types of customers require a different approach from agencies – talking statistical significance might not be relevant to people with a clear operational focus, be it R&D or marketing.
Some companies engaging in research don't actually have a research department at all – opening the door to agencies to adopt a different role.
Finally, accessing senior managers, even the C Suite, was invaluable – in unlocking budgets, and getting projects moving.
Overall, a stimulating session – thanks and kudos to the BVM for pulling it together, a galvanizing industry debate in changing times. Susanne Stahl and Dr. Christian Holst – take a bow!
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