The Future of Market Research

future of market research
Takeaways from NewMR

The Festival of NewMR Americas webinar provided interesting insights into the world of market research, exploring current opportunities and challenges for insights teams as well as the future of market research in 2021 and beyond.

Ray Poynter, founder and chair of NewMR, started the session with a brief history of market research, noting that market research has an extensive history of addressing the ethical use of data. Yet, in a connected world, the codes of conduct the insights industry abides by will need to be reassessed as ‘anonymity’ changes to ‘informed consent’.

Informed consent generally includes telling potential research participants about key elements of the research study, what their participation will involve, and how they can decline to participate or withdraw from the research once participation has begun. While many codes and guidelines have been established by research trade organizations (like ESOMAR, MRS, ASMRS, AMSO, etc.), consent in digital data studies is ripe for advancement.

Another key takeaway from NewMR is that there will be more research – more surveys, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and analytics – in the coming years. However, the role of market research specifically is expected to change.

Where We Were

Prior to the Information Age, the insights industry was relatively small. Market research agencies comprised a significant portion of it. In the 1990s, online platforms had yet to pervade the industry. Instead, call centers were the norm, and research was largely done on paper and early versions of Excel by agency staff.

Today, online platforms dominate market research. We use online panels, electronic customer lists, software as a service (SaaS) tools of every complexity, and one-stop survey solutions as part of a typical research process. The widespread use of digital platforms has expanded the world of insights significantly to now include subsegments like web analytics, user experience (UX), design thinking, data science, and social media analytics.

These new subsegments have caused the insights industry to expand significantly and encompass many different types of organizations beyond pure market research. While market research agencies have grown alongside these subsegments, NewMR asserts that the insights industry as a whole is growing much faster. Market research agencies have now become slightly bigger fish in a much bigger pond — which brings new challenges but also opportunities.

Why We’re Growing

NewMR suggests customer centricity is one of the primary driving forces for the substantial growth the insights industry has experienced in the last few decades.

“If you are customer centric as an organization, you can’t just have the insights team working with customers,” says Poynter. “Every part of the organization needs to be walking in the customer’s shoes.”

Poynter recommends bringing customers into the heart of research projects and having direct conversations with them. Technology solutions that support customer-centric market research can aid the process.

NewMR also suggests agility plays a key role in industry growth – observing that many organizations across all industries are working to become more agile. For example, to have an agile project, such as when producing a new sustainable product, a company may engage research, design, procurement, and engineering teams. All of these teams need to be connected. NewMR points out that if research is outsourced to an agency that doesn’t understand the company well, it may be more difficult to work in an agile way.

Where We’re Going

There are definitely some challenges ahead for the insights industry – particularly for the future of market research – but NewMR asserts that the industry will adapt.

Quality of research overall is expected to increase, with complex and innovative problems being handled by industry specialists. Market research ethics will evolve as anonymity becomes much less common and informed consent plays a larger role. Insights and market research teams will find process and data collection efficiencies through online platforms and digital solutions, and instead focus their roles on bringing value through strategizing, consulting, and providing big-picture insights that machines cannot.

Ultimately for market researchers, the ability to understand business questions and needs as they relate to human behavior and sentiment will be crucial. Researchers will need to develop a strong understanding of customer segments and be able to turn research findings into strategic business intelligence. Further, insights teams will need to persuade company leadership to heed their advice to bring the most value.

NewMR says to “Focus on using machines when machines can do the job; develop skills in the areas where machines can’t do the job.”

The future of market research will continue to evolve, especially with changes brought on by the pandemic and new technology. The emerging value differentiator between human insights teams versus digital platforms is the ability to transform data into actionable intelligence. Those who can draw a clear path forward will succeed — now and in the future.

Related reading: How Knowing Your Customers’ Emotional Drivers Can Increase Sales

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