A Big Sofa Christmas Carol

The festive season is upon us, and is often a time of reflection - where have we been, where are we now, where are we going? I’ve recently found myself looking back to my first days in the market research industry, and how things have developed alongside technology.  

I began to wonder what the ghosts of Market Research might look like, if presented to someone who was beginning to feel a little ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ about the industry, and decided they might look a little like this...

Ghost of Research Past: Expensive, Slow, Static, Retrospective, Labor Intensive, Methods Ruled

For most of the history of the market research industry, research took time to complete. Weeks or even months passed from the inception of a project through to a full, written report. Data needed to be collected, in-person, by phone or mail, processed and analyzed with each step taking much more time than they do today. In our roles as consumers, citizens, voters or shoppers, we were reasonably willing to participate in research and the promise the industry still touts that ‘everyone’s voice can be heard’ came across as sincere.  Analysts were more like data reporters -  reporting the findings as information and the reports were more academic in style with what we would certainly now consider boring charts and tables. Academic training translated well into the commercial market research world.  Reports described a moment in time that businesses used to inform decision-making.

Ghost of Research Present:  In Flux, Impatient, New Methods, Panel-Driven, DIY, Data Rules

Much of what we are doing now is really a transition into a still being defined future. Timelines and budgets have shrunk and continue to shrink.  Technology abounds, holding a promise of new and different kinds of analyses. DIY tools open the door for anyone to conduct research. Clients want newer, better, faster.  

The drive to get closer to the consumer is overwhelming. Video has opened a new door, giving clients closer access to consumers than ever before, and it is now common practice to include video questions in research questionnaires, or as an addition to a quant survey.  It is now recognized that video contains an immense amount of data, as well as adding depth and realism to research.  This, combined with the shrinking of timelines and budgets, means we’re becoming innovative and using tech to provide new and different kinds of analyses, to add to and complement traditional research methods.  

However, this change is putting researchers’ skills and training to the test; with expectations to be solid researchers, creative storytellers, graphic artists and business consultants all in one.  

Video is also traditionally expensive to work with, and difficult to manage once collected.  Because of this, there is still some hesitation to fully embrace video, but by using the right tech and partners, it is becoming possible to deliver more meaningful results.

Of course there’s still further work to do to ensure we’re getting the most from panels (this is still the most prevalent way to recruit) and we spend a lot of time helping clients overcome the barriers of doing video in research.

But it’s an exciting journey to be on and we’re looking forward to seeing where it leads.

Ghost of Research Future: Flexible, Fast(er), Continuous, Co-created, Real Lives, Integrated, Curated

The future is bold and holds a great deal of promise, as futures usually do. Big data is all around us with the promise of new insights and new ways of looking at things. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are just emerging onto the scene and will alter how we analyze data and generate insights. Yet, as the amount of data expands exponentially, the need and craving to understand real lives grows as well. We want to really know what people are doing, thinking and feeling.

Research will go back to being learning and curiosity.  We will stop believing we can understand people through a few focused questions about a thin sliver of their lives.  We will use digital methods to observe, record and understand people’s lives visually and in context.  Technology will enable us not only to capture behaviours, but to then integrate that visual data with all other kinds of data, and see what matters.

So - as with the original by Dickens - it’s an encouraging tale.  The industry has already developed,, embracing and harnessing the new technologies that have come from recent years, but there is still room for more growth, more learning, more insight.