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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Innovation isn't the only answer

In April, GfK’s Allan Fromen wrote an article about how market research needs to “innovate or die”. In it, Fromen laments that certain parts of our toolkit feel “outdated in a mobile world”.

The industry is showing that it is sensitive to these concerns. New methods are beginning to reshape parts of what we do – partly out of fear that the traditional way of doing things, online surveys in particular, are becoming commoditised. Few industries can afford to remain stagnant and the market research business is no different.

BrainJuicer is often cited as a firm unafraid to try new things. Its research tools draw on learnings from psychology, neuroscience, sociology and behavioural economics to add value beyond the humble survey. Gartner (1) calls it “a successful new approach in market research”. I’d also name-check QualVu, whose qualitative video research capabilities bring business leaders directly into the research process where they can watch ‘data’ and get a real sense of the value of hearing what consumers think about a product.

It is great to see that new methods are featuring more regularly in proposals, conferences and research articles. The research landscape is shifting in an effort to remain relevant and valuable to business. But while methodological innovation is beneficial, it shouldn’t be the only focus.  Brennan, Camm and Tanas (2) wrote a paper in 2007 warning that ‘new’ isn’t always ‘improved’; that innovation shouldn’t be at the expense of data validity.

Data validity and innovation aside, there are a complex series of factors that impact on the perception of the value of market research and its use by businesses. I’ve identified nine in total: four that are external to the market research industry and not directly influenced by market research stakeholders but are important to understand; five that either originate within the industry or can be directly influenced by research stakeholders.

External factors

  • A more open research market – the increasing availability of DIY research tools and research tools mixed with other technology like CRM systems
  • Financial pressures – economic changes and a shifting focus on budget control
  • Ability to execute – loss of sample through legislative and lifestyle changes, declining response rates and concerns over data reliability
  • Organisational experience and demographics – the different experiences of people within organisations and organisational make-up have been shown to affect the perceived value of research data

Internal factors

  • Execution errors – long surveys, varying research design quality, data methods that aren’t validated
  • Demonstrating value – research buyers have difficulty proving ROI of market research
  • Internal cannibalism – multiple methods and research agents all competing within market research
  • Confusion about the role of MR – different terms, overlapping duties, confusion around different methods
  • Big Data and information overload – too much information to be actionable, lack of synergy and loss of information leadership

From these, it should be obvious that methodological innovation isn’t the sole answer to MR’s woes. Newer methods, for example, won’t change the external pressures that research buyers need to consider before commissioning a project.

There’s also a need to consider the way in which data is delivered as much as there is a need to create new ways of generating data. Finally, newer methods are often focused on reaching new samples of consumers but these samples first need to be validated as reliable data sources – otherwise innovation will only lead to greater concerns about our ability to collect accurate information.

The next step in my research is to examine all these factors against feedback I get from business managers. Some factors will undoubtedly have a greater impact than others. My goal is to work out the magnitude of influence for each factor. In the meantime, I’d welcome the thoughts of readers.  

Chris Dowsett is marketing intelligence and social platforms manager at Quantum. He’s studying a doctorate with USQ (Australia) that examines the value of research data to business leaders, how research is used in businesses and the value given to different types of data. 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Interesting feedback. We see these 9 points all the time. It seems like part of doing MR business these days. Hopefully we'll start addressing them as an industry and not over rely on new methods.

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