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Friday, 18 April 2014

The future, by those who'll make it

What does the future have in store for market research? It’s a topic often debated at conferences, in social media forums and on this very site. But rarely do we hear from those most likely to shape the future – the next generation of industry leaders.

As part of our Careers Special Report, we convened a round table discussion with six recent graduates who have decided to pursue a career in research. You can read the first part, on how they got into the industry, here. In this second part, they offer their views of how research will change in the coming years and how the client/agency relationship will shift with it.

Our graduates are (clockwise from top left) Stefanie Zammit of Quadrangle, Ellie Farnfield of Truth, Oskar Marcus of Firefish, Praxedis Schnurbein of Tpoll, Charley Warwick of SPA Future Thinking and Tomasz Sondej of Kadence International.

Research: I want to get your opinions on where you see the industry going, and what direction you’d like to drive it in as you progress in your career.
PS:
Social media will definitely play a bigger role – it’s so integrated in all our lives – and we’re definitly heading towards having a little app on our phones so we can scan the products we buy. I mean, it’s already happening, but it’s going to become more integrated. But I think the old… old is the wrong word… the more traditional methods are still going to be valid and we need them.
OM: It’s about appropriateness – I think that’s valid today and it probably will be in however many years time. It’s about finding the most appropriate method. So if you’re talking to grandparents, probably doing a smartphone/digital thing is not going to work, but it will if you’re talking to teenagers about their social media usage. I think that market research just has to keep up with the times. If it ever loses sight of what’s going on around it that would be a shame. And also quite weird since that’s what we spend most of our time doing, researching the world around us.
EF: There’s so many different areas that we can learn from, so we take a bit from behavioural economics and we’ve got a bit of neuroscience coming in and I think gradually we’ll filter out the stuff that doesn’t work, but we should always be open to new ideas.
SZ: For me the future of research is not just about doing the research project and that’s it – deliver the result, end of story. We’ve got to spend a couple of weeks, months, maybe even up to a year afterwards working with the client to help them understand what the work means for them. It’s an extreme case but there’s this programme on TV, Undercover Bosses, which shows CEOs and COOs going and working face-to-face with customers again. I think that that’s the kind of direction the research industry should be taking in terms of bringing these senior people closer to the results that we’re delivering.

Would you say from your dealings with clients that their appreciation of the value of research is good, that they have a positive relationship with it?
CW:
If the results are good.
SZ: It really depends on the clients. I think it’s so nice when we work with clients that actually respect what we’re doing and you can feel that they’re listening to you when you’re giving them advice and it’s great because the relationship really works. I haven’t actually been in a situation where we have worked with a client that was quite hesitant, but obviously it really helps when there’s an awareness of what the research actually means – that it’s basically informing strategy and informing all business decisions.
TS: What I’ve learned from my experience is that at the beginning I was trying to overdo my work to make sure that my presentation was very descriptive, very information-driven, but I realised that this is the wrong approach. The way to deal with it is to put in a snappy summary, the key messages and then try to visualise it – put in some kind of anecdote, tell a story.

And is the importance of storytelling something that’s drilled into all of you?
CW:
I think especially with tracking, the story’s quite important because it can span years. I’ve worked on two or three trackers now and you look back to where the company was last quarter, a year, two years ago and look how far they’ve come and if you can see the company changing, your client’s brand changing, as a result of the research you’re doing and you’re both engaged in it, it’s rewarding.
OM: Most research is probably as much wrong as it is right, because people say one thing and do another and there’s that whole thing about multiple truths – a long story I won’t go into. But for many clients you’re answering a particular question and if you can just present one coherent story that’s got a good basis then you can really inspire and drive a business forward, just through making people feel excited about what they’re doing or really giving them a better grasp on what they’re trying to understand.
SZ: It’s difficult to do that if you don’t have the story.

It’s good to hear you talking about research being used to inspire and inform, rather than just being used to back up someone’s decision or support someone’s argument.
PS:
I think the big word in research at the moment is partnership, isn’t it? It’s the whole idea that the client/agency relationship is not just one way, it goes both ways.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Firstly, as a relatively new researcher, it is great to read something that reflects the ‘junior’ perspective, this and the first article ‘a new generation speaks out’ have been really interesting – great stuff! Looking at this article, I think the last point here around agency/client partnership is one of the most interesting, especially with regards to the value of research. As we look at increasingly squeezed budgets especially as the ‘current economic climate’ shows no signs of getting any better, each project seems to require more bang for each buck spent, something we as researchers are increasingly looked at to provide. However, in my opinion the most effective projects have been ones where the client has been FULLY engaged from the brief to the debrief. The ‘partnership’ Praxedis talks about above, is a vital ingredient to a research project especially if it is to be as constructive as possible. So when asked about the future of research, in a world where purse strings are getting ever tighter, while it is clearly our job to provide the best and most comprehensive project we can for the money, I believe the success of future projects also hinge on the level of involvement the client puts into a project. How we encourage such involvement is a skill I personally plan to develop as much as possible while I continue to train as a researcher.

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  • The future of market research is staring at us. While the quant figures may come out of the facebooks, twitters of the world, we would all be meeting consumers for more of quali insights.

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