FEATURE5 January 2016

2016 Preview: what next for the MRS?


2016 will see the Market Research Society (MRS) celebrate its 70th anniversary. We asked our panel what the organisation should be championing during this landmark year.

Loudspeaker championing

This question generated some of the most passionate responses of all. One of the key themes was, not for the first time, that the MRS — and researchers — should be striving to raise the profile of research and to create a better understanding of what research, and researchers, can do:

“The single biggest challenge we face in talking to people outside the industry is explaining what market research is. The manner in which we’ve failed to own big data is an example of how we’ve failed to own an area that has great proximity to the work we already do and should have fought harder for early on. As the focal point of our industry, I’d like the MRS to champion the meaning of MR in the 21st century.” Chris Warren, head of quantitative research, Northstar Research Partners.

“The importance of research and evidence in creating and inspiring change. The value of real human interpretation in a world where (apparently) anything and everything can be automated.” Anna Cliffe, joint managing director, Trinity McQueen.  

“We should continue to articulate the importance of what we do, obviously. As an industry, we are pretty modest about our impact on commercial decision making, and we have an acutely important role in protecting the privacy of research participants. The MRS has made significant strides in amplifying these aspects over the last three years, and they are becoming more and more important.” Christian Dubreuil, MD, Northern Europe, Research Now.

“As always, striving to move insight ‘upstream’ to be centre stage in senior management decision making.” Deborah Mattinson, founding director, BritainThinks.

“In a digital world filled with big data and black box algorithms, it is crucial practitioners and clients understand both what we do methodologically and the importance therein of privacy.” Andy Brown, CEO, Kantar Media.

Another popular answer was to focus on the misuse of data, both in terms of ensuring privacy is maintained, and in making sure that the quality of the data used is always high:

“The use and abuse of statistics, and accountability for the latter. There are weekly examples of data being wilfully misconstrued to sell products and stories. The most obvious misuse is only reporting relative differences on minute bases which can make a generally harmless activity seem lethal (e.g. ‘eating bacon’).” Zakaria Haeri, research development lead, dunnhumby.

“Without a doubt, the Market Research Society should be championing quality in the industry and buyers and agencies awareness of this. The rise of digital has been transformative, but it also means anyone can buy and sell quickly and cheaply. Bad quality data is more dangerous than having none at all. Having gone through the rapid rise of technology in the market research industry in the past five to seven years, the industry itself needs to champion the importance of quality in an age of speed, which can very much go hand-in-hand with quality.” Richard Waring, CEO and co-founder, ResearchExchange.com.

“Creativity and credibility. Creativity because we need to keep evolving and finding new ways to navigate the faster, more demanding and complex world of people’s behaviour. Credibility because, although many can claim to get ‘insight’, few approaches have the level of expertise to go as in-depth as market research. Like any ‘brand’, market research needs to find ways to keep its credibility relevant and current.” Joe Staton, strategic innovation director, GfK.

Others talked about the need to preserve of the art (and the science) of research:

“In a world where the zeitgeist is of an increasingly reductive, material, individualistic view of humans, we need to make a big case for the way our experience is far richer, less predictable, more self-deterministic than is often suggested. We should challenge prevailing notions which frequently fail to do justice to the fabulous complexity of what actually lies behind consumer behaviour.” Colin Strong, MD, Verve Ventures.

“Ensuring that with the rush to simplifier and faster solutions we do not lose sight of the science, methodological rigour and objectivity that our industry is based.” David Day, president and global CEO, Lightspeed GMI.

“Research is now ubiquitous, and competing with many other types of communication for consumers’ attention. Not only this, but the sheer volume of ‘take part in a survey’ emails are turning important target audiences (young, HNWI etc.) away from ‘organic’ sampling. From clients’ perspective this can be interpreted as making sure that customer insight stands out and is integrated with their business, cutting through the volume of BI clutter to ensure that it drives and supports strong business decisions.” Virginia Monk, MD, Network Research.

Last, but not least, is the ongoing need to attract talented researchers:

“The MRS should be taking the lead on creating and developing the new insights talent that we need to take the industry into the future. As organisations recognise that customer-centricity is everything, insights professionals will need different critical capabilities that combine both ‘maths and magic’. They must be able interpret data, turn it into actionable recommendations and then tell stories that will influence stakeholders across the business and compel them to do things differently. It’s not clear at present where these individuals will come from.” Amanda Phillips, head of UK Marketing, Millward Brown.

“Techniques/methodologies matter, talent matters more. Training matters, talent matters more. So let’s talk about how we can identify insightful candidates. By the way I don’t think an MBA will help.” Peter Totman, head of qualitative, Jigsaw.

tomorrow: what will success look like in 2016?

Find out more about the MRS’ 70th anniversary here.