FEATURE22 December 2011

Research in 2012: new methods, stronger structures and less PowerPoint

Forrester’s Reineke Reitsma looks back on 2011 and sets out what researchers should watch out for in 2012.

For the fourth year in a row, members of the market insights team at Forrester have come up with their predictions for the industry for the year ahead. It’s hard to describe just how much we enjoy this activity: generating ideas, commenting on each other’s drafts, finding examples and building a unified view. Some ideas didn’t make it into the final report (and when one of those is yours, it hurts) but we agreed on many others. Here’s a summary of our thinking.

Looking back at 2011

Part of the exercise is to look back at last year’s predictions and see what we got right – and where we missed out, of course. In 2011, we expected market researchers to embrace social media as an information source, feel a greater need to show the value of market research, explore innovative methodologies, and look for ways to implement technology effectively.

• The uptake of social market research was mixed
Looking back, we did see a lot of interest in social tools and social media for market research purposes, especially market research online communities (MROCs). However, we expected that by this point, more market insight professionals would be listening to their customers through social media or directly engaging with them on social media platforms, but those still show very limited uptake.

• There is more pressure to show ROI
Given the tough economic climate, we predicted that showing the contribution of market insights was going to be important in 2011 – and we were right. In early 2011 we conducted a survey in which one third of market insights professionals said that they already had to prove their value to executives. More than half expected this to be the case in 2012 as well, with an emphasis on showing how they are improving key performance indicators and return on investment.

• Emerging methodologies saw limited interest
We expected to see an increase in interest in innovative methodologies in 2011, but we predicted that market researchers wouldn’t spend a lot of money on them during the year. Conference presentations showed that companies such as Insites Consulting, BrainJuicer, Vision Critical, and Mesh Planning are undertaking very interesting projects, using techniques like gamification, prediction markets, eyetracking, and mobile research. But uptake is still low across the industry, and it continues to be mostly vendor-driven.

• Market insight professionals don’t know what to do with big data
One of the big challenges that market insight professionals deal with is figuring out how to analyse large amounts of disparate data in meaningful ways. We imagined that 2011 would be the year in which people started thinking about building a central knowledge house and using technology tools like enterprise feedback management (EFM) for data integration. Although there has been lots of activity among EFM vendors, with platform enhancements and mergers and acquisitions, clients haven’t shown much interest yet. Expect interest to grow in the years to come – it’s too important to ignore.

What’s in store for 2012?

In the past couple of years, it has been challenging for market insight professionals to balance timeliness, quality, depth of insights, and innovation – all while keeping costs down and not running themselves and their employees ragged. In 2012 things aren’t likely to get any better.

Forrester has had a large number of conversations with both vendor- and clientside market researchers over the course of the year. Based on these conversations, we believe that the key themes for 2012 are new research methods, organisational structure and collaboration across the information supply chain, as well as innovative ways to deliver deeper and more aligned insights.

These are a few of the highlights.

• Mobile research showing uptake – finally
We identified the opportunities for mobile research back in 2009. Uptake has been slower than expected, but we saw it getting some traction in 2011. Until now mobile research has primarily been driven by vendors; they’ve rolled out mobile offerings to show clientside researchers how they can capture consumers’ ‘in the moment’ experiences. In 2012 more market insights professionals will start to think about how mobile tools can solve their research challenges, and will try out mobile research. However, as mobile research gets more integrated, look for debates on the “right” mobile research methodology and how to manage surveys across multiple platforms and devices.

• Optimising the information supply chain
The research world has become much more complex, with many intertwined suppliers, stakeholders, and projects. In 2011, Forrester saw more market insights professionals realising that their core business was not delivering reports but optimising information supply and delivery. In 2012 we believe an increased number of organisations will look at the supply of data and research, as well as its delivery, to find new ways to efficiently manage the flow of and ensure timely access to needed information. Similarly, they will look for ways to generate value through better integration and analysis across vendors and data sources – and will want to optimise insights by elevating their suppliers to the role of partner.

• Engaging stakeholders with research outputs
The world around us has evolved from static, one-dimensional information to interactive, visually stimulating graphics. Your audience quickly tires of looking at yet another deck of PowerPoint charts. With other departments in the organisation starting to present their information in more visually exciting formats, your stakeholders’ expectations are going to soar. We expect research vendors to be the first to take steps to create competitive differentiation here: Watch out for job openings at market insights vendors for designers and requests for proposals going out to design agencies.

In 2011 we have seen market insight professionals take their first steps on the path to adding social to their research mix, measuring their contribution to the organisation, fostering internal collaboration, and building influence. In 2012 it’s time to deliver on all of this.

Market insight professionals who want to be successful in 2012 and beyond need to embrace new research methods, change their research process to deliver deeper and more aligned insights, and build out collaborative relationships across the information supply chain. The challenge will be to find the time and resources to make this happen while handling the increased pressure on the market insights team to deliver faster, better, more insightful, and less costly results.

Forrester clients can read the full report via www.forrester.com. Reineke Reitsma is VP and research director, data at Forrester Research. She contributes to the Forrester blog for market insight professionals.


13 years ago

Interesting article, but reading through it, the vision for 2012 still seems optimistic, even while admitting that in 2011 nothing revolutionary happened. If we've learned anything from the last x years of research, it's that the more things change, the more they stay the same. So yes, mobile research will gradually become bigger, but even 50% growth from its current base will still leave it as a niche area. (and by the way, surely we have to give up saying "next year is the year of mobile - I really MEAN it this time!" in whatever context; it was fun for the first 5 years, but it's getting tedious now). The truth is that researchers still face the same clients, the same challenges, and the same restrictions as last year - it's all about showing the value of the research, creating insights that they can stand by, and sticking to what clients can understand. Social media research doesn't change that (hence relatively low uptake); mobile research won't change that (it's as yet regarded as unproven by our end clients), and things other than powerpoint don't change that.

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13 years ago

One thing I would take issue with: investigation of new methodologies and modalities is actually being pushed more by the client side than by research companies (a few. specialist examples aside). Those modalities that work tend to be tested and adopted in a limited fashion, while those that do not add value fall by the wayside. Expect this experimentation to continue in 2012

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13 years ago

Is that it? What a boring lot we are. Just one more example of how dumbed down this industry is becoming. If the major prediction is for more exciting presentation techniques we really are going nowhere.

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13 years ago

Nick, Simon, thank you for your comments. Nick, you mention in your comment "… researchers still face the same clients, the same challenges, and the same restrictions as last year - it's all about showing the value of the research, creating insights that they can stand by, and sticking to what clients can understand". I agree, this is what good research is about and will always be about. However, what we see is that because there are many changes happening within organizations, there’s a different expectation from the market insights team. For example in many industries ‘disruptors’ change the rules of the game with their “shoot-aim-ready!” business model. This means market researchers are at a tipping point where they need to change their game as well, because constancy is now riskier than change (both for the organization as the market research team). (For more detail, see this post: http://blogs.forrester.com/richard_evensen/11-12-13-2012_market_insights_professionals_better_stronger_faster) With regards to mobile: we actually predicted for last year that there wasn’t going to be much uptake. The reason why we expect it to happen now is technology driven: The rapid technological developments of smartphones and tablets will blur the line between mobile and online research. Question is if researchers can continue to define the research methodology in the future, or will the respondents do that? Personally I believe that research should be device agnostic. Link: http://blogs.forrester.com/reineke_reitsma/11-06-01-can_there_be_device_agnostic_research) Survey software vendors need to develop a way to recognize the device people use when they open up a survey invite, and offer them a survey that is designed specifically for that device. And this will be one of the drivers of mobile research adoption. Simon, I agree that there are a couple of large market research clients that are pushing the industry forward, like Coca-Cola, P&G, Unilever, and General Mills. See for example the summary of Robert Bain from Esomar Congress: http://www.research-live.com/news/news-headlines/pgs-lewis-calls-for-shift-away-from-traditional-methods/4006047.article). However, while these organizations are important voices within the industry (and pay the salary of many researchers), they are far ahead of the masses. I talk to market insights professionals at large (1B+) companies almost daily and believe me, emerging methodologies don’t top their list of priorities. Please realize that these predictions are an evolution, not a revolution. It’s not that the market research industry changes overnight on New Year’s Eve. But, that we need to restructure is a given. Thanks again for your comments, Reineke

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13 years ago

Great post Reineke and in general I agree with your read of the trends, although I think you are underestimating the uptake of new methods, especially mobile and social media. We now have 3 rounds in 12 months of the Research Industry Industry Trends study in and we're showing significant uptake on mobile, SRM, text analytics, and MROCs predicted in 2010 and actually followed through on in 2011. We're also showing that doubling in 2012 which leads me to believe this will be the pivotal year for MR. We also saw clients leading the charge on everything but mobile; vendors were still pushing it harder than clients, but the difference was fairly marginal. That said, it's undeniable now that mobile has to be the global context in which we view consumer interactions. It could be a sample issue for both of us, but regardless of that I agree that 2012 will be a pivotal year for adoption of new techniques and possibly even whole different business models when it comes to the insight function. I also think many smaller brands are taking a wait-and-see approach re: investing in new approaches, but P&G, Coke, Pepsico, Unilever, etc.. spent a lot on exploration in 2011 and based on my conversations with folks I believe 2012 will see them making some fairly radical shifts in their insight strategies and tactical investments. This will create a ripple effect in their respective verticals and across others forcing those who have been sitting on the sidelines to move out of competitive pressure. Next year should be a really interesting time for us all, and I am so glad the Forrester team is here to help us all understand what is happening!

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12 years ago

Really like the article, Reineke.Very full of info, but clear and concise.

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