FEATURE17 December 2020

Review 2020: Industry developments

Asia Pacific Covid-19 Europe Features Innovations Latin America Middle East and Africa North America Trends UK

What has been the most significant industry development of 2020? We asked a cross-section of the market research industry to share their thoughts on how technology and methodology has changed in an unusual year.

Shazia Ginai, chief executive, Neuro Insight
For an ordinary year I would have called out something more specific but honestly I just think in this surreal year the most significant development has been how agencies have used technology to pivot and be able to conduct research that would otherwise have been face to face.  I do not want to answer with one piece of tech here, I want us to recognise the human ability to adapt and use tech in new ways.

Andrew O’Connell, managing director, Dynata
Social distancing has accelerated the adoption of online communication tools such as Zoom and Teams. There is a much broader pool of people comfortable and willing to take part in research activities, such as online focus groups and communities.  Most importantly, they are enjoying these activities.

Annie Pettit, research methodologist
Online qualitative research finally came to life this year. With no other options, researchers normalised online qual as a top quality, valid tool for everyday use not just something for when they cannot travel to 20 countries in three days. We learned to conduct truly engaging virtual research with the use of whiteboarding, breakout rooms, shared document building, virtual DJs and so many more tools. It’s been amazing to see the growth in virtual facilitation expertise throughout the year. It’s an essential step for a global industry.

Stephan Shakespeare, co-founder and chief executive, YouGov
That clients have confronted the big question of: what do I really need? The huge disruption of Covid-19 has made everyone question what they were doing. That has created an opportunity to speed up the fundamental change that was already happening: the move to digitise everything as much as possible. Of course, we will keep the best of the old, but everyone is focusing on what we can do differently. Everyone wants their supply to be agile and adaptable and that speeds up the inevitable to shift to the online methodologies that were able to keep delivering and keep innovating. We have been working hard on the technical integration of services to enable increasing self-service and automation.

Sinead Jefferies, founder, Vela
The shift to remote working and the wholesale adoption of technologies such as Zoom. It’s not unique to our industry, but it has facilitated a phenomenally fast shift to doing things ‘virtually’ that were only considered feasible in person before. We have all learned that it is possible to run meetings, keep in touch with colleagues, move qualitative online, deliver training and workshops all without leaving our homes. The critical next step is to figure out how to do these things well in a virtual world, rather than just applying the video call solution to every problem.

Jane Frost, chief executive, MRS
There’s no doubt this year has accelerated our move online. Our sector has shown remarkable resilience by adapting and innovating in the face of national lockdowns, and two-thirds of research businesses we spoke to in August reported growth in online qualitative research. Digital ethnography also stands out for me as having really proven its worth this year.

Jake Steadman, vice-president customer insight and user research, Deliveroo
The invention of the Covid-19 syndicated study.

Jane Rudling, managing director, Walnut Unlimited 
It has been great to see the increased use of blended methodologies – quant, qual, neuroscience, behavioural science, analytics. There is a growing acknowledgment there is not one silver bullet that can crack human decision making. Although this thinking is not new, it is good to see this approach becoming more mainstream.

Peter Totman, head of qualitative research, Jigsaw
The large scale, mandated switch to Zoom groups – and the lessons we learned about creating the necessary ‘empathetic presence’ in virtual/video context. We did our best… but come back face-to-face, all is forgiven.

Ryan Howard, freelance data science consultant
Maximum difference scaling (Max Diff) is the gold standard of survey questions, collecting rich, reliable data, while removing the scale usage bias which confuses multinational analyses. It is also notoriously greedy with questionnaire time and taxing on respondents. That was until Sawtooth Software introduced dynamic designs, in which respondents only trade off items that are relevant to them. At first, it sounds neither sexy nor revolutionary. However, as Max Diff is a global staple, this innovation will have an instantaneous and widespread cost benefit, while vastly improving the depth of our standard deliverables.

Frederic Charles Petit, chief executive, Toluna
The industry saw an extraordinary acceleration in the adoption of technology-led research. The same way we remember 2000 for the emergence of online research in Europe, 2020 will be marked by the emergence of technology as the new fundamental research foundation.

Anna Cliffe, joint managing director, Trinity McQueen
The exponential rise of digital research tools and methods. Covid-19 accelerated a trend already in place and it will be interesting to see what level of return to face-to-face we see post-pandemic.

Sabine Stork, founding partner, Thinktank
For qualitative research it’s undoubtedly been the (enforced) switch to digital – both more and better use of asynchronous methods and the switch to remote, video groups.  As far as the latter are concerned, a lot has been said about the pros and cons and many old-school qualitative researchers miss the subtleties they can pick up in face-to-face encounters, such as body language or facial expressions.  I’m a convert. Zoom groups work. And it is more sustainable.

Caroline Frankum, global chief executive officer, Profiles Division, Kantar
What’s been truly impressive this year is how the industry has been able to pivot at speed and scale when it comes to providing relevant, timely, accurate data on how to understand people and inspire growth in times of unprecedented uncertainty and rapid but inconsistent change across the globe. The market research industry has always had an important role to play in shaping society, but 2020 has proved that triangulating the right balance between tech, trusted data sources, and human instinct has never been more important.

Ben Page, chief executive, Ipsos
For us the pivot to online methods in the worst of the pandemic and then the pivot to socially distanced interviewing as part of Covid-19 testing – generally it has shown how flexible and adaptive the industry is.

This is the first in a series of articles over the next few weeks reviewing the main trends of 2020 and looking forward to 2021.