OPINION25 January 2018

An abundant future for market research?

Innovations Opinion Technology Trends UK

The pace of technological progress is always increasing. We know this. But this comes with a huge responsibility: use tech to help change the world for the better. By Stephen Phillips.

Close up cow_crop

Last year, I attended a two-day conference in Amsterdam run by the Singularity University – a global community that uses exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges. They’ve an overarching grand plan to positively affect a billion lives: ensuring basic needs are met for all people, sustaining and improving quality of life, and mitigating future risks.

The conference’s key theme was the idea of ‘abundance’ in technology. We are now entering a digital world where abundance is the primary way of thinking about anything digital. Think about it this way: the cost of innovating something for the first time is, let’s say, £1m. By the time the process is replicated a 100th time, the cost becomes virtually nothing. With that understanding opens a world of possibilities.

I attended an enlightening discussion around the creation of artificial meat and its effects on the environment. First of all – the meat’s not artificial – it’s real, grown in a laboratory rather than in a cow.

It was in 2013 that Mosameat cooked the world’s first lab-grown burger in London, made from 10,000 strips of muscle, each grown in Maastricht University. This cost was about $300,000 to produce. In two years, they’re hoping to launch a burger costing only $20 to produce. And two years after that, it’ll cost on $2 to produce – which means it’ll be cheaper to buy than a regular burger. What’s more, consumers won’t be able to tell the difference.

One and a half to two billion cows will likely become redundant. Think about what that does to land, coupled with a massive reduction in greenhouse gasses. This is an example of technology, in abundance, having a transformative effect on the world around us.

And the same scenario plays out in other industries too. DNA mapping, for instance, cost $1bn at first, but after the 20th time it cost $1m. Now, a business like 23andme offers saliva-based direct-to-consumer genetic testing for $100.

Interestingly, we’re seeing the same in solar power: five years ago the cost per gigawatt was more expensive than other forms of electricity, then on par with nuclear and oil, and now it’s cheaper than coal. This pattern in adopting technology occurs in all business, even ones from our own industry.

Market research is an interesting example of the same thing happening, but a bit more slowly.

In the UK, the average cost of an interview in the 90s was around £40, which meant researchers had to go out onto the street, find the right people and persuade them to participate. Then came the push to telephone, which helped bring the cost of an average interview to £10-15.

The advent of online surveys dropped the cost even lower, to about £3-4. And now, river sampling interviews and Google consumer surveys – which are only one or two questions long – cost under a dollar to conduct.

The only market research cost that hasn’t changed very much recently is that of analysing data and writing the final report, which is because this process is still largely a manual one. I believe we can digitise this process too: we can take human expertise and automate it to create a final report that’s much cheaper and quicker to produce than in times gone by.

We’re entering a world of abundance in research, giving every business on the planet the opportunity to do great quality research with very small budgets. It will be interesting to see how this impacts our world over the coming few years.

Stephen Phillips is CEO of ZappiStore