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OPINION10 July 2018

B2B research must adapt to an interdependent world

B2B Media Opinion Public Sector Technology UK

With society increasingly interdependent, there’s an increasing need for more holistic thinking when it comes to B2B research. Kymberly Loeb reflects on the recent MRS B2B Research conference. 

As an industry of people researching people for other people, it is incumbent on us to keep our interpersonal frames of reference relevant to the social climate we live in today. Thomas Friedman recently claimed that we are living in a world that is no longer just interconnected, but increasingly interdependent. The implication of this societal shift was one of the key themes that stood out to me from the MRS B2B Research conference. That is, the need for more horizontal, holistic thinking in the sector.

Interconnectedness, by default, weaves into every aspect of life. Subsequently, it affects our industry at a number of levels: from how we reach our end customer, to how we engage research participants, to how we train the next generation of researchers, to how we build relationships with clients.

How we reach end customers

The need to rejig our thinking about the end customer is perhaps even more important in the B2B than B2C world. Emily Dickinson and Josh Glendinning from Opinium lived up to the title of their talk ‘Smashing Myths and Demolishing Prejudices in B2B Communication’ and demonstrated that while B2B customers are often assumed to be acting in an uber-rational, System 2 way, they are humans first and foremost, and we know that humans are emotionally-driven.

Unlike B2C, B2B customer decisions involve a team of corporate stakeholders, but for every decision they make in their work life, they likely make about 20 in their personal lives. So, there is great potential in taking a more horizontal view of B2B customers: as people who themselves use apps and social media, who respond to information presented in a highly visual and engaging way, and who value informal and personalised communications.

Research participants

Methodologies like mobile ethnography and eye tracking allow us to reach people in their environments. People are more comfortable there, and it also requires much less effort from them, thereby increasing response rates. Voxpopme and Camelot spoke about the notoriously low response rates in their B2B research, especially compared with B2C, and how video insight can help alleviate this. It’s important that we leverage these methodological innovations to help make participation in research as seamless and integrated into participants’ daily lives as possible.

Aside from its convenience, this fly-on-the-wall view of their lives gives a rich contextual backdrop, and means our research also relies less on reported behaviour and more on observed behaviour. This offers the potential to take in so much more about people’s environments and the wider social factors that affect their decision making.

Mobile optimisation is another important innovation to engage better with participants and think more holistically about how research participation fits into their daily activities. And horizontal collaboration between research providers can help bring about a deeper understanding into how to use these methodologies most effectively. Lightspeed/GMI, Lucid, Research Now SSI and Toluna demonstrated this benefit through pooling resources to conduct a joint analysis of two years of mobile research data across 14 countries.

Researchers

With the easiest jobs in any industry becoming automated and a stream of information at our fingertips, the most valuable traits that future entrants into the world of work will need to have is a strong set of interpersonal skills. According to Phyllis McFarlane of GFK, Matthew Powell of B2B International and Allan Hyde of Kantar Millward Brown, traits like flexibility, commercial acumen, critical thinking, passion, curiosity and purpose are crucial to adapt to the expansion out of the rigid lines of ‘professional personalities’ and closed question surveys. Craft skills will take a backseat to more holistic, interpersonal skills like strategic thinking, as agencies take a more consultative approach to the marketing and research process.

Client relationships

Like researchers and research participants, clients are people. This means that the same things that appeal to them as people – or when they have their customer hat on – will appeal to them as clients. Talks given throughout the conference demonstrated that clients like being spoken to in a relatable way and information presented visually is always going to be more easily digested than huge chunks of text. In this sense, permission is opening up for us to break down the boundaries between personal and professional lives, and to simply interact with people on a human level.

Vertical progress has helped us develop and refine much of what we offer our clients today. But to remain relevant, we must expand our parameters to the global movement towards interdependence.

Kymberly Loeb is research manager at Acacia Avenue

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