OPINION6 October 2014

Keeping it real – what’s the point of Real Time Research?


In 20 years of working in research, one of the things that I’ve learned is that the industry likes to create waves of interest in the next big thing. Neuroscience, Big Data and Data Visualisation have all laid claim to this accolade over recent years. But wait; there is a new kid on the block hoping to be the next big thing – Real Time Research.   

What exactly is Real Time Research? Much of the research that is currently conducted is carried out in real time; old school they may be, but exit surveys collect experiences moments after they’ve happened. The difference with the next big thing is that the delivery of data to the client happens as it’s collected.

Real Time Research has been driven by client-side marketers who feel the need to have data immediately at their fingertips, 24/7. The research industry’s response has been to use technology to develop pretty (and not-so-pretty) portals awash with large quantities of additional data for research and marketing teams to interrogate, interpret and act upon. 

Yet many of these portals lay dormant, hugely under-used by already stretched client teams. Rather than satisfy their desire for key insights, what they end up with is yet more information to navigate. Data becomes the means to an end.

And it seems a contradiction in a world where organisations are drowning in data. Here we are falling over ourselves to overwhelm and impress clients with hour-by-hour ‘data dumps’ where the meaning can be easily lost – or never found. What we should be offering is Real Time Insight, providing the strategic focus, direction and consultancy that clients need, using our well-honed analytic skills to create fundamental shifts in the way organisations improve customer experiences on a daily basis.

Without the insight, Real Time Research becomes a crutch – a disincentive to act decisively.  It is all well and good to be able to see what’s happening every 30 minutes, but when does something constitute a trend? When do we decide to act in response to the real time feedback?  Even at the monthly reporting level, the default behaviour can be to wait for the next data point should declines be observed, or more worryingly, to celebrate improvements that are driven by short-term noise.

It may not be as sexy, but the distinct, reassuring quarterly dataset from a tracker will be robust, and allow for decisions to be taken and actions achieved before the next data lands in the portal. In the Real Time scenario, improvements delivered from strategic decisions taken based on insight can get missed. 

I’m not saying there’s no place for Real Time Research.  It’s great for driving tactical, short-term improvements, but it shouldn’t be the future for all research.  Let’s not be in such a race to turn back the tide. As an industry we’ve made huge inroads in proving the impact that great research can make on businesses. 

If we reduce everything we do to primary research collection, delivered in real time to be manipulated and visualised on interfaces by our clients and their consultants, where’s our value-add? We’re looking at an industry where differentiation is about the lowest cost data provider and best software package. 

At the very least, a Real Time Research programme needs to focus on action.  I still stand by my view that as market researchers we need to be the Jedi Knights of information – making sense of the ever growing flow of data to our clients – and convincing them that we have the necessary skills (and force) to provide valuable business insights from any data – real time or not.

Andrew Wiseman is managing director of ICM.


7 years ago

I think your main point here gets almost lost Andrew. That real Time Research has a place and time - and no, it's not the answer to everything. Where real-time is crucial for example is Customer Experience, as you really want to know quickly how the experience was. And if it was a bad one, you want to rectify the situation immediately before it hits Social Media. Another application could be sales driven or exit interviews. As always, best practice should make sure that we don't show everything - as you pointed with your notion to portals awash with large quantities of additional data - but only the information that's needed for the particular stakeholders.

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7 years ago

I think the application is broader than what is being conveyed. F2000 companies seek consumer feedback 10% of the time when they have a consumer-based decision. Why? Well, sometimes they have the relevant data from secondary or already completed primary data; and sometimes the decision isn't all that risky. However, most of the time they can't get the information quick enough to inform their decision. That is where real-time research comes in. We see it in use cases such as concept development, copy development, shopper insights, etc. all day, every day. Real-time research isn't always going to be the answer, but there is a big wave forming in the distance.

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7 years ago

If I say that Real-time research is not at all going to be the next big thing then I might be misleading myself and making unrealistic judgement. Why? because organizations are now becoming more technological sophisticated and cutting the time and cost to benefit clients. Collection of data might become easy and quick but the important and crucial part is to make sense out of data. Data coming out could be huge but it's important t give client what is best for him/her. Client needs everything on his/her fingertips and easy to access which cannot be possible without the real-time data collection. As being part of technology driven research agency i can see the upcoming future of real-time research in the industry.

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