OPINION4 May 2020

Looking back to look forward

Impact 2020 Innovations Opinion Trends

Grace Jasper looks at what researchers can learn from repurposing the past to build efficiency, innovation and trust as an industry. 


When it comes to the next decade of research, I believe we will be looking less at what is to come – in terms of new ‘trends’ – instead focusing on what continues to influence us from the past, and how it can be repurposed to meet modern consumer needs.

I originally presented this idea at Impact 2020 in March, however in the unprecedented times we’re facing, the need to evolve existing methodologies to provide consistency and reassurance for our clients is more important than ever.

As an industry, we are often looking to create new methodologies or technologies as a way of moving forward. While it is important that we innovate, we should not underestimate the power existing methodologies can have. Consumers – and indeed clients – look to the past for assurance in times of uncertainty. 

Therefore, it is important to recognise the comfort and security long-standing approaches offer our clients. While newer methodologies offer different layers of understanding, from my personal experience, clients still rely on tried and tested methods to inform the majority of their core business decisions. It all comes down to trust, as these methods provide the confidence clients need to assess long-term KPIs.

As an industry, we should focus more on progressing these existing methodologies, in aspects such as their robust nature, breadth and even approach due to social distancing, rather than feel the pressure to bring something new to the table.

For example, working at a media agency, we frequently hear about how much media habits are changing, with the introduction of new media channels often driving people to ask what will be impacted as a result. However, as research from the IPA and other media bodies has shown, the formats we’re consuming have changed much less than how we are consuming them. If The Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star taught us anything, it is that we should not always equate newer for better, rather see it as an alternative. 

Innovating on what already exists doesn’t mean adding or extending something. It can also mean finding a new purpose. Audio, for example, is experiencing a notable revival in popular culture. This is largely down to the growth in popularity of podcasts, which have seen an uplift of 65% between 2015 and 2019 (according to IPA TouchPoints research, 2019 ). As market researchers, we should be looking to harness consumers’ appetite for audio and see it as a tool that enhances the way we communicate our results.

One key benefit of audio is that it enables our clients to digest our insights quicker. Sound reaches the brain in 0.05 seconds; faster than the 0.2 seconds it takes to register sight or touch. At a time when we are visually overstimulated, to keep up with consumers and clients alike, we need to acknowledge that they are looking for ways in which to be more efficient with how they use their time. What better medium to do this through than audio?

Furthermore, as we become increasingly time-poor, audio supports the growing need for flexible working; something we’re experiencing a lot of at the moment! Clients can boost their productivity, digesting audio insights while on-the-go or commuting (admittedly, not so common right now) or completing another task. It is especially useful for strengthening relationships with auditory learners – such as myself – who learn best through listening.

As researchers, our role now goes beyond the default charting up of statistics into PowerPoint decks (a lot of which is now automated, anyway), into storytellers. We need to assert why our findings are relevant, understand how they fit into the wider business, and to offer a strategic approach for next steps. By behaving in this way, this is how we’ll continue to be an essential service during times of uncertainty, and consequently build greater trust with our clients.

Looking to the future, to continue to inform and influence clients, I believe we will continually repurpose aspects of the past to identify what resonates best. Drawing on methodologies and formats that continue to hold weight, we’ll be able to reframe existing tools and methodologies, allowing us to continue to drive innovation in our industry. 

Grace Jasper is senior insight executive at the7stars. She was the winner of the &More ideas dash at the MRS annual conference, Impact 2020.