OPINION17 August 2016

Predictions and people: innovation in market research

Innovations Opinion People UK

If the market research industry is to successfully innovate it needs to first improve its external image to attract the right talent, says Jack Miles of Northstar Research Partners. 

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Software provider Confirmit recently celebrated its 20 year anniversary by hosting an event that looked at how the market research industry may change in the next 20 years, and the innovations that this may involve.

Not a simple task, especially given that Jon Puleston of Lightspeed GMI (who can claim with mathematical evidence that 80% of the predictions he makes are correct) states that prediction as a field is "damn hard".

This is evident by the fact that corporations pay vast sums of money for the services of professional predictitioneers such as Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of ‘The Predictitioneers Game’ fame. When the cast of presenters went through the predicted innovation areas within market research, there were of course the obligatory discussions around big data, mobile, internet-of-things, real time etc.  

However, with little evidence as to the importance these had to the future of market research innovation, Jon Puleston’s statement about predictions rang seemingly true.

For me, the most accurate prediction about what market research needs to do to successfully innovate in the next 20 years didn’t come from a technology perspective. It didn’t come from a data scientist. It didn’t even come from a market researcher.

The Market Research Society’s CEO Jane Frost touched upon how important it is for the industry to diversify the people who operate within it. While this was initially meant at a demographic level, actually when we extrapolate, the key for innovation lies within this.

The young talent within the industry is paramount to its success in the next 20 years. Having looked at enough graduate CVs in my time, I can say with some confidence that the typical graduate still comes from a social science or business background. If we truly want to innovate our offering, we need to reach out and attract graduates from a much wider array of fields.

If we truly want to own the ‘data space’ we need graduates of IT. If we want to truly inspire clients with creative outputs, we need to attract art and design students. If we want to tell better stories we need aspiring journalists. The list goes on.

The question is – how can we get these people? When we look at the foremost external speakers on market research their demographic is overwhelmingly white, middle aged and male. Having such a limited outward facing demographic is not going to inspire the diversity we require to innovate and develop our offering.

Instead we need to make sure that conference programs and industry spokespeople are as equally as diverse as the pool of talent we want to attract – in terms of demographics, skills and perspectives.

We then need to look at what the public facing media image of our industry is. Research in the public eye is typically defined by political polling (which the Business of Evidence report states only accounts for 1% of the industry). Clearly this is only going to attract a particular type of person. And dare I say it – apologies to pollsters – political polling somewhat lacks a progressive image.

What about the work researchers are doing that creates real world impacts? For example, does anyone know that qualitative research was at the heart of mass demobilisation of FARC in the Colombian civil war? Almost certainly not. The question is, why? If case studies such as these were in the public eye, what is to say they wouldn’t help market research attract the diverse talent it needs to truly innovate?

To add to this, when we think of how to innovate in market research we need to remember this – people do not buy products and services, they buy people. If we can attract a wider and more diverse array of people, simply put, we have more kinds of people that can be brought.

Furthermore, yes, we are absolutely in the business of evidence and impact, but we are a people-first industry. People (clients) speak to us about their problems, we speak to people (consumers) to try and solve said problems, people (researchers) analyse, contextualise and socialise the solution to the initial problems back to... people (stakeholders) who execute the proposed solutions.

I certainly can’t claim with any mathematical evidence of any value that any prediction I make will come true, but I am hedging my bets with this: If we diversify the people and stories market research has at its forefront, we will attract a more diverse array of young talent.

If we do this we will truly innovate our offering over the next 20 years. 

Jack Miles is research director at Northstar Research Partners


8 years ago | 1 like

Great post Jack and I totally agree. Better storytelling about the industry to those outside it will help improve the industries reputation. On the data question the big agencies should start to allocate places on their grad programmes to exactly those people you describe. Is anyone doing that?? Would be great to know.

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8 years ago

I think I ask on behalf of all researchers, Jon, we'd love to see your dataset :)

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