OPINION10 May 2010

Research innovation: How far and how fast?


Anna Thomas reports from the Danish Market Research Day in Copenhagen, where delegates pondered the risks and benefits of adopting online methodologies.

“The market research industry will be dead within ten years,” the audience at the Danish Market Research Day in Copenhagen were told on Thursday. There was even a mock funeral in the closing presentation, held by Bjorn Haugland of the Norwegian Market Research Association.

The caveats? Haugland was only talking quant and he could see some ways to cheat death if we hurry. He stressed the need to move from delivering data to delivering insight. More importantly, we need to increase our pace of change, because the number of competitors to market research is increasing exponentially.

Haugland got some laughs from the audience, but the atmosphere chilled when he began talking about the information that Google is gathering on each of us already. What about a future where such data is harnessed legitimately and made available to marketing clients? What then for sellers of market research?

His themes echoed those of Finn Raben, Esomar’s new director general, who looked at levels of internet penetration in different countries and asked whether research methodologies were keeping up.

Jon Puleston of GMI seemed to be up to speed. His work is aimed at decreasing the ‘normal’ 40% drop-out from internet surveys through better design and faster loading times. The results were impressive. Puleston demonstrated where the quant industry can go: respondents are happier to engage, the volume of open-ended responses increases significantly and respondents answer questions ‘properly’. What’s not to love?

Kim Moller-Elshoj of Scuttlebutt made a similar comment in a strong presentation on Twitter analysis, showing how results from analysing conversations about brand values chime with the results from focus groups. This is great news as it expands the MR toolkit to meet business needs, but it also raises the question of what kinds of projects online techniques are suitable for. What is the human interviewer or anthropologist doing that the internet cannot, and when does that human activity have irreplaceable value?

Brilliant and welcome though some of these tools are, they assume that the data is more true, comprehensive and relevant when respondents are happier to put it forward. My presentation was about how one might start to challenge this assumption within a cost-effective, large-volume, qualitative study.

The other qual presentation, from Claudia Antoni and Michael Wittenberg of HTP Concept, shared some excellent work with clients and respondents in Germany. Using techniques based on classic myth structures, they have been able to get a better grip on brand analysis and product design in the cosmetics and telecoms sectors. They showed their experiences of conducting blog research underpinned by archetype work, and began to open up the debate to the relevance and limitations of the internet in the qual arena.

It was an enjoyable day with a serious message: the world is changing and our thinking needs to catch up.

Anna Thomas is research director of Define Insight and was among the speakers at the Danish Market Research Day