OPINION3 October 2016

Research repackaged

Opinion Trends UK

Market research is in the throes of an identity crisis, and one that has been building for some time, but is it our own fault asks Ginny Monk. 

Changing colours rebranding_Crop

These days even the term ‘market research’ seems to be becoming unfashionable among clients and agencies, with an increasing number of suppliers actively eschewing the term on websites and marketing collateral.

Now it seems more fashionable, particularly with younger research agencies, to call ourselves ‘strategic insights’ or ‘consumer insights’ businesses. Let’s get it straight, there’s absolutely no problem with this shift; ‘insights’ are the ultimate goal of research, and being ‘strategic’ suggests a more long-term and consultative relationship.

All of this is absolutely great, as long as the agencies promising this are able to deliver. There is still a lot of talk about researchers playing the role of ‘strategic partners', but (based on conversations with clients) agencies are still failing to bridge that gap between supplier and consultant.

It’s also not gone unnoticed that certain methodologies have begun to actively distance themselves from what could be called ‘traditional’ market research nomenclature. I know there are some researchers out there that see behavioural economics as just intelligent research rebranded, and that methodologies such as ‘design thinking’ appear to just be good qualitative research repackaged. 

This trend is particularly prevalent in an area of research close to my heart, customer experience. A good customer experience programme is always data driven, and modern programmes will often take real-time customer data and package up the insights for diverse stakeholder groups.

For me, it’s firmly placed in the market research field. Yet there are agencies in the CX space who have deliberately moved away from MR, preferring instead to style themselves as technology companies or pseudo-consultancies.

During MR industry conferences of recent years, we’ve been continually told that ‘the research industry as we know it’ will cease to exist in anywhere between the next five and 20 years.

The rate of ‘rebranding’ suggests that this may well be the case (chicken or egg?); but are we simply looking at a semantic trend or is it a result of increased specialism and a more strategic agency process?

As the research, data and insights sectors broaden (and merge) to include more disciplines to study and predict consumer behaviour, it’s understandable agencies will begin to specialise and capitalise on unique expertise/capabilities. But I can’t help thinking that a significant part in this apparent shift can be boiled down to marketing tactics.

The perception that clients are looking for the newest and most advanced agencies, methodologies and tech isn’t a novelty. However, I’m concerned that we are breeding a generation of researchers who are almost embarrassed by the concept of ‘traditional’ market research, because we feel by offering clients something ‘new’ we stand more of a chance to grab our slice of the pie.

Is this just the natural evolution of the market research industry, or is everyone looking for an easy way out? Should we be doing more to promote the value of ‘traditional’ market research methodologies rather than just changing our name while offering the same services?

Next time an industry commentator tells you market research will have disappeared in 20 years, ask yourself whether we are perpetuating it ourselves.

By Ginny Monk is managing director of Network Research


7 years ago

I'm with you all the way on this Ginny. i totally agree with you!

Like Report

7 years ago

Yes, also agree. How many research executives, managers or directors do you see nowadays? Seems sad that we're even trying as hard as we can to distance the concept of research from our jobs.

Like Report

7 years ago

Good article Ginny - Apparently traditional MR has been'on the way out' since 2000 when I joined the industry...yet to see it. My view is it's noise - a lot of it created within our own industry!

Like Report

7 years ago

Lovely article. As ever when someone is struck by an identity crisis, the best thing is for them to go back to what's natural for them. We're humans looking for insight with other humans - Human Insight is what we do!

Like Report