OPINION9 April 2018

The shape of things to come

Data analytics Opinion People Technology

The market research industry is being turned on its head, and T-shaped people, with the right combination of expertise and skills, hold the key to its future, says Michael Wagstaff.

The traditional market researcher is I-shaped. Over their career they will have developed deep expertise in a particular method (qual or quant) or a sector such as automotive or media. Some may have developed Π shaped tendencies by being an expert in two methods or sectors. Most agencies grow their teams around I-shaped people to serve I-shaped clients. It’s been a successful formula in the past, but it won’t be in the future. Change is coming. And it’s coming fast.

The market research industry is being turned on its head. Primary research is no longer the go to way for businesses to gain the insight needed to make informed decisions. The rapid growth in data science has enabled client data to be mined in a much more effective way. Social media and the ‘datafication’ of our everyday lives means that there is a huge stockpile of information just waiting to be sieved for the golden nuggets inside.

The disruption doesn’t stop there. There’s a new breed of agency, tech based and incredibly agile, that is making it easier, quicker and cheaper for clients to obtain real time consumer insights. Add behavioural scientists into the mix and you have a situation where ‘machine learning’ and ‘system one thinking’ is now just as much a part of the research lexicon as random probability sampling and immersion sessions.

There is a great challenge to the industry and an even greater challenge to researchers. Put simply, the old way of working with its specialist silos just won’t wash anymore.

T-shaped people are the way forward. They combine a depth of expertise with a breadth of skills such as communications, storytelling, critical thinking and empathy. T-shaped people can work in collaboration with experts in other areas to get the job done. They see the importance in each other’s work in achieving the end result. They understand the client’s business and are great storytellers. They are extremely agile, strong communicators and have the skills to apply what they have learnt in one area to another.

Insight is about finding business answers, not just the research answer. This means working across a wide range of solutions in collaboration with a wide range of expertise. Unless agencies start today to embrace the new skills by growing their own T-shaped people, they won’t thrive in the new tomorrow.

I’ve seen the future and it’s T-shaped.

Michael Wagstaff is a consultant working with market research businesses