Written by Alex Osbaldeston
Market Research professionals are going through a period where they have to adapt to a new paradigm on what feels like an annual basis. With the rise in importance of big data, mobile research and social media research, and clients demanding greater innovation, more and more skills need to be added to the researcher’s toolbox on an ongoing basis.
Moreover, traditional pressures such as to reduce costs and the increasing pace of business also bring fresh challenges for market research professionals. These need to be overcome if market research is to deliver a real impact to the corporate bottom line.
Today, opinions change, and new products and services appear, almost overnight. Waiting weeks or months for survey results and analysis that influence business decisions is not an option. Market research agencies need to be able to launch surveys within hours in order for their clients to target new opportunities, and the results have to be available equally quickly. Feedback platforms that are easy and fast to use are vital to deliver this quick turnaround, moving from initial ideas to final results at the speed that today’s businesses require.
In many cases research budgets are under pressure, as clients and companies seek to do more with less. This means that agencies and departments need to increase efficiency to focus on high value elements of their business such as research design and insight delivery, at the expense of low yielding manual and operational tasks where possible.
Complicating this is the fact that many use multiple tools. In addition to the expense of purchasing or developing them, these create additional ongoing support, maintenance and training costs. Integrating the data held in them is also time-consuming and expensive, and the manual tasks involved create multiple opportunities for error, reducing data quality.
Replacing this complex set of tools with a single, comprehensive platform, maintained by an external partner, has the potential to dramatically reduce costs, while ensuring access to the most modern technology. Researchers can focus on what they are good at – planning campaigns and delivering data and insight to businesses and customers, rather than grappling with out of date technology that hinders their ability to operate.
Despite consolidation within market research, the barriers to entry are low, enabling new competitors, including management consultancies and other ‘insight’ providers to enter the sector.
This threatens traditional agencies, meaning they need to differentiate themselves from a growing number of rivals. The message from Eric Salama of Kantar at IIex in Amsterdam earlier this year was clear – research agencies need to be more ‘data chefs’ – choosing the right methodologies from a plethora of approaches. To do this, they require a flexible technology platform that operates across mobile, web, and can incorporate multiple data feeds and sources from third party data, social media and ethnographic data. This gives them the freedom to quickly launch new services, unhindered by legacy technology platforms, expanding their offering and letting them demonstrate their knowledge and experience to existing and potential clients. Ipsos Connect is the perfect example of this, with its video rating tool for client FremantleMedia.
We live in an era of big data. According to Sintef, a Scandinavian research centre, 90% of all the data ever produced by humans was generated in the last 2 years, driven by the dramatic rise in popularity of smart mobile devices and social media. And, unlike the data generated by traditional surveys, much of it is unstructured and therefore more difficult to process. The danger is that researchers are drowning in data, unable to deliver insight as they struggle to make sense of vast quantities of information. With so much data readily available to non-researchers, the temptation to use this within commercial organisations brings the threat of using the wrong information, and therefore making incorrect decisions. Automating the integration of this data and reporting it in real-time to clients – whether internal or external – through easy to understand, drill down dashboards is crucial if they are to see the wood from the trees and use insight to support business decision making.
Consumers are rightly becoming much more protective of their personal data. At the same time the number and sophistication of threats to data security within businesses increases daily. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are holding research agencies and their clients responsible for any data breaches, with heavy fines and reputational damage for any issues. As a result, market research agencies and corporate researchers must have credible and verifiable answers when clients or respondents ask them how and where their data is being used and stored, and be able to prove that it has the highest levels of protection.
Given the fast-moving pace of market research today and the need to get closer to customers and employees, the profession now has an opportunity to demonstrate its vital importance to successful decision making within organisations. However, it will only achieve this if it overcomes the challenges it faces to improve efficiency, increase speed, cope with big data from multiple sources and safeguard security – and that all starts with reviewing technology and ensuring it meets current and future needs.