Five challenges for market research buyers and agencies

As changes are happening thick and fast in the research world, we wanted to add our take on the future of research and what challenges research buyers and agencies will be faced with.

    1. Consumers as intellectual collaborators
      The distance between brands and consumers has diminished over the years.  Brands are now involving their customers regularly in feedback mechanisms.  For instance Sony has a customer community that regularly responds to questions the company needs a quick read on.

      We think it’s time the research industry caught up.  For a long time now there’s been a move to involve clients in the analysis process.  Why not consumers?  In part this happens already but we think more can be done.

      Too often findings are sent out to consumers as a fait accompli at the end of the research process.  Despite invitations to comment, there is often little engagement to do so. Iterative groups only challenge the outputs of thinking and not how it was arrived at.
      We believe there is an opportunity to use customers as an intellectual resource earlier in the analysis process rather than a just within a formulaic research framework.  The approach should be constructed to facilitate active feedback so that perceptions are challenged and insight enriched earlier on.  Of course this is not a carte blanche to invite all participants to the analysis process, but carefully selected and orchestrated, they can be a real intellectual sounding board.

    2.  Tasking not asking consumers
      The question – answer dynamic still forms the core of any research approach.  In our world of engaged consumers as collaborators, we think this is fast becoming outdated.

      The research industry needs to think harder about how to engage its project participants.  This goes beyond creative approaches to stimulus and should focus on asking consumers to carrying out tasks or role-play.

      We have an actor as part of our team who often takes on the remit of ‘setting the scene’ and stimulating role-play among consumers.  The dynamic of working as a group in the role-play exercise is highly engaging and helps consumers to examine their own motivations and uncover inherent tensions in their responses. Task based work can take them closer to the moment of truth if done real-time.

      We think task-based research will increasingly become a major part of working with consumers in the research process.

    3. Buying research is becoming more complex
      Our featured article this month highlights the proliferation of choice for data collection and analysis.  This places demands on any buyer to keep up with new techniques and approaches.  In an ideal world you could buy all services from one supplier but ‘jack of all trades master of none’ is still said for good reason.

      We think the future of research is all about ‘knowledge partnerships’.  By this we mean that agencies are cognisant of other techniques in the marketplace and have connections with other specialist agencies to support client projects if need be.

      In addition our view is that ‘non-competitive collaboration’ will become the norm. In other words agencies work together, bringing their own area of expertise to the project to enrich the findings.  The collaboration process can happen with or without client input and importantly should not be about ‘scoring points’. And it’s not about white labelling services either – that just creates increase in cost and we think it is frankly dishonest in our world of greater transparency.

    4. Fragmentation of the marketplace
      In our view the research industry of the future will be much more fragmented into high value and low cost suppliers.  It has already happened in countless other sectors such as airlines and now the taxi industry with the advent of the contentious and at the same time welcomed Uber service.

      We think the same will happen in the research industry.  New suppliers are already emerging who are expert in delivery of lower cost solutions via mastering the new possibilities offered by technology.  This will be counterbalanced by agencies, which specialise in higher value research and strategic consultancy using techniques such as workshops, customer events and focus groups.

      This means there will be a greater choice of agencies but we suggest budgets will go further as a consequence.

    5. Good enough will still be good enough.
      Sadly in our experience this is true and will continue to be the case.  The demands of business are such that a premium is placed on quick turn-arounds, which can be the decider for choosing suppliers.  This won’t change but as far as possible, we would urge protection of thinking time for insight generation.   Indeed one of our major blue-chip clients has banned ‘toplines’ and even the use of the word within their internal teams.

      We also believe this means there is value in using expert research teams – years of experience makes it easier to spot emerging themes and potential insights rather than regurgitate what was said.