MRX: 20/20 Predictions

Posted by: Dave Sackman
  • January 6, 2015

looking-into-the-futureI’m not a fan of nostalgia, after all, it isn’t what it used to be. But since it’s already the midpoint of this decade, it’s a good time to look backward and forward to 2020. I see an exciting time for our industry.

In the 80s, through the 90s, researchers often focused more on the science and craft of market research, than on the way it could actually impact business results. Through most of the 2000s, the rising influence of procurement departments and the pressure to lower the cost of research caused everyone to chase less representative internet samples at the expense of more rigorous sampling.

The first half of this decade has been focused on a swirl of tech driven innovations, including the rise of communities, social media listening and mobile data collection. I believe the next period in our industry will be characterized by increased bifurcation of data collection and consultative market research, with consultative researchers delving into the whys behind consumer behavior. They will also apply new, more sophisticated analytic capabilities to integrated data sets to help client companies turn research insight into business impact.

My prediction that there will be an increasing bifurcation between data collection and truly consultative market research is nothing new, I’ve been saying this since the early days of the internet. We’re seeing this trend play out, and I expect it will continue. Internet sample companies continue to grow rapidly and attract capital at nice multiples, despite a flat industry. The DIY sector of the industry is now entering “its time,” though I don’t believe that it will greatly cannibalize the full-service market research industry because the Survey Monkeys of the world cannot consistently provide client companies the type of insight that can drive strategy and improve financial performance. Accordingly, highly consultative “boutique” firms will likely continue to be the best solution for companies seeking to answer complex business issues in an increasingly complex marketplace.

I believe that the industry’s interest in what I call “applied neuroscience” or the “intersection of neuroscience and behavioral economics” is appropriate, and that there are real opportunities in this space to help marketers better understand their consumers. As with any new innovation though, the key will be separating those who really understand the science and can develop tools that effectively help us understand consumers more holistically. I believe that there will first be a pruning of those who currently offer tools in this area to those who really understand the science.  Over the next 5-10 years, there will be a proliferation of companies who both offer the tools and truly understand how to use them.

I also believe that the industry’s new orientation toward being “data agnostic” will grow. Just like the industry took nearly a decade to embrace data collection via the internet, I believe the industry will figure out that it must rely on more than survey data to answer business questions. There is, as everyone recognizes, a plethora of data — social media, customer geo-demographic, digital exhaust, etc — available that can help answer client questions. While right now, specialty companies have sprouted up to offer some of these data analytic capabilities, within the next 5 years, all good consultative research companies will be integrating a wide variety of data sources into their engagements.  These analyses won’t be the simplistic ones that many employ today, but will instead be smart, so what?® analyses, just like the ones built around survey data.

The pace of innovation in our industry will continue to ramp up, and I will continue to warn my colleagues to avoid the fascination with “shiny new objects.” Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m anti-innovation. In fact, I’m quite oriented toward innovation, but I don’t support innovation for the sake of innovation. I think that Lenny Murphy has done a great job getting the industry to care about innovation, and hope he and others like him continue this work. But people must employ new approaches because they produce better, more actionable results — not because they are new or are what people are talking about.

In assessing our industry, we must do for ourselves what we do for others: take a holistic look, incorporating rational, emotional and less-conscious drivers. We must see the new types of data influencing our methodologies and choices, and be sophisticated in our approach to this changing world, so that we can deliver on our promise, which is always to provide truly consultative, business recommendations that create meaningful impact. Happy 2015.

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