AROUND THE TABLE (clockwise from bottom left)
Ade Adefala, senior sales executive, Marketing
Paul Hague, founder, B2B International
Phil Durand, associate director, Maritz Research
Jeremy Griffiths, director of marketing sciences, Europe, Maritz Research
Graeme Lawrence, director of sales and marketing, Virtual Surveys
Ronnie McBryde, director of research, Mintel
Noelle McElhatton, editor of creative solutions, Marketing
Chris Dubreuil, vice-president of client development UK, Research Now
Alex Burmaster, vice-president of global communications, The Nielsen Company
Will Galgey, global chief executive, The Futures Company
Why quality still trumps quality - roundtable discussion
Our panel of market researchers finds there is now no end of channels for gauging opinion, but that this trend only heightens the need to understand which data will provide the most effective insights
Social networks, blogs, chatrooms, review sites. Consumers now have an unprecedented number of ways to give their opinions and feedback, making a market researcher's job that much harder.
While the market research industry fared better than other sectors in the slump - reporting a lower-than-expected decline of just under 5%, according to the Market Research Society - the sheer number of channels via which data can be gathered is raising issues for the industry. Plus, there is the challenge of encouraging consumers to become more engaged with it.
It seems a fitting time, then, to gather a group of experts from the industry to join Marketing's Greater Insight round-table discussion. Over lunch, they debated how social media, the rise of real-time data and other issues are affecting brands and their research partners.
Last year's round table focused in detail on the effect of the recession on the industry, with researchers acknowledging that they were being asked to do more for less. Post-recession, the outlook for the sector remains largely positive.
While participants agree that the average job size has reduced, they say they are now seeing a revival in marketers' appetites for looking at the long term, and there are signs of a return to bigger projects.
'We are seeing a resurgence in our clients' long-term strategies,' notes Will Galgey, managing director of The Futures Company. 'Marketers want better insight, not more data, and ultimately our value comes in our ability to synthesise this. Marketers are demanding increased simplicity and clarity.'
To deliver this, research agencies need to reassure marketers by ensuring that consumers still take an interest in surveys.
Chris Dubreuil, vice-president of client development in the UK at Research Now, believes that respondents need to be treated with more respect and, as such, research needs to be designed with respondents in mind, using tools such as rich media.
'It's not just about panel management, it's about the questions you actually ask respondents and the design of the questionnaire. We shouldn't discount this,' he adds.
One of the biggest opportunities for researchers is managing real-time data. The panellists agree it has led to an unparalleled proliferation of data. Moreover, marketers are more willing to share data with agencies, thereby enhancing the material researchers already have.
'It's what you do with the information that matters, and we can help marketers to deal with their data better,' says Jeremy Griffiths, director of marketing sciences, Europe, Maritz.
Social media in particular is creating new business models. Nielsen's social monitoring service BuzzMetrics recently formed a partnership with management consultancy McKinsey to form NM Incite, a social media consultancy.
Alex Burmaster, vice-president of global communications at The Nielsen Company, believes that any consumer touchpoint presents a market research opportunity.
Others on the panel believe there are challenges to overcome with social media. 'One problem with using social media is how it is structured,' argues Paul Hague, the founder of B2B International. 'With research, real intelligence comes from structuring the questionnaire and objectives of what we are looking for. There's a huge mine you can dig into with social media, but it would take you a long time. It's an extra dimension, but I'm not sure that it will take over.'
It's a view seconded by Ronnie McBryde, director of research at Mintel. He says that social media is here to stay as a research tool, but that it supplements what the industry has already.
Phil Durand, associate director for research solutions at Maritz, says the opportunity for social media depends very much on the extent to which the brand is using it and supplementing its own analysis with it.
'There is a worry about how social media could take over respondents' mindsets. If they can say what they want on a blog, why would they go through a research panel?' he adds.
Separately, the panel agreed that opportunities for mobile have yet to be capitalised upon. McBryde believes it is an area that has in the past promised much but rarely delivered. Nielsen's Burmaster echoes this view. He says the mobile phone remains an incredibly personal device, much more so than computers or TVs, making it much harder to cut through.
Research Now's Dubreuil is more optimistic, arguing that the potential of mobile is at a tipping point, but that challenges still remain. 'There are too many browsers available on phones, making it too clunky to load surveys,' he says. Ultimately, the panel agrees, the choice of device is down to engaging with consumers in the right way.
As the session draws to a close, our insight experts give their key message to marketers.
'Market research is not just about numbers - we need to sit back and listen,' says Graeme Lawrence, director of sales and marketing at Virtual Surveys. 'There is a realisation that we need to accelerate change as an industry or we'll get left behind and we'll be stuck in a corner where people ask questions and get answers.'
His view is echoed by Galgey. 'The pace of change and the complexity in consumers' lives are increasing exponentially and that only heightens the need for people who can help brands make sense of this and identify the "where?" and "what next?". There is a growing need for partners who can help marketers to identify the right way forward. There is a lot of opportunity for the industry to add value.'
Durand believes that as consumers are presented with more and more opportunities with which to communicate, market researchers will have more data to marshal. 'There will always be something new for us to respond to, and this has got to be a good thing,' he says.
Maritz's Griffiths has a simple message for marketers. 'There is so much data out there and it needs to be brought together. If we can help marketers use their data more effectively, they will see the value we provide and want to continue the relationship with us rather than do it themselves,' he says. 'Technology will enable us to gather this information, whether it be from purely online sources or from traditional media.'