Intensely vibrant is perhaps not the way one would expect the past year in market research to be described, given the still-struggling economy. But, says TNS' Will Goodhand, pressure on budgets has led to a flushing-out of mundane research, coupled with clients' desire to be inspired.
Another factor that has reinvigorated the sector is the buzz surrounding "System 1" and "System 2" (the former is the automatic, gut response, the latter the rationalised response). As Hall & Partners’ Paul Edwards puts it, these labels have "just spewed onto the table, making everyone talk about how people answer questions and whether they are aware of their underlying motivations".
Our panellists report, too, that this table is increasingly the top one, with market research bending the ear of the chief executive. It’s easy to see why. The discipline touches on core issues brands are grappling with, from social media and co-creation to mobile marketing.
What follows are the highlights from Marketing’s lively debate on the state of "Greater Insight" in 2013.
You all agree that one of the most important trends is that consumers now are "always-on". They’re reading emails in bed, devouring media during their commute and checking their phone at the bar. What does this mean for research?
Matthew Harrison: The fusing of personal and professional lives, which is a result of being always-on, makes people more accessible. Previously we had access to them seven hours a day; now it’s 14 or 15. We often see people taking part in our online surveys in the middle of the night now.
Paul Edwards: We have to think carefully about what mode they are in when we ask them questions. If they answer on their mobile while down the pub with their mates, for example, chances are that will have a significant effect on what they say.
Mike Stevens: If they are not engaged in the research process, the quality of the data will be rubbish.
Grant Montague: We need to ensure that connecting with us is at the forefront of what they’re doing, not the third thing, alongside tasks they’re more engaged in.
Will Goodhand: It’s a vicious and virtuous circle. People are getting used to being stimulated, therefore they crave it. It’s an opportunity for us to research people. But we have to ensure that what we give them is compelling.
Has this always on-trend made consumers feel empowered, or like hapless victims wilting under the onslaught of market researchers tussling to engage with them?
WG: We always assume that this trend means we, as consumers, have all become victims of a barrage of data. But, actually, modern phenomena, like Facebook and texting, have given consumers more control and confidence in dealing with data; they can see the messages and decide how to manage them and whether to respond. This mindset is spilling over into the way they communicate generally.
|TOP TIPS FROM OUR TOP TABLE|
1. Set a clear brief and stick to it. If you spread the research too thinly, the insights won’t be as strong or deep.
2. Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer.
3. Stop asking "respondents" questions and start encouraging conversation.
4. Be iterative: encourage your market research agency to share their work as they go along.
5. Be comprehensive: gather information from as many different sources as possible, from modern mobile techniques to traditional tools.
6. Get down and dirty with the data: encourage as many people in your organisation as possible to get involved. Pull them (and us) apart.
7. Go with your gut: use numbers and research evidence to inspire you into action; not to justify actions you have already taken.
MH: They’re more ruthless. They’re used to "de-friending" people, so they’re desensitised.
MS: Yes. Consumers are more empowered and in charge. They only want to engage on their terms. Who around this table would answer the phone to speak to a market researcher? Many consumers just won’t do it now.
Nic Bulois: We’ve found that young people, in particular, want to engage with us more than ever. We don’t connect with them through traditional surveys, though, we give them tools to express themselves that are relevant to them and talk to them, in their language, via digital media. That’s the case with our research in fashion, for example, among 14- to 19-year-olds. They are very creative and opinionated and, if you give them the right tools, will give you an incredible amount of contact. This is a big change – in the past, doing an online survey with a 17-year-old would have been impossible because they just wouldn’t stick with it.
MS: Agreed. There is a much more engaged consumer at the heart of market research today.
Nimit Trivedi: That is our experience, too. When you allow consumers to express themselves freely, the information is so rich. They don’t do it for the sake of doing it. They do it because they feel connected.
What are clients demanding in terms of KPIs? What should they demand?
MH : Clients like it if we can come up with one metric that is specific to them and relevant to their exact needs. [But] with a tailored metric, making a market comparison – which they also demand – is difficult.
NB: Having been client-side, I understand the importance of having one metric that people feel they can have an impact on. The beauty of it is that you can galvanise your organisation behind it.
MS: But when everything has got to have a number, it becomes a crutch and people lose confidence in their ability to make an intuitive decision.
GM KPIs can become sterile and just a tick-box exercise. We need to revisit them time and again to ensure they’re relevant.
With all this complexity – is it possible to get a holistic view?
PE: That is one of the biggest challenges: how on earth do you put all this information together, from different people and sources, to get a holistic view?
NT: It’s not an easy nut to crack. We, as an industry, haven’t yet.
Has the industry worked out how to get the most out of the mobile channel?
NB: No. We are still trying to apply traditional techniques to it.
GM: Sometimes we force old techniques onto new technology, instead of embracing the technology and working out what it allows us to do.
WG: With mobile you can ask a simple question at the right moment and, because people can’t be bothered to rationalise, you get "system one" answers.
PE: Yes, we’ve got a bit carried away with the questions. "What did you do?" is a much simpler question than "what motivated you?"
How else could the market research industry raise its game?
NT: The biggest value is to be gained by intuitively engaging consumers in a dialogue. But, unfortunately, traditional research methods are still about the researcher asking a question, getting a response and storing this response. Then asking another question. We need to create platforms that build on responses.
GM: We also need to look at how we disseminate information at the top level so that our evidence lives and breathes in client businesses and actually makes a difference. Part of that is about reducing our presentations to management summaries, making them more graphic and making sure that they provide actionable information.
Lead image, clockwise from right: Philip Smith, head of content solutions and studio, Marketing and Brand Republic Group; Grant Montague, vice president, Europe, PRS Research; Paul Edwards, CEO Europe, Hall & Partners; Matthew Harrison, director, B2B International; Nic Bulois, director, Added Value; Mike Stevens, managing director, UK, Vision Critical; Will Goodhand, UK board director, TNS (not pictured: Nimit Trivedi, client development director, Research Now Mobile EMEA)