Innovation has finally arrived in marketing research

By: Brian Lamar, EMI Research Solutions

When people think about innovative industries, market research rarely comes to mind. From the automotive industry, where sophisticated technology and design are creating driverless vehicles, to ovens that can cook an entire meal using only our voice, technology allows us to shop, stream, share, and live without lifting a finger.

Compared to our high-tech consumer culture, the perception of most people is that the marketing research field has a lot of catching up to do. Roomfuls of telephone interviewers conducting political polling or people carrying clipboards at the mall are still the prevailing ideas among most consumers. They think that we still print out hundreds of pages of tables used to analyze data, stuck in the 1960s like an episode of Mad Men. And in many ways, these things are still true.

The amount of personal, insightful information we can gain from respondents is both impressive and a little intimidating.

However, this is changing. Innovation is driving the market research industry – and fast. While it may not be apparent to most, brands can now make better business decisions faster and cheaper than ever before. We are using automation to connect disparate systems, transfer data quicker, more closely target the right people for surveys, and drive data analysis. We’re integrating artificial intelligence into our platforms to determine if a respondent is good quality during the survey taking process. We’re using API technology to provide value-adds from outside the industry. The ability to pull insights and information from social media like Facebook and LinkedIn, credit bureaus like Equifax and Experian, and lifestyle services like Google, Amazon, Spotify, voter databases, and more is now a reality. The amount of personal, insightful information we can gain from respondents is both impressive and a little intimidating.

Using the latest technology, marketing research professionals have the ability to greatly reduce the time and effort required to deliver insights to clients. What used to take days now takes minutes. We can auto-transcribe video and utilize facial coding and body language in qualitative research. Traditionally a tedious task, reporting today is almost completely automated. We can use chatbots for interviewers. Do-It Yourself (DIY) tools are rampant, and we no longer need to align calendars to get stuff done.

Having those powerhouses in our industry is sure to even drive more innovation.

It may not be as impressive as building a flying car, but for researchers, it’s staggering how fast we’re moving.  New tech companies are entering the industry, creating new partnerships, new VC money, and new IPOs. Instead of combing malls, we can administer surveys via Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Having those powerhouses in our industry is sure to even drive more innovation.  

For every industry, new innovation brings new challenges — and we are no exception. Our greatest opportunities for improvement include:

  • Most of the new tech companies driving innovation don’t understand market research principals
    • Designing questionnaires and understanding the details of market research can take entire careers.  While these companies provide a lot of advantages to our industry, it takes time to truly incorporate them into our systems.
    • Another challenge is the lack of standardization in market research. Connecting companies A and B is likely very different than connecting companies A and C. Economies of scale are nearly non-existent.
  • We are extremely resistant to change.
    • The “traditional” researchers are standing firm in scaling, questionnaire design, avoiding biases, random sampling, etc.  Methodologists and statisticians are thought leaders (as they should be) in market research, and change doesn’t typically fit their models.
  • User error
    • While these innovations make it easy for anyone to DIY their own survey from start to finish, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. People spend their entire careers working in data processing, so it’s tough to expect someone not adequately trained to build their own tables. Project managers are highly skilled at designing screeners to identify the ideal respondents, but now anyone can put a survey on SurveyMonkey or one of dozens of other options, though that doesn’t mean that they should.

Innovation is quickly becoming table-stakes in a traditionally slow-moving industry. New companies and technologies will emerge that will provide insights faster and at a lower cost. Firms that don’t quickly adopt a heavy innovative strategy will be overtaken by more nimble competitors.

In the world of survival of the fittest, research is finally getting on board.

About Brian Lamar

Brian Lamar is the Director of Insights at EMI Research Solutions, a partner of AMA Cincinnati, and leads AMA Cincinnati’s Marketing Research Shared Interest Group (SIG) Community. He has spent his career developing and leading strategic market research projects for some of the world’s most well-known brands.





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