What Will It Take to Move Market Research Forward?

There have been many calls of late for Marketing Research to become more progressive (for example, see the recent blog post from Jeffrey Henning taking off on Coca-Cola’s Stan Sthanunathan’s view that “the industry must change”). Technology adoption and creating meaningful analysis of social media were hot topics at The Market Research Event (TMRE) held last month, and both the client and supplier sides are experimenting with new trends.

But while it’s true that the industry needs to move quickly to adopt technologies, blend methodologies, and broaden the reach of research, there is precious little information on how to make these changes. As a supplier, we at MarketTools have seen that there are a couple of key ingredients in the partnership with clients that make innovative projects worthwhile:

1) Don’t be afraid to fail. In one early mobile research experiment, a client was looking for a way to prove the ROI of an event sponsorship. At the event, a mobile survey was promoted to attendees requesting them to access it via the much-vaunted QR (quick response) code; we also offered a customized short URL. While the overall project yielded valuable data that could not have been collected without a mobile survey, the tactic of using the QR code to launch the survey was an abysmal failure. We learned that it’s still very early in the evolution of code reader technology, and almost none of the event attendees had a reader of any kind. Without the customized short URL to access the survey, we would have had only limited means to collect data. The flexibility and willingness of the client to experiment with multiple modes of engagement turned a false start into a useful project.

2) Cast a wide net for executive sponsorship. When confronted with a large research project, we see many clients getting other departments involved in the project, to spread the resource requirements. You and your team may need additional backing if you are trying something new, like gamification or visually enhanced respondent engagement surveys. One client from the research department of a major CPG company was interested in the technical aspects of the visually-driven shopper research experiences we demonstrated. Because the research department didn’t have a current project that could make use of the technology, we were asked to demonstrate it to the brand team, as a way to answer a question about refrigerated goods promotion – getting the brand executives to back the project instead. It was an entirely new project type for our research client, and the final study produced evidence the brand team needed to move forward with the promotion. And our research client gained experience working with new technologies that will benefit future studies.

3) Understand the statistical requirements. When the analytics for a project require large sample sizes, multiple choice matrixed questions, or have other complex parameters, then these projects are not good candidates for experimental methods. There are plenty of cases where clients say, “We want innovative methods, but they need to be validated.” In these instances, it may not be appropriate to use newer techniques, like mobile and text analytics, that are not set up to have precise parity with pre-existing forms of research. We find that deeper conversations with our clients to delve into the many different ways that the research results will be used provide guidance on how much experimentation the project can withstand. For every project whose results must be input into a pre-existing model, there’s a study that’s looking for new input, deeper detail, or variations on a theme to drive a decision or a shift in direction. These are the ideal projects for experimentation – where the quality and depth of the results are important, yet the business outcomes are not dependent on compliance with entrenched models.

Both suppliers and clients have a role to play in moving the market research industry into its next phase, and this is an unparalleled chance to partner together to discover meaningful directions. I am looking forward to showcasing more examples in the near future.

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