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Don’t Panic! Market Research will evolve for the better.


Friday, 5 May 2017


The Times They are A-Changin’

Does anyone not believe that market research is in the process of going though a significant period of change? In none of my recent articles*, have I got feedback arguing that it is not going to change significantly. What is far less clear is the exact nature and timing of the change. The Denialists will argue that it is 10-15 years away so there is no need to panic. There are some commentators who argue that the change is taking place and the environment in 5 years will already be very different to today.  “People are slow to change behaviours but the change may be more profound than any of us realise.” From what I see, there is so much money and investment being poured into technology that I can’t see the industry being the same in 5 years time as it is today.  Remember IBM personal computing? There was a time that a significant part of IBM’s business came from manufacturing personal computers. Indeed, there was a saying amongst the IT community that “no one got fired for buying an IBM”. Roll forward to today and IBM does not make any personal computers. Companies like Dell, Apple and so on took over with cheaper and better alternatives. When it turned, the saying changed to “you would only get fired if you bought an IBM”. IBM knew they would never be able to compete and sold the business to the Chinese firm Lenovo.

How profound is profound? Ray Poynter predicts that 40-60% of jobs in market research will go and 20-30% of new jobs will be created. A net loss to the industry of 10-40%. That seems a pretty reasonable estimate to me but it could be larger if the change is more profound.

That doesn’t sound too bad? Does that mean you will be safe if you are not in the bottom quartile of performers in your company?

Well no. I am afraid the starting point is that if you are a quantitative researcher, the risk is at least 40-60%. Those are not great odds!

Is Qual safe? Only from a relative point of view! Technology, changing behaviours and commercial requirements will seriously impact on traditional in person interviews.

Why gross not net?

Here is the problem. It is not just new skills, new knowledge and new approaches that market researchers need to learn. Researchers need to become “young” again. Agile minds, comfortable with change and managing innovation without dragging progress back into the present/past.

Many researchers on both the manufacturers and even worse on the Agency side are currently resisting innovation even when it is a “no-brainer”. New skills can be acquired so perhaps they think they can re-train when the time comes.

For those folks, I have a very clear message - the new market research world will not want to employ “Researchersaurs” whatever their skill sets.

“Innovative companies do not hire those whose attitudes drag their organisations back from their goals.” Look at how many of the new companies entering the market research space - both founders and their staff - are coming from outside of the industry.

“you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone” Becoming innovative and being able to deal with change is not something you can suddenly decide to do. It is a skill that is fuelled by experience. There are risks in bringing in innovation that need to be managed and benefits that need to be sold into (internal or external) clients. Most of all, it requires a creative, curious, problem-solving mind and a “can do” attitude.

Don’t panic

At this point, perhaps you are panicking! Don’t. Panic can cause you to distance yourself from the problem rather than solve it. Panic breeds fear and fear drives inaction and denial. Nothing good is going to come from panic.

What should I do?

Take a lesson from IBM. They re-invented themselves into a software and consulting business. To do that, they moved from being a fairly conservative hardware manufacturer to a much more innovative, people-focused organisation. And they are also one of the technology businesses that will have a significant part to play in the market research environment of the future.

Personal reinvention Just as IBM needed to reinvent themselves, so do you need to reinvent yourself. No panic – just calm and logical analysis. Build objectives, identify skill gaps and build an action plan with SMART goals.

Plan to innovate

Part of your personal reinvention plan must involve a plan on how you improve your ability to do new things or the same things differently.

Market Research will evolve for the better

We are naturally suspicious of change. It is an instinct that has helped us to survive. But we are naturally more curious which has helped us to evolve. So, don’t panic; think, plan and act.

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