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The Golden Age of Research Reinvented

Thursday, 9 March 2017


Market Research’s glory days

When market research was at its peak in the noughties, I was part of the senior team that pulled together Synovate. We had a tag line “Research Reinvented”. It didn’t mean we wanted to “reinvent the wheel”.   It was about offering new ideas and methodologies to existing market research challenges.  It was also about being more than just a market research company. We wanted to take the skills, expertise, assets and capabilities of market research and find new applications for them outside of the classic market research environment.

Living in the present

With primary quantitative research in decline, it may come as a surprise that this message seems more relevant than it ever has been.   The rise of customer-centricity has spawned the application of market research into customer experience. DIY platforms have followed the lead of SurveyMonkey in democratising market research. The proliferation of data has created a whole new range of opportunities.

IIeX shows the way

The IIeX conference in Amsterdam provided an excellent showcase of the wide range of creative ways of doing research in a different way or researching things we previously could not. Most were technology-led but not all. What was really noticeable is how many of these companies have emerged from nowhere in the last couple of years.

Unilever rules

Star of the show was not any single one of the innovation companies. It was Unilever who promoted a whole track of new companies it had engaged and benefited from. Everyone in Unilever insight, take a bow. So are the Unilever team head and shoulders better researchers than the researchers in other companies? Possibly but that is not what sets them apart. It is the willingness to take calculated risks, to do something different to make something better and make market research more relevant to the decisions its business leaders need to take. That culture comes from the top – it is a huge competitive advantage.

Future’s bright – Unanimous agreement

I attended several of the excellent Festival of MR webinars and on more than one occasion, presenters were asked about the future of MR. Everyone claimed the same – the future is bright. But is it?

The truth

At IIeX, the level of attendance of manufacturers was down on the previous year and Dave Carruthers ended his presentation bemoaning the slowness of the industry to take up new innovation. In the US in particular, Insight departments are being downsized and staff re-deployed to “Big Data” departments. The truth is that the market research industry is not changing anyway near fast enough.

Stop living in the past

One depressing aspect of the Festival of MR webinars was a prevailing assumption that market research has been successful. If that really were true, market research would be at the heart of marketing and commercial decision-making. It is not. The industry is in complete denial. Most research, perhaps 80% of it, is irrelevant to decision-making. If market research were truly respected, customer experience and big data units would have been part of insight departments, not “internal competitors”.

You Reinvented

If you are not changing, you are the problem. I have yet to come across anyone that does not realise that change is coming. Very few people are actually changing what they do and how they do it. Even fewer talk about the need to reinvent themselves. Research Reinvented requires You Reinvented. At Synovate, we talked about curiosity needing to be part of everyone’s DNA. I don’t think that went far enough. It is more than curiosity; it is more than creativity; it is more that just imagination. It is courage. The industry is so afraid of making a mistake or saying something out of turn that it is failing to tackle the big issue – changing nothing is

Learn from history

Most, if not all, great business leaders reinvented themselves. Steve Jobs didn’t get it right first time with Apple.

Unstoppable change

In the 21st Century, the most important skill that we and future generations will need is the ability to change and adapt. So many jobs will be impacted by technology like AI, unstoppable globalisation and changing demands. Just as most companies have seen reduced life spans and it being increasingly rare to see a job for life, so too will careers become more dynamic with people increasingly unlikely to do the same role in their working life. We are living longer and we all need to work longer too so it is only the 55+ who can avoid this bullet.

Carpe diem

It is not game over yet. There are SO many exciting ideas and innovations. Here’s the choice: (1) Continue as a Denialist – become a researchersaur (aka dinosaur). (2) Embrace change – be part of the golden age and take control of your future.

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