I recently sat down with my colleague Geoff Lowe, one of the Executive Directors at Infotools, and asked him for his perspective on what market research would - and should - look like today. Active in the consumer insights space since 1986, Geoff provides a historical view of the industry. He thinks more should have changed over the past few decades and maintains that it’s time for the market research industry to be brave and pursue the transformation everyone keeps talking about.
What did you think the market research landscape would look like in 2021?
Back in the early 1990s, we saw huge value in everybody having their hands on the data that generated insights - marketing and brand managers, corporate insights teams, and other stakeholders. With direct access to the data, these individuals would be able to see patterns and relationships firsthand and generate insights that could positively affect outcomes. If the market research industry as a whole had invested heavily in solutions that embraced this principle, we’d see a very different landscape today.
What is a good example of how the industry is “stuck”?
The reality is that now, nearly 30 years later, research agencies are still sending cross-tabs out to clients. They are delivering hundreds and hundreds of Excel tables with static data, just like we did in the 1980s with hundreds of table printouts. There really isn’t that much practical difference between the two delivery methods - and absolutely no innovation.
We can show people, without any doubt at all, that you can have interactive online reporting that instantly delivers a data-driven foundation for insights generation and decision-making across a company. And these insights can be made available to multiple people who can use them in practical, goal-oriented ways. But even with the prospect of massive efficiencies and streamlined processes, many still mindlessly produce thousands of tables without really understanding, or even caring to understand, the use to which they will be put.
It’s time for a better way.
Why haven’t we made more progress as an industry?
Leadership needs to push for innovation. Practices like producing massive numbers of tables need to be relegated to the distant past. Agencies need to have frank conversations with their clients. Corporate researchers need to have frank conversations with their leadership - demanding a big enough seat at the table to insist that things be done differently.
When researchers have nothing to offer except tables and PowerPoint charts - when they have no intellectual property that is unique, no extra added value that is unique - they become a commodity. I hear people paying lip service to progress, disruption, digital transformation… but those same people are unable or unwilling to stand up and take a path of genuine innovation.
It takes being assertive and speaking up about a new solution to start to move the needle for the industry’s future. You’d be surprised how positively people will respond when you clearly show a better way - that is faster, more cost-effective in the long run, and delivers higher quality insights. Most importantly, when you put easily accessible data into more people’s hands, you can prove how valuable this is to success across multiple business functions.
What does genuine innovation look like to you?
First of all, we need to be brave as individuals. When a client or colleague says, “I need these tables, delivered in this format, and they need to do this”, agencies and researchers need to dig deeper. Ask questions about how the data will be used and what business problem it will solve. Challenge them to uncover the precise underlying need so you can find the best solution instead of just answering the question with a table. The likelihood is that there is a much better way to deliver that data for business success. Make the case for a new approach.
We all know that static tables are not the answer here. We have amazing solutions created by brilliant people in this industry, and it is time to stop using tools and methods that were developed in the 1960s. It is crazy that some of these are still being used, even now. Expectations about how easy and fast it is to generate insights are accelerating, and the answer isn’t just to make tables and charts faster or more efficiently. We must take a more holistic, collaborative approach to generating consumer insights. We need to up the pace of innovation.
I believe the real value proposition lies in technology that facilitates easy access to data and encourages collaboration. We need to favor solutions like online interactive dashboards where more people can visualize and analyze data in real-time, to answer real business questions. I find that many researchers are scared to let more people investigate the data directly. They’re afraid of losing ownership, and therefore, control of the means of value creation. The irony is that this approach only serves to stifle the creation of value at the source. With the right system, you can minimize the risk of data being misused, and - most importantly - you can maximize the chance that people in frontline positions can see the ROI on the insights investment.
Be brave. You are the expert. You need to stand up and push a truly modern, innovative way to share access to data for collaborative insights generation. Stand up for putting instantly accessible data at the fingertips of those who directly use it in their business for generating real value.