Peter Harris

If you love U2 and TED like me, do yourself a favour and put the two things together, check out a February 2013 TED Talk from Bono entitled ‘The good news on poverty (Yes, there’s good news)’.

While watching Bono embrace his inner nerd, anoint himself an evidence-based activist –‘the factivist’ – and talk passionately about how ‘something as powerful as information and the sharing of it can challenge inequality’ there were some potent messages there for the future of MR.

If we believe Bono (and who doesn’t?), then:

  • Facts can challenge inequality
  • Facts can fight cynicism and the apathy that leads to inertia
  • Facts tell us what’s working, and more importantly not working so we can fix them
  • Facts can build a powerful momentum

That being said, businesses, governments and individuals need to find the facts in a sea of data. Information is powerful when it is interpreted correctly and is reliable. These are precisely the key skills that modern day market research professionals bring to the business table. With that in mind, I see the next five years in our industry like this:

  1. Customers will increasingly help shape brands as long as they know what information is being collected. To be clear, the approach is not an intrusion, it’s short and to the point. Customers will know how their information will be used and what the outcome of their input.
  2. Governments will protect constituent privacy via legislation. This in my opinion, will do little to protect citizens who leave a data trail of information starting from the moment they wake up and engage with technology each day.
  3. Buyers of customer data will demand transparency of who they are really talking to.
  4. Modern day researchers will want greater access to information from brands and governments.

Bono spoke in his TED Talk about the pyramid of power being turned on its head, where people are now on top of the pyramid and the pharaohs of today (business and government) are on the bottom in terms of control. There is growing evidence that the public is taking control of commerce with over 40 percent of Americans, Canadians and Brits and over 60 percent of the Australian online population being involved in one or more aspects of the collaborative economy.

The collaborative economy has the potential to be transformational for businesses that there can no longer be any excuse for not involving the customer. You can’t tell me that it’s too slow or too expensive, not any more. Today, it is vital to involve customers across the business, and there is no reason not to with social media, DIY software, SaaS systems, co-creation platforms and insight communities all making it perfectly feasible.

We are in the middle of a customer revolution and if MR doesn’t embrace it, we will be made redundant in the business. The convergence of social, mobile and cloud technologies has empowered our customers with access to unlimited information — and the ability to share it instantly — fundamentally altering the balance between buyer and seller. Customers are no longer passive observers in the sales cycle, they’ve become active participants, educating themselves about products and services and as a result, customer expectations of service, price and delivery is soaring, changing the way products are sourced, manufactured and distributed.

The push for greater transparency will become a shared issue that suppliers, providers and legislators of customers and their data will need to work together on as a priority. We don’t have a choice.

Business is personal. Customers today are empowered and want an equal partnership with companies where they are providing their input on all aspects of business (anything from innovation to current products/services to marketing campaigns). This partnership is the catalyst for a new level of collaboration and feedback and we, the MR and marketing professionals, need to understand and acknowledge by offering something different, something that has evolved from the days of long catch-all surveys and face-to-face focus groups.

In order to compete, companies need to find a way to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships with customers in order to get the continuous, ongoing, on-demand feedback they need to meet customers’ ever-changing expectations. Within business and marketing, this needs to be the responsibility of the MR team as we do have the expertise, care for the customer and attention to protecting every individual’s privacy.

Changes to privacy legislation across the APAC region (in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong – to name a few) will bring these issues to the forefront again, but I am not sure all stakeholders involved are across the collaborative economy movement.

Bono also admits to being sexually aroused by the collection of data. I’ll leave you to find out why!

Peter-Harris-146KBPeter Harris is Managing Director of Vision Critical, Asia Pacific.