Dave McCaughan 

What is the cause of transformation ?

This years ESOMAR MENAP forum was built around the theme of transformation. So it made sense that we attempt to find out from the near 200 attendees what they saw as the issues that will really effect or force change within the market research industry in the region and beyond.

Of course we could have polled the attendees. Or asked them to enter an on-line discussion, community or maybe just tweeted us some answers. In fact we did try and create an on-line discussion. A week or so before the forum we sent all those registered a request to tell us what they thought were the issues transforming MR. We got some interesting answers. From around ten people. The usual sampling issue with an open, voluntary request for input. A few do, even fewer really make an effort, and for most, well it was probably a busy week and they did not have time.

However having all those researchers in one room at the actual forum seemed too good a chance to miss. And at the same time one of the real hopes for any conference is to allow people the chance to talk about issues with colleagues old and new. The chance to meet and discuss and maybe learn from each other.

So we undertook a rather interesting experiment. The conference room was set up with 22 round tables, each sitting eight people. We asked all the attendees to sit at a table, encouraged them to sit with people they did not know and then we undertook a mass brainstorming session. Or maybe it was closer to running 22 focus groups all at one time. As moderator I would set a question and ask every table to discuss and send an emailed response within 10 minutes. Meanwhile in good moderator fashion I would listen to random discussions, clarifying, cajoling and sharing interesting responses.

We began by reviewing the nature of transformation. Not just adjusting to new developments within the category but what does it mean when something fundamentally transforms a category. We all expect change and growth and new tools, products, methods to come from what is inside our realm. However we put the question that real change and transformation comes from something unexpected happening outside our category. Transformation not evolution.

So we began our experiment of asking 22 “focus groups in one room” to discuss the question “ what is the biggest transformation effecting MR to and for the next few years?”

Here are some of the answers the groups posted :

  • We move from listening rather asking.
  • Extension of client marketing team
  • Real time access to big data
  • Passive behavioural observation.
  • Adaptation of technology.
  • Bringing the customer to the driving seat
  • Underpants
  • Wearable technology, mobile technology, big data, separation of rubbish
  • Exposure to technology and notion of time
  • Trade of: cutting the middleman. Consumers selling data/ insights to brands in return of discounts or offers
  • MR transforms to consultancy provided more comprehensive and actionable directions
  • In our opinion, technology is the biggest thing to affect MR transformation in the next 2 yrs. Quick results
  • Penetration of the Internet
  • Technology & speed of getting information
  • And translation of insight into action and have more responsibility
  • Clients need to act real time leveraging technology and being business consultants
  • Move from research to consultancy = insight based strategic advice
  • Conventional data collections tools will become redundant
  • Passive data and direct contact with consumers will challenge MR professionals
  • Concise Business insights from multiple sources.
  • It is all about Business Consultancy and not just reporting data.  Interpretation and not Reportage
  • Consumer web-they dictate to brands / services
  • No broadcasting and all about conversations
  • Demographic shifts & migration. Real time digital information
  • Online groups wherein cross border interactions are facilitated
  • The biggest transformation is mobile research and online and stop all ridiculous traditional way of research! Get a life research industry

As said, before the forum we had also asked intended attendees to give us thoughts on what they thought was going to transform the MR category in coming years. We had some very intelligent answers. From people like Maryam Wazirzada, Jeff Hunter, Rabih Soueidi, Saima Qamar, Ravi Shekar. And thanks again to all who did send ideas. Throughout both excercises it was obvious that the role of the internet and all that means, the need for MR professionals to change the way they did things and the seeming eternal need for the industry to start serving client needs differently are consistent. Not new, not transformative. Just the background to continuing to develop what we do.

A very simple analysis suggested that the bulk of all those thoughts aligned with the three obvious trends in the industry :

  • Big data … and the need and changes happening as we learn to grapple with it
  • Mobile … the many ways we are having to change delivery of methodologies to make them accessible in mobile form
  • Demographics … the changing needs of Gen XYZ and beyond

At the forum there were lots of excellent presentations also discussing, well, pretty much these same three issues in some way. And in the transformation debate we also discussed what these “big” three were doing to our business. Oh and we briefly discussed the biggest demographic change effecting all industries, the aging of societies.

BUT we also discussed that these are not really transformative ideas. These are things we know about, have known about for a few years and have been dealing with. Maybe some better than others. And certainly they are causing us to change the way we do things. But that is not perhaps a guide to what will transform us. It is a bit like saying we are a fruit juice manufacturer who finds people think vegetables are healthier and less sugary. So we start adding vegetable varieties. Evolution not transformation.

We noted to in our debate that those three big trends have led to or influenced other trends changing the way we do things. From big data, mobile and demographic changes we can see a direct line to other trends like security concerns, gamification, connected devices and all they imply in rethinking what we do in MR. again the forum had presentations touching on all three of these areas, just as do most MR conferences these days.

So we asked each table to discuss a second round of questions like “ what is happening outside MR that is likely to transform it in the next few years .. issues other than big data, mobile, demographics”. And from this exercise we got a much wider range of answers :

  • Commoditisation
  • Global warming
  • Security
  • Government
  • Economics
  • Less of traditional media
  • Commodities
  • Experience seeking
  • Shared ownership
  • Boundary less world
  • Neuroscience and biometrics
  • Gaming
  • Customer loyalty is changing…. diminishing.
  • A chain. New technology boosted consumer expectation, which forced research agencies to transform. To provide a much higher level of research.
  • Lack of time of clients taking a decision and ease of access to everything
  • Real time data
  • Volume and quality of data
  • Biometrics, neuromarketing
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Machines over men
  • Google, Facebook as MR player
  • Internet of things
  • Wearable technologies
  • Social media has enabled voluntary sharing of information.  Customers share even before being asked.  Customers are driving change
  • Internet of everything including people. Automatic pattern detection & distillation.
  • Everything is multinational and nothing remains local. Speed of information and lack of boundaries is a challenge that is going to change how we do MR.
  • Knowledge exchanges

We did hear a few “out there” comments. Maybe justifiably one group discussed ISIS for a while another suggested that changes in food supplies could change everything. So we decided to put macro humanity issues to one side. Instead we considered the list above. Note that as we might expect some are drawn to the same old subjects under different twists : gamification, the challenge of too much data, people changing their habits and MR having to deal with that. All very interesting. But again all things that are happening within the industry now. So we wanted to push ourselves a little further.

We talked through three areas that are not on the normal lists of trends in MR but that we could see will have to be dealt with in the next few years. Three subjects that acknowledge big transformations in human interaction, society and business. And then we asked seven or so of our groups to tackle these specific transformational issues.

Youth represents a huge proportion of our populations, especially in the MENAP region. They have mobile phones. Often at rates higher than literacy. Meanwhile “ formal literacy” as in reading and writing is stagnant in some markets and if we consider the ability and patience to read and write more than a twitter feed then it may be declining. may be declining. At the same time gaming, infographics, LINE, Instagram and many other forms of communication are changing our notion of literacy. All of which led our focus groups to make some suggestions as to how MR should deal with changing literacy …

  • Image based research tracking
  • IVR -> audio
  • Emoticons
  • Design based language
  • MR agencies to redefine their role to tackle the reducing literacy levels
  • Greater interpretation of pictures, photos and symbols
  • Bring consumers to life (e.g. via video)
  • Deep divers of understanding
  • Up story telling skills
  • Colors/visuals interpretation
  • More stimuli
  • Understand the dimensions of literacy and evolve accordingly
  • Do not assume that literacy is all about knowing how to read and write
  • It should be all about co-creation & collaboration
  • No need to ask people anymore

MR spends too much time worrying about how data is collected and there is too little evidence that we understand the business models of clients and how transactions actually work in their industry. How is information transacted, what are the flows of information ? And how are people transacting between themselves and with organisations now. Not just in terms of the rise of electronic transactions but how we transact relationships. The world of mobility, “e” and “I” everything and the digitizing of social media means the way people transact everything is changing. And MR needs to take on board some new ideas and themes …

  • Mobile wallets and similar transactions will be made by customers and MR needs to recognize this opportunity and consider it a new source of data/revenue. Digital specialist roles in MR.
  • Make transactions a give and take
  • Develop models for point systems for transactions of different types to be able to establish norms
  • Remove the barrier of currency
  • Conversion of a global village
  • E-commerce – global marketplace
  • Disposable income
  • Shorter attention span and clutter in the market and what that means in terms of the thought behind transactions
  • Measuring transactions real time using Passive research methodologies
  • One to many – Skimming
  • Sourcing respondents will change as we learn to reward in different ways
  • Emotions – make people feel good about the transactions with the brands
  • Generate a pull to gather data by emotional connection to consumers … transacting information within research methodologies will need to change

Multi-screening is all around us. Our phones have become our “fifth sense” fully integrating into our other senses and providing an additional way to feel the world. At the same time clients are wanting to know about the integrating and overlapping of different experiences on-line and off-line. How does the scent in a store integrate with social media campaigns and product trial to create long and short term effects ? etc etc. In a world where marketers are trying to leverage all the senses how can MR cope …

  • Gear ourselves to capture and engage all senses.
  • Research on research to provide better experiences to our customers /respondents/stake holders
  • Observation based research instead of asking questions. Use tools such as eyeball tracking, reading facial expressions
  • Listening to social media including Instagram
  • Using user generated data in the form of big data
  • Picture based Data collection
  • Moving into non- verbal and neuroscience.
  • Using language that the target audience understands so for teens make use of digital signs and symbols they use. Use technology to make research more visual

No doubt you can see overlaps between these three big transformational areas and the way our workshop participants interpreted them. There were many interesting discussions. In the hours afterward people could be heard further discussing the issues. In the following week dozens of emails were exchanged as people thought through the issues some more. The exercise of getting those 200 odd MR professionals to sit in groups and discuss the issue of transformation was at the very least useful in getting people to open up, share and get to know others opinions. A great many opinions.

And so a debate was indeed begun. One that will be worth continuing. What are the trends that are seeing MR evolve? What are the issues that will force another round of transformation?

The TRANSFORMATION DEBATE at ESOMAR MENAP might be seen as a starting point and as promised to those that took part through the pages of RWConnect we hope to continue the getting opinions on the subject.

 Dave McCaughan is a story builder and thought starter based in Hong Kong, get in touch with him at davidcmccaughan@gmail.com