David Day

We’ve come a long way since the age of the traditional market research survey. Technology has opened up a vast array of opportunities. With new tech companies launching online survey tools and brands conducting ‘DIY’ research, there’s a danger that traditional market research could be left behind. If the industry is to survive and thrive, then it’s time to face the facts.

FACT NO. 1: Consumers call the shots
We no longer control where and how consumers engage with us. They have more distractions thanks to the array of media they’re exposed to, and we have to compete for their attention.

Consumers have many channels of communication and many ways to express their opinion in the public arena. Why take the trouble to call customer services when it’s quicker to complain to the whole world in 140 characters on Twitter? The survey is now no longer the only means for our busy and distracted consumers to give feedback. They can use social media, or they can review a purchase on a website or shopping portal.

If we want to engage consumers in surveys, we need to ensure the experience of giving us feedback is as painless and rewarding as possible. The traditional survey still has its place, but we cannot ignore consumers’ increasing involvement with and preference for new technology as their channel of communication.

FACT NO. 2: Big data changes everything
Whatever approach we take, the days of the traditional survey as the only market research tool are over. In this hyper-digital age brands can now access real-time consumer views, opinion and behaviour in a way that was unimaginable only 20 years ago. They can track the customer journey in detail and follow every decision-making process. Whether we like it or not, Big Data is here to stay.

There is a role for social media, which can be useful as a ‘snapshot’ of consumer opinion. But caution should be used, as social media brand interactions, however interesting, are not necessarily representative in a purely statistical way and how they translate into action in the real world is complex.

Without care, Big Data can be ‘too much information’. While all this detail is welcome, it is really only useful if properly organised and filtered to find the meaningful insights that reveal consumer attitudes and behaviours. Good market researchers need to become experts in using big data to inform better, more relevant questions and deliver sharper more actionable results.

FACT NO. 3: DIY research can (and does) go wrong
Many companies already provide an opportunity for brands to gather their own research, and online survey software offers low cost options to companies who’ve never conducted traditional market research. These tools can be useful, helping brands to analyse the ‘wake’ of a consumer to purchase, and gaining useful insights about their behaviour.

The problem is we need to be careful not to become over reliant on ‘good enough’ and just in time information to inform major business decisions. For example taking a social media snapshot may only show one aspect of the story. A survey is only as good as the questions asked, and the sample may be too small, or skewed. It is all about balance and brands need to understand the objectives and impact of their research on the business to decide on the best solution to meet those objectives. The increase in DIY research does open up additional opportunities.  As smaller, less critical research moves to seamless fast ‘hands off’ processes, research companies should be able to focus more on the added value services – providing the clients with the unique benefits their skills provide.

However, in some situations only a large-scale research project involving direct interaction with customers will do.

FACT NO. 4: Respondents are on the move
Respondents are on their smartphones, and they are on the move, distracted and engaged with multiple media at any one time. Over 50% of the active population in the developed world is hooked up to a smartphone and that percentage is only going to increase.

I think the future is online anytime, anywhere, on any device. So our job is to make the research available to consumers how and where to ‘consume’ it. Without radical re-thinking of the way research is conducted we run the risk of marginalising our own industry.

There’s still too many long, boring surveys designed for a big screen (if not a clipboard!). Far too many surveys don’t render well (or even at all) on small screen, and too many researchers want to exclude mobile respondents as they are ‘different’ when actually including them is more representative of today’s consumers. The research industry has to recognise the challenge of mobile and change very quickly to remain relevant. It is up to all of us.

FACT NO. 5: As consumers change, so must we
Thought now needs to be put into how we construct research programmes to take advantage of the new technology, but even more importantly, to ensure that new technology does not restrict the effectiveness of our research. We need to tailor our surveys for the device they will be completed on and in some cases that means changing the way we do our research.

Surveys have to be shorter and more engaging. But how can we achieve this? It means not boring the time-poor respondent, not asking redundant or unclear questions but asking smarter, informed questions. And, if possible, making the survey fun! Too much of what our industry does is poorly executed. We seem to forget that respondents are just like us. They have little time and lots to do. Always ask yourself the question, ‘would I want to do that survey?’ If the answer is no then it needs more work.

David Day is CEO & President, Lightspeed GMI