By Neda Eneva

What does the future hold for the Market Research industry? Not a very light and easy topic to tackle, but the 2015 BAQMaR event in Gent, Belgium certainly managed to spark this discourse within the heart of each and every one of its delegates.

And while arriving in Belgium was accompanied by a very cold and rainy weather and a very tense and cautious atmosphere due to the current security threats, entering the artistic venue immediately lifted the spirits. Surrounded by welcoming faces and buzzing networking, I was excited to join the launch of the event with curiosity about what future insights it will bring. For me, one of the underlying themes of majority of the presentation was consumer-centricity or to put it in more buzzy words – bring back the power to the people.

During his opening speech, Ray Poynter immediately dived into what our industry needs to do to be ready to face the future by arguing that while current research has shifted from watching people as pure observers, to subjects becoming ‘research-complicit’ in a participant-based form of research, our industry is in fact still behind in terms of user-friendliness and accessibility. Ray underlined that by limiting respondents from answering surveys on their mobiles, for example, we lose engagement. “It is not our job to tell research participants what they can or cannot do – customers own brands, they are the ones that tell brands what to do”, Ray added. He finished his talk by reminding the audience that moving towards “Mobile First” also needs to be taken with a word of caution as technology does have its limitations. We need to separate the signal from the noise, with false assumptions of causality being best removed through experimentation, Ray concluded.

This lead nicely into the behaviour prediction and consumer insights focus of Peter Harrison’s webinar-style presentation, which launched the Consumer Understanding track. Looking through the lens of psychology and economics, he argued that in market research, asking “Why?” could be misleading as imagery and narratives can influence product perceptions. The questions people ask themselves, he continued, are often more insightful than the questions researchers ask them. Understanding how heuristics work can help us close this gap, he concluded. Peter further shared that at BrainJuicer they have worked out a methodology, which helps understand and avoid the bias of asking questions through fame, feeling and fluency (or availability, affect, fluency heuristic respectively) of the product in the consumers perceptions.

New methodologies to measuring product value and perceptions was also the focus of the presentation by Anouar El Haji from Veylinx. He went further into the modern research approaches to measuring by arguing that indeed they carry two significant biases – the Hypothetical bias and the Hawthorne effect. His answer to this – “Ask people to put their money where their mouth is” or, simply put, auctions. At Veylinx they have adopted a form of the Lonely but Lovely Vickrey Auction thus impacting the value by changing the positioning of the product. They set up a product valuation by setting an auction in which each participant has one anonymous vote, with the final price being the highest losing bid. By auctions, Anouar argued, the people that are willing to actually pay for a product are more clearly distinguished from the people that are not. While a compelling perspective, this did not seem to work too well on the audience at the event, who when prompted to participate in such an action for a luggage tracker in the end refused to actually pay the money they bid for the product. We are yet to find out who will be able to track their suitcases in the near future and how much they are ACTUALLY willing to pay for it.

Similarly, the human focus was the leading theme within Anouk Willem’s (InSites Consulting) presentation on Turning Insights into Memes. She underlined that with the reality of consumer environment constantly changing, we need to spot new market opportunities and navigate this transformation through collective creative brainstorm. “Software doesn’t solve problems, people do”, Anouk reminded. I felt this message through Aart Labee’s presentation on McDonald’s ‘Crafting a wholesome experience through big data’ case study. Aart presented that insights that create true impact come from transforming Bid Data into Smart Data thus understanding the emotional, as well as functional feedback from customers, connecting internal with external data and most importantly, translating this internally into a passion to deliver among the entire staff.

For me the pinnacle of the “Power to the People” focus at BAQMaR’15 was the presentation by Denyse Drummond-Dunn from C3Centricity. Throughout her presentation, she reminded the audience that market researchers know and understand customers better than anyone, so we should all become customer champions within our companies. Denyse stated that market research insights should be the ones driving product development and not data scientists, as big data is only as good as the questions we ask. Data is about people and should be used to change behavior, which is why it is the “why’s” that matter most, Denyse explained. “Big Data has become something of a primadona and it is time to put it back in its place”, she argued. Market researchers need to make information the support act, by translating insights into customer centricity. She also presented the recent Insights 2020 findings highlighting that customer experience has been identified as a top priority for companies to perform better. “Customer expedience is a journey, not a destination”, Denyse concluded.

And so… these are impressions from presentations that focused on innovative methodologies, bringing back collaboration and resourceful co-creation. Understanding our consumers more deeply, but also ourselves in the process. But what will the future of our industry actually look like? The presentation that probably most ignited futuristic thinking for me was the closing keynote by Yuri van Geest from the Singularity University. He dazed the audience with an explosion of innovations from the world of technology. Self-driving cars, block chain, artificial intelligence, generators that creates energy from air. Truly mind-blowing! We are digitising the world and information is key, Yuri warned, because it is exponential. Exponential technology is accelerating and disrupting our whole planet in shorter periods than ever before. Organisations need to adjust and adapt to this new reality by working through open eco-systems and becoming inside-out entities. ‘We have just started with the technology revolution,” Yuri added, “and this is the most exciting and frightening time to be alive.”

What does this mean for market research? Christophe Ovaere from ZappiStore boldly finished his disruption through technology presentation by stating “Market Research as we know it, is Dead, Long live Market Research”. Does our industry need to change in its essence to keep up with the upcoming singularity tsunami? Are we not reacting fast enough to the challenges of tomorrow? And yet, there was that human element. The human element most visible for me throughout the presentations I had the privilege to attend in this rainy Belgian day. Because market researchers are the ones that understand consumers the best, because software doesn’t solve problems, people do.

So, what does the future hold for the Market Research industry? I leave that up to you to decide…

Neda Eneva is Senior Marketing and Communications Specialist at ESOMAR. 

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