The shape of things to come

As we contemplate 70 years of ESOMAR history, Jo Bowman asks three client-side researchers to do the almost-impossible: predict how things will change in the 70 years ahead.

Back in 1947, as the world contemplated the future of the newly independent India and Pakistan, the rise of the USSR as a superpower and, in lighter moments, the Roswell UFO incident, who could have envisaged the world of 2017?

Even the best minds in research at that time would have struggled to come up with a picture in which China – which was then yet to be even declared a communist republic – would emerge from behind the bamboo curtain and become the factory of the world; the factory that produces our handheld gadgetry and much that has accompanied the rise of digital.

Alexander Linder is director of corporate consumer and market insights at Swarovski, a company that has a heritage dating back well beyond 70 years; it was founded in 1895. His work is doubtless a world away from that done by his predecessors, and he forecasts continued massive evolution in client-side research.

“In 70 years from now, we will have much more implicit measuring techniques and many more data traces left by the consumer,” he says.

“The data is still becoming richer. The researcher’s role is a navigator – they have to support the client in differentiating the relevant from the irrelevant, selecting and combining different data formats, understanding and interpreting the relevant patterns in the right way, and supporting the implementation of research findings to maximise its impact.”

Anneke Quinn de Jong works for another industrial stalwart, Philips, which back in the 1940s was still some years off from inventing the music cassette tape. Things have moved on somewhat since then, as has the day-to-day business of the researcher. The pace of future change will be even faster, she predicts.

“For me it’s quite radical, because we’re already on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution,” she says.

“There are endless possibilities, with billions of people connected on mobile devices and their access to knowledge is unlimited. These possibilities will only be multiplied by technology breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing, biotechnology and so on, so I think that even in the next decade, we’ll see a very interesting dynamic in our understanding of the human brain.

If you’re an ESOMAR member you can read the full article in MyESOMAR in the digital copy of Research World. If you are not a member of ESOMAR you can join and receive a free copy of Research World 6 times a year or alternatively you can sign up for a subscription of the magazine in our publications store.