There are no knowns - A day at the Market Research Summit 2017

By Julie Aebersold

The Internet today is 8,977 days old, and it’s no secret we couldn’t live without it. This is how the 5th annual Market Research Summit kicked off in London. Every day market researchers are embracing change in a digital era to survive.

These changes have led us into an age of uncertainty; where each decision we make shapes the future of market research. The full day of presentations began with a panel tasked with sharing their hopes in navigating through this age of uncertainty. We’re at a crossroad in market research when it comes to embracing change, and we better hope we have the wisdom to choose the correct path. But to load on more pressure, we must get things right from the outset because cultural and economic views are heavily influencing others. Case in point – social media has taken the controversial ads produced recently by Pepsi globally and McDonald’s in the UK through an absolute windstorm. Of course, with uncertainty as the hot topic of this panel, Brexit and Donald Trump had to be mentioned. Actually, I kept track and throughout the presentations I attended, the unsettling name Trump was only mentioned three times, and there were only four chilling reminders of Brexit – both considerably less than most conferences I’ve attended over the course of the last year.

Of course, we can’t talk about change in market research without bringing up AI and machine learning. In a panel titled ‘UberInsight or Datageddon?’ we discussed the future impact of these technologies on the industry. But why are we so interested in the future? Is it because our jobs are on the line? When the moderator addressed the audience, around 15% of attendees raised their hands in agreeance that they might lose their jobs (according to Colin Strong of Ipsos’s quick-glance at hands raised). But the panel encouraged the audience to view AI as an assistant, making their work faster and more valuable, and cutting into widely untapped areas such as images and unstructured data from social. The panellists predict a wide-ranging 10 – 30% future job loss. But if you have common sense, then you don’t have to worry. AI is great for finding patterns, but it lacks common sense from background and context said Chris Watkins, Professor of AI at University of London.

Another future looking panel discussed the value behind bespoke research and syndicated research. Mike Stevens of What Next Strategy & Planning suggests there are two ways of thinking. In the first, agencies are toast – they are slow, white collar production line workers. In the second view, automated platforms are just adding to the volume of noise with more data sans the quality insight. Unfortunately for the agencies in attendance, the panel really ripped them apart. Brendan Hogan of Worldpay only resorts to agencies when he has difficult news to deliver. Jemma Ahmed of Etsy agrees agencies have a time and a place – controversial or bad news, complex projects, and lack of in-house expertise. But on a slightly more positive note, she prefers small agencies as they really get to know you and work hard to meet your objectives. Rufus Weston of Just Eat and Richard Clarkson of Orange Group both recommend using a mix of the two models. Be smart and only use agencies that bring something extra- resources, expertise, capabilities, international experience. In the favour of automated platforms, Rufus enjoys the luxury of telling marketers he’ll send results within the next few days. But just using a dashboard can be one dimensional; it only provides a tool for an actual human to do the analysis, so you need in-house researchers to access the true insight. Platforms are only as good as the end user; it’s kind of like putting a five year old behind the wheel of a Ferrari, says Brendan Hogan of Worldpay. Overall though, automation and innovation get a badge of approval from the panel, and the audience believes clients will spend more money using software platforms in the future.

In this age of uncertainty, one thing that the speakers all felt confident in is that the end goal of market research and the thing researchers are most passionate about – understanding human behaviour – will never change. Trying to understand people will always be a challenge. Martin Oxley of BuzzBack kindly reminded us of the famously cynical and conflicting quote from Blaise Pascal, “What a chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sewer of uncertainty and error, the glory and scum of the universe.” But despite the contradictory nature of man, we’re hoping to get even closer to the consumer in this digital era.

The data landscape is changing; can you see the future of market research? I think Martine Oxley of BuzzBack said it best, if London survived the plaque and the great fire, we can survive the next few years in market research.

Julie Aebersold is Marketing and Content Executive at Keen as Mustard Marketing

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