By the ESOMAR USA Representatives

Although North America was unable to retain fastest growing market for research for a second year running, the overall market size has increased by almost 20% according to the latest ESOMAR Global Market Research report. But, while the overall market growth figure may have implied a slowing down, the market measure has expanded to include two additional new sectors, giving the region a net growth of 0.5%. Following on from this we asked the ESOMAR representatives in the US about the challenges, opportunities and trends in their market.

Did someone say mobile? Again?

As this series of articles continue, having looked at the LATAM, APAC an MENAP regions, we do indeed see the same patterns emerging, even more so in a developed market such as the United States. It’s of course, the conversation about mobile and internet penetration rearing its head again. Jackie Lorch, Vice President, Global Knowledge Management, SSI USA, comments, “With online penetration approaching 90%, online is the go-to data collection methodology, and don’t even think about fielding a questionnaire that can’t be completed on a mobile phone.” Yet, although this knowledge is commonplace, it doesn’t mean the industry has caught up yet. With US smartphone penetration near 60%, survey participants are increasingly choosing to take surveys on mobile devices. Lorch observes, “The industry has not made it a priority to put participants first and design mobile-friendly questionnaires. Likewise mobile in-the-moment research presents wonderful opportunities to interact at the moment of decision-making with video or image capture. Yet we have largely failed to engage.”

This sentiment is echoed by Melanie Courtright, EVP, Products and Client Services, Research Now. “The biggest challenge is learning how to evolve for mobile devices — the questionnaires themselves have to change, and we are really struggling with moving fast enough in America.” Although the market research world might be lagging behind, there are big opportunities here, comments Courtright, “Biggest opportunity is in automation of basic research types so that through standardization we can integrate other forms of data better and spend more time on interpretation and make decisions more quickly.”

Stereotyping

While the rest of the world might have an inbuilt stereotype of Americans (can anyone blame them, Donald Trump anyone?) – it couldn’t be further from the truth. Lorch comments, “Most of the stereotypes you have heard about America are exaggerations. Most Americans enjoy foods other than burgers, fries and buckets of cola and many are well-informed about and interested in other countries in the world!” Indeed, Courtright observes, “The US is very diverse, both in business and with consumers. It’s like many small countries grouped together, so to try and approach it as one market is not possible.”

The US shouldn’t be treated as one country – this is a population of almost 319 million people, spanning across more than 9 million km. That’s a lot of people, can we really expect them to have the same thoughts and opinions? Lorch expands on this further, “Different geographies, attitudes and cultures can be found within its borders. You’re likely to find doing business in the fast-paced, intense, “in-your-face” culture of New York City different from the more laid-back, proudly non-conformist, technology-driven Northern California, for example. Street signs you may see along the way help tell the story!”

iStock_000066302035_Medium copyCalifornia Beach Crossing

Very visible in the US, but not just limited to here, is a major new societal trend that will impact research – fragmentation – in almost every aspect of modern life. Lorch notes, “From people’s time and attention, the data sources they use, their digital device habits, to the diversity of their beliefs, lifestyles, attitudes and interests. Institutions in the media, government and communities that used to help define large groups among the population have largely vanished to be replaced by customisation of the individual experience to a massive degree. As society fragments, are our traditional research taxonomies relevant anymore? We still group people by age, by ethnicity, by geography, in ways that haven’t changed for generations. We should instead consider life stages, and new attitudinal groupings as ways to better understand the consumer. This is equally true for B2B research where titles, responsibilities and purchase patterns are changing rapidly and we need to target based on the reality of today’s job functions and responsibilities.”

The future

There are many trends impacting on America, and indeed society at large, none more so than technology. Lorch comments, “The idea of technology as not just enabler, but also driver of our business is a phenomenon noted by Unilever’s Stan Sthanunathan. Technology has made research more efficient, and improved its quality for companies who have invested in it. Now technology is doing more: actively directing where research will be and go in the future. It is taking over many research tasks that humans used to do. The challenge is that powerful technology and the expertise to run it is usually only available to the larger players, so many smaller enterprises need to find a new raison d’etre, or risk being swallowed up.”

Big data and the internet of things will also shape the future of market research, but we first need to get over the problems. “The practical and operational obstacles in the way of getting value from all the data now available are not trivial, yet the potential rewards are massive. If we can overcome the obstacles, research can use big data to answer the what, when and where questions and surveys to get at the why and what next – resulting in shorter, more interesting surveys and more accurate factual data.”

And a further trend to look out for, comes from Courtright, who comments, “A trend we’re seeing is definitely privacy and what that means in a world of cookies and meters and observational data collection. And in turn, society’s reaction to those practices, along with their expectations of transparency and responsibility.”

How to do business here

While we know we need to let go of those stereotypes of Americans we seen in the media, how do we do business here?

Lorch has some sound advice, “Americans are informal and direct in business dealings and make decisions relatively quickly – so don’t be afraid to ask for the business and discuss specifics like delivery times and costs.” But, don’t mistake that good old American positivity for success. “A positive attitude is much admired in the US, so even if someone tells you they’re “incredibly excited” about meeting you and hearing about your product it doesn’t mean you’ve made the sale!” observes Lorch.

So what have we learnt about doing business in the United States? Don’t treat this country as one…

Special thanks to Jackie and Melanie for this article.

Jackie Lorch, Vice President, Global Knowledge Management, SSI USA

Melanie Courtright, EVP, Products and Client Services, Research Now

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