The 3rd age of market research

I’ve been reading a lot about new ways of doing consumer research. There’s a constant buzz about the latest methodology breakthrough or innovation. In fact, that’s all I seem to hear lately and I don’t think I’m alone.

More and more a wide variety of categories are going through an avalanche of ideas and fads in the modus operandi these days. But I can assure you few of them are as affected as my industry: market research. No hint of provincialism intended.

I hear phrases on both extremes, from “market research is dead” to “this is going to be the biggest breakthrough in market research” on a daily basis (along with the routine “good morning” and “can I get a discount on this proposal?”).

In my view, market research is continually undergoing changes. Looking back in time, I see three primary eras of our industry.

The Discovery Age:

During the first age of market research everything was about ad-hoc research. Marketers and researchers were designers and artists. Data collection methodologies were created. Graphics and analysis were done by hand and in the end 3,000 slides were delivered. Very poetic indeed!

The Age of Models:

Next came the time for modeling, which I nominate as the second age.  At this point, during late 90’s and early 2000’s, every company was pursuing the best model for advertising evaluation, pricing, shopper engagement, etc. The mantra was “no matter the briefing, my model will work!”

The Social Age:

Now we’ve evolved to the third age, one of innovative & fast paced market research. This new era (wow!) is nothing but:

  1. An ad-hoc view of the client’s issue (back to Discovery Age!),
  2. Searching for the best model in our library (nothing new so far),
  3. Gathered with the most itinerant or logical way for the target (online, mobile, offline, Community Panels, etc).
  4. To provide fast results and quickly consumable insights (in one week I want two insights)

Therefore, models or methodological knowledge is of little importance if we refuse to accept this new social model. Everything is faster, but can it be put into action? That is arguable. We have tons of information, but which is THE piece of information that must be analyzed and considered? I can still recall a statement made by an advisor during a major client executive presentation:

“Thank you for the information you didn’t share with me”

Some say that the new methodologies are the real breakthrough in this sense. But what do you think is more relevant: web, tablet, online, mobile, ROI model, community panel research, etc. OR the understanding that research is now evolving as quickly as the world around us?

I believe a success researcher must not ignore the innovations happening in our industry; it’s our mission to continuously bring in and land new ideas. But from my point of view, a good researcher needs to stay focused on the 4 key insights (outlined above) that can actually make a difference and add value to every material produced (from proposals to summary reports). We are the scientists, the experts, and the core group responsible for the future of customer based research.

I’ll end with a timeless quote from Mr. Albert Einstein:

“A mind, once stretched by a great idea, never returns to its former limitations.”

I have two questions for you: Are we in the third era? And, are you doing our part?

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