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Are we Seeing an End to Market Research as we Know it?

Felix Rios, Market Research Technology Manager, Ugam,


As someone whose childhood was shaped by sci-fi versions of the future; Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Jetsons and Terminator, I find it exciting to imagine what the future will look like. So what does the future hold for market research? 

It’s not ending (though I did get your attention with my headline, didn’t I?) This is a $40B industry (and growing). It’s not easy to wipe out an industry that is bigger than many small countries’ economies. Or is it?

In looking towards the future, it’s also good to take a look at lessons of the past, like the recent rise and the demise of several technology titans. There are three very clear examples of companies who dominated markets but then were wiped out. In just 19 years, these companies lost a bit more than $90B altogether.

Nokia: At its peak in 2010, it had $74.56B in revenue. In 2014, it recorded $13.4B
Kodak: At its peak in 1996, it had $16B in revenue. In 2012, it filed for bankruptcy.
Blackberry: At its peak in 2011, it had $20.59B in revenue. In 2015 it is $3.3B.

These three companies have something very important in common: they are victims of disruptive technologies that no one saw coming.

Comparing companies that failed individually with entire industries may be like comparing blackberries and apples (pun intended). However, one of the things (for better or worse) about the Market Research industry is how cohesive it is. We all seem to react at a similar pace to technology. If seen through this lens, disruptive technologies could be a threat to us all.

In our industry, data collection for primary research, comes in many forms, from Nielsen’s TV measurement tools to traditional face-to-face qualitative interviews. Historically, clients came to us for our expertise in collecting data and understanding it. We designed statistical models to make it more efficient and developed techniques to guarantee the accuracy of this data.

But technology has now democratized data collection. The evolution in storage capacity has given us the ability to store pretty much everything without the need to ever delete a file.

Companies now know that all they have to do is collect as much data as possible about their interactions with their customers (this applies to any vertical), organize this data and push it through the right tools and resources. This is easier said than done, but until a few years ago, companies were discarding most of this data and going to third parties for insights about their consumers. I’m sure you’ve read the numbers – data scientists are expected to be in high demand for the next 10 years.

And the demand for data scientists is coming from every sector. There is an increasing need for people that can analyze data because companies are not discarding data anymore. It is being collected in truckloads. Our clients know that with the right resources, they can mine their data. They are generating all the data they need to get the insights they want.

The power of mining your own data, mixed with the power of mining publicly available data, is a very strong combination. Considering how big our digital footprint as consumers is, this is becoming easier and easier. Let’s take, for example, a company that recently launched a product called Crystal (https://www.crystalknows.com/). This application analyzes people’s public data and then it tells you exactly how to communicate with them. Go ahead, give it a try – it’s free at the moment.

At first it feels like reading your horoscope, but unlike Astrology, there is real science behind Crystal. On a quick test, it managed to match my profile with 97% accuracy. What this means is that if you look me up on Crystal, it will tell you what to say and what not to say, when you want to send me an email. Some of the tips it shares about my profile are freakishly accurate. This tool is the dream of every sales person. Until now, the most common use for technologies like this one has been to sell you very targeted online advertising. This tool takes it to another level.

At this point Crystal only sells itself as a tool to help you write better communications. But depending on how strong its profiling engine is, it (or something similar) could easily grow into other areas like market research. If they are able to determine how to communicate with someone, with “bigger data,” they should be able to apply the same sauce to larger audiences. The implications are tremendous. By analyzing publicly available data and blending it with historical data from your systems, you can shape messages, tailor products and understand behavior. All this without even asking a single yes-or-no question. Crystal is testing this at a very small scale, but its potential is really exciting.

Crystal is showing us how to push the envelope when it comes to mining publicly available data. Somehow, it is now managing to partially do it. Imagine if you could plug it into your own CRM system and allow something similar to profile your clients and tell you what to say and what not to say to them?

Another online tool to look at is Slice (www.slice.com). This service helps you to keep all your online purchases organized. It collects all your receipts, gives you analytics about your spending, tracks your shipping, and even monitors changes in the prices of the products that you have purchased, allowing you to claim refunds and rebates, saving you money! Best of all, this service is free.

On the other side of the curtain, Slice Intelligence uses anonymous aggregated data from these interactions with the Slice app, and delivers online retail purchase habits reports based on real purchase data. All this stuff is explained in detail in their privacy policy.

Traditional market research online panels have a transactional relationship with their panelists. In completing survey A, you get X, Y or Z. In most cases this is money or incentives in turn for filling out a survey. Slice is one of the many companies that shows us that people are happy with getting services that make their life easier, and in return they will share their data. Google built an empire with this model.

These type of applications are appearing everywhere, therefore the sources of data and insights are becoming infinite. Clients are already looking at them with a lot of interest. What this means for our industry is that we no longer have the monopoly to provide our clients with information about consumer behavior. Technology has leveled the playing field for everyone. The most innovative agencies have identified this and are already creating partnerships and alliances with a lot of these new applications and services.

In the future, we may also become consultants to help our clients identify which tools they can give to their consumers. We could help them design those tools in such a way that the data gathered can be analyzed more efficiently. Moving from the “survey” to the “tool” will allow customers to voluntarily generate data, not in waves, but in a constant stream of data. This is the ultimate dream of the researcher, and it is also the ultimate dream of every client – real-time constant feedback about their users.

This sounds a lot more complicated and tedious than writing a survey. But don’t worry, the market research is not nearing its end. Concepts and ads will always have to be tested. As long as there are people willing to answer questions in exchange for money, there will be room for this model. However, it is at risk of becoming slow and inefficient, compared to the new sources of data, and is therefore unattractive to our clients. This coming change could be a gradual process or it could happen in one single hit. We won’t know it until we feel the knuckles.

Content from this article originally appeared in RW Connect on May 5th, 2015.  



The Author:
Felix Rios is a Market Research Technology Manager at Ugam. He is passionate about technology and beyond the office walls, also enjoys photography.


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