I have been asked by a reader of this blog to post the article printed in the December issue of Research Magazine. The text below is the version I submitted, there will be some differences between it and the printed version, I guess that is what they pay editors for.
"Research 2.0 – The Market Research response to Web 2.0
The buzz on the Internet at the moment is all about Web 2.0, along with phrases such as participatory web, user generated content, and user generated media. Whilst there is undoubtedly a tremendous amount of hype going on, it is clear that the old top-down view of the Internet, where the few published and the many simply read, is giving way to a Web where everybody is enfranchised. In the keynote speech to the recent ESOMAR Congress, journalist and author Charles Leadbetter contrasted how newspapers used to control what was printed and what was not printed, with the modern world, where anybody and everybody with a mobile phone can become a citizen journalist.
The term Web 2.0 was coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004 to describe how people were starting to contribute their own content, rather than simply download what was already there. As an example of the before and after, Tim O’Reilly offered the following table:
|Web 1.0||Web 2.0|
|Content management systems||Wikis|
According to Hitwise, social network site MySpace was the 9th most visited site in the UK in September 2006, closely followed by rival Bebo.com, which was the 11th most visited site. The fact that Web 2.0 sites are big business was shown last year when Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace for US$580 million, and even more so when Google recently paid US$1.65 billion for video upload/download site YouTube. Ofcom’s June 2006 report showed that 70% of 18-24 years olds use social networking sites, and that television viewing amongst this group is in decline.
In describing the change that has happened to the Web, Pete Comley of Virtual Surveys uses an illustration from Transactional Analysis. He points out that we are moving from a Parent<->Child situation to an Adult<->Adult relationship. In terms of market research, he says that if surveys persist with their historical Parent<->Child method of communicating, we risk alienating our respondents who very much perceive things, in a more equal way.
Some brands are moving quickly to exploit this new participatory paradigm. Unilever’s Lynx brand (Axe to most of the world) has adopted a number of new media approaches, including online games, viral marketing, a tie-up with MySpace phenomenon ‘Forbidden’ and even a MySpace site for TowelBoy, the lead character from their recent commercial. Forbidden, AKA Christine Dolce, is a former cosmetics consultant who now has over 1.1 million ‘friends’, her own brand of clothing “Destroyed Denim”, and sells advertising space to brands such as Direct Line insurance on her MySpace homepage.
P&G have established their Tremor Panels (as reported by Chief Juicer John Kearon in a recent Research article) to explore co-creation and at a the recent US Association of National Advertisers Conference, P&G’s CEO AG Lafley talked the need for brands to “let go” and cede control to consumers. Boeing are working with flyers and enthusiasts to design the planes of the future and Lego has all but given control of the Mindstorm product to its fan base.
Much has been written about blogs, for example Technorati estimate a new blog is created every 7 seconds, and companies everywhere seem to be rolling out their corporate blog. However, it is not clear that blogs will be anything like as influential as social networks, citizen journalism, upload sites like YouTube, or even product review sites. Web 2.0 is about much, much more than blogs.
By contrast with the changes happening in the wider world, market research has very much maintained, what Graeme Trayner of Brunswick Group has termed, a command and control approach. Researchers need to adapt the O’Reilly table to consider research in terms of the way it has operated in the past, i.e. Research 1.0, and the way it needs to operate in the future, i.e. Research 2.0.
|Research 1.0||Research 2.0|
|We select when to do surveys||?|
|We select the respondents||?|
|We pick the questions||?|
|We pick the answers||?|
|We keep the process secret||?|
|We keep the results secret||?|
|We treat customers as lab rats||?|
Marketers and researchers select the timing and topics of research, perhaps they should be a response to what customers want to talk about? We pick the respondents to talk to, or at least we think we do, 90% of the time potential respondents reject our offers. We pick the questions and the answers, if we say “pick one” we mean pick one, even if the respondent really wants to select two or none of the options, and there is little or no scope for respondents to suggest alternative questions.
We assume we can keep the process a secret. However, people are beginning to report that people seem to be recalling fewer ads, claiming to bank at fewer banks, and the reason appears to be that respondents know that for every item they pick we will route them into tedious and boring loops of questions. Research by the likes of SSI, NOVPO, and Virtual Surveys has shown that one of the main reasons people do surveys is to express opinions and to influence decision makes, but if we don’t feed the results back to them, it gives the impression they are not being listened to.
The whole process of parallel cells, random allocation, significance testing, blind and double-blind tests, is more reminiscent of scientists testing lab rats in a maze, and is a very poor fit with the idea of a discourse between adults.
Whilst there will always be some demand for traditional research, i.e. Research 1.0, it is unlikely that traditional approaches will do more than scratch the skin of the new participatory approach to brands and the Internet. New methods are being tried out that will break with tradition and will see brands, customers, and researchers working collaboratively to improve brands, for the benefit of consumers and with increasing amounts of ownership by those consumers.
One example of Research 2.0 was given at the 2006 MRS Conference by Nick Watkins and Dr Miriam Comber of NOP, who showed how blogs could be used to help research the slow, intense, and tortuous process of taking out a mortgage. The NOP research used blogs to tap into the highs and lows that people experienced.
French company CRMMetrix has launched its BaroBlogs to measure the impact of the blogosphere in France and has been researching the impact of Word of Mouth (WOM) on brands and even on French politics. CEO Laurent Flores is a good example of the new synergies in the Web 2.0 world, as well as being a researcher he is a board member of WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.
UK online specialists, Virtual Surveys have been using post survey forums and brand forums to allow respondents to keep discussing the issues, even after the survey finishes. Respondents come back to the forums to receive feedback from the brand, additional questions, and to ask their own questions, make their own comments, and suggest additional topics for future research.
Probably the highest profile company working in this space is BuzzMetrics (or Nielsen BuzzMetrics since their acquisition at the beginning of 2006). Nielsen BuzzMetrics specialise in the area of tracking and analysing the content of blogs, message boards, and review sites. BuzzMetrics illustrates the value of listening compared with asking.
So, what will the future hold for market research? Next year’s MRS Conference looks as though it is shaping up to provide some early answers, with a number of papers looking at Web 2.0 and Research 2.0 related issues. It is likely that future researchers will be much more integrated into the brand<->customer discourse than has traditionally been the case, with some interesting implications for market research codes of conduct.
The researcher of the future will need to master traditional research skills, but they will also need to be able to cede control to customers and respondents, and to work in collaboration with the forces of the marketplace. In terms of a sporting metaphor the future will be less like speed boat racing and more like surfing, less like flying a jet and more like flying a glider.
At a recent New Media workshop, John Shanahan, CEO of Australian research agency Colmar Brunton said 'We need to move away from a model where agencies wait for briefs. If we are truly connected with customers then we should be going to clients telling them the customers’ issues and suggesting the research that needs to be conducted.'. If brands cede control to customers then researchers can’t assume that brands will set the tempo."