Yesterday I had the pleasure of brainstorming the future of market research with 15 senior thought-leaders from the UK and several important ideas and observations emerged (some of which will be the subject of future posts). But the most striking overall finding was that the future of market research is something very different from its past.
In the past market research was largely identified (from both within and outside the industry) as being based on spending time with people asking questions, talking to them, or following them around. The core of this business was surveys, focus groups, depth interviews, and more recently online discussions and communities. A popular view about market research is that about 80% of industry is quant and about 15% is qual (in terms of revenue).
However, looking at the data from ESOMAR, MRS, and Inside Research this picture does not accurately reflect the industry today. Something like 50% of current market research spend (as described by ESOMAR’s lists, the MRS league tables, and Inside Research’s figures) does not relate to spending time with people, it includes store audits, loyalty card data, media monitoring, the processing of health data etc. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this is that Dunnhumby is number 3 in the UK league tables of market research companies, and in ESOMAR’s global league table the top 15 contains several companies whose core business has little to do with surveys, focus groups, ethnography, depth-interviews, and community discussions etc.
Once consequence of this split is that it is probably fairer to say that the traditional part of market research is something like 15% qual and 35% quant - creating the 50% that is traditional, i.e. that qual (including most of the activity in MROCs) is about 40% as big as quant, not the under 20% that it is usually reported as.
So, the common image of market research today, i.e. one that is dominated by researchers dealing with people through direct interactions, appears to be wrong. Remote and automated monitoring of large data sets is a major part of what market research today is.
What about the future?
When the conversation concentrated on the next five years it was clear that traditional research concepts, such as surveys and focus groups are going to play an ever decreasing role in market research, even in the context of mobile surveys and community discussions. The key changes are going to be in the integration of data sources. Although this area, which is likely to involve CRM, Voice of the Consumer, loyalty card data, people monitoring, geolocation, social media listening, transactional data, and third-party databases is going to be contested by a wide variety of types of organisations, the people in the room felt that our special angle is adding two elements to the mix a) understanding people (something which we felt the large ‘data focused’ companies were quite weak at) and b) focusing on the ‘why?’ question.
The changes, in what market research is, have some pretty wide implications in terms of the skills we need, who our competitors might be, who our clients might be (they increasingly are not the insight managers), and what the rules of our industry should be, and they will be explored in subsequent posts on this blog.
But, I will leave my comments here with one prediction. At the moment something like 50% of market research relates to surveys, focus groups, communities, discussions, polls, and other traditional forms of market research. In five years this will be under 25%.
What do you think?