Yesterday, at the MRS Conference in London, I caused a bit of a stir with my suggestion that in twenty years we won’t be conducting commercial market research surveys (see #res10). Clearly, in a question from a roving mike there is a limit to how much thinking one can get across, and anyway my thoughts were still forming. So, here is the slightly more nuanced, thought through, caveated version of the same proposition.
Firstly, I am not talking about social research. I think it is possible, perhaps likely, that core social research will need its surveys.
Secondly, I am talking about markets where market research has a developed to the point of having access panels (be they online, mobile, or some other new variety that might happen over the next twenty years).
Thirdly, when I say no surveys I mean instruments that last ten minutes or more and where the respondent can tell it is a questionnaire.
OK, so now I have got my caveats in place, what am I saying will change?
We can see a trend at the moment which will result in most, maybe almost all, commercial market research being conducted via access panels. Or, to give them their new name ‘convenience samples’ of people who are doing 100s of studies per year. Note, we have given up on random probability samples and we are giving up on the idea of interviewing people who see fewer questionnaires than we do.
Where will all this take us? IMHO, I expect to see?
- More social media listening.
- More discussions in social media (MROCs are just the start).
- More new ways of researching ideas, think online gambling, think Iowa Electronic Markets, think about an eBay of idea information, think life blogging, think web analytics, think CRM, think new models such as Threadless.com.
- Open-ended research. Instead of surveys we are getting to the point where we can ask and process open-ended questions. I expect this to be in place in 20 years. This will replace many surveys.
- Given that most survey data come panel members, and that all their previous responses are stored in data warehouses, we only need to ask genuinely ‘new’ questions – not whole surveys. Given a survey that at the moment might last 20 minutes, we will only need to ask a panel member, say, 4 scale questions (Reichheld say just one question), plus conduct an automated, open-ended discussion.
Remember, clients do not need surveys, they need insight and guidance. Whilst surveys are the best or fastest, or cheapest solution they will persist, but they have no ‘right’ to exist. Just because we have been using them for quite a few years, does not mean we will be using them in the future.
So, Ray’s predition, tell me afterwards if I am wrong, in twenty years we will not be conducting commercial market research surveys.