Note: A version of this article first appeared on research-live.com.
In his book What Would Google Do? Jeff Jarvis spells out how the internet has dramatically altered relationships between people and organisations. Brand, customer experience and product development teams know this, and largely recognise the need to change; but is customer insight changing fast enough?
Six of the core principles from Jarvis's book have profound implications for the market research business.
- Customers are now in charge. They can be heard around the globe and have a huge impact on institutions in an instant.
People are 'always on'; the speed of online viral diffusion is measured in hours or minutes. Great if you're in at the start of a Harlem Shake; not great if your twitter campaign quickly fills with hashtags like #McDStories (One time I walked into McDonalds and could smell Type 2 diabetes in the air) or #WaitroseReasons (I shop at Waitrose because I detest being surrounded by poor people).
Market research has to get radically faster to be meaningful. Feedback in minutes or hours is essential if brands are to plan responses in real time.
- People can find each other anywhere and coalesce around you - or against you.
SoLoMo offers massive opportunity for marketers to engage consumers in new ways. But if you're Vodafone or Starbucks, you'll also know how quickly it enables protests on your own patch - with almost no visible planning.
If people can connect anywhere, researchers need to connect everywhere. Interactions need to be device-agnostic, but simply pushing surveys to smaller screens won't cut it. People need to be far better engaged - or they won't give their time.
- The mass market is dead, replaced by the mass of niches.
We are living through a second industrial revolution: mass customisation, configure-your-own and individual customer relationships. P&G's vision is to 'build brands through lifelong, one-to-one relationships, in real-time, with every person in the world'. Amazon built its business on 'the long tail' - selling to large numbers of tiny segments.
Research needs to engage with these niches far more cost effectively. Representative surveys and main shopper focus groups still have a place; but the real insights are coming from far more distinct, self-defining communities of interest.
- Markets are conversations Û_ the key skill in any organisation today is no longer marketing but conversing.
Lady Gaga, Stephen Fry and Joey Barton drive their personal brands through social media conversations with millions. Tripadvisor, OpenTable and Zagat all connect consumers in conversation with one another. Social commerce players like Reevoo even guarantee uplift in online sales conversion by enabling unbiased consumer reviews.
Research needs to escape the 'I ask, you say' paradigm. Real insights come from two-way, organic dialogue between people over time.
- Enabling customers to collaborate with you is what creates a premium in today's market.
Brands are involving customers throughout the value chain in creating product (Asda - Chosen by You), marketing (Doritos - Crash the Super Bowl), distributing (Jamie Oliver parties) and supporting services (GiffGaff - the mobile network run by you).
Market researchers need to join in. They know consumers best; they should own the co-creation and consumer collaboration agendas - or risk being marginalised in the process.
- Owning pipelines, people, products, or even intellectual property is no longer the key to success. Openness is.
The biggest online brands (Facebook, Amazon, eBay) are open networks - facilitating connection, communication and transactions. Android - adding 1.5 million new activations each day - is an open ecosystem. TED talks are grounded in a philosophy of radical openness with every talk freely available online.
Agencies and research departments need to embrace the ecosystem philosophy: open up and collaborate with different tools, skills - even competitors - to deliver the creative insights that brands require.
Insight communities are quickly displacing traditional forms of market research. Enabling open, collaborative dialogue with hundreds or thousands of engaged consumers, they deliver rapid answers for confident decision-making in constantly changing markets.