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Looking at the next 18 months, I can see four disruptive changes impacting the insight business and market research in a big way, and this post looks at these four.

However, my four may not be the ones you had assumed if you had followed the buzz from recent industry conferences. In my next two blogs I will cover four other factors that are going to help market research bridge the gap between now and the future, items I call sticking plasters, and four major changes that are just over the horizon.

The four disruptive changes are:

  • Communities
  • SoLoMo (Social Local Mobile)
  • Automated testing
  • Text analytics

At one level, communities look like one of several new innovations in how research is conducted. However, as the last GRIT report pointed out they are the fastest growing of all the major new research approaches and as CEO Scott Miller pointed out in a recent interview in Research-live they have the potential, in the future, to represent 15% to 25% of all research spend.

Communities are disruptive because they move away from third-parties controlling research and put organisations directly in touch with their customers. Surveys, qual, and co-creation are all enabled with communities, they can be delivered online, via mobile, or face-to-face. Communities leverage the mutual self-interest that customers and producers have in improving the products and services offered. They are delivering research that is a bit better, a chunk cheaper, and lot faster.

SoLoMo is the combination of social (as in social media), local (as in in the moment, personal, and geolocated), and mobile (from phones to tablets). On their own neither social media nor mobile are disruptive. Social media listening is a great addition to the research toolkit, but it can only handle a small range of research problems. Mobile quant has not made quant faster or cheaper, both of which are key elements in creating disruption. Mobile has created some interesting opportunities in mobile qual and new forms of collecting ethnographic data, but nothing that currently looks like disruption.

SoLoMo will be disruptive because its key benefits are not in one-off studies with individuals (although those are interesting), its key benefits will come from building long-term relationships with people, following them through their lives as they record and share their location, activities, and relationships. SoLoMo is likely to create this conjunction with communities and as an input into Big Data systems.

Automated testing
Automated testing has been growing strongly, albeit under the radar. Whilst most of the attention has been paid to DIY being applied to activities such as survey research, automated has been carving out ever larger niches. The highest profile user of automated testing is probably Google with its AB testing. In AB testing two different options are tested, for example two colour schemes, two fonts, two different wordings. Software controls the exposure to the stimuli and evaluates the results, potentially implementing the winner. A recent article on AB testing in Wired estimated that nearly 100% of visits to Google include being a subject in an AB test.

A recent presentation by Sara Papamichalis of Philips, at the Insights Valley conference in Amsterdam, showed how Philips is using complex designs to evaluate eDMs, for example with multiple options instead of just two.

Over the next 18 months there will be growth and disruption as automated testing expands from conducting and evaluating AB tests of online materials into designing and implementing a wider range of projects, including surveys, instant polls, satisfaction, and product design. Automated has the cost savings of DIY systems, without as big a risk of errors caused by lack of research skills.

Text Analytics
Most market research is quantitative, and the history of quant research is the history of the closed question, for example the agree/disagree scale. Text analytics are reaching the point where quant research can start to fully utilise open-ended questions. For example, the satisfaction survey of the very near future might have just two key questions, 'How was your experience?' (a closed question), and 'Why?' (an open-ended question).

Text analytics are making a major inroads into the handling of written communications (including email and Twitter) between customers and brands, they are at the heart of social media monitoring, and they will shift the research industry away from closed questions to open-questions, asked in an ever-wider set of contexts, which in turn means a shift from surveys and grids, to something more like a conversation.

Other thoughts
As I said at the start of this post, there are other changes that lie outside my 18 month timeline, for example big data (yes I do think that the disruption will take more than 18 months), bots, augmented reality, and crowdsourced solutions. I will be posting about these changes, and others soon.

What are your thoughts? Would you demote any of my four? Would you promote something else to being disruptive in the next 18 months?

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