The rate of technological change—and its impact on the world of research—shows no sign of slowing. Consumers have a world of information and opportunity at their fingertips and companies are rushing to fill the void. To survive and thrive, market researchers must jump on trends and expand their roles, making their work essential to every aspect of the business.
Here are the seven steps researchers must take in order to evolve in our new era of research.
Get closer to customers.
The old model of market research was akin to scientists in white coats conducting experiments on lab rats, busily designing new tests and moving the cheese. The future of insight is going to depend on earning the respect of customers and then maintaining it. The embrace by researchers of insight communities is a great example of this shift. Instead of sending a flood of survey invitations, insight communities allow the researcher to ask the right questions at the right time, and use feedback and crowdsourcing to increase engagement and impact. Researchers, especially quant researchers, will to need to improve their people-related skills.
Integrate with the rest of the business.
To maximize impact, market researchers need to draw information from the rest of the business and be able to share information back in an effective, business-friendly manner. Integrating with the rest of the business requires insight professionals to understand and communicate effectively in the language of other departments—for example, the language of finance, design, manufacturing or retailing. The growth in customer intelligence platforms is one sign that insight departments are facilitating the connection between customers and all aspects of the business.
"Companies will have more information, faster information and cheaper information—but they won’t be bombarding their customers with unwanted spam surveys and questions."
Be an automation winner, not an automation loser.
I estimate that, over the next five to 10 years, something like 40 to 60 percent of existing market research jobs will disappear because of the unstoppable spread of automation. But, I also estimate that we will see about 20 to 30 percent new research jobs being created, and there will be many opportunities for insight professionals to use automation to make their work more effective. So, my advice is to be an automation winner.
Jobs most at risk are those which include repetition (like tracking, customer satisfaction, and concept testing), those which can be performed faster by a computer (coding, reporting, charting), and those that can be performed better by a computer (scripting, progress management and social media). The automation winners are likely to include the people installing, training and promoting automation platforms and AI systems; people focusing on human relationships (such as client success managers, account managers, and salespeople); performers (great presenters, inspiring leaders, out-of-the box thinkers, and a variety of creative people); and people who gain non-linear insights from ever-larger amounts of data and information.
I predict companies will, at the same time, be using much more research than today, but to customers it will seem like less research. The research will be coming mainly from customer intelligence platforms, automation and AI, passive data and co-creation with customers. Companies will have more information, faster information and cheaper information—but they won’t be bombarding their customers with unwanted spam surveys and questions. Similarly, there will be less unwanted marketing, and more precisely targeted messaging to customers.
Be an improvement enabler.
The researcher Melissa Gil, previously head of insight at SingTel and now at Credit Suisse, talks about how researchers used to be known as the people who said ‘No.’ But at SingTel they turned that around so researchers became the people who helped improve things. That is a recommendation for all insight professionals and market researchers: be the person, be the team and be the profession that helps people achieve more, not just the person running the scorecard.
In Seeing What Others Don’t, Gary Klein, a leader in the field of psychology and author of several books and papers on how decisions are made, shows how insight teams focus less on insight when they focus too much on reducing errors. There is only so much energy in a team, and if most of the energy is dealing with error reduction there will be too little insight generation. While the traditional role of research, that of measuring and reducing error, is important, it should not be allowed to drown out the creation of advice and insight.
Be a business translator/analyst.
Although business silos are being broken down, the people from those silos are often separated from each other by different languages, perceptions and priorities. A key role for researchers is to translate business problems into research questions, and to translate these questions into customer language, and then translate the words of customers into business insights that decision makers can utilize.
The same translation/analysis process applies to working with Big Data. Big Data requires business needs to be converted into something that can be addressed by the data, and results need to be interpreted.
Gain a skill each year.
In business you are either going forward or going backward. Constantly improving yourself by adding new skills is often more important than picking the right skills. Your new skill can be as relevant to research as ethnography or behavioral economics, or it can be more general such as learning how to code, how to use a new visualization package, or improving your presenting skills.
Use market research skills as your edge, not as your sole play.
Knowing about behavioral economics, understanding causality, being able to work with information and having the skills to design studies are still necessary for today’s market researchers. But these should be your edge, not your sole offering, as you position yourself in your company. On top of research skills, you need to fit into cross-departmental teams, offer
business inputs, connect with customers and be great communicators. The best researchers are proactively looking for opportunities to solve business problems.
"Research is going to become cheaper and faster, which means we can use more of it to get closer to customers and deliver the promise of customer centricity."
How to win the research revolution
Research is going to become cheaper and faster, which means we can use more of it to get closer to customers and deliver the promise of customer centricity. The more researchers evolve their methods to become more timely and customer centric, the more they become integral to businesses. For those researchers who adapt, and take an innovative approach, the opportunity has never been greater.
Take a closer look at what’s driving change in the world of research—and what the consequences are—by getting your copy of Winning the Research Revolution today.