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There has never been a better time to be an expert in market research. As insight-driven businesses pull ahead of the pack, more companies are realizing the need to leverage the expertise of market researchers in bringing the voice of the customer to the enterprise.

Access Now: The Must-Have Toolkit for Market Researchers.

But to meet the opportunity at hand, researchers need to get a handle on the biggest trends, tools and technology shaping the industry and the wider business world. Here are five noteworthy predictions that can help you as a researcher make a bigger impact in 2018.

Prediction 1: Artificial intelligence will transform engagement

Artificial intelligence (AI) has entered the consumer landscape thanks to Google Home and the Amazon Echo. But along with machine learning, AI will very soon make a bigger impact in market research.

David Sackman, CEO of Lieberman Research Worldwide, predicts that AI will transform many aspects of research, including survey and questionnaire development, field management, big data analytics and advanced computing power. Along with the rise of AI, data scientists will play a bigger role in the industry as companies look to synthesize different consumer and marketing data streams to better understand customers.

The increasing influence of AI doesn’t signal the end of existing research methods though. “Traditional methods such as surveys and qualitative research will continue to be an important part of this expanded data analytics category,” Sackman reiterates.

Prediction 2: Leaner teams put emphasis on soft skills

AI is not the only thing influencing the people aspect of market research. According to Burtch Works, a recruitment agency that connects companies with market researchers, more insight departments will be leaner in the next year. 

“Many employers are placing a greater emphasis on soft skills, keeping in mind that within a leaner team, each individual will have a greater impact on the group dynamic,” Burtch Works says.

To that end, more companies will tweak their hiring process to test how potential employees fit in the company. Researchers should expect evaluation methods such as assignments, tests, exercises, and personality or work-style assessments to become more common components of the hiring process, according to Burtch Works.

Prediction 3: Political instability produces ripples effects

Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have cast a shadow of uncertainty on the global economy. Insight professionals will experience the repercussions of that instability, according to Ray Poynter, managing director of The Future Place and NewMR.

“The big unknown for 2017 is what will happen to the world economy and world trade,” Poynter shares with the GreenBook blog. “We could be looking at currency instability (making international projects harder), trade wars (reducing the wealth of everybody) and increasingly incompatible laws (e.g. data protection).”

Prediction 4: More automation means faster research

Automation, along with AI, is a “game changer” for market research, according to Leonard Murphy, executive editor and producer at GreenBook and senior partner with Gen2 Advisors. These technologies are “disrupting an inefficient process,” according to Murphy, enabling researchers to deliver faster and more cost-effective insight.

Crispin Beale, chief executive, Chime Insight & Engagement Group, agrees, telling Research Live, “Automation’s abilities are constantly growing and this along with its increasing adoption by both agencies and brands is driving big changes in the industry. The pressure is on to deliver faster, cheaper and better research for clients, something we are only able to do with the help of automated processes.”

Prediction 5: Rise of automation results to increase in qual

As a direct result of more automation and AI technologies, companies will also invest in qualitative methods, according to Murphy. That’s because, to get a better picture of customers, companies need to give context to “more automated quant work.”

In particular, Murphy sees a focus on “consumer closeness” methods and the increase adoption of online communities, in-person groups and mobile ethnography.

The future of market research is already here

Many of these trends have been bubbling for the last couple of years and are now ready to take center stage. Getting a handle on the five key realities for market research in 2018 will position you well to serve your brand with intelligent consumer insight that keeps your organization competitive while building strong customer relationships that will endure for years to come.

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