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We’re wrapping up 2017 with a recap of the biggest stories of the year from the Vision Critical blog. Here’s a look at the stories that researchers, marketers, innovators and CX professionals were talking about this past year.

Subscribe to the Vision Critical blog newsletter for more stories like these in 2018.

1. Insight-driven businesses take off

According to Forrester, insight-driven businesses are on track to steal $1.2 trillion in annual revenue by 2020. These organizations prioritize customer insight, leveraging data and analytics in every step of their decision-making. Forrester’s research suggests that this new class of businesses will enjoy an impressive growth rate of 27% in the next few years.

2. Trust becomes a bigger factor in business

Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer suggests that the world today is suffering from an implosion of trust. Only 52% of people in Edelman’s study said they have faith in businesses today, with the reputation of CEOs taking a big hit. To bridge the trust gap, companies need to engage with both customers and employees, according to Edelman, and use that insight to make changes in the company.

Likewise, this year’s BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands report found that trust is a now a key differentiator. The report, released by WPP and Kantar Millward Brown, found that companies like Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon have built valuable brands by embracing authenticity, purpose and transparency.

3. The CX leadership gap widens

The business world is plagued by a growing CX leadership gap. A report from Forrester this year found that growth in customer experience innovation has flatlined. No single industry or company emerged as a leader in the research firm’s Customer Experience Index report.

According to Rick Parrish, a Forrester principal analyst serving CX professionals, at the core of the issue is a lack of solid, foundational skills required to drive meaningful results. He said companies need to master core competencies like research to make impactful, positive changes to their CX strategy.

4. Smart products fail to impress

The Internet of Things (IoT) is still one of the top tech trends today, but the huge investment in this market isn’t translating to better products. 2017 saw many smart products fail in the market, including the much-hyped Juicero, a $400-machine that promised to be the “Keurig for juice.”

Kevin Ashton, author and the technologist who coined the IoT, said the key to thriving in this market is to truly understand the needs of your customers. “One of the crucial points to understand if you want to win with the Internet of Things is that you have to use it in a way that benefits the customer,” he revealed in a Vision Critical webinar this year. “What’s the win for the customer?”

What's causing the retail apocalypse of 2017

5. Retail apocalypse rocks the business world

Bankruptcies, deep job cuts and store closures dominated headlines in the retail world this year. To deal with the so-called “retail apocalypse” of 2017, many companies prioritized the in-store experience—a move no doubt inspired by Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods.

6. Customer-centricity creates competitive advantage for leading brands

Retail isn’t the only industry busy fixing its relationship with customers. This year, auto companies made significant moves to deliver a better car-buying experience to their customers.

For Hyundai, that means making customer relationships a company-wide priority. “Listening to car owners is a part of Hyundai’s DNA,” Hyundai’s Elijah Kim revealed in a blog post. “Everyone in the company—from executives to product developers and market researchers—understand the importance of hearing from Hyundai owners.”

Similarly, Cadillac is putting customers at the center of its business as the company navigates the evolving luxury market. "We no longer solely rely on ‘push marketing,’" Eric Angeloro, global launch and lifecycle marketing leader from Cadillac, said in a blog post. "Rather, we make a concerted effort to listen to car owners and respond to their feedback."

"If you build a brand that is worthy of being trusted, you’re getting customers for life."

With the realization that CX now trumps brand loyalty, media brands like Elizabeth Arden, Bustle and Refinery29 are also engaging with their audiences to improve all aspects of the customer journey. "People will voluntarily share their insights, data and personal information if you actually care," shared Jessica Tarlov, senior director of research and consumer insight at Bustle, in a Vision Critical meetup this year. "If you build a brand that is worthy of being trusted, you’re getting customers for life."

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And despite the uncertainty on the future of the Affordable Care Act, health care organizations are also making moves to prioritize patient-centricity. “Our patients know that our leaders take their feedback seriously when making decisions, and that their participation does influence the patient experience,” Misti Allison, senior market research analyst at Cleveland Clinic, shared in a recent Q&A. “It’s not about getting a prize, it’s about making an impact.”

7. AI sparks optimism—and debates

Many business and marketing experts are optimistic about AI’s potential impact to the business world. Talking with Vision Critical, Ben Plomion, CMO of GumGum, said he sees a big potential in AI, predicting, “It will make the capabilities of existing tools much more powerful, while also creating new opportunities for marketers to harness.”

But some tech titans are more cautious in their view. Tesla’s Elon Musk, for instance, sees many potential consequences, including the worst-case scenario of AI inadvertently starting a war.

8. Research experience becomes a priority for insight leaders

It’s time for the insight industry to take a hard look at the research experience of their customers, according to the 2017 GRIT Consumer Participation in Research study. Fifty-five percent of customers are turned off by bad design, the report found, affecting the completion rates of activities.

“The way we have always conducted research may have met our needs in the past, but the world has changed,” wrote Leonard Murphy, editor-in-chief of the GreenBook Blog and author of the study. “People simply expect more from their relationships, including research.”

“People simply expect more from their relationships, including research.”

Improving the research experience could be as simple as avoiding complicated surveys or regularly sharing back results with your customers. But it also involves taking a hard look at the intelligence-gathering tools you use to engage with respondents. For instance, while many companies are eager to create their own apps to deploy surveys and discussion activities, studies show that customers may not be as eager to engage this way. Three-quarters of customers who participated in a Maru/Matchbox study earlier this year said they don’t enjoy providing feedback through standalone survey apps.

Insight communities and market research bias

9. Leaders of change challenge the research industry to step up

Forward-thinking researchers are helping companies use customer insight to outpace their competition. In Leaders of change: How influential researchers reimagine customer relationships and insight, #NewMR Founder and The Future Place CEO Ray Poynter identified the approaches and strategies of these insight leaders. He said influential researchers are pushing the boundaries of their role and are boosting the strategic impact of their work in the process.

"It’s our job to ensure our research is robust and its messages are taken seriously."

To meet the demands of today’s insight-hungry world, researchers need to take a more strategic role—a shift that sometimes involves disputing widely held assumptions in your company. “In past roles, I found that people wanted research until it delivered a message that challenged assumptions or expectations,” Jake Steadman, senior director of international and agency research at Twitter, told Poynter in a Q&A. “It’s our job to ensure our research is robust and its messages are taken seriously.”

Leaders like Asia Miles’ May May Wong have expanded the influence of their work by being proactive and leveraging storytelling. Others, like Stanley Black & Decker’s Shannon Chenoweth, have worked hard in establishing their teams as a credible resource for stakeholders and demonstrating quantifiable ROI in the form of research savings and higher revenue.

10. Insight communities prove their ROI

This year confirmed that communities are now a must-have tool for businesses. A Forrester Consulting report found that “communities provide a more in-depth level of content and engagement that isn’t found with social media or short-lived promotional events.” More importantly, the report highlights how communities provide an opportunity to “learn about customer preferences, perceptions and attitudes”—insight that ultimately leads to more successful marketing.

A separate study from our colleagues in Asia Pacific this year found that 80% of community members feel more loyal to a brand because of their participation in that company’s insight community. Compared to other customers, community members tend to be more critical in their feedback, which means that companies are getting authentic input from people who truly care about the brand.

In the end though, insight communities work because they help build customer relationships, which then enable companies to get insight faster than ever before. Keurig Canada’s Eileen Chen, for instance, told us that having a community allows her to quickly gather customer intelligence and deliver strategic recommendations to her stakeholders.

“Keurig owners are very passionate about coffee and want their voices to be heard,” Chen said. “Our insight community allows us to engage our customers in the afternoon and get hundreds of responses the next morning. I find it fun when customer feedback debunks our own hypothesis—when the data shows that consumers think the exact opposite of what we had in mind.”

What stories caught your eye in 2017?

Share your feedback with us in the comments. And if you enjoyed these stories, don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly blog newsletter to get the latest tips and stories for marketers, researchers, customer experience and innovation professionals.

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