Doing more with less: towards a bright(er) future?

There is nothing new under the sun to saying that the crisis has a negative influence on consumers and the market research industry alike, with research budgets continuously under pressure. However, what if the crisis is not just temporary but actually the new status quo? And what can we do as an industry to turn this crisis or new reality around towards a brighter future?
Several speakers shared their thoughts on these topics on April 19th at the 2013 SM@RT (Starting Marketing and Research Talents) congress in Amsterdam. Following last year’s successful congress, this year’s event was organised around a very relevant theme: ‘Lean and mean: doing more with less’. In other words: market research in times of crisis.

‘Long term crisis mindset’

Thimon de Jong (TrendsActive) started the day with several interesting insights into what is currently going on in the (digital) world of consumers and researchers. In an excellent presentation, De Jong argued that after more than five years of ‘crisis’, the consumer has adopted a ‘long-term crisis mindset’. With 2012 as the starting year for this shift in perception, there is a growing awareness that the crisis might last much longer than previously thought and that it might actually be or become the new reality. A new status quo, as De Jong calls it, where “uncertainty is permanent”.
Luckily, the speakers did not only share their thoughts on the sombre current situation. They also offered refreshing takes on the crisis by bringing to the footlight potential paths which might lead to innovation within market research and ultimately to a brighter future.

Lean, mean & optimization

Focusing on lean and mean, Joëlla Marsman (H.J. Heinz) and Anouk Willems (InSites Consulting) co-presented the long running ‘Food&Zo’ Consumer Consulting Board (on-going community). With about 150 consumer participants, this community has been running since 2008. Since then, it has generated thousands and thousands of posts and virtually endless feedback on specific themes as well as concrete and immediate feedback on new products and concepts. In 45 minutes, Joëlla and Anouk showed that by investing at the beginning of the community and consequently staying closely involved with the community as a client, an on-going community is a great and quick method to get the consumer feedback marketers are looking for.
In the afternoon, Jeroen van Schreven (UNC Plus Delta) gave an introduction to Lean Six Sigma, a method to permanently optimize company processes. Focusing mostly on the ‘mean’ part of ‘lean & mean’, Lean Six Sigma can be used to increase the efficiency of company processes, although, admittedly, the implementation of this method on marketing research agencies is yet to be seen.

Creativity & innovation

To challenge the current status quo and get out of the crisis, Maarten Boer of small creative marketing agency BUUTVRIJ for life called for a creative, fresh and cheeky approach. In an enthusiastic and well-received presentation, Boer showed that courage to take unconventional paths might be one of the solutions. Boer and his small team worked entirely for free for 40 days, completing over thirty client projects, not just to expand their portfolio, but also to show that trust and creativity are needed to get us out of this crisis. As Boer said, one of the goals was ‘exchanging fear for trust’ (and, he added in Dutch, ‘met gestrekt been de crisis de nek omdraaien’ – this could be translated as: kill the crisis without lenience).
Creativity and innovation as drivers of positive change were also mentioned earlier in the day by Thimon de Jong, as the ‘long-term crisis mindset’ might actually prove to be fertile ground for new ideas, products and services to flourish. Examples are the growing P2P (peer to peer) business, such as the digital Bitcoins and consumers renting out their homes and cars to other consumers online. Auto-customization is another interesting and promising innovation, allowing marketers to specifically target consumers by offering tailor-made content to website users. In other words, expect increasingly more online initiatives, some of which might contribute to steering us out of the crisis. This raises a question which remained unanswered at the congress: What can we, the market research industry, learn from these developments and what can we do with them?

Towards a bright(er) future?

New reality or not, for now the crisis continues. As an industry, not only have we already adapted to this new situation, we also continue doing so. Lean and mean if necessary, but hopefully also by being creative and innovative.

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