Market research in 2020

Over the past year I’ve participated in several debates and conversations with fellow researchers on the future role and relevance of our trade. With the end of year in sight and based on these talks, I’d like to share my vision on the future of market research. As Darwin said: “It is not the smartest of the species that will survive, but the ones most adaptive to change“. So what should we as an industry keep in mind for the future and how can we adapt to change?

1. Respect for the basics

If we make no changes, market research is cutting its own throat. Consumers are the trade’s crude oil, but we deal with it too lavishly, not respectfully. There are alternative information sources, but we can never do without consumers: “Perception is reality” is valid pre-eminently for marketing. Furthermore consumers can be so much more for market research than the limited role they have played until now. They can help us understand their world better, refine ideas, come up with new products or services, help brand grow, beta-test concepts etc.

2. Looking ahead

We should learn to look more frequently to the future than to the past. A lot of market research serves the sole purpose of limiting risks or accounting for decisions. Instead we should try and predict consumer behaviour and offer inspiration and specific solutions. When doing so we need to start much more from emotions and much less from rational considerations, starting from for example behaviour economy, social sciences and psychology.

3. Empathy

Researchers are not sufficiently open to the internal challenges of their clients and think too little as marketers. If researchers want to grow into consultants they will need to develop various capabilities and competences which are generally lacking: interest and understanding for their clients’ business, strong presentation and convincing skills, focus on integration and storytelling, etc.

4. Experimenting, but also focussing

Too many researchers say yes to just about anything. Build a network of structural partnerships with other parties and aim for those things you can excel in. But a lot of other researchers do not see new opportunities. Many have missed the boat of immense options offered by new media and technology. This means, however, that they have to be open to atypical market research profiles.

5. No Calimero

Given the increasing power of consumers and the fact that market research is traditionally the closest to these consumers, the future perspectives of the trade are very favourable. It is time for the market researchers to escape from their ‘Calimero’ complex by positioning themselves in a subordinate situation. It is a unique chance to lift market research to a much higher strategic level. Who knows, maybe there will soon be a vacancy for a “Chief Consumer Officer” in the board room.

6. ‘Winston Wolf’ speed and action

Some of you will remember Winston Wolf from the great film ‘Pulp Fiction’. Speed, action-driven and integration become much more key. New methods such as research communities are the perfect reaction: they support a continuous dialogue with consumers, allow to see the big picture rather than fragments, create questions that we had not thought about ourselves, offer a 24/7 helpline for the marketer and entail a common vision by gathering the different parties involved around the consumer.

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