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Market Research is Dead, Long Live Market Research

I come to you, as is the tradition, with glad tidings for the New Year.

I do this in the midst of a lot of doom and gloom talk about the industry and our future. At CASRO's annual meeting, Simon Chadwick talked about "Do it Yourself" (DIY) research continuing to grow with no end in sight. A recent LinkedIn thread asked if there was a better word for 'survey' that wouldn't carry the negative connotations. The MR Heretic calls their site "Market Research Deathwatch" with constant warnings about engaging respondents better or destroying our industry. Add in the worst couple years the industry has ever faced and purchasing departments increasingly viewing us as commodities and you have the makings of glad tidings indeed!


There is no denying these threats, but there is nothing new about them either. Business 101 is to understand the business you are in. I think about the classic buggy whip manufacturer story. Instead of seeing themselves as a supplier to the transportation business, they saw themselves as buggy whip manufacturers. When transportation changed from buggy to car, they went bust.

Compared to the influx of car ownership, DIY research really isn't that big a challenge. Sure, a recent survey that we conducted among research decision-makers indicates that 3/4ths have used it and 1/3rd maintain their own panels to do it. Still, it doesn't fundamentally change the market...it just presents another form of competition. Long before DIY there were firms that failed to recognize the incremental progress in our industry and as a result they suffered at the hands of agencies that could provide services that were some combination of smarter, faster or cheaper. If we can't show clients how we are better than DIY, we deserve to lose. DIY might be a tough challenge, but success will still come down to providing a better product.

Coming up with a new name for "survey" is not, in of itself, a better product (and to be fair, I don't think that Jasper Lim was suggesting it was). If we start calling them Psychic Information Extractors (PIES for short) it might lead to a tick up in response rate, but not for long. Only after changing how we collect data (either through more engaging surveys, better designed questions or new technology) will we deserve to change the name. Doing so will also drive better data which might well deserve a new name.

Speaking of new names, at the AMA conference Stan Sthanunathan of Coca-Cola suggested that we shouldn't necessarily call ourselves Market Researchers. He felt the name was too confining. He wasn't suggesting that "market Research" had no value or that we just needed a cosmetic name change. His point was that we have the opportunity to expand Market Research far beyond the historic norm and with that, create an indispensible service for our clients. This represents the sort of shift that took us from buggies to cars.

So 2011 will be a challenge. Those of us that figure out how to expand our thinking and offer our clients greater value will be around to help come up with a new name for the industry...those of use who don't will become anecdotes for future business text books. I know which one I'd rather be.

President, TRC

Rich brings a passion for quantitative data and the use of choice to understand consumer behavior to his blog entries. His unique perspective has allowed him to muse on subjects as far afield as Dinosaurs and advanced technology with insight into what each can teach us about doing better research.  


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Guest Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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