Don't panic. CASRO's government affairs committee isn't warning this will happen and I don't have any evidence that it will. The point of the question is along the lines of "necessity is the mother of invention".
For example, over the past 15 years we have seen a move away from phone data collection and toward the web. Initially the focus was on cutting costs and ensuring the quality of the data were the same. As the industry embraced web, however, we began to use all kinds of innovative techniques that we simply could not do on the phone (or by mail for that matter). So, as we face a future with more and more access to data, I thought it would be interesting to think about what we would do if our traditional tools were simply taken away and we had to go cold turkey.
A good place to focus is Satisfaction research, which is already showing signs of decline. According to Inside Research (February, 2011), spending as a percentage of all MR has dropped in Europe (from 18% in '06 to 13% last year) and is stagnant at best in the states (11% last year which is in line with 12% in '09 and 10% in '08). I suspect this decline is not an indication that firms no longer care about satisfaction. More likely it reflects cheaper data collection methods and a realization that it need not be measured as intensively as in the past.
So in a world with no traditional MR, how will firms measure and impact satisfaction?
So, with just two data sources we can provide a lot of the same insight that traditional tools do. No doubt there are other data points that could add value (for example response cards) and new ones will be created in the future.
Do I think these and other data points fully replace traditional techniques? No. First, I am only looking at satisfaction work here. Not every type of research will be as easily replaced. Second, I believe that traditional methods provide a depth of understanding that these data cannot match.
Ultimately we should be looking for ways to add new sources of data to make our models better and be willing to discard sources that prove to be too time-consuming or expensive to justify the effort. Change like that is never easy, but it will come, whether we want to or not.
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.