2021 the year research became crucial

2021: The year research became crucial

There has never been a more important time for market research, so how do we make sure the sector is ready for an influx of potential new clients?

As mass vaccination programmes continue around the world, businesses and brands begin to look forward to the resumption of trading or, at the very least, an increase in current sales.

This is happening after what could be described as a lost year for business. 2020 provided challenges for every sector of the economy in the majority of countries, as the pandemic forced many customer-facing businesses to change their trading patterns to fit new demands and a shift to ecommerce platforms. While many in the retail sector managed this change with relative ease, for other sectors it was simply impossible, and they now find themselves operating in new waters. 

To add to that burden, these new waters are largely uncharted territory. While some insights can be drawn from conditions following the 2007 global banking crisis, the fact remains that for many businesses, 2021 is a blank page with little data to provide insight. Put frankly, there has never been a more important time for market research to pursue clients and for businesses to seriously consider employing MR as quickly as possible. This is crucial not only to ensure business continuity in recognised markets but also to explore potential new ones created as a result of lockdowns and a lack of consumer confidence. 

How MR does this should also be up for discussion. As the industry adopts a wide range of new technologies, from AI to new video-based tools and the wider use of online qualitative research, so the use of MR-specific jargon and terminology increases. These can prove to be barriers to potential clients, put off by the apparent technicality of the subject. 

Overcoming the barriers

Insightflow has spoken to several senior researchers in recent weeks who all felt that one of the key barriers to entry for potential MR clients is the inherent – and some would say – fostered mystery of MR. With so many potential clients who are in dire need of solid insights in order to continue trading, is it time for MR to demystify itself?

Good MR requires a significant level of trust between client and researchers in order to ensure that the questions asked properly reflect the aims of the client. That begins with the relationship itself and onboarding the client to ensure they fully understand the options and methodology available to them is crucial. The client’s confidence in the insights you provide will determine their next step and potential investment decisions. There is little margin for error, so making sure they are comfortable with the processes involved is paramount. 

Are they onboard?

As Gideon Barker notes, “I feel the secret is all in the onboarding process – clearly laying out the research process and communicating with the client exactly what needs to be done by when, who takes responsibility and what to expect. Thinking from their point of view and trying to pre-empt any surprises.”

A recent study by Stravito reported that “…68% of business decision-makers declared they will be more cautious going forward, and conduct much more research before launching new products and services this year, while 82% of respondents stated that data-driven insights are a priority in 2021.”

There is clearly a thirst for new insights from brands and businesses keen to rebuild after a year of uncertainty. The key for MR is to ensure that smaller players are brought along for the ride and shown the true power of data and high quality insight. 

Research tells you the ‘why’

Companies who have never engaged with MR in the past may simply base investment decisions in past performance and sales but, as any good researcher knows, data sales and figures can only tell you what customers and clients purchased and not why, which is often far more important than bald sales stats. As Hotjar note in an article on lean market research:

“…analytics can tell you that customers leave when they reach your pricing page, but only research can explain why.”

Emphasising the long term value of a research project to a client inexperienced in dealing with MR should be one of the first things a good onboarding process does. It’s not enough to simply confirm that research into the market viability of Project X will help New Client. It should also be stressed that this research will

  • become part of that client’s information bank
  • Will provide a future pool of data (assuming the insights provided are as valuable as they should be)
  • Will be added to with follow up research (making subsequent research more valuable)

Primary research can be invaluable to clients taking the first step into the world of MR and that value shouldn’t be undersold. 

Ironically, given the popularity of jargon in MR, it’s helpful to understand the jargon used in your client’s sector, too. As Jason More of Chattering Monkey observed:

“Embrace the jargon, speak the clients’ language; just be flexible in your understanding of the principles you undertake to deliver the solution. Ask questions and educate back.”

One area some MR practitioners seem keen to embrace is emerging technology. This, however, comes with its own challenges, and the jargon isn’t the least of them. Client ignorance of MR methodology is an issue, but one Jason thinks good researchers can easily overcome:

“I think they should promote the fact they can answer the questions and promote their expertise in the various stages of research (tell a better story). After all, the tech may change but the methodology doesn’t, or rarely does.”

Investment capital for MR remains a significant barrier for companies in the SMB sector after a hard year of trading. That doesn’t mean that data and insights can’t be gathered, however. Instead, what matters is the methodology, as Ron Sellers of Grey Matter Research explained when we talked about surveys and post-purchase CX. 

“There’s no reason ‘deeper’ research automatically has to be more expensive than post-purchase questionnaires – unless, that is, you’re running post-purchase questionnaires as cheaply as possible (which will be reflected in the response rate and the quality of information you receive). Too many companies do post-purchase questionnaires, brand tracking, etc. simply because they’re ‘supposed to’ without any real strategy for getting valid and meaningful information and then using that. They need to sit back, take a deep breath, and figure out what information and feedback will actually make a difference for their firm and how they will use the information and feedback they get.”

The need for good market research and insights has never been greater. The challenge the sector faces is how to make it easier for new brands and inexperienced clients to adopt MR as a crucial business tool for long-term growth and success. In a world where ROI is king, MR needs to reassure businesses that it’s every bit as crucial as an advertising campaign.

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