Embracing agility in market research

It has been a strange couple of years for market research. The pandemic led to a number of job losses in the sector, as clients began to circle budgetary wagons in the face of huge shifts in consumer demand and buying patterns. 

As countries continue to reopen amid mass vaccination programmes, market research has found itself sitting on 2020 data that may no longer be relevant, with clients eager for insights and guidance. 

Unfortunately, despite a relaxation of restrictions in some countries, market research is still not in a position to return to the old normal. It’s almost certain that this is unlikely to change in the immediate future, with events planned later this year by the industry generally featuring remote and in-person options. How can the sector adjust and take advantage of where we currently are?

Be fleet, be fast

Now may be the time to move away from large-scale research projects in favour of short, sharp studies. These can provide data which can be turned into smaller, instant insights to offer companies a snapshot of the market they operate in. Until we can get back to full, in-person interviews and studies, this approach could benefit both client and research teams and allow for longer studies when conditions have changed. 

Obviously, this is not applicable to all sectors. Each has distinctly different needs and turnarounds. 

Increased agility is certainly something that several MR practitioners were moving towards before the pandemic, and it’s something that Insightflow has championed in the past. A recent article by Quirk’s, Research during COVID: Increasing speed, maintaining quality, has highlighted the ways in which some MR firms have adapted during the pandemic. 

“COVID has been a time to increase our research, to increase our shopper touchpoints in order to understand challenges and opportunities. We didn’t pull back, we pushed forward.” Nathan Noertker, RB told Quirk’s. 

The inability to perform qualitative, in-person research was an initial hurdle, but one quickly overcome with the use of online tools, video conferencing and video calls. Research companies invested in new technology in order to meet the needs of their clients, and that move into online research is unlikely to go away. If anything, it will increase, with some identifying new possibilities for market research, particularly in the CX space, as consumers become more interested in how their favourite brands engage in activism on key issues that affect their daily lives. As the Wall Street Journal reported in January this year, there will be an increased focus from consumers on achieving mental and physical wellness, which can also be explored by the research sector. 

“Even though virtual qual technology is improving, my hope is that over time virtual qual platforms can become less glitchy as well as more cost-effective – particularly the more innovative solutions like VR.” Mark Bartkiewicz, Macy’s

Research velocity has increased

Tools provide more data, companies are demanding more and faster insights. In many respects, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for accelerating the sources and tools market research had begun to adopt in recent years. 

The increase in social listening and monitoring combined with discourse analysis and Big Qual, which can capture millions of data points from online platforms has given market researchers access to mountains of data. The tools required to sift and make sense of this continue to evolve, with the emphasis now on the speed with which insights can be drawn. 

“The idea of ‘multi-source synthesis’ and leveraging all data sources has become a must-have for market researchers. It’s not enough to conduct your own research, but you really need to be able to review and digest what else is out there through external resources to build out a complete view of consumer insights and sentiment.” Keri Hughes, Voya Financial

Increase research agility

Some of the answer may lie in changing the mindset of both researchers and clients. It is almost certain that an increase in agility will both tackle some of the issues and help organisations take advantage of the opportunities. Increasing agility isn’t just a short-term solution. It offers a view of how the research industry will think over the next few years.

Accessing historical data silos in combination with current online social listening tools and research can give MR projects a speed boost which allows them to reach the storytelling stage more quickly than those relying on traditional methods. It also allows a project team to adapt faster to changes and offer bite-sized insights on the fly. This adjustment in data gathering should be seen as an advantage to market researchers, rather than an obstacle to be overcome, or another step in an established process.

The pandemic hit the industry hard, so it’s encouraging to see it respond to new challenges with a raft of new tools and techniques which not only enhance those already used, but which can improve the quality and speed of insights even more. 

Here’s a few things researchers can look at:

  1. Think in terms of short but deep engagements and multi-source synthesis
  2. Blend historical and current data – don’t let existing knowledge go to waste
  3. Create repositories of knowledge & insight that remain permanently available to the whole organisation
  4. Look to technology – new tech is not a panacea, but it can offer real competitive advantages when used well

Like so many industries, Market Research faces a period of forced evolution as a result of the pandemic. Speed, agility, and the use of new tools are likely to be the markers of successful research businesses in the new era.

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