Digital tools, Technology, Big Data…these are some of the most popular
buzz words in the market research business for several years now. There is
tremendous hype around these topics from various sources; be it from one’s
clients, peers or of course social media. There is considerable conjecture that
the days of traditional market research are numbered. That, all of this
technology and Big Data has changed the insighting and business solution game, perhaps
rendering traditional qualitative market research as we have known it for so
many years, as being unable to keep pace with the changing requirements of the
business environment – essentially sidelined…sooner rather than later!
There is no denying that technology has had an incredible impact on the
way we view market research and marketing. The fact is that technology, digital
tools and big data have transformed the way one looks at the market research
industry as well as the ways of working within and with it.
Data is ubiquitous; for the most part, it is available everywhere and to
everyone. This easily accessible nature of data has enabled democratisation of
conducting surveys. Today, it seems as if practically anyone can conduct a survey.
Data has enabled a connection with even the busiest and most difficult to
access consumers. Panels are easily available.
Constantly evolving technology and digital tools have enhanced simplicity,
facilitating usage. Research departments have access to a greater quantum of
data and the ability to analyse it in real time. The market research process is
undergoing a big change propelled by technology. Technology has enabled the
convergence of data collected and analysed from various sources: transactional
big data, social media and traditional market research (qualitative and
quantitative). This has facilitated decision making at various points of time
and at different levels as well.
In this rapidly changing environment, the question that is increasingly
being asked is: What then is the role of the researcher? Is the researcher even
As Charles Darwin, the father of evolution famously and presciently said,
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who
can best manage change”
It is true that today, the role of researchers is changing with research
department responsibilities becoming broader and organisations have separate
data analytics teams. With tools, tech and data evolving to becoming more
sophisticated, accessible to all and easy to use, research agencies are under
greater scrutiny than ever; with more actionable insight needing to be
delivered with greater agility and of course economy.
The market research industry is not known for agility! It has the
reputation for being slow to change. In this scenario, it devolves upon
research practitioners to take the lead and embrace this change rather than
resist it. To adopt and adapt all the tools and technologies available in order
to leverage this as an opportunity to lead the change in deriving insight and
provide decision makers actionable solutions at multiple levels.
With the adoption of tech tools and practices, one is no longer
necessarily limited by geography to conduct focus groups. There is greater
access to a consumer’s personal life through the digital sharing of pictures
and videos. One is able to qualitatively analyse data using tech tools thereby
optimising efficiencies in the research process. Today, there are various tech
tools that have simplified time consuming tasks like data coding, text
analysis, sample selection and questionnaire development thereby making the
process more efficient and agile.
The fact that anyone can conduct their own projects, analyse data and
arrive at conclusions is incredibly empowering. However, incorrect questions,
sample or analysis could make the conclusions and “insights” highly
misleading. While there are several DIY
survey tools, there is little by way of quality control checks. Tech cannot be
a substitute for something as basic as a good research design or well-crafted discussion
This easy availability of data has created a general perception that one
“knows” the consumer. While there are certainly aspects of the consumer that
one has information on, this data has also created something of a wall between
client and consumer. Can information from a spreadsheet validate one’s
intuition or gut feel about a consumer? Is information about them via social
media/online communities really complete? People are multi-faceted and often
the online persona and the real person can be quite different from each other. It
is only by really “getting to know” the consumer by connecting, spending time
and talking with, understanding at a very human, emotion driven level that one
is able to bridge this gap.
Market research and Big Data essentially have the common goal of
providing actionable insight to business. Big Data provides the “what” of a
given narrative; qualitative research provides the “Why”. It is by connecting
the dots of the “What” and the “Why” that one is able to create a truly
compelling narrative that enables decision making.
It is up to research suppliers to provide the value add and to drive the
role of the researcher as being pivotal to interpret the data and to bring
context to make the insight meaningful. Ultimately it is the cognitive skill,
the emotional empathy and creative imagination of the human mind and the story
telling skills of the qualitative researcher that bring meaning to data.
“In times of rapid disruption and change, what we often realise quite
painfully, is that all we have are experts on yesterday. No one is a true
expert on tomorrow” ― Gyan Nagpal
Research suppliers would do well to focus on some aspects to provide value
adds that is constantly being sought by client.
Businesses need to be agile in order to make the most of opportunities.
In this context, the need to constantly tweak strategy will be critical; and iterative
insights will play a big role here. This could very easily be filled by Social
Media or Big Data. Qual researchers will need to exhibit agility and
flexibility to provide data that is not only iterative but with intuition, empathy
and within the relevant context; thus providing the necessary delta to take
informed business decisions, fast!
It is widely accepted that research findings are best presented as a
story. It is when a human narrative is woven around data sets that the findings
become compelling. They enable one to put themselves in the consumer shoes and
imagine themselves in similar situations, hence enabling connect at an
emotional, empathetic level.
With convergence being the order of the day, and the increasing reliance
on data driven decisions, it is not inconceivable that the lines between qual
and quant will also blur. By finding the linkages between different data
sources and real time insight and humanising this data with stories and
emotion, perhaps research will provide not just deeper insight but will have
the benefit of informed foresight and perhaps be able to provide predictive
To conclude, qualitative research practitioners would do well to acknowledge
the ways in which tech, digital interventions and Big Data can strengthen and complement
the research function. To find ways in which to be truly customer centric and
welcome the opportunities that are on offer in the Brave New World of research.
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