“Research allows us to explore people’s lives: how they live, their routines, their likes, and dislikes, their attitudes and opinions, their beliefs. In today’s rapidly changing world, understanding people and uncovering their truths, has never been more central to business in meeting their customers’ needs.”
The market research toolkit has come a long way; from the early days of knocking on doors to speak to people in their homes to now including the petabytes of behavioral data offering minuscule detail on people’s digital activities. Much of the toolkit’s expansion has occurred over the past few decades and, as echoed in industries around the world, the rapid pace of change means each year brings ‘the next big thing.’
Most often, this has been a new technology promising to revolutionize how we collect data. However, that trend may be drawing to a close as the focus shifts from the mechanics of how we collect data to the impact of the data: the business decisions and outcomes that it informs.
Benefits and challenges of new approaches
All research approaches, new and adapted, provide researchers with multiple ways to reach people and understand their truths. The research evolution reflects changes both in technological developments and in culture around us.
A perfect example of this today is mobile qualitative that can tap into the mainstream culture of content creators and sharers. From a researcher perspective, what better way to understand people than through their lens with their pictures and videos taken in the moment. Furthermore, the method addresses memory and post-rationalization challenges while also being as unobtrusive as far as research can get.
Similarly, a quick mobile survey helps capture near-to-the-moment customer experience, providing timely feedback on brand interactions. Certainly, feedback surveys have proliferated since the turn of the century given the affordability and ease to which these can be deployed and the data analyzed in real-time.
Another important advantage of the adapted web-based approaches is the increased feasibility of blended methods, offering reduced time and costs. This is particularly true of triangulating quantitative and qualitative methods providing a full, rich picture of the research topic. However, other mixed-mode approaches, for example, an online diary followed by a webcam interview, also yield powerful insight.
This all said, the variety of approaches now at our disposal brings layers of complexity. Researches are still grappling with the design choices when creating an online questionnaire and fully understanding the implications of these decisions upon the respondents and the results. Often design choices are made (or not made) in deference to our quest for standardization and data comparability. This can at times fly against the best practices set out in our understanding of measurement error.
Practically speaking, the amount of data being returned from even relatively small projects, can be overwhelming. This is particularly true for qualitative studies. Consider that a recent 7-day FocusVision Revelation online community with 72 participants generated more than 1000 unique responses, 1200 images, and 170 videos. Quantitatively, big data promises a wealth of understanding, but similar to small data, these immense often unstructured datasets are cumbersome to mine. Whatever the data, time-strapped researchers juggle the business need for speed, together with delivering quality and impact.
A shift in the narrative
Today data is an essential, not a nice to have. From creating customer experiences to driving product innovation, data is the driving force. Business decisions are increasingly less made on instinct and gut feel rather by data from all areas of the business. Researchers, keenly aware of insights’ importance to business, have long talked about getting a seat at the table. This time has come. Understanding customers, uncovering their truth by asking meaningful questions, and applying that knowledge throughout the business, is what makes a brand more successful than those that don’t.
As such, the narrative has shifted from how we collect the data (and an emphasis on ‘the next big thing’) to how the data can influence all business decisions. Data dissemination becomes the critical need. Both in terms of the delivery, for easy understanding and direct impact, as well as accessibility, the ability to revisit and mine existing data. This new world also requires that all within the organization to understand how to evaluate data from the different sources. They need to be open to what it is saying, while also curious and critical — asking questions of it to ensure full understanding.
The researcher has two key roles in this shifting narrative. Firstly, continuing to develop understandings of new research approaches. While doing this, we should continually draw upon the established methodological principles to guide our understandings. For example, when reviewing the data: what sampling error could have occurred – what was the sample frame and how does this bias the data? Similarly with measurement error – were the questions asked in a way that yields the answers we are after? Secondly, after understanding and applying the methodological principles, the researcher’s role is to educate others across the business on how best to understand the data presented to them and also for the data they gather themselves. Good data means good business decisions. Today, this is a vital role.
Our expanded paper on this topic explores the shifts that are taking place within our industry, beginning with a look at where we have come from in order to frame where we are today and project possibilities for tomorrow.
By Zoe Dowling, FocusVision
The Australian Market and Social Research Society is linked globally to 45 associations through its partnership with the Global Research Business Network (GRBN) and the Asia Pacific Research Committee (APRC). Click here to read about the AMSRS global network. This article is originally sourced from GRBN newsletter.