As insight professionals, we are always seeking to understand our customers, learn their opinions, what frustrates and excites them, how they make buying decisions. But have you ever wondered what research techniques are being used to discover these insights? What are the latest trends, are some methods increasing or falling out of favor, where are resources being allocated?
We recently fielded our second annual ‘How You Research’ survey to explore these questions and more. Because understanding the ‘how’ of gathering insights is just as important as gathering those customer insights itself.
For our 2019 survey, we interviewed 168 marketing and insight professionals, all of whom used market research as part of their job function. Our sample included a mix of agencies (e.g. suppliers and consultancies) as well as brand firms. Our participants came from large, 1000+ employee firms, as well as small (under 25 employee firms). (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Demographic composition of our 2019 survey sample
Our results showed that research is alive and well with a majority conducting it at least weekly. This hasn’t changed much since last year. (Figure 2).
Figure 2. How often does your company conduct market research on its customers?
Traditional research methods like (surveys, in-depth interviews, and focus groups) are the techniques employed most often, with surveys leading the way. Interestingly, the number of research approaches being used has declined a little with focus group usage seeing some softening compared to last year. Enterprise is driving this decline, as these larger firms are shifting to fewer in-person focus groups and in-person in depth interviews. (Figure 3)
Figure 3. Which of these research approaches has your company used in the past 12 months?
Brand and customer research continues to be the most prevalent areas of focus of research, with customer experience topping the list for the second year in a row. For 2019, there seemed to be a re-doubling of efforts to understand customers as ‘customer journey’ research saw an increase. (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Has your company conducted research in any of these areas in the past 12 months?
We asked what market research trends were of interest. (Figure 5). Mobile (ethnographies, technology, surveys, diaries, etc) remains a hot topic, followed by data visualization and integration of qualitative and quantitative technology tools. Some differences emerged depending on the size of the firm. Large firms (1000+ employees) understandably are more keen on specific tools designed for their industry, including better integration of qualitative and quantitative technologies, and AI (Artificial Intelligence).
Figure 5. Market research trends of interest
What’s most frustrating? Budget constraints and sample quality again topped our list. (Figure 6). There was an increase in concern for ‘integrating multiple data sources’ and ‘managing multiple research technology providers’ for 2019 suggesting research is becoming increasingly multi-faceted and companies are struggling to integrate the tools and variety of data being collected. This is especially true for large enterprise firms and their reliance and use of research technology tools has become more challenging. Large enterprise also showed a dramatic lift in frustration with budget constraints in 2019.
Figure 6. Areas of frustration with research.
We asked survey participants to elaborate on their research frustrations and share the one thing that would make their research lives easier. Indeed, there was a strong need for improved technology that integrates and synthesizes information across departments and multiple data sources. (Figure 7). With this, insights can be delivered quickly and more efficiently.
Figure 7. If there was one thing you could have or change about market research to make your job easier, what would it be?
While some things remain the same – (e.g. the emphasis on customers and use of traditional research methods) – our survey findings suggests other areas of the research industry are experiencing shifts. While technology has always been a part of conducting research, the pace of its impact moves quickly: not just in the way we manage and collect data; but also in our quest for cheaper and faster insights. Companies are clearly experiencing challenges.