QUIRKS West: Key Takeaways for 2018 and Beyond

QUIRKS West in Irvine kept us busy with speakers from enterprises, agencies and vendors alike. Speaker topics included multi-modal studies, automated surveys, the customer journey and techniques to get at respondents’ system-1 minds, among others. But two big themes stood out: how research is redefining business structure, and what data ubiquity means for the market research industry.

Data infusion

Paint a picture of your customer. Who are they? What is their journey? To answer these questions, businesses are drawing upon an increasing number of data sources, and researchers are in the front seat. Evidence of the shifting role of insights is visible in changing business organization, strategy, and the types of positions being created.

And, what kinds of skills are businesses looking for in these new roles? Kathryn Korostoff of Research Rockstar did some digging. After looking at thousands of job listings, she found that titles traditionally labeled as “market research” have become a word soup of business/market, intelligence/analytics /strategy, etc. as these roles search for a clear definition. Requirements are broadening to include experience in a wide range of methodologies, statistics and analytics. To interpret research results and their impact on strategy, business knowledge is also crucial skill. Someone in this role is likely to manage a team of analysts across business functions, carry out most types of projects and make objective recommendations in line with business strategies.

Why are these kinds of employees useful? Where data was once siloed by department, it is now aggregated and shared company-wide. Analytics teams are being asked to combine internal and external data streams (aka “big data”) and solve problems. With all these changes, enterprises are relying less heavily on external partners. Today, there are many models for enterprise-agency partnerships. But as clients rely on agencies for more specific functions, these models may consolidate, or new ones may emerge.

Big data: friend or foe?

Along with business organizational changes, an increasing number of data sources threaten to overtake survey-based research. An interesting debate took place when Melanie Courtright of Research Now/SSI asked the crowd whether they thought big data would make market research obsolete in 20 years. The smattering of responses amounted to “No but…”

What could defend market research? Data quality. Even if we think big data tells us something, we will still need to perform quantitative surveys to validate what was found. If the only necessary function of survey research is to validate big data, we are already conceding that survey research is not likely to remain relevant moving forward. Under the relentless pursuit of quicker, faster, cheaper research, big data is positioned to become the baseline form of quantitative market analysis…provided data quality remains satisfactory.

“No computer can tell me what I see from my focus group respondents” – many mentioned qualitative research as a mode that provides richer information than any dataset ever could. It remains a key element in any researcher’s toolkit, and may emerge as the most common form of primary research in the future. But that’s not to say that this methodology is forever free from big data’s influence. As reading respondent expressions (facial coding), capturing what they are saying (transcription/text analytics) and other qualitative components become interpretable by computers, they may soon become insightful streams leading to the big data river.

QUIRKS West brought to light the types of things that won’t just change an industry’s direction but will redefine it entirely. With internal and external conditions rapidly evolving, only the most adaptable and innovative will emerge as future leaders of the research industry.

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