Since 2011, GreenBook has been publishing market research industry surveys to help researchers understand where the industry is, where it is going, and how they can adapt. The latest GreenBook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) Report is based on data collected in Q1 and Q2 of 2017. It includes 2,637 completed interviews of principally senior-level professionals from 74 countries.
In this report, GreenBook explores the most innovative research suppliers and buyers, issues surrounding automation, skills needed by future researchers, and industry benchmarks against which research organizations can measure their development and performance.
Here are key takeaways from the report about trends poised to shake up the industry:
- Constant innovation, competitive disruptions, and dynamic collaboration are shaping the future of the industry
The market research industry is in the midst of revolution as emerging technologies and new providers of research services continue to change the game. The “GRIT Top 50” ranks research suppliers that key industry players consider innovative, meaning the company offers technology that reduces cost while increasing speed, delivering actionable insights and overall quality.
The first interesting trend from the list is the rapid rise of technology-driven companies. Out of the 17 big movers, only Kantar and Nielsen are the exception. Their inclusion, however, is attributed to the fact that they are actively invested in introducing tech-driven products which help connect them to their technology-based cohort and increase awareness within the industry.
Second is automation that allows marketers to test new concepts more easily, enabling marketers and executives to develop more evidence-based decisions, speeding up the decision-making process. Combining speed with data-backed strategies better positions brands for growth.
Last is the ability of innovative companies to achieve quick-turn insights, making it easier to react to findings. Using solutions that allow for faster study, design and launch, and tapping data visualization and analytics to easily glean insights and react to findings are examples of how brands are empowered by shortening “the pathway between a brand’s problem and finding the solution.”
- Innovative research clients push for new research methods that dig deeper, and seek to use data and insights to disrupt markets
On the other side of the coin, the report also ranks users of market research on the same innovation scale. Comprising the top 10 are Unilever, Google, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Pepsico, P&G, Apple, Amazon, Nestlé, and Microsoft. Evidently, consumer packaged goods, soft drinks, online, and technology are the strongest sectors. While the list is relatively stable, as there are no huge changes compared to the previous report, in hindsight these companies are never satisfied with the status quo and are constantly finding competitive advantage by investing in new solutions—that’s why they’re at the top.
However, there are new companies included in the list and these are Netflix, Bai, Ford, and Merck. Netflix’s innovative use of data mining to create sure-win shows, Bai’s adoption of agile approaches to gain a prominent seat in the food and beverage industry, Ford’s investments in human-machine interaction and sonic signals, among others, to recapture its previous heights, and Merck’s strong research and development initiatives to lead the branded generics sector of the pharmaceutical industry are all considered innovative by the GRIT survey.
The report also interestingly sees the link between innovative research and value. The top five on Forbes 2016 list of the most valuable brands appear in the top ten of the GRIT’s innovative research buyers, emphasizing today’s importance of robust market research to stay relevant and competitive. These companies are Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Facebook.
Lastly, a reflection of how leveraging technology and data impacts business growth puts Google in high regard almost universally. In fact, the market research industry in general considers creating the right mix of technology, data, and skills crucial to continue being relevant and providing value in the future.
- While automation is here to stay, there is an increasing need for humanizing brands and deepening consumer connection
Adoption of automation platforms continues to increase since the last GRIT report with more than 50% of both research suppliers and buyers already using the technology. In terms of categories, the top four are all quantitative in nature and have a long history of automation: analysis of survey data, charting and infographics, sampling, and survey design. The next two categories—analyzing social media and analyzing text data—however, are new areas in which researchers are trying to understand data that are traditionally processed qualitatively.
The report also reveals the nature of companies that are automating the most:
- Survey platforms and survey software companies,
- Companies with more than 500 employees,
- Clients who will be spending less in 2017 than 2016,
- Clients in the consumer staples category, and
- Companies who think sample quality will improve.
Responding to present consumer behavior, analysis of text data, and analysis of images and videos are clearly high priorities for automation, most especially research buyers. While adopting automation is the trend, the biggest challenge for people automating market research is creating situations where automation leads to a change in the way research is done. Perhaps, since automation secures the process, researchers can focus on other aspects such as enhancing storytelling and client success—putting high-value consulting in the limelight.
- Soft skills such as critical thinking and insight development are essentials for future researchers to have
Across all industries, there is a widespread fear of job loss because of automation, and the market research industry is no different. However, as automation increases, there is a need for a strong set of skills that can translate vast amounts of data into actionable insights and expose the deeper meaning and significance of what is being expressed by the automated data.
To be able to critically assess information and utilize tools and techniques to provide high value insights about the consumer are exactly the skills that research suppliers and buyers are looking for. In fact, according the report, critical thinking is the most important skill required from Masters of Marketing Research program graduates, being rated very important by 73% of respondents, with six out of ten rating insight development skills as very important, and nearly as many rating writing and communication skills as very important.
Laura Livers, CEO, Focus Pointe Global, perfectly captures the trend, “As more and more of the process of conducting research, especially quantitative research and analytics, is shifted to tech-based solutions to answer the ‘who, what, when, where, and how’ of business questions, our view is that researchers will be always be the ones who answer the ‘why and now what?’”
Livers then concludes, “The integration of humans and technology in research is unavoidable, but as long as we stay focused on the importance of the human element as the driver of real value and impact, the research industry will continue to thrive.”
- Future success of a company as a research provider or consumer lays not only in technology but also prioritization and strategy
For both research suppliers and buyers, having an industry benchmark is important not only to ensure the quality of the research for individual business success but also to pave the way for further development of the industry as a whole. The GRIT report enumerates the key things that successful companies do to remain competitive:
- Ensuring that the project delivers consultative recommendations, produces a clear storyline, and generates measurable ROI;
- Applying best practices that interact regularly with senior stakeholders, focus on growth strategy, ensure all researches are aligned with business objectives, and use multiple sources to address business issues;
- Implementing a technology strategy that has a robust, multi-approach and evolving model; and
- Prioritizing quality of insights over speed, cost, and innovation.
An issue that the report mentions is the low importance given to consumer participation in research, even as they—the participants—are the heart of market research. It further recommends companies to start putting the respondent first by going “mobile first” in designing studies; staying under 10 minutes; thinking like game designers, marketers, or UI experts when designing research; rewarding respondents the way they want to be rewarded; and using research as a brand-engagement and relationship-building opportunity.
Technology together with demographic and socioeconomic factors makes consumer behavior and demands dynamic. In the same way, technology drives innovation that enables the consumer research industry to guide businesses with higher value consulting and insights that help them to successfully furnish what their consumers want. This is the competitive advantage the industry should harness to not only stay ahead of the game but also, and more importantly, to provide continuing value to all its stakeholders.