The NGMR Top-5-Hot vs. Top-5-Not

As part of the Next Gen Market Research group, bloggers from around the world were invited to participate in a group post on the ‘Top 5-Hot vs. Top-5-Not’ topics in market research. The following is a collection of topics and trends that I feel are important to our industry; it may not add up to ten, but that’s what happens when you ask a qualitative researcher to count.

Hot topic 1: Research re-integration
At one time, the market research industry was unified with the marketing world. The purpose of market research, and the insights it garnered, was to inform the development of useful ideas (like the work of Ernest Dichter on Madison Avenue). However, over time, the market research industry separated from the marketing mainland and came to operate as an island.
Recently, I heard an MRIA colleague state that “the definition of useless research is research that isn’t used; and a lot of our research isn’t used.” Isolated on our industry island, a great deal of market research has become boring, habitual, resistant to change and disconnected from the needs of the marketing mainland.

Hence my first hot trend for 2011 is the re-integration of research into the marketing industry, and the re-connection of research and creativity. In order for our insights to be useful, we need to work more closely with those who actually use them.

Hot topic 2: Neuroscience
One of the highest profile research techniques of late has been neuroscience (shout out to my friend and former colleague Dr. Shane Moon, whose company is helping to pioneer this approach in Australasia). While neuroscience has attracted no shortage of public attention, it still faces some significant challenges including high start-up costs, a lack of qualified principals, risk adverse clients, and ambiguity surrounding the insights it provides.

Assuming it can sort out the business model, my second hot trend for 2011 is Neuroscience.

Hot topic 3: Metric Messaging
Back in 1964, Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, ‘the medium is the message.’ Today, with the advent of social media, it may be worth considering if ‘the metrics are the message.’ In the same way that marketers use research to understand customers, customers use research to understand themselves. As a result, statistics and studies are some of the most viral content available to social media marketers.
Expanding our industry offering, my third hot trend for 2011 is metric messaging, or research companies using findings to stimulate brand conversations in social media.

Hot topic 4: Qualitative with Qualia
The broad definition for the term qualia is ‘the study of feelings and qualities of mental states.’ In today’s highly competitive, increasingly commoditized markets, there has never been more need to properly understand and harness customer’s mental states.

According to Prof. Gerald Zaltman, “95% of thinking happens in our unconscious. Therefore, unearthing your customers’ desires requires you to understand the mind of the market.” This is very much the objective behind the use of deeper qualitative methodologies, like those employed by companies including Olson Zaltman Associates, Censydiam, Psyma, Sinus Institute and Intensions Consulting.

Moving beyond the focus group, my fourth hot trend for 2011 is qualitative with qualia, or the use of qualitative methodologies that are designed to understand and explore the feelings and qualities of mental states.

Hot topic 5: Social Media
To be honest, no blog post on hot topics would be complete without a reference to social media - and the market research industry is no exception.

From a measurement perspective, social media may offer our industry an unparalleled opportunity to understand and explore human behavior. While most research practitioners appear to be behind the eight-ball in terms of social media expertise, clients still have high demand for tools and techniques that can understand human motivations in this medium.

From a management perspective, social media may also end up challenging many of the revenue and business models in our industry. Social media sites make most of their money from marketing - not market research. For them, market research, both sample and analysis, could be given away for free if it leads to more marketing revenue.

Irrespective of whether it ends up becoming a gift or a grenade, my fifth hot trend for 2011 is social media, and the impact it will have on the research industry.
Not topic 1: Online Panels
For the past few years, the reliability and validity of online panels has been one of the most over-exposed topics in market research. Every industry conference and publication seems to perpetuate this ongoing exercise in naval-gazing.
Whilst critiquing the effectiveness of online panels is important, the problem with our continuing focus on this topic is that it distracts us from far greater industry challenges - like how to retain custodianship of customer insights in the future. To quote from a recent blog post:

“The debate over data collection methods (i.e. telephone vs. online) is at the end of the day an old one, to be argued by academics. It is, at best, a sidebar to the greater issue facing the market research industry today: that of relevance and innovation... So much of market research today is merely a dump of data, with no meaning behind the numbers: templated reporting of tables and charts. Data collection, however, is a commodity and market researchers who continue to provide commodity services run the risk of becoming extinct.”