What Should We the Market Research Industry Do

Australian Market & Social Research Society | Volume 32 | Number 4 | May 2015
The power of cultural insight and how to
apply it to marketing.
Why we’re gonna see some real change in
Australia’s business landscape.
Adeline Ong makes the case
for fostering a culture of creativity.
Commentary from Liane Ringham.
ISSN: 1839-4256
T H E M E AT Y S E C T I O N : I N V I T E D C O M
Nick Davies is the investigative journalist who alerted the world
From my point of view there are three important challenges
to the voluminous and persistent hacking cover-up which
that we as qualified practicing market researchers in the
eventually brought down the ‘News of the World’. Himself a
commercial sector need to collectively act upon in the next
tenacious investigator, he describes the best investigative
two or so years. These also represent potential opportunities
journalists as those people who have immense imagination as
as well as risks.
well as the capacity for ‘stomach churning’ anxiety – important
The need to:
when getting the evidence right.
1. More rapidly align with the reinvention of marketing which
This is exactly how I would describe the characteristics of the
best market researchers I’ve known and these are the qualities
that will hold us in good stead in coming years.
My invited topic is ‘what we should do next?’ Frankly this is a
somewhat daunting task to sit down with a blank sheet of paper,
will inevitably involve meshing with customer analytics
2. Meet the step change in expectations about speed of project
3.Change perceptions of ‘market research’ and collectively
elevate its reputation or, rebrand.
even after several months of reflecting on this topic and reading.
a community of practice) are now an even more diverse group
of professionals and talents than ever before.
A key factor influencing our profession is the redirection of
Part of the issue is that we collectively (ie market research as
Just like an evergreen
budgets towards technology (away from marketing), and the
tree, parts of our tree
movement of power towards the CTO/CIO. We are in the midst
continue to grow, other
of a struggle as to who controls the customer revenue sources,
parts are in decline or
and marketing may be losing. Many people think that the new
changing colour and
CMO will be a technologist as well as a marketer though in a
new parts are growing.
new form – perhaps with a new title as well. Currently, our
There is no doubt
fortunes in commercial market research are predominantly
that we are thriving as
tied to the CMO, and we need to evolve as he/she does, or
a profession overall.
embrace the needs and orientations of the new customer lead
We must be a hot
role. This means the challenge is for us to re-skill to deliver to
profession and that’s why Google wants to be a part of it too,
launching Google Surveys in 2012.
this new brief.
Long heralded as a trend, mass personalisation is becoming
More surveys are being done than ever before. Market
a reality at last. Technology is enabling personalised offers as
research surveys have never been cheaper (though not
well as products based on demonstrated behaviours, and this
necessarily better). There are more questions than there are
will increasingly become the norm of marketing. As well as
answers despite the mass of data we are swimming in. Everyone
behavioural retargeting, real-time customer analytics-driven
recognises they need more insight.
Next Best Action/Offer solutions promise real sales impact in
And the other good news is that surveys continue to show
mature and declining markets. This is mainly impacting services
the C-suite considers customer research and customer insight
like ICT and banking. For example, the Royal Bank of Scotland
one of their very top priorities.
is reported as delivering personalised annual summaries of a
Research News May 2015
customer’s product holdings with up to 20 Next-Best-Action
recommendations tailored to the individual. Over four billion
Articulating our role or roles in Big Data may, for example,
involve articulating the three levels of engagement:
personalised real-time offers and actions are presented
annually to online customers using business-defined rules to
support the bank’s customer interaction strategies.
With a segment of one, the mass personalisation trend
ostensibly makes the market segmentation study obsolete.
In fact, all aggregate forms of knowledge may seem, for
a while at least, unattractive as people get excited about
the new opportunities in ‘immediate’ sales through mass
As others have said, the appeal of technology solutions to
drive customer revenue/sales and lower costs will continue and
inevitably escalate, because technology promises to reduce
costs and deliver new sales opportunities. Market research
professionals who are adapting to these technological changes
with new solutions will continue to thrive.
In commercial research, we will inevitably be forced to
confront the competitive attraction of investments that lead
to clear short term sales impacts including the perceived value
of customer analytics.
Subject to our professional code, which currently precludes
the integration of personal-level research data into client
datasets, it can be an opportunity to reinvent market research
in a way that meshes with customer analytics, creating new
approaches that tangibly drive commercial value for clients.
One such example might be the use of training samples
to develop customer based business rules (responding to
trends in the immediate environment) which are then rapidly
applied to customer sales intervention in different parts of
the database. Alternatively these trends may inevitably force
Level 1: We bring our superior
understanding of human behaviour as
social scientists, behavioural economists
etc, and training, to correctly formulate the
right questions and analysis strategies:
To fill the many gaps in Big Data, eg. the role of price and
reputation in customer churn.
Other events not able to be captured such as ads
seen, websites visited, word of mouth.
The unseen behaviours, eg. Purchase of
complementary products, competitor products.
Level 2: We join the dots armed with the
most advanced algorithms
Combining the different data sources: surveys, customer
data, social media.
Revealing patterns and drivers of key outcome.
Modelling financial impacts, dialing up different
actions and under different business scenarios.
Level 3: We deliver Big Data Insight
Bringing our superior understanding of human and
customer behaviour, as for example, social scientists,
economists, anthropologists, neuroscientists etc.
Constructing the insight – seeing the patterns in the
different responses and data sources.
Building the stories which highlight the strategic
Providing guidance on how to act upon the findings.
a further re-evaluation of our code of practice.
Big Data is a topic at every conference, and many like myself
see an important aspect of the future for market research
These actions provide a variety of valued roles for people
in providing the “why” of human behaviour and motivations.
in our profession and for those with customer analytics skills
Market research can complete the gaps, and construct the
sets as well.
insight, human stories and trends that can go undiscovered
within masses of data.
In order to make our upstream value (Level 3) explicit, we
need to formulate more processes and procedures around the
Currently, it is not sufficiently clear what our competitive
discipline of Big Data Insight, and take the lead in this area, so
advantage will be in this space. In particular, what can we
that end clients will understand that there is something of value
deliver beyond what customer analytics, management
over and above what a management consultant, a marketer,
consultants, media strategists and internal business analysts
business analyst or customer analytics person can deliver. When
can offer? Unless we can articulate this and tool up for it, it
businesses think, for example, “Big Data Insight” it is vital they
is unlikely that traditional market research’s dream of being a
look to our skill set and professional expertise.
significant part of the movement to Big Data will be anything
more than an aspiration.
As a first step we need to clearly articulate the proposition
of how market research meshes with customer analytics.
In my view our competitive differentiation ultimately lies in
the area of human behaviour with aspects of what we deliver
representing important specialist areas or functions supporting
this endeavour.
Research News May 2015
T H E M E AT Y S E C T I O N : I N V I T E D C O M
There is a small but viable window of opportunity to firmly
understanding. Despite the patience applied to some slow
position customer analytics as a method within our tool kit,
projects, I believe that slow projects will have to hasten
along with survey research, the focus group, eye tracking,
very significantly, at reduced overall cost.
ethnography etc. The opportunity is to take the high ground but time is running out!
A reality is that worldwide corporate spend data shows
Thus, we all have to redefine “slow” in the world of today,
and realise that the pace of change in markets and business
means that findings can quickly date, and opportunities dry up.
customer analytics is overtaking traditional market research.
The IT industry, as it gathers power within the organisation,
However, it seems important to note that much of this is likely
is again fundamentally changing business expectations of time
to be directed towards generating sales revenue, not genuine
to deliver with its focus on Agile project management, user
research, customer feedback and the necessary big picture
research and adoption of Design Thinking. All of these other
understanding for coherent strategy.
areas create new expectations, particularly reduced project
Despite the inevitable focus of companies on short term
sales, the big picture perspective is nevertheless extremely
turnaround. We collectively need to evolve our thinking to take
in these newer influences.
important and will be compelling. As a profession, we must
Ultimately, end users will want deep and fast. Increasingly
drive demand for this perspective by building profile among the
technological solutions, using solutions like artificial intelligence
C-Suite with compelling stories and genuine insights - delivered
and decision rules, will be able to deliver this to some degree.
through their learning and influence environments of business
Human analysis and interpretation will however, continue to be
schools, journals, periodicals and the likes of the Australian
of value for the foreseeable future, and other solutions outside
Financial Review.
the realm of technology will facilitate its delivered quicker and
re-evaluating in the context of deep and fast solutions.
Would we accept stock market information that was weeks
Participatory Action Research is a research-led reflective and
or even days old? In the not too distant future, the current
collaborative process of progressive problem solving. Another
market research project management process and timeframe
approach now shared with technology (see Agile, above), it uses
will seem quaint.
a spiral of steps, each concentric loop of planning, action and
Methods such as Participatory Action Research are worth
With business information increasingly available in real-
fact finding going deeper, becoming more definitive. With a
time, it is becoming an anachronism to wait for two, three, and
smaller allocation of research budget to each cycle, and cycling
sometimes 13 weeks or more for a project to be completed.
in tighter intervals, the outcome can be very deep and fast
It is now common to distinguish between research that is
within one to two weeks.
‘fast’, and that which is ‘slow’.
Fast research is an establishing and thriving field. Already,
a range of real-time customer feedback systems are emerging
within our professional practice. These potentially give market
researchers a greater role in driving customer revenue and
profitability through real-time customer feedback, enriched by
internal data analytics. Software systems now enable real-time,
omni-channel feedback to alert companies to customer needs
customer base. Real-time experience tracking gives minute to
minute feedback on what is being seen, heard and done with
We started life as the science and smarts behind the golden age
your messages, products and service, along with customer
of advertising and PR. More recently, ‘market research’ has been
feelings and thoughts, recent events and consequent actions.
under attack at a global level. In part, the attack has been from
Of course, slow research continues to have its value.
those seizing the opportunity to have some of our attractive pie.
and opportunities, as well as building dynamic depictions of the
Clients continue to be prepared to wait for the gestation of
Every third or fourth edition of leading journals like the
important, highly strategic projects that will open up pathways
Harvard Business Review is likely to contain someone talking
to vigorous future growth through existing products positioned
about something that is well within the sphere of market
to new occasions, new markets or new products from deeper
research, such as ethnographic research and, comparing
Research News May 2015
what they are doing to the so-called shortcomings of market
human behaviour mandates - or as Hugh Mackay said in the
research. Go to a digital marketing conference or read one of
first article in this series, our role as social scientists applied to
the popular marketing books on behavioural economics and
marketing and the customer.
you are likely to get the message that: ‘Market research can’t
tell you that… but we can...’.
All this means that there are many opportunities to
reinvent market research. This is only limited by the
In my opinion, part of this attack is because ‘market research’
imaginative capacity of our profession, and the degree to
has inadvertently become synonymous with two methodologies
which we live in a healthy state of commercial anxiety.
– the survey and the focus group – and their strengths and
The final question is what happens if we don’t adapt to our
weaknesses, as well as a widely divergent practice of these
new commercial environment. I think it is pretty clear. There
are some real risks.
This attack is also a fundamental misunderstanding or
misrepresentation of what we do in ‘market research’. This
needs to be corrected with concerted action.
Language has power and gives value and currency. These
issues that we have discussed are not impacting our profession
alone but are pervasive in advertising, marketing and indeed
management consulting which also face disruption and
‘Omni-channel marketing’ is an example of how another
profession is tackling their challenges and opportunities.
Commercial pressures on ad agencies and brand consultancies
forced the realisation that they needed to move beyond mass
media towards one-to-one channels, and the opportunity
presented by managing the cross-channel continuity of branded
Is it time we, as a group, reinvigorated and repositioned
market research, perhaps as representing a sub-set of activities
within another professional activity? What is that activity?
Already, and for some years, the internal functions of many
organisations have been rebranded from “market research
manager” to “consumer insights manager”, and so have many
researcher practitioners like myself. Is this a message for the
Liane Ringham
The author is a practitioner and Fellow of the
Australian Market and Social Research Society
and former national president of AMSRS. During
her presidency she helped to introduce QPMR.
She is currently CEO of the INSIDE STORY,
a successful boutique consultancy formerly
known as Sutherland Smith. She combines
qualitative and quantitative skill sets and
has a multi-disciplinary background covering
psychology, anthropology and marketing.
Her specialty is the customer acquisition and
retention in the service and government sectors.
She has helped commercialise cutting edge
research-based technology solutions such as
the MarketMindTM Market Tracking system.
whole of the profession?
We need to be a clear category, to have a clear label, to
capture a meaning that is compelling, contemporary and valued.
We must collectively write the articles, the books, engage and
be an integral part of academia. One company can’t do it, a few
individuals can’t, and it must be tackled collectively and globally.
My wish is to see market research elevated in premier
journals, such as the Harvard Business Review, the business
case for market research presented in the likes of The
Australian Financial Review, moving it beyond the confines of the
traditional survey research and focus groups. Most important
is to be recognised worldwide for its capacity for commercial
and positive social impact. I would like to see market research
deservedly take ownership of customer analytics, ethnography
and many of the other data collection methods rightly in our
tool kits. After all these are all part of our data, research and
Research News May 2015