by Alecia Mouhanna
February 21, 2018
The world has changed significantly in the 20 and 25+ years since the founding of Marketresearch.com and The Freedonia Group, respectively. Television and computer screens flattened. Google dethroned the Rolodex (and everything else). And you’re probably never very far from your smartphone, an innovation that has been shaping the world in ways foreseen and unforeseen since Steve Jobs strolled onto a stage and unveiled the iPhone in 2007.
More than 10 years after that landmark event, technology has woven itself into the fabric of everyday living. Physical fitness is trackable over Bluetooth. Cash is now optional for transactions small and large. One day, sooner than you may think, cars will even drive themselves.
Market research is not exempt from these changes. In many ways, the Information Age has created a wealth of valuable data gathering opportunities for market research analysts. But in others, it has presented a great challenge to analytical firms that find their roles shifting alongside rapid technological changes. Here are five ways in which technology has permanently altered the market research landscape:
Social media has become a vital component of information gathering. Users can turn to Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other sites and apps to check in on family and friends, crowdsource reviews, and catch up on the latest headlines. While these social media platforms are incredibly convenient avenues for media and entertainment, they also comes with pitfalls.
For social media in particular, the widespread prevalence of bots – automated accounts that often playact as human users – has added new reason to be wary. Bots, which are typically created in service of a cause or campaign, are capable of generating and sharing great quantities of unsourced (and oftentimes false) information – “fake news.”
However, fake news is not limited to the realm of social media. Legacy market research firms must also contend with a new crop of anonymous competitors, who require little more than a name and a web domain to operate. Colorful charts and cheap sticker prices conceal junk information, and oftentimes no one is any the wiser. To compete against these questionable firms, market researchers must find ways to stand out and build lasting relationships with customers. Analysts that cut through the noise to deliver vetted information and actionable insights can provide much-needed clarity in a business environment often characterized by information overload and confusion.
For many long-serving research analysts, the impact of technology on market research is most noticeable in the now-expansive availability of data. In the days before high-speed internet, reading a company’s annual report often meant placing a phone call (or several), ordering a hard copy, and waiting several weeks for it to arrive. Now, these documents and more are instantly available via the corporation’s own website or through aggregators.
“Advances in internet and communication technology, the dominance of Google as an indexer and reporter of information, and the ubiquity of English as a second language in many countries have also led to the democratization of market research No matter where you are, be it in Germany, the US, China, or Brazil, everyone has access to the same publicly available information on the internet. Additionally, research analysts and companies can be physically anywhere, and still present themselves as being based in the US, Europe, or even China.”
– Ned Zimmerman, Director of Technical Publishing Operations & Analytical Support, The Freedonia Group
Zimmerman believes that to overcome this challenge, market research firms must adapt what they do by identifying areas in which companies don’t have easy access to data, and using technology to help these firms pull together meaningful insights for their customers.
Just as manufacturing has grown increasingly automated through technology, so too has data analysis. Programs like Tableau, advancements in Microsoft Excel, and free services like SurveyMonkey and Google Analytics have all made it easier than ever before for companies to collect and synthesize large quantities of data without third-party assistance.
In the same way, experienced market researchers will need to identify where there are gaps in the readily available data to deliver value to their customers, they will also need to learn to assess where computer-driven quantitative analysis is coming up short. Additionally, they will have to understand how qualitative analysis – the kind that can’t always be easily performed via algorithm – can be used to fill in the blanks.
The main drawback to the widespread availability of data is, of course, that it can be rather overwhelming. The internet has seemingly made everything available to everyone, and it’s difficult at times to determine what’s important.
Enter the experts. Market research analysts – many of whom have firsthand experience with the ways technology has changed the medium – are uniquely qualified to pick through the information haystack and find the needle, so to speak. Having a trusted source to weed out the irrelevant information (or identify why seemingly irrelevant information is important) will be crucial to customers looking to use market research to formulate strategies for the future.
To longtime Freedonia Custom Research analyst Jay Krasnow, what strikes him is not how technology has changed market research, but how it hasn’t.
“The target remains not the medium, but the data – and not only data, but insights. No bot, robodial, or AI-enabled system could match an experienced flesh-and-blood analyst in locating and sustaining the attention of a few 30- or 40-year industry veterans that proceed to narrate their relevant experience on a topic not already published – then assessing and triangulating such high-value interviews against other sources, not all of which may be online.”
– Jay Krasnow, Senior Research Analyst, Freedonia Custom Research
The world has changed a lot in 20 years, of that there can be no question. But maybe things aren’t quite as different as they appear.
Consider your favorite album. Perhaps it’s older – maybe it was first released on vinyl, or cassette, or CD. Now consider whether you’ve actually listened to the album via any of these sources in recent years. The odds that you have are probably low. Chances are you’ve streamed it, purchased it on iTunes, or ripped it directly from the hard copy. The way you consume the album is different, but the music, by and large, is unchanged.
In many respects, information is the same way. It may be more easily discoverable. The means through which we source it, consume it, and organize it may have transformed. But the content has not. At the most basic level, what customers want – high-level analysis with the weight of an expert opinion behind it – has not changed. What technology has altered is the method of delivery and the speed with which it can be delivered.
Through use of technology, market researchers can perform their roles more effectively and efficiently than ever. The trick is in helping customers understand why they don’t have to – and often can’t – do it themselves.
Alecia Mouhanna is a Corporate Analyst at The Freedonia Group, where she researches and writes about a diverse range of topics, including construction and building materials, chemicals, packaging, and more.
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