Let’s tackle this question at a personal level first. What’s going to happen to you in the next five years? Will you move into a place of your own? Will you find a partner? Will you have kids? Will you go for another qualification? Will you finally retire and live in an idyllic little cottage in the highlands or on a cliff near a beach? Whatever happens in the next five years is completely up to you. And that’s the same with the trends in market research.
Trends are brilliant predictors of the future, but some can be wildly off the mark. It depends a lot on the personal trajectories of researchers within the field (will they find some great innovation that will change the course of research for the better, or take us back a decade in terms of advancement?), and what technology filters into the game for both commercial and industrial use.
However, in order to get an accurate representation of what could feasibly happen in the next five years at this point in time, we should think about where we could take it right now, and more importantly, where we should take it in order to make the industry and the insights generated the best they can be.
2015–2020: How Far We’ve Come
Think back to the last five years. Do you remember where you were in January 2015? As an industry, how far have we come, and how fast have we got to where we are now? Will this pace slow down or speed up? All of these questions will inform the predictions of industry experts when they look forward into the future.
It’s true that in the past five years we’ve come a very long way from being mass-survey and -report producers:
- We’ve expanded thoroughly into other areas of research, taking on board psychological, economical, anthropomorphic and other scientific knowledge and tactics to enhance our own research offerings and experiences.
- With the rise in social media reaching epic proportions over the last decade with the smartphone boom, social listening technology and research techniques have also come a long way, so passive social data collection has become an increasingly popular method to obtain behavioural insights.
- Improved research channels (mobile, online, etc.) have paved the way for a myriad of creative research tools such as VR, AR, heatmapping, quick polls, etc. and a rapid expansion in the amount of data we have access to, thus creating the advent of Big Data and GDPR.
- Automation to the extent we have it now wasn’t a thing. We didn’t have to warn everyone on the dangers of algorithmic bias, because it wasn’t something that effected the wide populous until 2018 when huge advances were made in AI and machine learning research. This automation has great potential, but still needs a lot of work done to it in order to do good in organisations and industries around the world.
But now that this technology has been developed and allowed us access to untold quantities of data, we have now in the latter years of the previous decade, began work on refining these technologies in order to get to the better-quality data. And that is precisely where the market research trends seem to be heading for the next five years converging in the future: in the pursuit of quality over quantity.
2020–2025: Where We’re Heading Now
In the recent prediction articles from the main research publication organisations (GreenBook, Research Live, Research World, Insights Association, etc.) there is a surprising consensus on which directions market research could take, and where insight professionals would like to see market research go, in the next few years, in the next decade.
In regards to the technology on its way into the spotlight, a surge in consumer-bought virtual reality gaming tech is anticipated, as well as a surge in popularity for voice assistants; as a result, new channels of research are likely to open up and have the potential to transform the research industry forever. We speak an average of 125 words per minute in a conversation, whereas we only type about 35 a minute. We also much prefer to talk than to write, as it requires a lot less effort on our part. This avenue would allow researchers to gain more insights quicker than we are now, with more in-depth and rich qualitative answers.
The enabling of agile research, both in the fast and flexible senses of the word, like these new channels will do will also be a huge priority, so we as an industry are better able to deliver insights to decision makers at the speed of their business (or potentially even faster). In the promotion of agile research, the automation of extraneous research processes will also become a priority, cutting down time sifting through research data to find the relevant data to produce insights from and allowing for the analysis of the relevant data to take a priority. While automation will take over the extraneous processes, human and machine working together will provide a positive working future for the industry. AI will be a huge help in this regard, but still needs some developing in order to make it more reliable.
Research agencies are set to market agile research a whole lot more in the face of these new developments, cutting down on research times so that short bursts of focussed research take place for speed and flexibility of research experiences. But they also need to take into account what is done with the insights after they have been collated and analysed. The question that still needs a definitive answer in the form of innovation is: how can we make it so that insight professionals listen to the insights we produce?
Creative innovation in the reporting process seems to be gaining traction in recent years, could this be the year that we finally ditch the PowerPoint presentation and start immersing stakeholders in our insights in other ways? Interactive insight workshops, translating insights into art, and implementing basic storytelling techniques are small steps that have already been taken before 2020, but can we take this further and revolutionise reporting for good?
Where Should We Focus Innovation Efforts?
There has been a lot of change in the past few years, with immense efforts to diversify the industry, integrate automation processes and make the research process more agile.
However, there’s no getting away from the fact that we’ve been focussing a lot on developing methods in order to get the most data possible, with only a little mention of quality data. So now that the methods have been established, where I believe market research should go in the next five years is some way to refining those methods so that only the relevant quality data is generated, so we don’t have to spend time going through it all to determine which data is actually relevant. That will save a lot of time in the research process, further enabling researchers to provide quality insights at the speed of business, which will help businesses make the right decisions faster.
With many predicted challenges in the future, where do you think we should focus our innovation efforts on within the market research industry for the next exciting decade? With our future entirely up to us, we can shape the industry in the near future to however we decide is best.
The original version of this article appeared on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.