According to the latest industry reports, companies across the US are on track to spend roughly $16 billion this year on market research, a substantial figure that is also expected to double by 2020. This influx of investment reflects not only a growing demand for these services but also a transformation in how companies are leveraging research and insights across their organizations.
While market research has traditionally been designated to a single department (or person), companies are increasingly finding that employees across the enterprise need access to such intelligence and insights in order to make effective, customer-centric decisions. Below are a few of the key trends that our team anticipates for the year ahead, as the market research industry adjusts to these new demands:
1) Research budgets will continue to shift towards nontraditional mediums
One of the biggest challenges facing any current research effort is the pace of change rippling across industries of every size and stripe. Disruptive new technologies and platforms are re-writing customer journeys, and consumer behavior seems to be in a constant state of flux. Increasingly gone are the days when companies opted to invest in big, expensive, once-a-year research projects, whose hulking apparatus can no longer effectively track and respond to the pace of modern business. Instead, brands will continue to allocate new budgets towards agile tools and vendors that offer always-on, real-time, and iterative insights.
2) Micro Data is even more important than Big Data
Although “Big Data” has enjoyed a good run as the topic-du-jour for market researchers in recent years, expect there to be a renewed conversation about the value of more specific kinds of customer information. Companies are realizing that while Big Data will continue to be an organizational priority, it is data about how individual consumers behave that drives the most targeted and valuable business decisions. These “crunchier” insights often can’t be revealed through macro-level data patterns, but only through a more in-depth understanding of your specific customer and marketplace.
3) Engagement is now a crucial component of any research project
The phrase “market research” likely calls to mind images of lengthy surveys or questionnaires, but there is so much more it can also entail. As evidenced in recent elections across the US and Europe, there is something profoundly broken in traditional polling methods, revealing an urgent need for organizations to reevaluate how they are tapping into the mindsets of their audiences. When approaching a new research project, many brands are thinking just as critically about engagement — when and how they will be interacting with customers, and whether or not those dialogues are capable of generating authentic insights. Similar to the Micro Data trend mentioned above, expect market researchers to consider more seriously the quality of intelligence from any given project rather than sheer quantity or volume.
4) Voice of the customer explains the “WHY” behind the “HOW”
Perpetual waves of new consumer technologies and the blurring of lines between traditional demographic groups have created a renewed emphasis on understanding consumer motivation and values. Companies are supplementing their research into “how” customers behave with an even more focused investigation into the “why” of consumer behavior. In support of these efforts, many brands have found that listening directly to the voice of their customers continually generates the most sustainable insights. Platforms such as social media or private branded communities naturally cater to in-depth dialogues and unfiltered feedback and are uniquely capable of blending qualitative and quantitative insights in ways that traditional research methods never could.
5) Research must provide a tangible return on investment
Like any other aspect of a well-oiled business, research is increasingly under pressure to prove its value to the company. Nice-to-have “satisfaction surveys” are no longer worth the price tag and brands are instead looking at research methods that can drive many goals at once. The most promising vehicles so far have proven to be dialogue-based initiatives between and amongst customers. These conversations can inform questions and decisions around customer experience, product ideation, operational efficiencies, and more. Though it is also important to remember that the value of these initiatives can only be effectively unlocked through platforms that present data in a way that is actionable — using custom graphs, charts, heat maps, etc — and can be easily utilized by teams across the organization.
Be sure to consider these trends while crafting your own market research strategy for 2017, and stay tuned to the FUEL CYCLE blog for more insights about how branded communities can effectively drive results across disciplines and throughout the organization. You can also check out our recent webinar featuring leading CX consultant Annette Franz, which details the “14 Principles For Customer Journey Mapping.”