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Market research trends: Expert predictions on what's ahead for the insights industry

Kelvin Claveria
Kelvin Claveria (@kcclaveria)..

Will the potential end of the pandemic and emerging technologies shift what insights look like in 2021? To find out what’s ahead, we recently reached out to insight leaders (including our in-house experts 🙌) to learn the top market research trends that will define the next 12 months.

"Many client-side researchers are under pressure to show that the technologies and techniques they’re using are maximizing the representativeness, accuracy and richness of insights."

As you can see from the predictions below, macro trends such as the increasing influence of Gen Zs and the growing importance of first-party data are set to shape the future of market research in 2021. 

Prioritizing ongoing, meaningful conversations with consumers

The challenges brought about by 2020 forced insight professionals to re-examine existing approaches and to consider more modern market research techniques. All of a sudden the ability to get rapid and ongoing customer feedback at scale and in a non-intrusive way became essential — something that was hard to do via email-based methods

Genuine insights and good respondent experience are two sides of the same coin.

We’ve learned so many lessons during this time. And not just because of our work with Rival customers, but also by running our own proprietary research. When COVID-19 hit in March, we launched our own mobile community of American and Canadian consumers to help our clients understand evolving customer behaviors, attitudes and routines. Conducting longitudinal research during the COVID-19 crisis—a turbulent and sensitive time for consumers—highlighted the heightened importance of delivering a superb respondent experience. 

Jennifer Reid, our President and Chief Methodologist at Rival Technologies, shares, "Creating an ongoing conversation between a brand and its customers in the midst of a global pandemic has made one thing clear: genuine insights and good respondent experience are two sides of the same coin.”

She believes one of the biggest discussions in the industry this year will center around creating a research experience that consumers would want to genuinely participate in. As we covered in our 2020 post, this means engaging consumers on their own terms and reflecting their voice, but at a time when in-person techniques are prohibited, a focus on mobile-first consumers will be particularly key. 

“More and more researchers realize that there’s more to the mobile respondent experience than forcing grids and tiny buttons on mobile screens,” Jennifer explains. “What’s needed is a complete re-imagining of all aspects of the experience, from the language and tone of our questions to the channels we use to reach people.”

Using AI to free up more time for high-value actions

Can we really talk about market research predictions without mentioning machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI)? 😉

COVID-19 has put even more pressure on researchers to do more with less. There's a growing demand for new data and insights that can inform customer-centric decisions during such a volatile time.

In 2021, boosting productivity is going to be a goal for many researchers—something that artificial intelligence may be able to help with. For example, according to MIT research, 70% of executives and analysts around the world are looking forward to delegating mundane, repetitive aspects of their job to AI. 

In a recent GreenBook article, Richard Thorogood, Global Vice President Insights for Colgate Palmolive, said AI could help market researchers “do the routine parts of our job to free us up.” 

In his predictions, Thorogood also urged market researchers to “be creative and disruptive and focus on driving impact through deep, never-seen-before understanding placed at the heart of critical decisions.”

Looking ahead with foresight research

The COVID-19 crisis accelerated the adoption of many macro trends that were already changing the consumer landscape. For example, while ecommerce and remote work were already growing pre-pandemic, these trends saw a huge (and potentially permanent) boost as a result of the crisis. (We highlight many of these trends in our ebook, 2021 CMO Playbook.) 

cmo-playbook-blog-cta

So what other trends should businesses pay attention to? 🤔

This question is one many market research leaders are focusing on. Michelle Gansle, Senior Director, Insights for Mars Wrigley, tells GreenBook that foresight research will see massive adoption in 2021. The ability to predict future preferences, needs and wants is going to be a big competitive advantage for research teams that can do it. 

foresight-research-trend

In addition to customer foresight, Gansle is also bullish on the future of market research technology, especially DIY and automated solutions. She adds, “Sample quality and inclusion in research sample will remain hot topics and get more traction and awareness with corporate researchers. Collaboration among both suppliers and corporations will [also] increase.”

Investing more in Gen Z market research

Gen Z made their voices heard in 2021, from their use of TikTok to their support in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Recognizing they can no longer ignore Gen Z’s increasing influence, the smartest brands will invest more in understanding the values, aspirations and behaviors of these young consumers. 

gen-z

Andrew Reid, our CEO and founder at Rival Technologies, says “Gen Z is no longer a niche” and predicts that “forward-looking companies will increase their Gen Z market research budget by 50% or more in the next year.”

\Many Rival customers, including P.Diddy’s REVOLT MEDIA & TV, are already ahead of the curve in their efforts to understand Gen Zs. Andrew says it’s time for other brands to follow suit.

Continuing important discussions around racial inequity, diversity and inclusion

There’s a lot to be optimistic about in 2021, says Dana Wade, Vice President, Velocity, Creative Strategy and Cultural Intelligence, at ViacomCBS.

“After a challenging year, there's so much change ahead of us: the COVID-19 vaccination and drug therapies will hopefully get us to a sense of a New Normal,” she says. “But with that, companies also need to be ready for a constant state of growth and evolution in everything and everyone.”

Wade also believes important discussions about race will and should continue in 2021.

“The marketing industry has the opportunity to show leadership in creating an inclusive culture and in raising the visibility of groups that are typically under-represented in media and market research. 2021 will be the year of the great unlearning.”

Preparing for the possibility of a post-pandemic world

Even with widespread vaccination on the way, it’s unlikely the world will return to the pre-Covid “normal.” In fact, one thing that brands should prepare for in 2021 is more unpredictability

Matt Kleinschmit, CEO & Founder at Reach3 Insights, says companies need to employ the right research approaches to understand what lies ahead:

The COVID-19 crisis has changed consumer behaviors, attitudes and routines at a scale and frequency we’ve never seen before — and for many companies, mobile research techniques served as a lifeline to real-time quant, qual and video-based consumer insights at scale. As the world contemplates the post-pandemic world, it’ll be even more imperative for brands to engage consumers in-the-moment using remote-yet-immersive approaches — something that mobile techniques naturally excel at.

More changes in consumer behaviors and beliefs are also likely on the way.  Companies will need to incorporate the voice of the customer in their strategies to make more informed business decisions. And as Matt mentioned above, using market research technologies and techniques that can effectively capture real-time feedback from consumers remotely will be a key advantage in 2021 and beyond. 

Capturing more first-party data to prepare for a cookie-less future

Consumer concerns around data privacy and security have forced big tech firms like Apple and Google to address third-party cookie tracking. Google, for example, announced in 2020 that it will phase out the third party cookie by 2022 — a move that threatens to upend the advertising industry. 

And indeed, cookie-less tracking is one of the biggest concerns for ad buyers in 2021, according to IAB. Advertisers in the same study also cited concerns with:

  • Not having enough first-party data (37% of respondents)
  • Uncertain whether stakeholders understand the new landscape (41%)
  • Burning through budgets as they navigate cross-platform management(28%)

The cookie-less future may bode well for the future of market research. The loss of tracking cookies represents a huge loss for many companies who rely on this technology to understand what their customers are doing. First-party data, including survey data, can address this gap.

Marketers, however, should keep in mind that not all data sources are equal. To generate insights that result in positive business outcomes, companies need to ensure the qualitative and quantitative data they are capturing accurately reflect the real opinions, attitudes and behaviors of their customers. You might be thinking: Ok I’m all ears, how?  Earning consumer trust is a crucial first step to getting this authentic feedback. 

Addressing questions about accuracy, depth and richness of insights

After missing the mark in 2016, the polling industry took another big hit in predicting the 2020 US presidential elections. For better or for worse, political data scientists won’t be the only ones feeling the heat to be more accurate. The market research industry’s credibility may be on the line as well.

“Many client-side researchers are under pressure to show that the technologies and techniques they’re using are maximizing the representativeness, accuracy and richness of insights,” Matt shares. The big question CEOs and CMOs are asking is this: if big polling firms can’t accurately predict consumer behavior, why should we believe market researchers can? 

Addressing this important but difficult question requires taking a hard look at market research’s long-standing practices, technologies and overall approach to consumer engagement. Not only do companies need to reach all relevant consumer groups—they also need to capture honest and authentic feedback. 

If big polling firms can’t accurately predict consumer behavior, why should we believe market researchers can?

Mobile technologies may be able to help the research industry bridge this gap. For one, the ubiquity of mobile makes it possible to engage groups that are typically under-represented in market research surveys and panels. People are also more honest when they’re writing on their smartphones. In other words, the answers you get via a mobile survey may be more accurate and genuine than those coming from a traditional survey. 

Matt explains, “Leveraging conversational, mobile-first methods makes it easier to bring unheard voices into the boardroom, providing fresh insight into the hearts and minds of audiences who are typically under-represented in the research process. In 2021, the quest for capturing deeper, richer insights (at scale) that can drive better business outcomes will be found through the most ubiquitous, personal technology on Earth: the mobile phone.”

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