Back in December, I announced that I was kicking off a big report on the future of the market research function. Well, a funny thing happened when this announcement went out — I got a lot of feedback from our clients, from our blog readers, and from my peers here at Forrester. From people saying that the post was sensational or that it was old news — or that it was right on — one overarching thought came through loud and clear. Market insights (MI) professionals aren’t the only ones dealing with data overload and the need to pivot their role in the digital age. But I argue that they are unique from most other roles within the marketing organization since the MI function is specifically tasked with using the proper data and methods to gain an understanding of the customer in a way that drives business decisions. You know who else within your organization is tasked with this? The customer intelligence (CI) team. These two roles may use data that’s gathered differently — i.e., passively collected transactional and behavioral data versus proactively collected market research data — but the success of both of these roles hinges on delivering relevant insights and intelligence that influence the way their companies do business.
Is it really almost March? Hard to believe, sitting from my desk in Boston, where we are still thawing out from a heavy winter. But, my Outlook calendar shows that Forrester’s Marketing Forum 2011 is only six weeks away, and I am setting my sights on getting a sneak peek of spring in San Francisco this April!
This year’s event theme focuses on innovating into the next digital decade, which will be marked by new, proprietary digital platforms (such as iPad apps, connected TVs, and walled gardens like Facebook) that will drive even more channels for customer engagement. We call this phenomenon the Splinternet, and it means that behavior and expectations around how people access relevant content and interact with companies is changing yet again, and departments that are tasked with understanding and engaging consumers across channels must change too. Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday when we came to terms with this thing called the online channel?
For market insights (MI) professionals, this shift into a more fragmented and digital world only increases the urgency to adapt organizationally and methodologically in order to bring consumer knowledge into the center of how companies make both tactical and strategic decisions. To this end, we’ve lined up a thought-provoking track of sessions specifically for MI professionals, outlining the future of this role, the ways in which companies are using new methods to reach key consumer groups, and how to provide insights that will support your marketing organization throughout a product or marketing lifecycle.
After months of speculation, Omnicom Group officially announced today that it acquired Communispace. This announcement came on the heels of Omnicom’s Friday announcement of the acquisition of The Modellers, a research firm specializing in advanced analytics and predictive modeling. Acquired through the firm's Diversified Agency Services (DAS) group, these two companies will sit among the likes of other niche market research firms such as M/A/R/C Research and Hall & Partners brand and communication research. This announcement is significant because in the context of the MR industry it:
Confirms the importance and value of client relationships. Communispace is the 800-pound gorilla of market research online communities (MROCs), and it has built a strong business by being an innovator around how to use communities, paired with stellar client services. It is especially adept at catering to large brands with significant research budgets and deep partnerships with vendors. While financial terms were not disclosed, my bet is that Communispace was able to garner a price tag well above the more than $40 million in revenue it was on track to bring in for 2010. This reflects the value of the team and the client relationships it brings on board.
It’s been a little over a year since I published my Wave on market research online community (MROC) vendors, and a new report of mine now takes a look at how the space has evolved, and where it’s going for 2011. (For clients, I encourage you take a look at the report: here) There are a number of step-changes that I outline, and here are a just few of the highlights:
Mobile: It’s no secret that consumers have tuned-in to mobile in a big way, and MROC platform vendors are now building in tools that will extend the community experience further into this channel. Mobile access to the community through mobile Web sites and apps is quickly becoming part of the table-stakes when it comes to the kinds of functionality that a platform should have. Consumers simply expect to be able to do most web-based activities on their phone as well. Look for more companies do what Gongos Research did and launch their own mobile apps specifically for MROCs.
Hopefully this title got your attention. Why, you may ask, am I writing about the death of the very industry that I’ve staked my profession (and my paycheck) on? Well, as the saying goes, with every door that closes, a new one opens, and there is a new door opening for market research.
I’m kicking off a new Forrester Big Idea report on the future of the MR function at client-side companies. As the name implies, this initial report will lay out Forrester’s overall thinking on where MR is headed, and it will serve as a basis for a new stream of research our team will be tackling over the next 12 to 24 months. The premise goes like this:
The market research role is changing rapidly. Not only are traditional, prevailing methodologies challenged by technological innovations and changing consumer behavior, but also the need for traditional market research data is decreasing. In fact, organizations are drowning in data. And all parts of the organization have their own sources of data, from what sales hears from the customer to what customer service fields in calls and email, and let’s not forget about the chatter on the Facebook fan page or other social outlets. Yet the best business decisions are made not through data but through insights: the context that comes from understanding what data means in the bigger picture of the business objectives and market trends.
So market researchers are struggling to reclaim their relevance in a time when data is a commodity, insights are power, and disparate sources of information are producing different versions of the truth. In fact, the role of the market researcher as we know it is going away for good.
Last week Gap unveiled a new logo on its Web properties, including its Facebook page. This move immediately unleashed a fury of traffic and comments on Facebook, Twitter, and design blogs, with sentiment ranging from “hideous” to “who cares?” In reaction to the momentum behind the negative comments, it didn’t take long for Gap to backpedal, first by trying to hold a competition to crowdsource a new logo. This drew even more ire from the design community, and — as my colleague Doug Williams writes — was exactly the wrong way to go about a crowdsourcing project. So, at the end of the day, Gap scrapped it all and restored its old logo to its Facebook page, its eCommerce site, etc.
This is a fascinating story on so many levels, and overall it demonstrates some serious misjudgment of how the logo and Gap’s strategy for rolling it out would be received by the company’s followers and the social media world in general. As a market researcher, I’d be interested to understand what research the company did before the launch on October sixth. I have two assumptions here:
Gap didn’t do much customer research to inform its decision, and it wasn’t very confident in any research it did carry out. Did the company take the time to build a keen understanding of the particular kind of Gap customer it was targeting with this rebranding?
This summer, with a new baby in the family, I didn’t have a lot of personal time on my hands and found myself looking for new ways to connect with my friends when I couldn’t get out for some one-on-one time or even have a meaningful phone call! This meant updating my family blog and following others a little more regularly, getting on Facebook to message or chat with people, and basically maintaining my own grown-up sanity in ways I wouldn’t have been able to had it not been for social technology. And as an analyst serving market research professionals, it maintained my excitement for the role that social technology can play in this space.
Well, now my summer vacation is over, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with those of you who follow this blog and our coverage on social market research. It’s going to be an exciting march to the end of the year and the beginning of 2011. In just the past week, I’ve seen a variety of new developments that fall right into this coverage:
Passenger got a new round of funding and a new CEO. The company continues to be well regarded for its understanding of how to communicate the voice of the brand in a market research online community (MROC), and I’m looking forward to learning about how it will use this infusion of funding in 2011. No doubt part of it will be used toward the channel strategy it announced in the spring.
I was offline for two days this week, and during that time a lively debate had started on the term MROC (market research online community) and the definition of what an MROC is.
Jeffrey Henning from Vovici wrote a blog post in which he presented a segmentation that positions different types of communities in a matrix graphic, based on open versus closed and long term versus short term.
In our opinion, this is actually a useful segmentation of different types of online qualitative research techniques that could be categorized as different ways of doing social MR. However, each of these examples is on different parts of the spectrum of what a community is. From a research standpoint, community bonds strengthen as engagement from the research participants and commitment from the researcher increase. As a result, I’d put online focus groups and bulletin boards at the low end of the spectrum and MROCs at the very high end (when done right).
That’s as far as I’ll go in a blog entry on defining what a community is. Even "official" definitions of community offer a lot of latitude and reveal that that there are larger debates on this term that go beyond MR.
We are starting a Forrester-wide research project to benchmark the use of social technologies across enterprise organizations, and I want market researchers to be a part of this! Why is this project important? Well, we cover social technologies from a wide range of perspectives — from roles in marketing to IT to technology professionals. Not surprisingly, we find each of these roles differs in its general level of usage of or familiarity with social technologies but that most companies are experiencing pockets of success. However, few, if any, are successfully implementing a social strategy across the board. In fact, full maturity in this space could take years, but there are clear differences in how some ahead-of-the-curve companies are using social technologies for business results.
Up to this point, it has been clearly established by many people (including us many times over) that social technologies are transformative tools that are changing the way companies do business. So with this social maturity effort, we’re not talking as much about the opportunity that social presents, but rather we are trying to determine the current reality of practitioners. It’s also clear that many companies have made tremendous strides in planning and organizing for the use of social technologies. However, the one question we consistently get is, “Where is my organization compared with others in the use of social media?” We want to benchmark these companies — as well as the roles within them — to see if we can answer questions like:
It’s been a busy couple of days between talking to clients about my views on social market research, getting comments on the blog and through Twitter about listening, and delivering a teleconference on the topics as well. All in all, it’s been good affirmation that this is an area worth spending some time exploring even further.
To close out the week on this theme, I’d like to direct you to a podcast interview I did with a publication called Research in the UK. It highlights the three main trends I’m seeing with regard to using social tools in market research, and it speaks to some of the points I raised this week around the interest in and challenges around using listening technologies.
This is a publication that I recommend market researchers follow in general. It’s a good resource for keeping up with market research news on both sides of the pond, and there are always a variety of compelling opinion columns on the current and future state of the industry.