Two weeks ago, I spoke at the Qual360 conference in Atlanta, hosted by the Merlien Institute. If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I typically fold qualitative insight into a diverse research mix, so I went to the conference with a broad view of market research methodologies. But after connecting with qualitative researchers, marketers, academics, and thought leaders from around the globe, I left Qual360 with a renewed appreciation for the fundamental importance of qualitative insight, its deep impact on key business decisions, and its differentiated value in today’s data-driven culture. Here are a few of my takeaways from Qual360:
In a world where everything is getting faster, qualitative research must go slower. As Anita Watkins from TNS and Emily Williams of Newell Rubbermaid put it, qualitative research is not about testing, it is about illuminating context and understanding evolving beliefs. That means qualitative insight can’t be commoditized and sold with the promise of fast, bite-size deliveries. The true value of qualitative insight lies not in the verbatim data but in the accurate analysis of those words in the context of social, environmental, psychological, and emotional depth.
Around this time of year, one can’t help but become reflective. I know I’m not alone when I say that, on the one hand, this year somehow shot past faster than the last one, but on the other hand, it was jam-packed with new discoveries, fresh ideas, and memorable experiences. In particular, this has been a milestone year for the data insights innovation team here at Forrester, as we officially launched our Technographics 360 research approach, which synthesizes mobile behavioral, social listening, online qualitative, and survey data. As I think back on my experiences with the Technographics 360 initiative inside Forrester, paired with my industry learnings outside Forrester, a few key lessons come to mind that I will take into the new year:
1. Synthesis is “in.” In fact, I learned so much about this topic, I wrote a full blog post dedicated to it! In essence, we now live in a world where the truest insight is a product of synthesis – building knowledge up – rather than of analysis – breaking ideas down. I recently attended SSI’s seminar featuring Simon Chadwick, who proposed that data synthesis is “the next big thing” in insight skills. I agree: With so many diverse data sources at our fingertips that offer unique perspectives on consumers’ lives, researchers need to put the puzzle pieces together to construct a comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior.
As researchers, we can’t underestimate the power of perspective. When the Eiffel Tower was erected 125 years ago, it became the tallest manmade structure in the world and, more importantly, allowed visitors to look down over Paris for the first time; perhaps it was the first real instance of a “birds-eye view.” At the same time, artists like Picasso and Stein were pushing the limits of perspective by portraying every angle of 3-dimensional concepts in one painting or poem. In many ways, the research world today is akin to this historical period of creativity. With more data at our fingertips than ever before, we are able to observe consumer behavior from new vantage points and produce a fresh understanding of customer trends by analyzing multiple angles at the same time.
Here on the data insights innovation team at Forrester, we’ve called our multiperspective research approach Technographics 360. Officially launched this year, Technographics 360 blends Consumer Technographics® survey output, ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community insight, social listening data, and passive mobile behavioral tracking to synthesize a 360-degree view of consumer behavior. Instead of analyzing research questions by breaking them down, we can synthesize comprehensive solutions by building our knowledge up.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I love talking about cool, emerging, and innovative research methodologies. Over the past two years, I have been focusing a lot of my time on researching these techniques and have written several blog posts on this topic. For example, how prediction markets can help determine which concepts will succeed or fail in the marketplace. And how 2012 is the year of mobile, and market insights (MI) professionals need to leverage this channel.
In continuing with this theme, I am launching a blog series focused exclusively on highlighting emerging methodologies that MI professionals should take notice of and examine whether to incorporate into their research tool kit. I will highlight any cool research techniques I come across, as well as any vendors that are building interesting technology tools for market research purposes.
For this inaugural post, I will highlight location analytics. Essentially, market insights professionals can use a consumer’s location information that is transmitted by their mobile phone to understand what they are doing in their daily lives. For example, you can understand where your target customer is shopping, how she got there, and which competitor stores she drove past. The consumers being tracked do not have to “check in” every place they go to gather this information. Instead, all of the location data is passively collected after a consumer opts in.
My colleague Reineke Reitsma and I have been championing mobile market research for quite some time. In fact, we published the first Forrester report on this emerging and innovative methodology back in 2009. In the report, Reineke wrote about the value of its mobility and flexibility to gather insights into consumers’ behavior anytime and anywhere. And for mainstream adoption to occur, hurdles such as cost, technology, privacy, and representation must be addressed.
July has been a “sizzling” month so far, and I don’t just mean the weather. Although its pretty hot and humid here in Miami, the market research world has been burning up with talk about mobile market research over the past three weeks. First, we kicked off the month with a debate I moderated about whether mobile research is the great hope or the false dawn. You can listen to a recording of the lively debate here. And now, the Merlien Market Research in a Mobile World conference just wrapped up. This conference brought together more than 200 client-side senior executives, market researchers, and mobile developers to discuss the challenges and opportunities mobile technologies can bring to generate customer insights.
Is all of this talk warranted? Yes! Just take a look at some of these facts. Forrester forecasts that by 2014, 65% of the world’s population will own at least one active mobile phone (click here for details; subscription required). And, earlier this year, Mary Meeker of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers stated that we have globally reached an inflection point in Q4 2010―the global shipments of smartphones and tablets surpassed the global shipments of desktop and notebook PCs.
Earlier this week, I was in “tech geek” heaven because I had the opportunity to participate in IIR’s Technology Driven Market Research Event (TDMR) in Chicago. The purpose of the conference was to showcase how technology has generated new ways for market insights professionals to connect with and understand consumers. Over the course of the two days, the bulk of the presentations focused on two methodologies: social media market research and mobile research, with a smattering of additional presentations on neuroscience and gamification.
TDMR was a great conference. It brought together a core group of 200 market insights professionals who realize that although traditional research methods have their place, as an industry, we need to start understanding and experimenting with new methodologies. In addition, it highlighted how the industry needs to stop dumping data on our clients and instead deliver key insights, make recommendations, and present actionable next steps. These points were especially evident in Merrill Dubrow's high-energy presentation, which addressed how we are seeing an increased number of outsiders questioning how we do things and why we are so slow to innovate. As he stated — with even Glenn Frey’s song blasting in the background — the “heat is on” for the market research industry to change.
As my colleagues in our team can attest, I get giddy when I talk about all the cool, emerging, and innovative methods that market research professionals can use — whether it be how biometric techniques helped the Campbell Soup Company understand how consumers respond to marketing and advertising in order to redesign its soup-can logo, or when Nokia used mobile research methods as a way to understand what emotional constructs influence a consumer’s “love and admiration” for a brand. All in all, it is great to see technology starting to make a significant impact on how we collect richer insights about consumers.
To help market research professionals understand what innovative research techniques are out there, I am launching a report series this year that will cover some of these innovative methods. To kick off the series, I have focused on prediction markets. Why? Because I see this extremely underutilized method as a valuable tool in the long, expensive, and arduous process of product and concept testing.
Companies are faced with the following daunting facts:
Over 25,000 new consumer products skus are introduced annually in North America with only half of these new product launches considered successful at launch.
For every seven product ideas that are created, typically only one succeeds in the market.
An estimated 46% of all resources allocated to product development and commercialization is spent on products that are cancelled or that fail to yield an adequate financial return.
When I came back from holiday last week and looked at my mail, I was delighted to see that the most recent issue of Research World (the ESOMAR magazine) had a number of articles on mobile research. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, mobile research has really won me over (see also my report, The Challenges And Opportunities Of Mobile Research for full details). The “anytime, anywhere” aspect of the mobile phone, combined with people's emotional attachment to it, makes it an ideal device for people to share their thoughts and opinions in a research context.
When reading the articles in Research World, however, I feel that the industry is missing out on a great opportunity. The emphasis of the conversation here is on mobile research's methodological challenges, such as sampling, guidelines, and research bias. I agree that there are still some hurdles to overcome with regards to representation, costs, technology, and privacy, but I believe market researchers shouldn't get too caught up in these but should instead embrace mobile phones as a new research channel and look for innovative research approaches.