Is Research Dead?

Perhaps! But more than likely it is just in hiding.

The maturation of market research as a quantitative social science has been quite well protected and isolated as an area of professional expertise. Data collection evolving from in-person to mail panels to phone, internet, mobile, and perhaps to behavioral and sensory perception in the future has insured that expert professionals are needed to navigate speaking to the right respondents in the right way.

The evolution of statistical analyses due in part to increased computer processing speed, adds another dimension of understanding of human attitudes and behaviors. Starting with simple frequencies and evolving to complex statistically-based behavioral models, we have become ever more accurate in evaluating values, needs, opinions and behaviors, as well as being able to tailor our strategies appropriately.

Plus, the delivery of information has become, in some cases, available in real-time and ever simpler to access even at the most complex levels of analysis and geo-locational targeting.

The result: an estimated $30BB industry globally, with >$10BB in the U.S. growing at a rate just barely ahead of inflation.

So, is research in a death spiral? Does such an insignificant growth rate foretell the death of research?

We don’t believe so. Rather, research has become so ubiquitously embedded in the marketing process that often it is hard to find. Academically, research professionals once coming from the social sciences, operations research, and mathematics now come from all areas of academic study, from business, medical, engineering and technology to name only a few.

Because research professionals and companies have done such a good job of integrating techniques and approaches into every aspect of marketing, research has become an acceptable given in the marketing process. Furthermore, this research is increasingly becoming done under the budgets of the brand and product managers themselves utilizing self-serve and other inexpensive data collection and analysis tools.

These tools, (often developed and offered by non-research professionals) have nibbled at the growth of the traditional industry because they met a need for real-time response accompanied by simple interpretation. Not that these tools are not useful in the hands of individuals that understand the research scientific method, but simple data collection and analysis techniques in the hands of business professionals that do not understand the intricacies of who to talk to, what to ask, and how to analyze data can lead to bad business practices. And, all too often, the method is obfuscated from the recommendation.

So how do research and marketing professionals respond to this trend and recapture the growth of our industry? The answer is that the industry needs to meet the needs for fast response and simple interpretation of results by utilizing appropriate populations and complex models with easily interpretable decision-making marketing metrics.

Such a strategy will result in the rebirth of the industry. Not to commoditize it but to rethink our efforts to meet client needs. What is needed is an updated research process. One which does not negate industry expertise and knowledge of complex techniques but capitalizes on them to build a research process made up of both integrated consultative and technology platforms to respond to timing and decision making needs of clients.

These platforms should not be generic but should be customized to the categories of marketing metric needs such as:

  • Communications, advertising, and branding
  • Consumer experience
  • Product development/innovation
  • Direct marketing
  • Adhoc marketing

It is through these integrated consultative/technology platforms, customized for needed decision making metrics in areas of the marketing and sales process, that market research will be truly research reborn.

Al DeCotiis, Martha Rea, & Sanford Schwartz

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