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The exciting future of market research

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in Market Research

Last month I returned to the UK from a very productive and inspiring overseas trip to Singapore, where I was attending the 16th edition of ESOMAR’s annual marketing and research Asia Pacific event. It was a busy couple of days, with a lot of interesting, groundbreaking and inventive ideas to absorb from a multitude of speakers from all over the globe. Collectively, there seems to be a real buzz about the future of market research, especially its expansion into Asia.

Before I go into discussing the key takeaways from the conference, allow me to quickly note some of the standout impressions I’ve been left with. What struck me the most is the consensus among delegates that there is a growing “need for speed” within the sector. As we discussed in our blog last week, this is reflective of changes in the wider world: the “speed of now” that is characteristic of the 21st century demands fast results. Researchers have to get quicker.

The other trends I picked up on were around research projects that are more international in scope (which are increasing in popularity and relevance). There were insightful discussions highlighting, for example, the importance of cultural considerations, as well as talks on the fascinating yet complex nature of language from a globalised vantage point and how this impacts on researchers.

I’ve had plenty to think about since the event and it has me more enthused than ever before about the direction the sector is heading in. If you want to know more about what to expect, then stick with us and read on. These are my highlights.

The Internet of Things

As a species, we are more connected than ever before. The pivotal moment came in 2008 when the number of connected devices overtook the number of people on the planet for the first time. In 2015, 25 billion connected devices are in existence. By 2020, that number could be as much as 50 billion.

Welcome to the world of the Internet of Things (IoT), which, in its most basic form, represents the digital ecosystem that connects most things to the internet. The implications for researchers is that they now have access to data that was previously unavailable. Consider cars, by way of example. You will be able to benefit from a wealth of information that was either difficult to gather or impossible to get hold of – mileage, performance, quality of driving and geo-location.

Other industries, like insurance, are already feeling the impact of IoT. Is market research ready for this? It appears not. From the conversations I’ve had, it appears that the industry has been slow to act. Venture capital is flowing into tech innovators and not traditional market research operators – if the latter wants to compete they have to reshape their business models, engage with analytics companies and adopt digital-first strategies.

The future of insight

Insight processes are being influenced by the growing importance of speed. For example, a talk delivered by SKIM noted that in the very foreseeable future, insight generation processes – and tools – will be completely automated. This will be the standard way of working and not the exception, meaning quick delivery times will be a prerequisite, not a differentiator.

This is especially the case in Asia, where consumers are mostly mobile natives – they have, in effect, skipped the whole PC-era. This advanced state offers researchers a unique and real-time source of data, meaning that they can, more rapidly, engage, collect and analyse sources of information and then quickly deliver results to their clients.

How quick? I heard examples of market testing projects that reduced project times from six weeks to six days. That extraordinary compression in the workflow requires a lot of mutual trust, transparency and planning between all stakeholders, which, if you’re involved in international studies, isn’t easy to organise with traditional methodologies. You have to be open to new technology.

Getting there first

The idea of supply and demand is shifting, with the latter growing in importance. In short, consumer power is increasing and it has more sway. If you look at trends in Asia, brands that want to successfully launch breakthrough innovations quicker and with more reliable returns, need to be better informed. Asian consumers, for example, don’t want to buy more products – they want better products.

Market researchers are tasked with finding this insight out markedly faster than ever before. To achieve this, they are adopting iterative and agile processes – as opposed to one that is consecutive – which allow them to speed up the research process and enable small incremental improvements before reaching a breakthrough concept.

Coca-Cola’s partnership with ZappiStore and SSI was a great study into how this philosophy of “fail fast and learn quickly” can deliver outstanding results in days, even hours. When compared to offline approaches, such as focus groups, the results of reactions to advertisements was consistent. Crucially the 4-7 days of time savings from using an agile methodology translates into allowing Coca-Cola’s creatives to fine-tune and optimise their copy.

Other time-busting methods, as discussed by MMR Research Worldwide and MobileMeasure, include carrying out mini-panels via mobile messaging apps. The example they gave was WeChat, China’s most popular social platform and the fastest growing in the world.

Why is it advantageous? For one, it has a massive user base (450 million at the time of writing in China alone). And two, given that they already have the app installed on their device, it allows for easy, direct access to respondents. Short, interactive survey formats are perfectly suited to mobile devices and researchers are also harnessing WeChat’s instant messaging capabilities to do real-time qual work with participants that give follow-up consent.

To give a sense of how effective this can be, the pilot study on WeChat saw a 60 percent higher completion rate than equivalent mobile apps. With these hugely popular social platforms consuming ever growing chunks of people’s lives, a well-executed strategy on mini-panels ensures you remain one step ahead of your competitors. Once again, the need for speed and “insight immediacy” is driving this new trend.

Culture and language

In recent years, behavioural economics has become something of a hot topic within market research, with the sector the latest to be taken in by this increasingly important if not fashionable discipline.

A paper I read by The Irrational Agency, titled Globally Irrational, Locally Rational? examined the cultural relevance of behavioural economics within Asia. Here’s where it gets complex, something we, as a language service provider know all about when helping researchers localise for multi-market studies.

Here’s the context. You have to localise all surveys and then appropriately translate responses to ensure data is correct. If you don’t, somewhere along the line, errors and misunderstandings are going to emerge. In a similar way, with behavioural economics, where 90 percent of psychology research comes from evidence in the West, how can you be sure that similar theories will apply in Asian cultures? Cross-cultural research into decision making is limited so the next best alternative is to look at measurable differences between cultures.

Another fascinating and related talk came from Pete Cape, director of global knowledge at SSI. His paper I Speak, Therefore I Am? chimed with me, which is no surprise given the context was to do with language. As the blurb for the talk stated: “If you think your brand message is the same in translation, then it’s time to think again.”

SSI looked at trying to quantify the phenomenon of bilingual people thinking differently depending on the language they are speaking at the time. In this instance, they looked at to what extent do members of the Chinese diaspora who live, study or work in an English-speaking country, answer differently when thinking in Chinese or English?

Moreover, how does the context of their environment – they live all over the world – influence the approach to both languages? SSI posed a lot of interesting questions, concluding that answers were more similar when doing the study in Chinese and more similar to other respondents in the same country when in English. As a follow-up to this work, a Chinese co-collaborator could help to offer a greater cultural interpretation of the results.

Exciting times ahead

The world has, since the bells rang in the start of the new millennium, changed significantly. The nineties, still recent in memory, look very dated. We’ve moved on leaps and bounds in every respect, most notably in technology.

Market research has gone from strength to strength, with the start of the 21st century witnessing a remarkable upswing in interest in the sector, thanks in large part to globalisation. It has been further boosted by the expanding interest in working with and in Asian countries, with many international enterprises keen to capitalise on economic growth in this region.

However, against a backdrop of technological change, this hasn’t been easy for all concerned parties. Multinationals have had to rethink their brand identity and approach, while market researchers have had to adapt their research techniques. Right now, in 2015, we find ourselves in a more informed position, but with much more work still left to do “to get it right”. As ESOMAR’s APAC event showed, the sector is responding. It doesn’t have all the answers yet, but it is certainly asking the right questions.

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