International market research in the 21st century
One of the biggest changes in the relationship between brands and consumers has been the shift from a one-way conversation to a two-way dialogue. Traditionally, it was very much a top down effort, with ideas, campaigns and messages flowing in one direction. Today, the picture is very different. Through shifts in behaviour and the liberating effect of technology, consumers no longer absorb – they discuss, tell and negotiate.
And it’s an active conversation, with the Market Research Society explaining that people have a “continual two-way discourse with a brand, which is constantly changing”. Companies have lost an element of control and are still getting used to ceding power, but facts are facts – consumers are smarter and eager to have a bigger voice.
In response, brands are relying more and more on market researchers to deliver insight quicker than ever before and, with more businesses expanding into other markets, they are, like their customers, more ambitious in what they expect. As we noted in our previous blog, they insist on bigger, better and faster results, all without increasing their spend significantly.
Market researchers certainly have their work cut out but, as we get deeper into the 21st century, these newer and greater expectations are also helping them innovate and advance their understanding. It’s a thrilling time to be be involved in the sector.
Compelled to change
Against the backdrop of seismic change – social, economic, cultural and technological – almost every sector and industry has been asked to step back and assess the bigger picture. The key question in front of them has been: “Do I continue as normal or reexamine everything I once thought as being set in stone?”
The innovators will opt for the latter part of the question, the traditionalists the former. Unfortunately, the more resilient market researchers are to taking on new tools, processes and approaches, the more likely they are going to lose out on commissions. They will simply not be able to keep up and deliver what their clients want.
Today’s information demands
If you consider things from an international point of view, brands, thirsty for international success, are aware that their previous market research requests are no longer applicable. Those are now seen to be too narrow and, in contrast to today, “time inefficient”. To stay competitive in a borderless environment, businesses need real-time insight to help them respond to the “constantly changing” wants of their customers from all over the world (the two-way conversation).
The implication of this is that understanding audiences can no longer come from a limited pool of data within just one market. To better reflect the fact that their business model and customer base is now orientated across numerous countries, they need access to more and diverse streams of data from all over the world.
Accordingly, as enterprises increasingly internationalise their operations, market researchers need to extend their data collection strategies to new markets. However, it isn’t simply a matter of migrating schemes of work overseas. A fresh approach to collecting, analysing and interpreting data is required. This is also to do with geography – simply put, what works in the west, won’t necessarily work in the east or other parts of the world.
Research is invigorated
This is advantageous to market researchers because it challenges them to evolve their practice. Technology is important here – with more activities and interactions taking place online, there has been a rapid rise in the types of information available to market researchers, requiring new tools of “data extraction”.
We currently understand this endless stream of information as big data, but that is just one aspect. As we become even more connected via the Internet of Things, the sources of information to learn from will widen, as will the ways in which integral nuggets of data are found. These new implications are, in turn, galvanising the sector to be more innovative and when done well, you end up with a cycle of continuous improvement.
All that said, as one expert notes, the invigoration of research is not predicated solely on the “new” at the consequence of the so-called “old”. There is no dramatic departure from convention. Instead, it’s about harmony and possessing the confidence to know what options to choose from.
“Researchers, who thrive on battles between methodologies, have naturally argued for a future of quant surveys, human qual and everything in-between,” remarked Steve August, chief innovation officer for Focus Vision recently.
“But it doesn’t matter which side of the debate you come down on – new technology or old research methods – because we’ve all missed the point. Our future is not a choice between technology and traditional research methodologies.
“What really matters is how we use technology to cook up the raw ingredients into digestible insights. I think that the debate about the future of research needs to be about how best to synthesise information from different sources.”
Projects get big
Mr August makes an interesting point. This debate should really be happening now because market research projects are only set to get bigger and more complicated. Anticipation then, for market researchers, is a deal-breaker between them and their competitors because clients themselves want to have that edge against their own respective competitors. You, as a market researcher, have to get that across, that you are at the forefront of the sector.
This broadening of research has been inevitable for a long time. You can look at it as a natural response to brands repositioning themselves as global entities. Everyone else has to, in effect, follow suit. For market researchers, the most notable change is managing “projects within projects”. In other words, each market a client needs information on, is distinct.
Beyond organising and coordinating multi-market studies, researchers will have to carefully select tailored approaches to data gathering for each country; translate questionnaires so that they stay true to the original source material while being understood by recipients; and ensure that every part of the process is done in respect of each market’s legal system.
State-of-the-art technology offers solutions that minimise the complexity and scale of international projects and through, for example, an online portal, streamlines and centralises the workflow process.
It also offers all stakeholders – project managers, translators, clients – real-time access to one another, as well as to materials in current use. This is ultimately the future of the industry and the most effective way for extensive, borderless commissions to be delivered. You may literally be worlds apart, but one click and you’re connected.
A new era of market research
In some ways, a lot of what we’ve touched upon in this article is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of other developments, like mobile research, that are still in their infancy, which still need to be better understood and assimilated. Nevertheless the sector is making significant progress in acclimatising to the new order. It may be in the midst of some of the biggest changes in its history, but it’s getting used to the fact that major changes are afoot. Market research in the 21st century has unlimited potential to be the best it has ever been.
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