A note from Kevin Lonnie, founder of KL Communications, on the future of market research.

I’m a big advocate of Automation & AI for the future of market research. The cost and operational efficiencies they present is akin to fracking in the oil industry. It changes the price point of what’s possible and optimal.

As a small business owner, I also appreciate the difference between a service business and a SaaS offering in terms of scalability and valuation. I think that explains why the full-service research firm has gone the way of the 8-Track tape. Most emerging market research firms are built around a unique, scalable vision. That’s just the nature of the business.

That said, I feel that we’re missing the point. The customer is perceived as an increasingly difficult, albeit necessary, resource. Once easily available, we need our new tools to extract customer insights to maintain our cost efficiencies. Increasingly, we rely on surreptitious efforts like neuromarketing and machined learnings, for example, to capture their thinking.

Of course, there are other factors at play.

  • Political polls have become questionable exercises, partly because folks often lie.
  • The survey is now seen as an unreliable predictor of actual human behavior.
  • Traditional focus groups provide snapshots in time but are cumbersome and costly for agile development.

When I attend innovation events, the general sentiment is that market research has become passé.  Despite the new data collections tools that fascinate us, the prestige of market research is clearly diminishing.

That standing is reflected in industry growth numbers. ESOMAR reports market research growth rates of just over 2%, not exactly reflective of a healthy industry.

I feel the only way that market research remains relevant in the 21st century is to reclaim our standing with the customer. To achieve that, we can’t rely on outdated 20th century, passive data collection tools.

We need to be consistent with current principles of social reciprocity. Participant interactions require an appropriate quid pro quo. That will require radical transparency, radical honesty and the use of proactive market research tools.

Folks still want to offer their opinions, providing they feel it’s a valid use of their time. Market research needs to embrace customer-centricity. We toss around the term “being customer-centric” as a platitude at conferences. Afterward, we head back to our respective offices and field another 30-minute survey.

Design thinking powered by agile iteration is on the cusp of replacing traditional market research. For all the talk about automation and AI as the blueprint behind the evolution of market research, they are just tools.

While automation and AI will greatly enhance our speed and efficiency, a customer-centric future requires “proactive” customer interactions.

This will allow us to put the customer at the inception of the product/service development process. In this new context, the customer will serve as the “muse” and source of inspiration for the internal team.

Customer co-creation utilizing the design thinking method of agile iteration will allow teams to work collaboratively. The infusion of customer inspiration will help to break the downward spiral of marginal innovation.

Market research is on the cusp of a potential reinvention. However, all the automation and AI tools in the world won’t help if we don’t put the customer front and center of our vision.