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Market research today finds itself in somewhat of a quandary. Mostly, it is a field that is trying to remain relevant amidst the sea of changes taking place in marketing and sales today in the new digital and buyer experience economy. As the gatherer of market and customer data, market research is struggling to prove its value to senior management. The AMA (American Marketing Association) has voiced this concern in several of its conferences over the past few years. This topic has been an especially notable theme at the AMA's Annual Marketing Research Conference the last few years and no doubt is a hot topic this year.
What are the some of the challenges that face market research?
- The first is what I call the "how and why" complex. Conventionally, market research has focused on getting to the "who and what" of potential markets and customers. Gathering some good demographic information as well as finding voluminous reports on what is being purchased. With the hope of understanding trends and purchasing patterns. What is missing in many of the strategic meetings for senior executives is insight into understanding consumer or buyer behaviors and attitudes. Some may argue that psychographics provides this but psychographics focuses more on lifestyles as oppose to insightful and deep understanding into how and why consumers or buyers buy. The kind of insight that reveals competitive advantages and innovative breakthroughs.
- The second challenge can be termed "proliferation" in the sense that market research has become big business. Thus, gaining insight must come from distilling volumes of reports, quantitative data, surveys, focus groups, and every imaginable new way to look at a customer that has been created in the past 20 years. There appears to be a built-in inertia related to how many reports are bought each year, how many new ways to cut and slice data, and discovering new ways to perform statistical modeling each year. I do not propose that this is entirely a bad thing but it is very easy to see today that the proliferation of choices for market research has increased substantially in the pursuit of insight.
- The third challenge is one we can call "relevancy." That is, how does market research communicate relevant and real consumer or buyer insight? I know I have and some of you have sat through presentations with beautiful slides and graphics of graphs but leave with that sinking feeling in your stomach that you really did not gain any new insight that is going to help to drive strategy. It is a challenge that senior executives today are seeking to fix for the "go-to-market" windows continue to shrink and what is needed is relevant and real consumer or buyer insight today and not tomorrow.
- The fourth challenge we can liken to the nomenclature of the "silent majoirty" in the digital age. The nature of what we typically have been researching has changed so dramatically the last few years that we may be in fact not reaching out to the right consumers or buyers. And these may very well be active online types who don't voice or interact yet they are everywhere in the social network. Watching, observing, and making decisions on these observations.
Market research is faced with many more challenges but these four appear to be the most prevalent. What can market research do? One solution is to use qualitative research means associated with persona creation methodology, whether they are user or buyer personas, to serve as the interface for the voluminous data and insight gained. This allows market research to not only distill meaningful insight but it also allows for communicating relevant persona-centric insights that truly drives strategy.
Market research, in today's digital age, must look towards blending the power of quantitative research with advanced qualitative research methodologies to create a powerful story that can be told to senior management, personnel, and to consumers or buyers. To become a major contributor to strategy, market research will need to embrace the advantages of qualitative research and adapt to a world where numbers or data alone cannot tell the full story of consumer or buyer behavior.