There are so many positive things that the internet has given marketers over the last 20 years. From ads that are instantly measurable through clicks and other actions to new ways of engaging with customers (e.g., social media), digital marketing has revolutionized marketing as we know it. In fact, this year digital advertising will finally outpace TV as the leading advertising channel, according to research from Magna Global.
While the internet has been a boon for marketing, it has done considerably less for market research, despite its potential.
In fact, having worked in market research for over a dozen years, I believe that market research over the internet has not progressed much since 1990s. Commercially, it would appear that the last leap forward for online market research was led by SurveyMonkey -- enabling marketers to harness the power of the internet for conducting self-serve web-based interviews. Can an industry that boasts aligning with technologies 5 to 10 (or more) years old congratulate itself and claim that it has thoroughly or even mildly evolved?
And while SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics and other DIY apps have made surveys an accessible tool for marketing managers at companies of all sizes and budgets, they have failed to build on this early success and bring true market research discipline and methodology to marketers across the board.
In 2016, marketers with six and seven figure budgets can use the internet to run some surveys in less time than it would have taken 20 years ago, but the rest of the market research process is identical to how it was done in 1996.
So, how can we use digital marketing technology to make a real paradigm shift and bring market research from the mid-90s to present time and beyond? Here are some ideas:
Leverage the power of algorithms
Today, there is an algorithm for everything. So why are we using so few algorithms in online market research? Algorithms nowadays can be used in conjunction with expert system technology and even A.I., in order to put together very sophisticated customized research questionnaires based on decades of research methodology. If you're looking to test brand awareness in a personal care product or use predictive analytics to find current customers most interested in your new product offering, there is enough research that has already been conducted to enable running a research project that will yield nearly instantaneous results. Through the use of algorithms and business ontologies, a research questionnaire can be designed for valid and relevant research in a matter of hours, which can be vetted by PhDs with extensive market research experience and then encapsulated in a 5-click box that pushes these questionnaires in minutes.
Conduct better research faster
Half of the challenges of market research that the internet has failed to address are caused by the time it takes to receive the results of the research (the other half are driven by money). Too many research studies take 8 to 12 weeks from formulation to receiving the final report, and that's for research that was fast-tracked! In some cases, it can take up to six months.
How many marketers can wait that long to test a new marketing campaign or to understand consumers before developing a campaign? The internet has made so many marketing processes faster and has made so much in marketing operate more quickly to keep up with the pace of digital marketing. Today, we have the technology to cut turn-around times at every stage of the research process -- from the creation of the research questionnaire, to conducting the research, to analyzing the data and putting together the research report. And thanks to the internet's global reach, in every time zone around the world, we have new abilities to cut 80-90 percent of the time it takes to turn around a research project, making it not only exponentially more accessible, but also simultaneously executed.
People have been measuring longitudinally for years, trying to understand the way their brand or product behaves over time and factor-in the dynamics, especially in turbulent markets. While this has been (and will probably continue being) a helpful approach for looking at data, with today's innovative big-data storing & extracting technologies, there's no reason why we couldn't measure altitudinally as well.
Here's one example: Personal care companies manufacturing hair-care products usually don't ask about hair-care implicitly, rather than about their particular product lines separately, in accordance with their attributes and USP's. While directly asking about shampoos, hair colors and styling products, it is actually possible to consolidate and aggregate the responses and get insights that pertain to a higher common denominator, i.e., hair-care and even the personal care category level, which is much higher up the business category hierarchy. With the ability to index and store every piece of data with meta-data, the altitudinal approach should capture noteworthy dynamics occurring at levels that are higher than the one measured directly.
Basically, altitudinal research provides more granularity for benchmarking. Being able to climb up-and-down the organizational hierarchy or better yet, the business vertical hierarchy, can be very useful and insightful. With this in hand, the joint value of looking at data longitudinally and altitudinally can be tremendous.
Bring market research up to speed with gamification and VR
Paper and pencil surveys with web-based point-and-click versions did wonders for data quality and speed of processing, but very little for respondent engagement. Modern gamification techniques combined with the latest VR-related innovations allow you to create more interesting "activities" around survey data collection, replacing radial buttons and attribute batteries with card sorts, virtual shelves and shopping carts, collage building, and other interactive elements and games. Furthermore, research shows that respondents pay more attention and stay more engaged for longer. It could (in some cases) even mitigate respondent bias due to the shift from explicit to implicit, which means instead of being asked textual, explicit questions and answers, you enable visual tasks and execution. This new type of interactivity could potentially take the respondents' minds off thinking about the "right" answer, and focus them on executing the task.
From fundamental changes in the types of insight that can easily be collected to the speed, ease, and cost-efficiency with which marketers can now access their audiences and learn about their preferences, the internet and digital technologies have unleashed a myriad of advances that enable better, faster, and less expensive insight. These are just a few ways to use digital technologies to improve market research, and many of the capabilities are already within reach.
And with mobile now moving to the forefront of data collection and advances in geo-location, facial recognition, neuroscience and even "wearables," more advances could be on the way. It's time to stop monkeying around and harness all the potential of the internet to take marketing research from 1999 to 2016 and beyond.