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Do you dare predict our industry's future?

Do you dare predict our industry's future? Patricio Pagani
Predicting the future is a tricky business. If you don’t agree, ask these people …Do you dare predict our industry's future?

  • ‘The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.’ President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford's lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903

  • ‘Everything that can be invented has been invented.’ Officer at the US patent office, 1899.

  • ‘Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.’ Economics professor at Yale University, 1929.

  • ‘It will be gone by June.’ Variety Magazine, passing judgement on rock 'n roll in 1955.

  • ‘Man will not fly for 50 years.’ Wilbur Wright, American aviation pioneer, to brother Orville, after a disappointing flying experiment, 1901 (their first successful flight was in 1903).

Predicting the future of the market research industry is equally as thorny. In our ESOMAR paper ‘Ode to the Unsung Hero’ we took a look at what the future could look like, by examining the research industry’s current issues and challenges.

Firstly, we went through the macro forces that are reshaping our industry at a rapid speed. Research has, so far, been shielded from the disruptive impact that technology has had on many other industries. This is no longer true - research companies will have to either embrace technology, or get left behind. New entrants from technology and consulting verticals are filling the white spaces and researchers need to wake up to this new, evermore-complex reality.

Our recommendation is for the industry to regain focus

For traditional research companies and new ones alike, when was the last time you looked at the research value chain? What are your clients ‘buying’ from you? At the pace that technology is evolving, will your business model still be relevant three years from now? Is there technology that could automate a good portion of what you do? If the answer is yes, embrace that technology! Don’t leave it to technology companies to lead the way.

We all belong to a well-established industry that is comfortable with the ‘why’

Our expertise, skillset and credentials give us the ability to navigate through seas of data, and create insightful stories. By doing that, we can continue to transform business and increase the value we bring to our clients. New entrants will try to compete, but they will take a long time to learn the ropes which we have mastered over the last 50 years.

Big data technologies are helping clients answer what questions at an amazing speed … and they are only going to get better. However, it is the why questions that remain the most elusive to automation. It is the why questions that, as researchers, we have traditionally been good at answering. As an industry we should continue to make this our space. If we do that, today and in the future, our clients will continue to want to engage with us.

Local relevance coupled with global leverage

Also, our journey tells the story of one of research’s unsung heroes, the protocol custodian. It includes the engineering of a solution to one of Coca-Cola’s oldest research problems: a survey tool that is relevant to local teams, while leveraging global knowledge.

The hero’s story also reveals five years’ worth of brand tracking learnings like sampling, weighting, translation and re-questioning. Whenever somebody tries to over-simplify a research issue, we should remind them that a comma can change the meaning of a sentence, which is why we need semiologists to help us.

As researchers, like our unsung hero we eat, sleep and breathe research. We love data like it’s our own. Big data suppliers may be able to explain what is happening to our clients fast and efficiently, but explaining why is where researchers should focus.

Our collective skillset as researchers will help us secure a safe position in the insights value chain, giving clients more space to think. When clients today want to cut through their sea of research data to get to the real insights about customers, researchers can help. Let’s champion ‘consumer intelligence’ rather than ‘business intelligence’, and lead that charge.

Many of the issues and problems that we traditionally help solve are behind the scenes and hardly ever get talked about. So let’s talk about them!

Sometimes ‘supportive’ beats ‘sexy’!

Nobody would challenge us if we say that none of the issues above are sexy. It will always be hard to get the majority of our clients excited about weighting criteria or respondent fatigue. However, they are absolutely critical to the quality of the data that they use to make important business decisions.

So let’s raise awareness, together, so our clients understand that some of the behind-the-scenes support they get from researchers today will always be important.

I hope our custodian hero is someone you can identify with a little, as he is not unlike many of us. He is just one of the unsung heroes of the research industry.

And here comes my final challenge

Let’s make sure our clients know they are coming to the right place for advice. That we understand what they are trying to do, and the role that research plays in their business … that we have got the knowledge and expertise that they value. And more importantly, that we will apply this knowledge to our work and to what we deliver for them. If we can do this as an industry, I will feel much more confident at having a go at predicting our future.

We will thrive!

Patricio Pagani is a company director at Infotools, responsible for product innovations. He is president of the New Zealand Market Research Society and ESOMAR representative. Previously with Coca-Cola, he joined Infotools to lead the expansion of...

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