Drawing on her experience at The Market Research Summit 2014 in London, Saros’ Maya Middlemiss explores the many changes in market research and her top takeaways from the event.
Editor’s note: Maya Middlemiss is managing director at Saros Research Ltd., a U.K. research participant recruitment firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “What we learned at The Market Research Summit 2014.”
Having returned from a whirlwind few days in London attending the Market Research Summit earlier this month, there is a great deal to process and reflect upon. As well as connecting with old friends from the conference circuit – clients and associates we work with frequently but rarely meet physically – and making lots of exciting new contacts, there is a huge volume of information and insight to assimilate. Not surprising when you bring a room full of market research practitioners and suppliers together for a packed agenda of presentations, discussions and case studies.
Here are a few of my top takeaways from the event:
- Market research is definitely not dead, but it is evolving. And while that could lead to some Darwinistic dinosaur-culling of certain resources, this is actually a very exciting time to be involved in such a rapidly changing industry.
- We all love hearing and telling stories and whether in our children’s bedrooms or our clients’ boardrooms, the basic ingredients remain the same: a beginning, middle and end that blend challenge, dramatic tension and ultimate resolution. Big data gets bigger all the time but still needs interpretation to generate insights. The data needs human researchers to tell its story.
- Market researchers are nice people! Yes, given that we work with a wide range of them, we would definitely agree with this. People who end up in research are (usually) open-minded, creative, forward-looking and considered. This makes for friendliness on an interpersonal as well as a professional level.
- Focus groups need defending. Especially to those whose impressions of them revolve around outdated clichés of stale snacks and bored housewives. Perhaps the balance in future years’ programs could include more qualitative practitioners? Qual felt under-represented on the program as a whole and on the panel discussions in particular.
- Most of us fell into this industry rather than consciously opting for a career in market research. But this makes sense to me, as Mitch Joel wrote in Ctrl Alt Delete, the best careers are squiggly ones. Broad and professional life experience makes for the best CV for creative problem solving and insight generation – one reason that here at Saros we generally recruit from outside of market research.
- We thought we were sponsoring the “Relaxation Zone,” for delegates to decompress, have quiet meetings and enjoy a little bit of peaceful downtime. Instead it was actually the “Omniscreen Zone” for the use of laptops, tablets, smartphones, dongles and devices, often simultaneously, to attend to the needs of social media, e-mail, conversation, background reading and multiple conversations. It was quiet in there in terms of actual out loud chatter.
- It’s OK that our industry is being disrupted by changes in the external environment because in most of the industries we are working for, this has already happened. That’s why they need our insight. We can provide that more empathetically and effectively by acknowledging the shared experience.
- Evening networking with more researchers over glasses of fizzy stuff is tiring after a full day in conference – but also great fun.
- Market research is (or needs to be) about getting closer – closer to consumers and closer to brands. By bridging that gap effectively, our role will never be redundant. No matter how the number of SurveyMonkey e-mails are sent out or social media conversations content analyzed, the only real way for brands to learn from their customers is by proactive market research activity.
- Feelings matter (as quallies and Maya Angelou have been saying all along). And unearthing feelings meaningfully during research means finding System 1 means of communicating: As soon as you ask a question, you stimulate the kind of overthinking which filters and influences that response even as you seek to elicit it. So, hands-on ethnographic and qualitative techniques will always be needed even as software changes enable the quantitate application of certain kinds of projective techniques in research.
- Buyers of research want to “taste the wine” – ultimately the experience of the vintage and the final distillation of insight is what matters. The variety of grape, who picked them and trod them (i.e., the methodology) interests us as researchers. It’s our job and the reason we are fascinated by the case studies shared at this event. But our clients care about the learning and how that can be applied to their own business objectives.
- Happiness is relative. It doesn’t depend on how much money or status you have, but more on how your peers are doing. And playing games and social networking make people happy too – just look at all the jolly activity on #theMRsummit during the event.
- One big challenge for the industry on the client side is to move the insight department’s sphere of influence from the tactical to the strategic. Perhaps one upside of the economic downturn is that some brands have learned to listen to their research teams, enabling them to respond to threats and crises effectively. But now that we are emerging from this period, respect needs to be leveraged and evolved to enable market research to inform direction and developments at a higher level.
- When you work remotely, the opportunity to network in and around events like this with your own colleagues is a fun and rewarding by-product of attending industry conferences.
All of us at Saros are looking forward to next year!