The future of innovation in market research 

Editor’s note: Jill Larson is chief product officer for strategy and research at Qualtrics, a Provo, Utah-based research firm.  

Market research is crucial for success in today's competitive landscape. According to a new study by Qualtrics, nearly two-thirds (62%) of researchers say their company depends on their research and insights significantly more today than in the past two years. 

Not only that, researchers report their budgets are on the rise, despite broader marketing budgets remaining flat year-over-year according to Gartner

Several reasons are driving this surprising trend. Market research insights directly influence market share, provide ideas for innovative new products and help organizations establish enduring beloved brands – all top priorities for organizations in any economy.

How will researchers deliver in 2024? Qualtrics asked over 3,000 market researchers across 14 countries about how they are embracing new technologies, how their organizations are valuing their work and what their priorities are in the next 12 months. Four trends emerged.

Market researchers are rapidly embracing AI 

Advances in AI are revolutionizing every industry sector and market research is no exception. Researchers have used artificial intelligence and machine learning tools for years and already have an increased level of comfort and understanding in their work. Nearly half (47%) of researchers say they are using AI in their day-to-day.

AI provides the ability to automate repetitive tasks and quickly process and summarize qualitative insights, such as survey responses and focus group transcripts. This helps research teams do more with less – 43% of researchers say AI is enabling their teams to do more research with the same team size and budget at a time when efficiency is a top priority for marketing leaders. 

You can’t mention AI and automation without addressing fears of job loss. However, despite concerns around the world about AI replacing people, only 25% of respondents are concerned about AI outpacing personal or team abilities and most researchers (87%) feel good about their job security. 

Remote and virtual research will continue to expand

Budget constraints have often limited the scale of qualitative research projects. Traditional methods like mobile surveys, focus groups and interviews can be costly and time-consuming to deploy, segment and analyze.

The post-pandemic digital landscape and evolving consumer behaviors have pushed more activity and commerce online. As a result, qualitative researchers are shifting their focus to digital and remote techniques, allowing organizations to achieve both cost-effective research and precise customer insights.

Currently, 87% of organizations conduct half or more of their qualitative research online/remotely and, 85% anticipate conducting half or more of their qualitative research online/remotely in the next year.

According to researchers, this shift toward digital qual not only enables additional personalization but also provides opportunities for more diversity and inclusivity, while potentially reducing bias and discrimination by broadening the target audience.

The one catch? Some (36%) of researchers say they are not able to develop as good a rapport with participants online as in person. 

Researchers turn to technology to solve growing data quality issues

In order to inform their businesses with strategic decisions and enhance customer satisfaction, research teams collaborate with other departments such as product development, marketing and sales to gather timely insights.

However, the landscape of data collection has become more complex due to the rapid advancements in technology and evolving consumer preferences. Customers are increasingly concerned about data privacy and are wary about providing personal information for marketing or research purposes and they are interested in more engaging ways to provide feedback.

Bad actors have also taken advantage of new technology like chatbots and click farms to artificially respond to surveys and have become more skilled at avoiding quality assurance traps. Nearly half (43%) of researchers globally say, “identifying and/or preventing AI-generated responses is a challenge when collecting data using online providers.”

However, AI also provides the ability to comb through thousands of data points more efficiently and effectively than a human can, saving time, money and resources. Researchers overwhelmingly (79%) indicated they would find an automated data quality solution to identify poor quality responses extremely or very helpful and 30% of respondents say they already use AI to detect fraudulent activity in surveys.

A research skills gap is opening, but AI can help close it

Sometimes technology evolves faster than individual skill sets can keep up. According to our data, research teams are struggling to keep up with new research methods and some are lacking analytical skills to turn data into insights.

In fact, 33% of the researchers we talked to said the main reason for outsourcing market research projects is because their teams don’t have the skills necessary to manage them internally.

At the same time, technology like AI-powered automation is helping offset the skills gap, giving researchers more time back for learning and more strategic work. Many mundane and tedious tasks like cleaning or formatting data for reports and summarizing qualitative responses are prime candidates for automation that can free up time for teams to also focus on seeking opportunities for upskilling and more deeply analyzing consumer behavior.

Forty-four percent of researchers say they would definitely use AI solutions for "natural language commands to automate workflows” and 46% say they would definitely use AI solutions to "generate survey questions for a given topic."

Closing the skills gap requires time and effort. AI can help researchers stay afloat and free up time to learn more about the latest techniques and technology. 

The future of market research is brimming with innovative possibilities. With the integration of AI, the shift toward digital qual and a focus on creating easy-to-use analytical tools, market researchers will be well-equipped to make smarter decisions and gain deeper insights into consumer behavior. The researchers at the forefront of these trends will stay ahead of the curve and help their organizations build innovative new products and enduring brands.