Editor's note: Brian Fletcher is vice president at Insights in Marketing LLC, a Wilmette, Ill., research company. He can be reached at info@insightsinmarketing.com. This article appeared in the April 21, 2014, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter.

As 2014 rolls right along, it's filled with great promise and opportunity, as well as great challenges. With advances in technology, psychology, data collection and the manner in which we understand consumer behavior, it's important, as marketing researchers, that we do more than just track buyers. We need to make it a priority to understand the industry as a whole - and that includes understanding ourselves.

This year, as in past years, Insights in Marketing LLC committed to taking stock of what we, as marketers, learned in 2013. By delving into all of the data swirling at our fingertips, we've applied it to the future and devised a list of the top five trends impacting the marketing research world in 2014.

1. Less is more.

The Internet is changing how we consume information. Whether you think the Web is making us smarter or dumber, one thing is certain: Consumers prefer simple messages to in-depth screeds. Easily-repeatable messages and powerful images work better to tell stories while also increasing consumer engagement and sharing in digital and social media.

Marketing researchers must help marketers address this trend by identifying the briefest, most compelling and most motivating messages about a product or service. To support this objective, research projects themselves must be more focused and more flexible, driving directly to the heart of the issue. By designing studies with fewer respondents, smaller focus groups and shorter surveys, researchers adapt flexibly and nimbly to changing needs while providing streamlined information.

2. Content marketing becomes evermore useful.

Content marketing - the process of providing information online to drive traffic and inform and engage consumers - is growing in importance in nearly every industry. This type of marketing provides information and guidance without a blatant sales push. Content moves customers down the marketing funnel, providing the necessary information at each step to increase interest, answer questions and overcome objections. Because content marketing and traditional selling are so vastly different, marketers often struggle to find the balance between the two.

Marketing researchers must help marketers understand what content is helpful and engaging. MR also needs to identify what content is needed at various points throughout the purchase process and pinpoint what moves consumers most effectively to make a purchasing decision. Whether you're sharing survey results or telling stories uncovered in qualitative research, content marketing provides helpful and engaging information to consumers.

3. The integration of social, digital and traditional marketing grows in importance.

A decade ago, it wasn't unusual to find marketing and Internet activities managed by entirely different departments within a company. Those days are long gone, as technology and marketing integrate to create more effective programs for consumers. Providing the correct message through different channels can be difference between success and failure.

Marketing researchers must help marketers understand how consumers process information from all of the various channels to make purchase decisions and imprint the image of a brand. Research and tracking models and methodologies must adapt to include new communication channels and purchase behaviors, as well as help define new metrics for measuring success.

4. One size does not fit all.

As new marketing tools and techniques emerge, marketers must continually evaluate and use each to their best advantage, incorporating them within their overall marketing strategy and mix.

Marketing researchers must stay current and well-versed in all of the tools available to marketers. Traditional marketing research techniques and methodologies must evolve to accommodate these new marketing tools. Today, no single approach will suffice and often several approaches are combined for maximum impact. "Little data" must work with big data to turn numbers into insight, and insight into action. Mobile research must be used to understand the dynamics of mobile as well as traditional marketing, while taking advantage of video, geo-location and photos to help consumers convey their in-store experiences. Continual innovation in new technology in the application of our tools and techniques is a critical success factor.

5. Context is key.

It is no longer enough for marketers to understand consumer demographics and purchase behavior. To achieve a stronger competitive advantage, marketers must go below the surface to find strong connections with consumers. The traditional demographic and attitudinal models marketing researchers have used to segment and understand consumers is no longer sufficient.

Marketing researchers must uncover new and innovative insights into consumer behavior that are more predictive of buyer behavior and indicative of consumer motivations. New methods for going deeper to understand consumers' underlying values, habits and personalities (which are unlikely to change much over time) will steer us beyond demographics and establish a clearer picture of who the target consumer is, as well as enable marketers to create breakthrough messages. New views into consumer motivations for purchasing will deliver deeper insight and optimize consumer engagement, sales and loyalty.

A clear focus

As we move into the thick of 2014, it's obvious that an integrated digital approach that has a clear focus is crucial to success. And, as always, that focus should be on insights - and the consumer.