Research and insights will drive decision-making

Change is happening at an ever-increasing speed, leaving many wondering what marketing research and insights will look like in the coming months and years. In order to get a sense of how industry leaders – both new and veteran – are feeling about the future, I reached out to the finalists of the 2021 Outstanding Young Researcher and Fearless Leader awards and asked them to share their thoughts. 

In this article I will discuss a few of the key points shared by the participating finalists, including overarching themes found in their answers to the questions: What roles will marketing research and insights play in the future? How will the industry change? 

people brainstorming about future product at a table

Data and insights are vital for understanding the human experience 

There was remarkable continuity among finalists’ responses. But what caught my attention the most was how each called out the role of research and insights in creating greater certainty around plans for the future – perhaps driven by individuals and companies around the world seeking a sense of normalcy or predictability lost when the pandemic began.  

“The diagnostic and predictive function of market research and insight will stay strong, with more and more emphasis placed on predictability in an ever-changing marketplace,” says Dobrinka VicentijevicEyeSee Research, finalist for the Fearless Leader award. 

Given this, it’s no surprise that a majority of the researchers interviewed see a bright future for research and insights. Most pointed to recent global-scale challenges as a significant turning point for how organizations view the industry, emphasizing the importance of making data-driven decisions. 

“Consumer behavior changed overnight,” says Sarah KotvaFieldwork, finalist for the Fearless Leader award. “Humans, experiences and our surroundings are ever changing and it’s vital to product and service success to keep a finger on the pulse.”

Diego Adolfo Chávez Terrazas, EyeSee, finalist for the Fearless Leader award, reiterated this sentiment, calling research and insights a “game changer” for the future of other industries, and also highlighting the need for organizations to put humans at the center of business. “The business opportunities for growth are going to be deciphered only by those companies that understand clearly how their brands and products help people and societies,” he says. 

Will a renewed reliance on data-driven decision-making help marketing research and insights professionals keep their seat at the table? A majority of those interviewed think so, including Thomas Ware, Liberty Mutual Insurancefinalist for the Outstanding Young Researcher award. 

“Companies that use research and data to drive decision-making aren’t going to make the ‘right’ decision in every instance,” Ware says. “But, they are more likely to do so in the long run than a business that makes decisions based on gut feeling or some other factor.” 

Removing data silos and telling stories

While 2021 finalists made it clear that it is vital to collect data, they also focused on the importance of how data is gathered, processed and presented. Several individuals brought up questions they believe are driving the current conversation around data and insights: 

  • Is there continuity and communication around data collection? 
  • Is the data siloed? 
  • Who is driving the data story? 
  • How is the data story being shared with stakeholders? 

Dana Kim, CEO of Highlight, finalist for the Outstanding Young Researcher award, believes that data collection methods will be shifting in the not-so-distant future:

“Oftentimes, market research companies operate in their own siloes, where a panel respondent is contacted with some sort of task, and some sort of data is collected. More and more so, however, we are seeing the lines blur between this primary research and more behavioral analysis. Research and insights are integrating more into day-to-day lives. 'Panels' and 'respondents' will simply be 'shoppers' or 'visitors' responding to more organic requests for feedback. Research will get closer and closer to reality.”   

And while some finalists like Kim put focus on the process of gathering of data, others like Chávez Terrazas narrowed in on the way researchers present data: 

“The insights industry will have to change to become a group of storyteller professionals, where we don’t just show some magic numbers and statistics but also tell a story of how we recommend improvements for brands, combining all different sources of data. We will have to mix the usage of PowerPoint presentations, videos, audio and more, to build the case we want to tell. We are at the very turning point of the MR and insights industry, and for sure, we will see a whole new world of data capturing and storytelling.” 

Vicentijevic echoed this saying, “The most successful players in the industry will be those who possess both the best technology and the best storytellers who profoundly understand human behavior and its laws.”

Technology and data – the way of the future 

All finalists interviewed pointed to the role technology will play in the future of insights. Many named artificial intelligence specifically as having a significant impact, giving researchers the ability to analyze data more quickly and efficiently, and ultimately more easily predict results. 

“I expect new capabilities to open up as technological improvements allow for better collection and analysis of data,” says Ware

And quant isn’t the only area affected by new waves of technology. The finalists interviewed also pointed to its impact on qual. 

“Technology has always been the driving force of change within the market research and insights industry,” says Kotva. “It’s easy to identify [technology’s] impact within remote interviews but technology to support in-person research and participant management has accelerated significantly.”

Each researcher who mentioned AI and technology was quick to add that it will not replace the humans behind the research. Instead, they foresee a positive shift where researchers have more time to focus on expanding the role of research and insights, understanding the why and ultimately sharing the data story. 

The resilience of research and insights 

Researchers are continuing to prove their ability to pivot and impact change – both internally and externally. And when chatting with researchers, it feels clear to me that this resilience is the key to the future success of research and insights.

“Providing answers to help plan for the unknown can no longer be considered non-essential,” says Kotva. “Connecting with your consumer should always be a priority. The market research and insights industries will continue to grow as stakeholders realize that this process is pivotal to future successes or failures.”    

Interested in learning more about the Marketing Research and Insights Excellence Awards? Visit