3 Emerging Market Research Technologies

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When I was a child, I used to watch Tomorrow’s World every week in a mixture of shock and awe as the presenters introduced week after week of new ideas, technology and (in my mind at least) dire predictions about the state of the world in 20 years’ time, especially as far as climate change and food security were concerned. What scared me as much as the predictions of disaster, funnily enough, were some of the technological advances they outlined. ‘But I don’t want to have to eat a meal in the form of a pill’, I would sniffle (I may have got a bit mixed up with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory there though).

What strikes me now is how little has actually changed in the intervening 20+ years. No flying cars, no real hoverboards, and sausage, mash and gravy is still served on a plate (unless you’re in a wannabe-hipster pub).

Market research though, has changed massively in that time. We’ve gone from recording interviews on tape recorders to mini discs to digital recorders and from conducting surveys face-to-face, through the post and on the phone, to by email, then desktop, then mobile and tablet. The pace of change is far from slackening and there are lots of intriguing new possibilities appearing all the time. In this post, I outline three of the ‘further down the list but moving upwards’ technologies from 2015’s GRIT report on Market Research Industry Trends. I’ve referred to the number of respondents using and considering using each of these technologies at that time.

1. Virtual Reality

November 2015: 10% using, 27% considering

Virtual Reality, in the sense of ‘looking at 3D stuff whilst wearing a silly looking helmet/pair of goggles’ seems to have been around for ages – at least since I was watching Tomorrow’s World in the late 80’s. However, the nearest most people got to it was a View Master (the underwhelming 3D effect slide viewer you looked into and clicked through images). It finally gained some ‘real world’ traction in the 2010s with the invention of the Oculus Rift headset and supporting game consoles.

In 2014, Facebook, Google and Sony all started investing heavily in VR (although in Google’s case, its most immediate output was an ingenious but cheap-as-chips looking cardboard viewer reminiscent of the View Master that users could slot their smartphone into for a stereoscopic view).

Virtual Reality in research however, is still likely to be limited to the research facility because of the equipment required and need to make sure that participants are taking part in a safe environment (you don’t want to set your respondents the task of carrying out a virtual supermarket sweep to test packaging in their living room and find they’ve tripped over the dog and knocked their telly over).

The real breakout success in 2016 has not been Virtual but Augmented Reality. Summer 2016 saw hordes of people wandering around, teetering on the edge of precipices whilst looking at their smartphones in an even more distracted than usual manner with the launch of Pokémon Go which superimposes a collectible menagerie of cute monsters on a smartphone view of the real word.

Here’s something we can really work with now; imagine a task in which you ask your participants to go into a supermarket and rate packaging and PoS, receiving prompts as they go around the store. Or what about designing a transport check-in system, where participants can move around the area to show where they would expect to see certain elements rather than where they actually are?

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"The real breakout success for market research in 2016 is augmented reality."

2. Wearables

November 2015: 8% using, 33% considering

Although Google Glass was not the resounding success which Google may have hoped for (that klaxon you can hear is the understatement alert), wearables offer researchers a tantalising treasure trove of data, especially in health-related research projects.

As with Virtual/Augmented Reality, a relatively low uptake of wearable devices at present means that it is advisable to focus on the devices purchased because they fulfil a distinct consumer need (be that in terms of functionality or status-enhancement). At present, the need is mostly centred around health, with the majority of apps being developed around that use case.

There is clearly a lot of data you can glean from wearables – with participants’ permission. Heart rate could tell you about their reaction to a product, marketing contact or a service encounter (though you would still need to ask further questions to ascertain the reasons for an increase in heart rate – it may be because an ad was exciting, or because it made them angry). How much exercise someone really takes part in during a week could give you greater, and more truthful, information to understand their shopping and eating habits than just asking participants to record this data themselves.

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"Wearable and IoT data streams combined with qual will take insight integrity to the next level."

3. Internet of Things

November 2015: 9% using, 33% considering

Possibly the most ‘far out’ in terms of new research technologies is research involving day-to-day devices connected to the internet. Again though, the amount of data we can collect from these devices is vast. Imagine an energy company wants to understand their customers’ energy use over Christmas. Previously, they could only see how much each customer was using when a meter reading was submitted, and maybe analyse this in conjunction with a survey or diary study about energy use over the period.

Now a combination of Smart Meters and wirelessly connected central heating controllers could mean a much richer stream of data around which to start the conversation, and design offers accordingly – even at a personalised level. Connected devices are already producing huge amounts of data about many parts of our lives and this is going to grow exponentially over the next few years.

In Summary

These emerging technologies, especially wearables and IoT are going to produce huge amounts of data which can be leveraged to better design products, services and customer interactions. However, I would argue that this can only go so far and that you still need to talk to participants to contextualise the data and understand not just what consumers did (or didn’t do) but why.

What market research technologies are you keeping an eye on? What do you predict will be moving up the list in this year’s GRIT report? Let us know in the comments below.

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