The Top 6 Market Research Trends of 2016

Christopher Martin

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    As we settle in to a new year, we have the perfect opportunity to take stock, look at the industry and identify the defining trends of 2016. This is not a list of predictions, hopes or wishes – but rather a pragmatic overview of the new technologies, methodologies and thinking that is emerging and will continue develop over the course of the year.

    At FlexMR, we pride ourselves on staying at the cutting edge of the research industry. We’re always on the lookout for the big shifts and disruptors. And there’s a lot. The research industry doesn’t stay the same for long. New innovations are a common occurrence, making it difficult to narrow down to a top six. But these are the ones which will stand the test of time. From the breakdown of established segmentation, to new ways of defining agency relationships – these are our top six market research trends of 2016.

    1. The Breakdown of Generational Segmentation

    You don’t have to look far to see how prevalent generational and demographic segmentation techniques were throughout 2015. Millennials, Gen X & Z have been on the tips of nearly every marketer’s tongue. But this has not come without its drawbacks. Perhaps the most noticeable is what we call generational fatigue.

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    "Generational marketing fatigue is leading to a distrust in the segmentation method."

    Despite the wealth of resources and research dedicated towards it, there has been a realisation in the marketing community that very little is still known about generational differences. Our recent infographic highlighted some of the common misconceptions surrounding the Millennials in particular. In fact, we are just now beginning to realise that generational differences are not as profound as previously thought – leading to a relative distrust in the segmentation method.

    2. Adapting to Mobile Purchasing Patterns

    Mobile market research was featured on our list of the top 5 market research trends of 2015. And it has certainly taken off. A recent article from Reality Mine highlighted why mobile should be a part of your research strategy this year, and another from Instantly suggested 6 different types of research study mobile can now be a part of.

    But the industry has not stopped there. Now that we have seen mobile research take centre stage as the perfect approach to gathering in-the-moment and in-situ feedback, another challenge has emerged. How to use mobile research methods to gain insight into mobile purchasing habits. Traditionally, online purchases were followed by a post purchase survey, pop-up or email. But mobile purchases present more of a challenge. Their short nature leans away from this model and towards a combination of passive behavioural data collection and questions at key moments during the path to purchase (not afterwards).

    3. The Integration of Big & Little Data

    Big Data has caused a lot of turmoil in the research industry over the past few years. Early on, as the term was first being adopted, it was seen as a threat that could replace the need for skilled researchers in an organisation. As time progressed and Big Data became more of a mainstream concept with wider business appeal, it became recognised as a complement to traditional research, not a replacement.

    Now organisations are in a position where combining Big Data results with research insights is a possibility. Teams comprised of researchers and data scientists are being established to better share information and work towards common goals. We no longer see departments competing for budgets and results, but integrated Data & Insight departments that use natural synergies. No-one could better to sum up this change of approach than Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP in this Impact Magazine feature.

    4. Improved Privacy & Data Regulation

    As well as mobile research, another prominent technological advancement over recent years has been passive data collection. From social media scraping, to car tracking – passive data is everywhere. But consumers are becoming more aware that their data is being gathered, and more savvy about what this means. A study conducted by Microsoft found that 100% of consumers would be willing to share their personal information with brands for a cash reward, but only 65% would trade their data for products and services.

    This is, of course, old news for researchers. But it is important that these transactional data relationships are understood and applied to passive data collection methods too. The same study found that 56% of consumers felt that data was collected by companies, yet only 41% felt that they were actively sharing their information. This dissonance can lead to distrust and put strain on relationships with brands.

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    "56% of consumers feel their data is being collected. but only 41% believe that they are actively sharing it."

    That’s why we have seen research companies stress the importance of privacy and data regulations (such as the MRS Code of Conduct, or Fair Data). Those that can distinguish themselves, stand out from the crowd and place consumer relationships over the need for more data will win out.

    5. Transformational Agency Relationships

    The client-agency relationship has always been a bugbear of the market research industry. Should agencies strive to be partners with their clients? Do clients want a simpler vendor-buyer relationship? There is a lot of debate on how to best create a functioning relationship. But 2016 seems to be the year (so far) where real progress is being made. Far from the damming report published in Campaign Live last year (From Mad Men to Sad Men), client-agency relationships are undergoing somewhat of a revitalisation.

    New communication tools such as Slack and a recently updated Basecamp are making project and insight management easier than ever before. Agency teams are able to understand the world of their clients, and clients are able to provide immediate feedback leading to a more agile, efficient collaboration.

    6. Experimental Research Tools

    Finally, one last trend we have noticed is the rise of experimental market research tools. Whether it is virtual reality, neuro-research, semiotic image analysis or mobile ethnographies – there is no shortage of new, innovative experiments in market research. How will these fare? That is anyone’s guess. But experimentation and innovation is wonderful. For every idea that doesn’t make it, there will be one that will. So while we may not be able to predict whether we’ll be living in an age of virtual shopping experiences by the end of the year, we do know that the research landscape will have changed drastically for the better.

    These six trends highlight an important developing theme – disruption. We, as researchers are never content. Research-on-research (RoR) promises continuous developments throughout 2016 and beyond. It is an exciting time to be a market researcher. One where there are endless opportunities and new insights to be learned.

    What market research trends do you believe will dominate 2016? Do you agree with our list, or do you think there are important trends missing? Let us know in the comments below and start a discussion.

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