Market Research Innovation: What It Means to Push the Envelope

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    Innovation is one of the most common topics in the world, especially in the market research industry. But what we recognise as innovation are typically smaller changes to an existing product, service, process, or state of thinking, and while those are very real and valuable pieces of innovation, what really excites us all more is the game-changing innovations that propel us all into the future.

    Usually, we will talk about innovations discovered through customer insights generated from market research itself, but today I want to focus on the innovations made within market research itself - the evolution in methodologies, the blending of other veins of science, and the advancement of research tools and technologies to say the least. While the little innovations along the way are certainly worthy of note in the progression of the insights industry, the game-changing innovations are the ones that have had the most impact.

    So what is the difference between the little innovations and the bigger breakthroughs? And how do we work to achieve those breakthroughs?

    Changing the Game in Market Research

    What we know as market research now is vastly different to what it was at it’s conception, and that is all the result of both types of innovation in equal measure.

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    Innovation is one of the most common discussion topics in the world, but usually only in the context of the latest achievement. How do we actually achieve innovation?

    In the beginning, there was only quant - quantitative questionnaire research that is. The first concept of market research was created in the 1920s by Daniel Starch, who had a theory that advertising had to be seen, read, believed, remembered, and acted upon for it to have any impact, and took to the streets to ask random people whether they could remember the advertisements they saw in certain publications. This technique and theory was then furthered by George Gallup with his Aided Recall theory.

    Since then, we have further developed quantitative research techniques and integrated technology to further enhance our capabilities. We have cultivated many impactful qualitative methodologies, to unlock the creative spirits of our participants and generate deeper, richer, insights. We have moved our research capabilities from face-to-face surveying (although that practice is still used today to a smaller degree), to telephone interviews, to our current situation of online market research with a host of dedicated participants in online panels and communities. Now, we have broadened the scope of market research past purely quantitative and qualitative market research. We now have Big Data, automation tools, data visualisation techniques, a variety of analytical assets, and so much more all through the embedding of new and exciting technologies.

    In the near future it’s not hard to see the further integration of extended reality technologies, artificial intelligence principles and tools, and blended user experience methodologies to enhance the industry further. But it’s through larger breakthroughs both within and without the industry that this will happen - the more we focus on smaller changes, the longer it will take for us to get to where we need to be.

    How to Push the Envelope

    But how do we achieve these breakthroughs? We need to try and identify what it means to have a proper breakthrough, a real game-changing innovation that alters the future of market research for good.

    Looking at the move from physical to digital, we can conclude that technology is the easiest tool to wield in the quest for innovation. It has consistently proven itself to be one of the assets we have in our arsenal that can take an ordinary thing and make it extraordinary - with most even going so far as to define a new category or unit of measurement, and all of them fulfilling a previously unmet need.

    Pushing the envelope requires a good amount of knowledge about unmet needs, both in general in the world and more specific to your target audience, but don’t worry because there is some overlap between the two. One of the more common unmet needs that the world is working towards at the moment is making things sustainable in relation to climate change. While there might not be too much overlap with that in a market research sense, we can definitely help by researching how to make things sustainable for businesses around the world.

    But one need that does overlap a lot with general audiences and insight professionals, is the need for better automation processes. In general, we like things to be easy and convenient, and we do currently have access to technology with machine learning/automated processes in place to help with that convenience; but more specifically to market research, there are a number of data collection processes that we could do with automated, but only if we still receive the same quality of data as we are doing now. Survey chatbots are one of the automated processes that we’ve tried implementing, but they still have a bit of evolving to go until they can fully replace a human in the data collection process.

    I mentioned earlier that one of the many innovations we have made to our industry is through the integration of other veins of study - learning and taking inspiration from behavioural science/economics, user experience, gamification, and neuro-research techniques has really broadened our scope and resources for creating engaging research. This is due to the fact that we want to gather more accurate and relevant data to generate richer insights (a previously unmet need), and one of the ways we could do that was to find better ways of engaging research participants in our projects. While we do not have the total attention and willingness of participants to the largest extent we want, participant engagement in online research has increased dramatically, especially with the adverse conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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    The purpose of innovation is to meet previously unmet needs - what are the unmet needs of market researchers? And how do we create innovations to meet them?

    Another important motivator of innovation worthy of mention is trust - trust in the innovation from customers who want to use it, but also want to feel safe while using it. Online market research has  boomed so much in recent years because we have the proper precautions and measures in place to securely protect their personal data. Whatever innovations happen in the future, they need to being the same level of protection we have now, if not better, in order to gain the trust of their customers. If it’s not safe, then it’s not innovation - it’s just dangerous.

    Pushing the Boundaries of Innovation

    Knowing now what we know about the nature of innovation, we are ready to have a look at creating our own no matter what industry you’re in. But one thing to keep in mind, is that we can never have anything perfect. No matter how many innovations are created and implemented, there will always be unmet needs to cater for. Perfection is a continuous aspiration, and innovation can get us someway to achieving it in the moment, but it is an impossible unattainable desire.

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