The $76B global market research industry has been going through a transformation over the past decade. This transformation can be characterized by three macro trends that ultimately will change the face of the industry. I would describe these three macro trends as automation and agile research, advanced analytics and techniques, and data sovereignty. Not to minimize the progress that has been made in this industry, but this is also the same industry that has spent 50+ years primarily taking the paper survey that went door to door and making it more efficient with telephones, CATI systems, and the internet - with little change to the primary data collection vehicle - the survey.
Automation and agile research includes a new breed of tools and approaches that enable brands, advertisers, and researchers to conduct effective bite-sized research in a timely and cost effective fashion. Technological advances have made this increasingly possible. SurveyMonkey was one of the first to enter the scene, taking a very specific function of the research process to enable anyone to run a survey in a simple and inexpensive manner. In the early days of online research many researchers did not give SurveyMonkey much credit and today it has launched a successful IPO raising $180MM and is considered a pioneer in agile research tools. Other recent players include Zappi and Methodify that focus on specific research functions such as creative testing, branding, user experience, and pricing research. Driven by low cost, quick turnaround and ease of use, these agile solutions provide a new suite of techniques for the industry.
At the heart of any research is data. Being able to process and analyze this data to garner insights is key to any research project. The big data theme addressed the vastness and volume of data available, though the relative ease and availability of advanced analytics and techniques has been an accelerator to data utilization. While this is a rather large bucket of techniques, it incorporates a number that not long ago were only available to a small number of researchers. These capabilities include some of the various neuroscience techniques such as implicit reaction testing, facial analysis, and even EEG; all of which are now much more attainable, and with some of them even being offered in a SAS model. Other data and analytical techniques such as developments in artificial intelligence, including deep learning and machine learning, are starting to infiltrate most techniques, of which are core to some of the solutions provided in the agile methods.
The third trend is around data sovereignty. The boom of the Internet and social media in particular has led to individuals’ rampant sharing of data. Though, in the last few years there have been a number of high profile data breaches (no need to mention names here), and legislation such as GDPR aimed at protecting users data and their rights around the use of their data. This realization has started a shift towards an individual's’ sovereignty of their data, a desire to have more transparency and control of their data, and similarly being compensated for it’s utilization.
Concurrently, blockchain has been emerging as a potential technology that may become pivotal across many sectors, and is set to disrupt, disintermediate, or simply challenge the status quo with immutable public ledgers and decentralization. One area where we are seeing a number of initiatives and traction is the use of blockchain as a foundation for attaining data sovereignty.
I classify the first two macro trends as efficiencies, though firmly believe data sovereignty, partly powered by blockchain, partly powered by a social and legislative movement, will become a pivotal moment for the market research industry. This pivot will be driven by a change in incentives or motivating factors that ultimately impact the rules of engagement. The moment that consumers take full ownership and control over their data, how we provide access and value fundamentally changes.
The market research industry has a number of challenges that it is grappling with. These include: fraud, overall data quality, trust, lack of transparency, privacy, and declining participation; very much like the advertising industry has been experiencing.
The opportunity for blockchain, regardless of the industry, is to provide transparency. Transparency is a critical motivating factor that stimulates changes in behaviour. Let’s consider a few reasons why market research is poised to adopt blockchain as an underlying technology.
- Much of the research function that relates to engaging with consumers can be automated and decentralized by software. Further, the switching friction for both respondents and researchers is extremely low. This distinction becomes increasingly important as consumers regain sovereignty over their data and access requires new rules of engagement. Blockchain provides the opportunity of accountability with its immutable ledger.
- Guarantees around transparency and privacy provide a foundation that motivates good behaviour and data quality. While the industry anguishes over professional survey-respondents, the source of the anxiety is directly related to a lack of transparency into the respondents’ behaviour. This is similarly applicable to those who are responsible for poor survey design - we all know those 25 minute, poorly formatted surveys on mobile.
- The utilization of a crypto-currency further introduces new opportunities. Namely, consumers can be rewarded with payments for all behaviours, such as survey screen-outs, validation and good behaviour. In some cases, it is foreseeable to have a scenario where a consumer is paid $4, $5, or more in value for completing a survey or sharing data such as health and behaviour. These new incentive structures provide an opportunity to reset the rules of engagement.
There are definitely a number of challenges that go hand-in-hand with these opportunities - but we’ll save those for a follow up post.