21st century market research

I’ve just finished reading Communispace’s latest position paper “You are now leaving your comfort zone: 21st century market research” (link points to their blog post, which in turn links to the pdf). It is unquestionably one of the best research papers I have read in quite some time.

It has to be taken with the caveat that the paper is promoting their position as providers of large-scale, continuous research communities and that the recommendations are focused around the relative strengths of this methodology. Nevertheless, I found myself in agreement with the majority of the points made.

  • Actionable: I loved the quote that it is “more important for research to be actionable than irrefutable”. It is to an extent a straw man argument, since 20th century “gold standard” techniques are still rife with bias, but I am in total support of “good enough” research. Trading efficiency for supposed accuracy has diminishing returns and with our complex multi-dimensional environments, no research can be truly predictive or offer complete accurate validation. Shifting the emphasis of debate from data quality to data application is crucial, in my opinion
  • Professional respondents: “Professional” respondents are inevitable in research, and I like the notion of accepting this and including them as “actors”. I was not aware of the ARF’s research showing that professional respondents actually give better quality results. but presume this is where professionals don’t lie about themselves in order to pass the recruitment screener i.e. they are “acting a role”. It is a good observation that, over time, it becomes harder to fake and so responses become more authentic and trustworthy
  • Openness: Transparency and self-disclosure are important measures in reframing respondents as participants. We should be moving away from treating the people we research as emotionless lab-rats. Instead, there should be a two-way dialogue. Obscure projective techniques may indeed relax people into opening up, but I believe the researcher revealing elements about themselves facilitates a better environment for open discussion. Similarly, why hide the research sponsor and leave the person second guessing (unless of course it is highly sensitive NPD)
  • Exploratory research: I also agree that the strength of research lies earlier in the process. Validating hypotheses may be important in offering reassurance, risk assessment or measurements of success, but there is a massive opportunity in terms of idea generation and creative development. I don’t really like the term co-creation but there is opportunity for collaboration which creatives and strategists should view as an opportunity to better relate to their target audiences, and not a threat (since ideas ultimately need their expertise to be worked up into viable and coherent campaigns or executions)

Inevitably, there were also a couple of points I didn’t agree with

  • Real-time: Real-time interaction and feedback is fantastic in some areas – customer service and closing a sale, for instance. Research is not one of these areas. Interpreting research needs consideration and contextual understanding; real-time can make us too trigger happy
  • Natural: As long as research uses recruitment techniques (nearly always necessary in order to speak to the right people, and the right balance of people), it will never be truly natural. “Naturalistic” maybe, but not natural

But on the whole, it is a great read and I would recommend you all to take a look at it.

A final thing that struck me about the paper was the use of a couple of quotes from industry leaders. When I read presentations, reports or papers from marketers or strategists, they are often illustrated with quotations from peers or thought leaders in the space. The research industry doesn’t really have that. The “researchsphere” doesn’t have the same vibrancy as the “plannersphere” and so the trade bodies and the trade press need to play a much more prominent role in providing platforms for client-side industry leaders to speak from. Thus far, they do not seem to be doing so. All talks and papers I see seem to be project- or sales-based; there is very little commentary on the evolution or application of research from their perspective.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/expressmonorail/3046970004/

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for your comments and endorsement. As one of the authors of this paper I care passionately about re-imagining what research can be now and in the future! It is great to have company.

    I found your suggestions interesting and helpful, and I quite agree that “naturalistic” is a more appropriate term than “natural”. Our use of the term “real-time” was meant to communicate the need for speed, but not necessarily lack of thought or any analysis (we would not recommend that). And you are right, we are advocating for our own method (which is continual 300 – 500 -person communities…relatively small given the market for such things); but with integrity, I hope. Much of what is in this paper can be applied to other research approches as well our own.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful analysis.

    Manila

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