INTERVIEW WITH SIMON CHADWICK
Simon Chadwick of Cambiar and an Advisory Board Member at Research Voice was good enough to give us 45 minutes of his time and offer some fresh thinking on trends in the industry and market research in 2019.
Robert Moran: What will market research look like in 2019?
Simon Chadwick: I think it will be interestingly different. What I’m seeing right now are trends that I think will coalesce in the middle of this decade and produce an industry that could be exciting (I won’t use the words “next generation”) and certainly different from today.
There are two major trends.
One trend that has been going on for some time is being accelerated by the recession. This involves clients wanting to be able to integrate more sources of data to get a more holistic view that they can take to management in the role of consultants and not just data dumpers. This information comes not just from survey research or qualitative research but from secondary sources, syndicated sources, listening on the web, social media to web and marketing analytics all really rolled into one. This becomes very much more of a true insights function. We’ve had that nomenclature for some time, but have been slow to match the meaning with the reality.
The second trend is the explosive growth of both marketing analytics and web analytics. If you follow the money in the information industry, the VC dollars are going into the analytics business. We had a very long period in the late 1990s where VC dollars were going into research and now the same dollars are going into marketing analytics like crazy.
If market research is really smart, then it will seek to coalesce with analytics and broaden out the product that it offers to organizations and corporations as a total information and insights product. If it’s not smart, it will ignore these trends and will see analytics actually taking money away from survey research and market research.
This is already happening in some areas.
I just heard of a major corporation that did its segmentation entirely through web analytics and through listening on the web. This means that there is a market research company missing a six figure project as a result.
If these two trends go together, and if clients and suppliers are really smart, then I think you’re going to see a much more holistic profession by 2019.
If we’re not smart, then we’re going to see a smaller industry by 2019. And that would be devastating.
Robert Moran: I almost wonder if, at some point, we use the term “market research” to define the commoditized data collection business and we use a host of words to describe the value-added side. Firms that migrate up the value chain are referred to as something different from “market research.” Firms that do not migrate up are chained to a commodity.
Simon Chadwick: I think the seeds of it are there. I think there’s a greater willingness today among the associations and some firms to question not the validity of what we’ve done over the past 60-70 years, but the claims of the traditionalists or “sole-ists.”
If you listen to the traditionalists in the industry, market research based on probabilistic sampling is the sole way to conduct market research and the only way to work out what motivates people in a marketplace. But, we’re beginning to see this is not true given the massive amounts of data we now have.
What’s exciting is it is going to need people with research and statistical training to sort out what is valid information and what is not valid information. There are a couple of companies that fascinate me and have really brought together research skills with web analytics skills. They are fusing the two in order to provide data that are appropriately analyzed and filtered and distilled. This could be very exciting.
It’s not just that there is a huge amount of information out there. If we consider what SSI has done in founding Research Voice, it’s about re-engaging respondents. People really do want to talk. They do want their voices to be heard. They want to talk about brands and they want to talk to brands. They want their feedback to be known. They just don’t want to do it in the way they’ve had to do it in the past 20 years. And they don’t want to do it within the terrible constraints of interrogatory questioning at our convenience with instruments that are frankly abysmal. They’re rejecting that.
Part of what Research Voice is about is reconnecting with respondents. How can we reconnect with respondents? Bad respondents don’t come about in a vacuum. They come about because the questionnaire we’ve written is boring.
So how do we actually reconnect and re-engage with respondents in whatever methodology they are a part of? If we can solve that during this decade, then we have a very robust future ahead of us in putting all this together.
Robert Moran: How is the industry adjusting to the changes we’re seeing in market research and in society broadly? Are we doing the right things to adjust?
Simon Chadwick: I think the answer is yes and no. The no bit could be described as sheer inertia and conservatism and that is in the industry. Change takes a long time to filter through. Conservatism is on the supplier and client side and is driven by a sense that we’ve always done it that way and if we change, the data will change. Those sorts of arguments.
There will be people 10 years from now writing papers that are excoriating the internet as an unsound way of doing research. That conservatism is there. But, it’s not a bad thing in that it makes us stop and look at what we’re doing.
I think the yes part is to be seen in things like ARF’s transformation and listening initiative. There is a similar initiative in ESOMAR. I think the recession has really driven some of the middle of the road research firms to the brink. It has served as a real wake up call for a lot of people.
So, if those initiatives taking place at the individual and association level take root, then there’s room to be optimistic.
The other part of yes is that this industry is a bit like the advertising industry – the more it consolidates the more it fragments. The more it fragments, the more we get really interesting start-up firms coming into the mix with extraordinary technologies and ideas and a willingness to challenge some of the basic tenets of how we do research.
I’m not going to go out and say I’m totally optimistic about the industry rising to the challenge. I think the industry is showing solid vital signs, but the turnaround may be slower than we expect.
Robert Moran: When you’re thinking about the middle of the decade, what developments are you most excited about?
Simon Chadwick: In my job I’m really privileged to see a lot of startup companies that come out of the gates with some extraordinary ideas and some of these truly excite me.
Some of these ideas are the spread of prediction markets and the merger of survey data with web and marketing analytics. The sheer power of what you can do with these analytics is impressive. The technological platforms that are coming out and busting the rules could completely change the face of qualitative and ethnographic research and make it far more enjoyable and interesting and insightful.
There are things that would send shivers down the spines of some in the industry. For example, there are movements in some quarters of the industry toward mass semiotics, which itself is a complete turn on its head. Semiotics has always been the purview of the guru. But what if you put it on the internet in terms of templates and brought mass semiotics into the equation?
There are so many ideas. These last few years have been fruitful in terms of new ideas coming through and succeeding, and that’s going to lead to an industry that looks a little different. This is why I hope that all these new companies don’t get consolidated too quickly – eaten up by the giants. If they have some runway, they can actually change the industry. If they’re rolled up too quickly, they won’t drive as much industry change.
Robert Moran: It’s funny you brought up prediction markets. I’m very interested in these as one tool in a toolbox of many. I don’t hear too much discussion of this in our business now…
Simon Chadwick: You’re not hearing it at the center of the industry, but it’s increasingly moving toward the center of the industry. You have BrainJuicer and InfoSurv making collective intelligence or wisdom of the crowds central to the approach. It’s interesting to see the degree to which these ideas are being picked up. So not only is there a major conversation in “mass academia” on this, talking about “wisdom of the crowd” and “herd,” but some practitioners are leaping on this and asking “How does this translate? How can I get insights from a target community?”
This questioning has the potential to make market research more engaging. And Research Voice is a part of getting this conversation moving and making all parts of the stakeholder triangle engaged and animated – the research client, the research provider, and the participant. I like what’s going on in the community space. The ability to incorporate survey instruments, listening, feedback, ethnography, these are the sorts of things that are all coming together and excite me.
Robert Moran: I agree with you on MROCs. But what is interesting to me is that in some cases you’re talking about a merger of market research and what has traditionally been called strategic foresight. This could end up bringing in a whole host of folks that have never considered themselves market researchers.
Simon Chadwick: I think that is true. It will be very interesting to see how the two do merge. It will be interesting to see how this will happen at the entry level. I take my hat off to ESOMAR and CASRO and P&G for reaching out to colleges and universities and trying to find a new breed of researcher. In fact, I think it was P&G that announced recently that they would increase their insights function by 400 people by looking for people who are not necessarily researchers.
I’ve advocated since 2005 that we should be going out and finding people who are gamers and game designers and people with a natural curiosity in any field.
Robert Moran: I completely agree with you about looking into so called “serious games” and think these could become a legitimate research tool. I can see a future in which these games are the “survey instrument.”
Simon Chadwick: I think we’ll see this in the next five years. I already know of a couple of firms that are working actively on this. So if we manage to bring in these different types of people, then we have a very interesting future.
I don’t know if you were at the ESOMAR conference at Berlin several years ago. They brought 25 college students to the conference who had to compete to get there. They had practical roles at the conference. At the end of the conference they worked on a paper about how to make market research “cool.” What was really interesting is that the students came to the decision that it is “cool” but what we don’t get right is the messaging.
Robert Moran: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Hopefully this will generate more discussion about how we build the best industry possible by 2019.
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