Fads & Foibles: MR Trends and Skillsets

future is beautiful blur

At last week’s Net Gain 8.0 conference in Toronto, Bernie Malinoff, president of Element54, encouraged researchers to think more about change. But the challenge, of course, is anticipating meaningful change, while ignoring fads. “Shiny and new” doesn’t equal relevance. Bernie shared the example of Market Truths, a now defunct organization that had concentrated on conducting research within the virtual world of Second Life.

Sometimes we’ll jump at a fad by mistake, but too often researchers are risk averse. Even the sword has a weak spot (the foible), so beware of false security. While our risk avoidance is often a strength, it can hold the industry back. “The future is both beautiful and a blur,” said Bernie.

He quoted Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google: “We used to be data poor, now the problem is data obesity.” Data is growing at a 40 percent compound annual rate, and by 2020 the world’s data will reach 45 ZB (Zettabytes, which equals a thousand Exabytes or a million Petabytes or a billion Terabytes or a trillion Gigabytes). This data creates new opportunities.

Bernie argued it is time to retire the old canard “Quality, Speed, Price – pick any two.” Research customers want all three.  Looking at the most recent GRIT data on supplier selection, he observed that the gap between clients and suppliers is not huge, but what clients want most is a good relationship, the highest quality data, and research completed on time. And the GRIT adoption data has Bernie arguing that many “emerging” technologies are now mainstream.

Researchers should make sure that they are experimenting with what Bernie called “the dirty dozen”:

  1. Online communities
  2. Social media analytics
  3. Text analytics
  4. Crowdsourcing
  5. Facial analysis
  6. Virtual environments
  7. Eye tracking
  8. Neuromarketing
  9. Gamification
  10. Mobile
  11. Nano-surveys
  12. Biometrics

Just as one example, Bernie said, “Look at what you can do with a webcam and a mic: you can passively capture emotions, using 43 facial muscles or vocally detected intonations from Beyond Verbal. Now you have what I said and how I said it! These are off-the-shelf products you can buy now.”

If the researchers of today are narrowly focused data reporters and service providers, then the researchers of the future must be methodologically agnostic strategists, synthesizers and storytellers, Bernie said, quoting Lenny Murphy.

To Bernie’s mind, good researchers will blend technology with rigor. It’s about using the right tool for the research objective, not the tool you are most familiar with. His own advice: apps, online focus groups, gamification, prediction markets and virtual environments may be market research fads. Trends to follow include adoption of mobile surveys, geo-location, mobile ethnography, online communities, social media analytics, text analytics, voice analytics, and webcam passive measurement.

His parting advice: “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.”

Jeffrey Henning, PRC, is president of Researchscape International, which provides “Do It For You” custom surveys at Do It Yourself prices.  He is a Director at Large on the Marketing Research Association’s Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter @jhenning.

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