Market Research Needs To Reboot

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The Game Has Changed

In the last 10 years, the US and other countries have seen a number of technological shifts with respect to access to information, analytical software capabilities, and the sheer amount of data available to the business world.

Most notably, widespread broadband adoption, the ability to search the Internet for information, and the accessibility of systemic behavioral data have slowly disrupted and altered what types of information business decision makers are using to inform themselves.

But where does this leave the traditionally trained survey and focus-group methodologists? In some organizations, the roles and job functions of the market research position have changed dramatically, or been eliminated.

Expectations Are Higher Than Ever

Merely providing data and information is about 50% of the job, if that. Market researchers need to have the ability to tell a story, integrate research data into existing business practices, and be able to explain competing data points. Often, market researchers have to be the first to report a problem, and thus it is essential that they have the tact and ability to deal with the politics.

Being a pessimist, I see a lot of threats, some of which of have come to fruition over the years. Being on the client side, it feels like research vendors are less in tune with client needs.

Time To Bail Out Or Double Down On Market Research?

So is it time to “get the hell out of Dodge” and turn our backs on our craft? Perhaps we can start schmoozing with Big Data enthusiasts and those incredibly talented, yet elusive “Data Scientists”.

Personally, I am doubling down. I think this could be an incredibly exciting time for market researchers.

It will be very challenging though. I see a ton of jobs out there, but I also strongly believe that for market research roles to excel, to move forward, and to survive, there needs to be reassessment of what the core competencies are for the profession, and also a more business friendly and consultative approach to current practices.

Double Down But Improve Quickly

A number of areas have emerged that many in the field (including myself) are not prepared to research at the level we want:

  • Emerging Markets — Most notably, in my world, building a much better understanding of the developing BRIC markets (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) is vital. The importance of China will come quickly and will overwhelm many. Our industry must share best practices. Instead of burning the midnight oil learning fancy quant techniques like CHAID, conjoint, Max-Diff, etc., would it have been more prudent to understand the intricacies of doing business in China? Are we in tune with what our businesses need from us?
  • Mobility Is Important –On the one hand, mobile research could be a huge opportunity for the industry. And it would be the perfect environment to marry analytics to survey work. On the other hand, many studies will have to re-assessed, and likely rebuilt.
  • Big Data Elephant In The Room — Working with Big Data, analytics, and database people to automate reporting, and integrate survey data into the flow of information in a timely manner, will be critical to market research moving forward. Market research is vulnerable when it comes to speed of response.

What to Reboot

We may have better quality information, but are we producing information fast enough to be actionable? If not, what is the consequence? I suspect in the short term, some research may be displaced by faster, less accurate data and tools. It feels like many of the users of our data accept this trade-off.

There is a lot of survey fatigue out there. How much longer can pop-up and intercept surveys last? Are we doing enough with text analytics to address this? I have taken a few mobile surveys, and they are not so fun.

We need to better leverage and proselytize our expertise in statistical and quantitative analysis. The best experts I know for regression, cluster analysis, and even some data-mining techniques (e.g., CHAID, CRT) are market researchers. But this is not always the perception. We need to talk up our colleagues.

We need to familiarize and even train ourselves in software like R, Splunk, Tableau, Hadoop, and different technologies in software development.

Most importantly, it’s important that market research people adopt an economical, consultative, flexible, and inclusive approach to our work. The reality is that will be painful at times. Business and research partners will be less likely to be familiar with the traditional body of knowledge that researchers cover. It is important to tackle that challenge with poise. Work hard at building contextual and industry knowledge in your field.

Continuing The Dialogue

I would love to hear any reactions. Let me know where there are disagreements or areas that I missed. My experiences have been largely in tech and media. Do those of you in other industries see these same challenges? Am I a doomsayer? Should I just double up on the Prozac and relax?

Let’s support each other as researchers!

Michael Louca is a Bay Area market researcher looking for his next opportunity, after doing client-side research for Yahoo!, Apple, and Bose.



  1. Scott Weinberg says:

    I think this is an excellent and provocative article. My favorite passage is:

    “Instead of burning the midnight oil learning fancy quant techniques like CHAID, conjoint, Max-Diff, etc., would it have been more prudent to understand the intricacies of doing business in China? Are we in tune with what our businesses need from us?”

    I think about that very issue, or variations on it, frequently when I’m chatting with fellow MRA members in particular. It’s the forest vs. the trees analogy. We’re good at examining the tree bark, and the tree itself, maybe. But business intricacies are not our specialty, or apparently even of interest, sadly.

  2. Thanks Scott. Why is that do think? Is it a training or education issue?

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