March 18, 2020
Machine learning is mining big data. AI is trying to replace interviewers. Technology can create virtual shelf testing and innovate design. DIY solutions are bountiful. However, most conversations at Quirk’s Brooklyn focused on adding these technologies to support – not replace – researchers. We must not forget that machine learning and AI are simply tools – and great ones. But the data tools gather is ineffective without a researcher to extract and use insights to answer business questions.
Qualitative research partly exists to allow researchers to spend time in a consumer’s environment. Qualitative research has welcomed technology in recent years – namely online boards and video chats. Will these technologies ever replace in-person qualitative research? Opinions are split. Yes, consumers value being able to help brands from the comfort of their home, on their personal schedule. However, to add value to businesses we need to understand how marketers can change consumer behavior. This is hard – arguably impossible – to do without appreciating the environments where buying decisions are made, for example, in-store. But we must remember, one size doesn’t fit all. It fits one. Online qualitative research might be the solution for one business question, and in-store observations the solution for another. We must remember the right solution is the one that creates the most value for the client, not what’s new and most exciting.
One of the buzzwords at Quirk’s was agile. The typical interpretation of agility involves any mix of:
But Quirk’s showed that agility is more than this. There’s a softer side to agility, involving better communication, influencing business leaders and being flexible. It’s combining the typical and softer forms of agility to create impactful research.
The consumer has changed and never stops changing. Gone are the days of tokenism – values reign supreme. Consumers demand that the brands they buy stand for something and provide differentiated products. Consequently, the path to innovation is becoming shorter and less research goes into it, leaving insights teams looking for future trends so they know consumers’ needs before consumers know them themselves. Helping to determine the next consumer trend is therefore invaluable for brands. As Tayna Pinto, director of customer and market research at Microsoft, stated in her talk, “Distinguishing signal versus noise through proactive insights can help brands stay ahead of the curve.”
How can researchers keep our pulse on the evolving consumer? With product innovation time falling from 22 to 15 months, products don’t have much time to pass rigor. Online influencers and social media can make or break a product instantly. What’s important to consumers today isn’t important next week. And trying to understand the dynamic between what consumers say they want and how they actually behave is a constant struggle. Research’s key role moving forward will be to understand consumers’ evolving behaviors, along with the gap between opinion and behavior, and advise brands accordingly.
Successful brands are consumer centric and increasingly valuing new market research techniques and thinking. Adaptation and innovation in our techniques, technology, and methodologies are therefore critical. Quirk’s Brooklyn provided a great space for that type of innovation and we’re excited to see how research evolves between now and Quirks Brooklyn 2021.