Report of the IIEX Europe 2020 conference on 25 and 26 February the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam
New technological applications in market research have matured. Many really useful applications are available on the market nowadays. But market researchers still seem unable to get a hold of their own target group, the marketers. In a nutshell, these are the conclusions I drew after 2 days of walking around IIEX in Amsterdam (25 and 26 February). The fair is the annual innovation party of the market research world.
Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and other new technologies have matured.
Digitization and AI make a lot possible in this field. Listening to the target group and processing that information becomes easier in all kinds of ways. This leads to lower costs, more speed and it becomes easier to gain insights from large amounts of unstructured data. In the past reading open answers and manually coding them was the only way to process unstructured data. An algorithm can now do this in an instant. And the great thing is, many of these algorithms are open source (for example, Google’s BERT) and can therefore be used by many parties in their innovations.
Or, as one of the speakers put it:
AI is close to changing everything about market research and companies that will benefit the most on the ground floor. (João Pedro Calixto, On the Go)
Another development where we see various examples is the combination of internal and external data sources. Combining (online) behavioral data with social media and survey data creates a rich picture of who does what. The company Pulsar Platform showcased a very useful application of this, with which they can continuously feed makers of TV shows with insights about what is going on in the target groups of those programs.
Another development shown by a number of parties is research using chatbots that take over the role of interviewer. In this way the good old questionnaire is revived. A list of questions becomes a conversation. And more importantly, In this way, a new generation of young consumers can also be persuaded to participate in market research.
A few more examples of appealing innovations:
Struggle of Insights teams
But between all these wonderful and useful innovations, something is simmering beneath the surface. Several times I heard that Insights teams are struggling with their role in a changing environment. Or as Sarah Jousiffe from Sky put it:
"Knowledge is power. And there is a fight for this power going on. Whose truth is the most important one?"
Because the environment in which Insights teams work has changed. That environment works agile. In other words: fast. Marketers no longer want to wait for research results. And that is possible. Crowdtech demonstrated an approach whereby, with the help of a community of enthusiastic fans of a brand, feedback from the target group can be achieved within an hour.
But apart from the increased need for speed, the research departments are facing internal competition. Firstly, more and more tools are available with which marketers can conduct their own research. Secondly, traditional market research is apparently no longer necessary with all available data sources. Karolina Tutaj, Insights director of Booking.com, for example, sighed that when she was setting up her department she repeatedly heard:
"We don't need research, we've got all the data."
Whereas in the past the role of the market research department was obvious and almost monopolistic, nowadays insights professionals must explicitly claim their role among all available data sources. And that is not easy.
According to Sarah Jousiffe, it is important to position the Insights team as a trusted advisor. This means being close to the business and being able to keep up with the speed of work. But this is not always possible, because the required capacity is not available everywhere. And also heard a few times: it is becoming increasingly difficult to find researchers who combine a natural curiosity with being able to build an informal network and have the technical knowledge to be able to value and bring together all available sources of information.
Fortunately, more and more tools are becoming available to help insights teams with this. Striking was the number of knowledge management platforms that had a place at the fair, such as Market Logic, Bloomfire and Stravito. These platforms not only offer researchers a library for their research results, but also offer smart ways to subsequently extract this knowledge. And as a bonus: insights teams can improve the way they collaborate thanks to these platforms.
Do-it-yourself research requires a new role for market researchers
The increased need for speed also means that companies are increasingly conducting research in-house rather than outsourcing. Research agencies often simply cannot deliver fast enough. And external agencies often lack the specific knowledge of the context (both within the company and in the market) to provide really valuable advice. Added value agencies will face troubled times if they cannot demonstrate the added value of the advice they give based on the research results. Or, as a researcher on the customer's side sighed to me:
"I'm not going to pay 7.5k for something that I know myself."
A catalyst for all developments is the emergence of do-it-yourself tools for acquiring insights. Market researchers on the client side can simply conduct research themselves, but marketers can do this too. We see many examples of this. The benefits are clear. It is a way to bypass expensive, slow agencies, said Jenny Paget of Booking.com (in front of a room full of research agencies). But it can also be an excellent way to stimulate the dialogue between marketer and target group and to keep internal clients involved in generating insights.
But the question arises: is this a good idea? As one of the speakers said: it is a bit like marking your own homework. Marketers will suffer from a huge confirmation bias.
This development heralds a new role for internal market researchers. A coaching role, in which they are not the gatekeeper but "enabler". They do this by pointing out the pitfalls. By sharing best practices. By offering supervision, for example by determining together with the marketeer at research objectives, design and ensuring that the interpretation of the results is done correctly. By checking if the right conclusions are drawn. By standardizing repeating studies like ad pre-tests, after which marketers can run the study themselves.
However, there is also a danger in this development. The examples we saw are about research that is used for small, operational issues. Think of a commercial pre-test. Marketers will not pick things up that are of more strategic importance, such as brand tracking. The insights teams will have to play an active role in this and demonstrate their added value.
Researchers on the client side do see an advantage. If the research about more operational issues is done by the marketers themselves, time and space is freed up to engage in more strategic projects. And with this the internal researchers can ultimately provide a lot of added value (despite the fact that the brand managers themselves do not actively request this).
The traditionally somewhat boring field of market research has developed into an interesting hi-tech world full of technological innovation. But market researchers must pay attention not to focus too much on all those shiny new tools. Instead, they must ensure that the right people get started with the right insights in the right way. And there is work to be done here.
March 3, 2020 by Durk Bosma