The changing world of market research?

Published by: Carol Fanagan


‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’ – the more things change the more they stay the same.
I think this phrase aptly sums up the 25 years I have spent in the market research industry in Ireland! Some of my colleagues in RED C weren’t even born when I started working in market research. Back then we had no computers (just clunky word processors), charts were made using coloured sheets of plastic and a very sharp scalpel, and you went along to present to a client with an enormous pile of framed acetates you could barely carry. Sending out a report was not just the click of a mouse but a couple of hours spent doing heated battle with a photocopier, a printer and a binder. When brands looked to maximise ‘word of mouth’ it meant more talk down the pub, not manoeuvring the intricacies and complexities of Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter. Online surveys didn’t exist and face to face surveys were done using good old-fashioned pen and paper. When people came to focus groups they got £10 and we plied them with alcohol to get them to talk.

But it’s all changed now. We communicate instantly by email, and having smartphones means those emails continue well into the evenings and weekends. More and more surveys are taking place online and on smartphones; we’re merging client data and research data to deliver more powerful customer understanding; we use more and more cool graphics to liven up our PowerPoint presentations; and of course it’s all about ‘big data’ these days.

But there’s a lot that hasn’t changed too. Whilst how we collect information and how we communicate findings may have changed, our clients are still asking the same questions as they were 25 years ago. What’s the market share for my brand and how can I increase it? How has my target audience reacted to my advertising campaign? What’s driving customer satisfaction and where should I focus my efforts to change? How do I increase customer loyalty and decrease churn? If I change the formulation of this product will consumers notice?

The essentials stay the same. We still need to focus on asking the right questions of the right audience in the right way. The principles of selecting the most appropriate methodology, designing the most intelligent questionnaire or topic guide and conducting the most rigorous analysis remain unchanged.

In another 25 years’ time I hope I’ll be enjoying a happy and healthy retirement, but I believe those principles will still hold true. Remember ESOMAR’s definition that ‘market research is about listening to people, analysing the information to help organisations make better decisions and reducing the risk’.

Despite having a whole new array of tools to play with, I’m still listening and still thinking.
Plus ça change…