At this time of year our thoughts turn to what will excite and challenge us in 2017. Here are my five top picks.
This has been one of the key trends for the last couple of years, although much of the action has been out of sight; taking place in the operational backrooms of clients and agencies. Earlier this year, Lenny Murphy and I published a report on Automation, and I see little reason to change our view on the scale and direction of change. Automation is going to underpin most success stories over the next few years. At its best it will reduce costs, increase speed, and provide an opportunity to provide more evidence-based decision making. In some cases automation will result in a less good product, but in many cases the standardisation will enhance quality, as will the ability to provide relevant answers at the speed and cost needed and the ability to scale things up.
Data is getting cheaper and more abundant, but techniques for finding the story in the data have barely moved forward in the last thirty years. That is beginning to change, as evidenced by the popularity of our series on Finding the Story in the Data – broadcast during 2016 in six instalments.
In 2017 I expect to see improvements in data handling from companies like Office Reports and eTabs, improvements in data visualisation from the likes of Infotools and Tableau, improvements in predictive analytics (especially from consultants using the programming language R), along with a clearer business focus across the board. Research seems to have got the message that what is needed is not more research, or new survey techniques, what is needed is an improved ability to find and communicate the insights.
Insights to Action
Finding insights is only half the solution that businesses need. The other half is ensuring that insights are turned into action. This process starts by asking the right business and research questions at the outset, and is complemented by conducting good research and finding the story in the data. But organisations need help in ensuring that insights result in action. Many of the consultative (usually boutique) agencies (such as BrainJuicer and InSites Consulting) have been focusing on this for a while now, but it is becoming more widespread. Much of my work with clients has been around both finding insights and turning insights into action.
In 2017 I expect to see more research organisations develop (proprietary) approaches to turning insights into actions, we will see more clients invest time and money in creating processes for turning insights into action, and I expect to see several new applications to be developed to help implement findings from research.
For the last few years, implicit measurement has tended to be considered one version of neuro-based techniques. Indeed, it was often considered the less sexy cousin of things like EEGs and fMRI scanners. However, implicit is emerging as both a technique and philosophy in its own right. The reason for this is that implicit techniques and approaches are proving to be more applicable than the rest of the neuro-bag-of-tricks put together. Implicit can refer to specific tools such as implicit association testing, but it is also used as a general statement about valuing observation above questioning, or as Raj Sandhu said in a recent NewMR webinar ‘Task, don’t ask’ – linking implicit to observational paradigms.
In 2017 I expect to see more and more research re-badged as implicit, including ethnography, passive data collection, conjoint analysis, semiotics, biometrics, and of course the neuro-based techniques.
In 2017 talk about AI (Artificial Intelligence) will be everywhere, but it will be more smoke than fire. AI is coming, indeed AI is happening, but it takes time for something as radical as AI to be fine-tuned for market research and for it to become embedded. However, I would recommend everybody to keep an eye on it in 2017, and if you get a chance, make sure you try one of the growing range of projects that utilise AI.
Amongst the areas that I expect AI to have an impact are: text analytics, project design, survey design, and data analysis.
Other 2017 Thoughts
Beyond these five I think we will see:
- A growth in mobile-only research, in particular, app and message-based solutions for using smartphones for market research.
- A continued fall in the real price of research (after allowing for general inflation and currency movements).
- Growth in the use of text analytics and social media research (separately and collectively).
- The first signs of the death of large, traditional brand, advertising, and customer satisfaction trackers – but the death itself will take a few years yet.