We tend to overestimate the effect of technology in the short term and to undervalue it in the long term… and digitization impact market research. Some applications may just seem to be a trend, lots of talk but then nothing. Indeed, some of them are but in the midterm, they will be dominant.

Fictional or not, the famous Latin phrase “Eppur si muove” (and yet it moves) from Galileo Galilei when hearing the inquisitorial sentence on him gives me pause to reflect on the insights industry’s transformation fuelled by technology. Similarly, as the change of paradigm experienced by the Renaissance’s Cosmology provoked by the “heliocentric” theory, the extremely fast digitization of our society has introduced us to the dawn of a new Era.

Certainly, under the “disruption” umbrella, any novelty seems to immediately and completely change the marketing and market research industries. It is extremely easy to be blown away by the latest technology; innovation attracts and buries what already exists and it is still useful. Concepts such as “Virtual Reality”, “Wearables”, “Internet of Things”, “Big Data”, “Gamification”, “Eye Tracking”, “Facial Coding”, “Text Analytics”, “Social Media Analytics”, “Sentiment Analysis”, “Automation”, “Data Viz”, “Artificial Intelligence”, “Uberization” and many others seem to be threaten to kill what it’s in place.

I personally believe that this revolution is unstoppable and universal. However, from my perspective, the speed of this revolution and level of shift is paced. Everything is moving, probably slower than initially expected, but getting the engines are ready for a prompt acceleration. When asked about the reason why I see a slower movement than expected, I give two main reasons:

On one hand, the market research industry tends to be risk averse. Only when facing extremely demanding situations, such as an economic crisis, do we rethink our process and methodology and fully embrace change. This slow adoption of new insights approaches has a dual responsibility. Both end clients and agencies are to blame. The first tries not to break historical data or methodologies. The latter either for from a lack of technological understanding or the potentially jeopardising their revenue stream. Both forces combined meads a ‘conservative’ approach to the new and a slow adoption.

On the other hand, global business and the technological environment sets the pace for change. The fast digitization of marketing has enhanced our perception of accessing the consumer. Access in communication (through programmatic advertising) and Social Media being a universal outlet for opinions means that there is a new marketing culture which gives us a different new perspective on what is doable. Today, a marketing professional with no specific background in market research believes that almost everything is possible, easy and cheap.

From the clients’ side, the traditional function of market research is being diluted. Different departments have access to alternative datasets which enrich classical ones. Add to that the technological skills that “millennials” bring to the table and new opportunities for analysis appear in the company and traditional market research departments are bypassed. Research departments are being asked to rethink their function and composition to keep, or even increase, their relevance in the definition of company’s strategy.

On the supply side, we find numerous players that come from traditional market research and are successful in innovating through embracing new technologies. Others, originally from traditional market research as well, offer effective solutions, limited in scope and at a lower price, leveraging the efficiencies provided by smart process automation. Appropriate solutions for a context in which “good enough is good”. To this point, I would like to give light to a very important emerging subject: those tech-driven providers that land up in to the market research arena by accident and find a new and unexpected revenue stream. Companies, mainly start-ups, with no prior knowledge of market research discover that their solutions allow the industry to either obtain new consumer’s insights or a more efficient way of processing information.

And these are the players that I’d like to draw your attention to. These current “outsiders” are here to stay. These newcomers will enlarge the global insights pie, probably on behalf of dwarfing the traditional one. For this reason, I recommend all current players not to undervalue any of the previous mentioned “buzzwords”. With due respect to the omnipresent “Big Data”, I would suggest not to undervalue the concepts of “Automation” and “Artificial Intelligence” applied to the insights industry.

Technology brings unprecedented opportunities to market research. Opportunities to get insights that were not possible before the digitization of our societies or to get the classical insights faster, richer, more efficiently and with a shorter gap between the consumption moment and its analysis. The final objective is constant: to understand the consumer/citizen so that the most apt decisions can be taken. The palette of opportunities is immense. Let’s start by getting rid of the “conservative” tag and let’s grasp the possibilities technology brings us. By doing so, I hope we all will be able to say: “Yes, Galileo, it’s moving. But we are moving faster and we reach further”.

This article was first published in Spanish in the Argentinian magazine DIMM (April 2017)

About the Author

Joaquim Bretcha is an Economist at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and holds a degree in Business from the IESE. A current ESOMAR Council member for the last 7 years he has also created and expanded the International Business Unit at Netquest. Both responsibilities give him the ability to stay permanently in touch with the international community of market research and stay tuned to the latest market developments.