From Buzz to Business: A New Approach to Innovation
Fall 2014 GRIT Report commentary by Jackie Lorch, VP, Global Knowledge Management at SSI, sharing her thoughts on the current state of the market research industry.
I recently attended a sporting event where the list of items banned from the stadium, along with the usual glass bottles and firearms, included drones. The absence of fans releasing drones programmed to trip athletes on the opposing team or spike their sports drinks was good news, but this was also a reminder of how technologies that just a few years ago inhabited the realm of science fiction are now common enough to be banned.
Likewise, new research innovations that were hailed as revolutionary and transformational just a couple of years ago are now becoming more familiar in our industry, as evidenced by the results of this year’s GRIT survey.
The usage of techniques like mobile ethnography, eye tracking, neuromarketing and biometric response has increased since last year. But there’s evidence that with more experience we now know that delivering real value to clients with some of these new techniques is not easy; fewer people now include biometrics and neuromarketing on the list of techniques they have used most in the past year. Perhaps because we now understand the practical issues surrounding some innovations and realize the challenges of cost and scale.
This doesn’t mean our industry is tired of innovation; those who saw the dizzying display of new approaches at the Greenbook IIEX conference this year know that creativity is thriving in our field. But we are less likely to be entranced, and more likely to be doing the hard work of understanding how, when – and whether – these solutions can be useful. If we are progressing through Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies we may be moving from the Peak of Inflated Expectations to the Slope of Enlightenment, after which, if we follow the model, we can look forward to innovations which reside on the Plateau of Productivity.
The focus is increasingly on innovations with real substance, practically applied, battle-tested in the market and proven to have real customer value. Examples are technology platforms that support multi-country research and the respondent’s choice of communication device. Researchers need to know that new innovative technologies and applications will grow and scale with them worldwide.
We often talk about being in an era of research transformation, but many of this year’s GRIT respondents say that in five years’ time research will all be about “data”– which is what researchers have been working with all along
Therein lies a reason to be optimistic about the future of research. For who understands data better than researchers? “Big data” is a new opportunity which some think will revolutionize everything and cause surveys – and perhaps research – to become a thing of the past. But as we learn and understand more about the opportunities that big data can bring we also learn more about its limitations.
Interestingly, there was no increase reported this year in either the usage of big data analytics, or in the number of people who said they had it under consideration. A recent New York Times article speaks of the bottlenecks and need for extensive human “data wrangling” required before big data can yield much value. Even after the data has been successfully “wrangled”, it is best at delivering who, what and when. To understand how meaningful the correlations are, and to get at the underlying causations, you need researchers.
GRIT respondents think there will be less need for surveys in five years. And if we’re talking about the long, tedious, grid-ridden traditional surveys common today, that’s a good thing. The average online survey length we see at SSI is now a depressing 23 minutes – up over 60% from just four years ago. Surveys as they should be – clean, lean and appealing to the people who take them – are the perfect complement to big data. And with the great strides that have been made in panel recruitment and management, we can target high quality respondents more effectively than ever. With big data you get the what, who and when; surveys add the all-important why and what next and the richer, deeper data that is the essential complement to big data.
What the industry needs now is more knowledge about how these new tools can deliver insights and meet our clients’ goals, more shared learnings and, if not best practices, then at least an understanding of things to avoid.
The GRIT survey results this year show a realistic attitude to the challenges we face with reduced resources and the need to do more with less, an understanding that our industry will be different in five years’ time, and a more pragmatic approach to innovation. It looks as though the industry is getting better prepared for what’s next.