2014: Smart Automation. Technology Without Compromising Quality
Winter 2014 GRIT Report commentary by George Terhanian, sharing his thoughts on the current state of the market research industry.
The market research industry truly took off in the late 1930s, driven largely by George Gallup’s accurate forecast of a Franklin Roosevelt victory over Alf Landon in the 1936 US presidential election.
Researchers, particularly public opinion pollsters, refined their methods thereafter, especially during and immediately after World War II. Beginning with the failure of the Gallup, Crossley and Roper organizations to forecast the 1948 presidential election correctly, however, there has been no shortage of doom and gloom predictions for the entire industry. Those predictions have not come true. Instead, the industry has grown steadily, year after year, decade after decade. Nevertheless, the industry has not changed fundamentally during this time either. For instance, the widely-heralded Internet revolution did not transform the way research is delivered. Teams of people are still manning the assembly lines.
What’s in store for the future? According to the GRIT report, we should expect to see more of the same--only 6% of research professionals expect to see “tremendous change” over the next five years. An implication is that brands will continue to commission copy tests, concept tests, tracking studies, customer satisfaction research, and the like; and researchers will continue to man the assembly lines.
Might the masses—the 94% that do not expect to see tremendous change--be mistaken? Anything is possible. As my former colleague Gordon Black used to say, “Dinosaurs did not realize they would become extinct.” The telltale signs are there too in the GRIT survey. For instance, speed, convenience and quality are important to research buyers and sellers, more so than in the recent past. And “budgetary constraints” tops the list of factors driving change in how data are collected.
What might cause “tremendous change”? The most likely scenario involves smart automation. In short, savvy entrepreneurs who understand market research will figure out a way to replace people—lots of them--with technology without compromising quality, thereby leading to a leaner, faster, more cost-effective market research industry. Stranger things have happened.