MR – growing…growing…going…? – Nasir Khan

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Post by Dr Nasir Khan, known on Twitter as @Banglaman, founder of Somra-MBL, Bangladesh.

Buzz abounds on the MR industry’s future! Is it facing just threats, or fast becoming a ‘goner’? Interesting…An industry that has been doing SWOT analyses for commercial as well as social ventures, is doing its own SWOT now. The right thing to do!

Many researchers think that the global MR industry has gone ‘berserk’, heading towards demise, while others feel it’s doing just fine, provided we think and see the big picture (big data included, pun intended), and accept change.

As I write this blog, I am aware that, being a researcher in an emerging market, I ought to think and express my thoughts on MR SWOT from this market’s perspective. However, the more I think along this line and compare with what leading researchers from developed nations say on different platforms (ESOMAR events, NewMR webinars and podcasts, the GreenBook Blog, etc.), the more I am convinced that, due mainly to globalization, there’s hardly any difference between the state of affairs in the developed and developing world.

True, more than ever before, MR is facing threats from within and without, but we need to think positive! To begin with, GMR 2013 (ESOMAR) shows an industry turnover (global) of almost USD 40 billion, inclusive of a USD 5 billion contribution of “Advisory Services” (welcome to our space!). Further in the report, we can see ups and downs, like Europe taking a dip, or Asia-Pacific relinquishing “fastest growth” title to Latin America, Japan booming again, emerging markets doing fairly well, especially in Africa…All seems fine in the global context. So, what’s the big fuss about threats?

Unfortunately, it isn’t just a fuss after all! Weaknesses and threats are for real within and without the global MR space – threats galore, but due to content size constraints, I will discuss just a few.

In my humble opinion, our greatest weakness is misunderstanding of our own business. Both providers and users of research talk of ‘insights’, but do we really know what that means? We are actually into the business of understanding fellow human beings (as consumers or as members of the society). It’s about understanding one of the most complex biological phenomena. So, our work if limited to questioning and listening, number crunching and finding patterns in texts, can’t provide what research users really need. It’s about understanding…better understanding, which means we just can’t do it the traditional way any longer, nor can we leave our job solely to technology (it helps a lot, but doesn’t have the advantage of human intelligence). Human intervention is and shall be required to understand humans. That’s why we hear from industry thought leaders like Leonard Murphy, Ray Poynter and a very few others that the industry has turned…”The role of research will be so broad that it will require a multi-function team to carry it off” (Murphy). Indeed! Furthermore, we talk of creativity, but what does that mean? The Insights Innovation Competition, “imagined and organized” by GreenBook says it all – “Have an idea that helps brands better understand consumers?…”

An important threat is ‘Quick and cheap’. MR has become a line-production affair. ‘Dough in, cookies out’. Unfortunately, ‘quick and cheap’ ends up being quick and dirty, leading not only to questioning the quality and ethics of MR, but also to opening doors for ‘attack’ from outside our space – from individuals and groups without proper knowledge of what research really is. Everybody is at it from developers of apps to data service providers to direct marketers…!

Another weakness that is threatening the industry is the dearth of interest in MR amongst Gen Y. The future of MR is at stake, because we have failed to correctly promote this exciting profession. True, ESOMAR, NewMR and few other fora are doing their bit, but that’s not enough. Promoting MR as a multi-function profession, where the younger generation has a variety of choice to opt in…Be that as a statistician, or psychologist, behavioral economist, gamer, neurologist, gadget geek, developer, programmer…the list goes on! Interest, creativity and curiosity are the key requirements. In short, we have to revise the ‘curriculum’ for MR learning and sharing.

Strength? MR is a great profession – Period? No!

  • We must understand what we are doing and what we should really be doing.
  • We need to involve all stakeholders, including the most important group, namely, the research participants in the process of co-creation (ways to engage them are a work in progress now – from ‘Research Through Gaming’ to consumer consulting boards to various other creative methods and tools).
  • Let’s be bold and put research first, business second. We don’t have to act as an Angry_MR_Client in order to express our weaknesses. We need to be Angry_MR_Providers and speak out. Research can’t be cheap and quick, because it turns dirty, worthless.
  • We need to provide value for money by practically establishing MR’s business/social value…Storytelling is not making a boring point interesting. It’s about better understanding and passing that on to clients clearly, simply boldly! We must tell the user of research what to do and what not to (penny saved is penny earned) in order to gain, instead of ‘beautifully’ confirming their ‘gut feelings’. If they gain, our industry gains, if they lose, well, no amount of *.ppts, software, apps, dashboards, will help.

It’s high time we turn our weaknesses into strengths. Otherwise, we will certainly become a case of going, going, gone! Instead of growing, growing, going north!

Click here to read other posts in this series.

2 thoughts on “MR – growing…growing…going…? – Nasir Khan

  1. Great article Dr Khan…and one which sits very nicely with ESOMAR’s philosophy of “Celebrating Research” !! The one point I would like to add, is that these views apply equally to client-side researchers as agency-researchers – we are the two ‘sides’ of the same industry ‘coin’ and thus have a mutual interest in progressing this “celebration” of what we do !!

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