Posted by Ray Poynter, 8 January 2019
This is the time of year when everybody seems to be making predictions (check out some of my contributions in a Potentiate blog and video, a ResearchLive list, and a GreenBook list). This post is different because it is prescriptive, rather than simply descriptive or predictive*. These are the six things that I think we need to be doing more of in 2020.
- Improve your story finding
- Work smarter, not harder
- Focus on research
- Understand the role of real qual
- Blend sources
- Be people-centric
Here the thinking behind these six points.
1) Improve your story finding
In older times, data and evidence were the focus of insights work, and the presentations were somewhere between dull and boring. Over recent years, there have been great improvements in the use of visualisation and in the deployment of storytelling. However, this improvement in the way stories are presented has not been matched by the way that the stories in the data are found and shaped. As data sets get larger, and presentations get slicker, the need to effectively find the story increases.
2) Work smarter, not harder
Research problems are becoming ever more complex (because markets are becoming more complex), we are utilising larger and more diverse data sets, and timelines are getting shorter. Researchers cannot resolve these pressures by working harder, we need to work faster. Fortunately, there are a growing range of tools that allow us to work smarter and faster. Researchers need to embrace automation, AI, and packaged solutions in order to focus on adding their secret sauce. The secret sauce relates to the human, the ability to understand problems, to empathise with people, and to craft stories. We need to use the machines to accentuate the human.
3) Focus on research
Over the last few years, there has been a growing debate about what is the role of market research, of insights, and of areas such as CX and UX. This has led to some pundits to suggest that we should all become strategic consultants. However, this seems an unlikely option to me for two reason 1) the strategic part of the insights business is only a small part of the whole, the monitoring, tactical and operational elements are much larger (and with the growth of design thinking, agile, and build/test/lean the strategic bit will become an even smaller share of the total. 2) Most researchers do not have special skills in the area of strategic consultancy, and lots of other people do. The superpower of market researchers, UX researchers, CX researchers, social researchers, B2B researchers etc is the research bit. The ability to talk to people, to define a problem, to select a method that will answer the problem, to analyse the information to find the answer, and to deliver that answer in a way that allows the organisation to take evidence-based better decisions. If you want to be a strategic consultant, that is fine. But for most of us, the best thing we can do is to become better at research and to promote the value of research (without worrying too much about which word precedes ‘research’).
4) Understand the role of real qual
Based on NewMR studies, interviews with client-side insight users, ESOMAR data and GRIT, I have been saying for a couple of years that the importance of qual is expanding in these data-heavy times. The next GRIT report (due out soon) will underscore this. However, to deliver this qual we need to ensure that people have the right training, experience and materials. Expect to hear more and more about real qual (as opposed to word clouds, automated sentiment analysis and badly run discussions). If you use qual, make sure it is conducted by somebody who understands it and who has the skills to conduct it properly. If you conduct qual, make sure you keep enhancing your skills – access to a video app or an online discussion tool does not make you suddenly capable of delivering real qual.
5) Blend sources
In a complex world, it is almost beyond belief that a single data source (for example a single survey or a single set of focus discussions) will provide an adequate answer. Develop your skills and tools for blending different sorts of information from different sources. When answering questions, blend cultural factors, with observational data, with the specifics of the research you have been commissioned to deliver.
6) Be people-centric
One of the most common ideas that you will hear in 2020 relates to humanising brands and humanising organisations. The focus of marketing has moved from the product, to the customer, and is now moving to a people-centric view. Organisations are confronting the reality that people do not rotate around brands, brands rotate around people. To prosper in the future, brands need to understand people and then figure out when and how they can offer people relevant products and services. The core skill we need in the future is the knowledge of how to research people. We are not researching physics or chemistry, we have to confront the endogeneity and uncertainty of researching people, and people need to be our speciality.
Did you notice this line at the top of the post? “This post is different because it is prescriptive, rather than simply descriptive or predictive*.” The wording of this sentence highlights a change that is underway in research and in particular analytics. We have been moving from descriptive analytics to predictive analytics for a while now, but the change we will see increasingly in 2020 and beyond is the move to prescriptive analytics – keep an eye out for it.
And your thoughts?
What would you add or change from this list?