What is the future of market research?

Coming SoonPosted by Ray Poynter, 4 April 2021

In my opinion, informed by the research I have done: There is going to be more research in the future (more surveys, more depth interviews, more focus groups, more ethnography, more usability testing, more semiotics, more build/test/learn) but there is going to be less ‘market research.’

The tools of research, e.g. the survey, the focus group, ethnography, usability research etc, are being used by an ever larger range of people. Designers, brand managers, marketers, are using a growing range of research approaches and tools. In addition to the approaches traditionally associated with market research, many others are being added, for example attribution analytics, social media, text analytics. The positive term that is used for this process is the democratisation of research and insights. What democratisation means is that most ‘research’ in the near future (maybe already) will be done by people with limited training and background in the practice and theory of research.

The demand for this change stems from two key forces, customer-centricity and agile.

First, customer centricity. When an organisation becomes customer centric, it becomes important for every facet of the organisation to be connected to customers, to hear their direct and unmediated voices. If your team are looking at (for example) usability, you do not want to stand in the queue for an insights team to tell you what customers want. You want to be directly connected with customers, and you want to modify the research approaches to blend what you do with the way that the feedback is collected.

The second force is the shift to agile. The key thing to remember is that agile is not a method of conducting research. Agile is a way of using a multidisciplinary team to create an agile business or project. For example, if a company is making a new type of environmentally sustainable sneaker, it is not an agile research project, it is an agile sneaker project. In this agile project designers, accountants, managers, insight professionals, marketers, and territory managers are all working together.

This change to democratised research has been enabled by two key forces

  1. The rise of platforms, sometimes referred to as DIY tools. Through these platforms people can now create surveys, capture video, process social media and even run whole research projects via cloud-based services.
  2. The rise of online panels, delivering low-cost sample in ever easier ways.

Traditional MR is in decline, for example surveys conducted by MR agencies are a shrinking percentage of the total picture. Research from ESOMAR suggests that over 50% of market research today is what I call ‘no questions’ research, for example social media listening, crowdsourcing, passive monitoring, AB tests etc. This means that for 50% of research, traditional MR is not currently the key holder of the skills. ESOMAR’s research also suggests that soon 50% of all research will be conducted internally by end-clients. This is also driven by the two forces of democratisation and agile. Traditional MR agencies are being seen as an unnecessary intermediary for many types of project.

I am going to be developing these ideas further in a webinar I will be giving as part of the Festival of NewMR (next week). If you want to learn more, and want to have the chance to ask questions, sign up to one of the webinars listed below.

Interesting questions that I will tackle in the webinar include:

  1. What will happen to quality?
  2. What will happen to the research trade bodies?
  3. Will there still be a role for market research agencies?
  4. Will there still be a role for insight departments?

You can sign up to one of the three webinars (set for different time zones) via

5 thoughts on “What is the future of market research?

  1. This is a hugely important article and a very big issue. We already see it in Statistics and it is very evident in customer research and “studies” done often by the media. My problem in both cases is that, whilst excellent software exists, the expertise and training to do either properly is often lacking. So I regularly see really poor questions/questionnaires with leading questions, bad question orders, material that makes no sense and shows no understanding of people. Often, questions are not piloted so issues are never corrected and may not even be realised – so the results are taken at face value. Analysis is often facile or just plain wrong. Often, it is all a giant leap backwards. A concomitant issue is that the public sees it all as genuine so that the credibility of surveys can really suffer.

    The need for agility is often at the heart of it. As professionals, we must adapt or die.

  2. More skills are needed. Up to those who understand the consequences of not knowing what one does not know to educate others while adapting to serve up more, better, faster without dramatic tradeoffs being made on quality

  3. We need to remember that “market research” has never owned the totality of research within the corporation. There are essentially two research tracks: market research, tending to sit within a marketing function – and user/UX research, sitting within Design and Product. Data Analytics is a third element generating corporate insight.

    The best, deepest, most strategically insightful ethnography I have ever seen sits in the user & design research camp, to be quite honest – so it’s hardly as if market research has some unique claim to “quality”. For people working in research, the last few years have seen a whole stack more jobs open up clientside – particularly in technology-led businesses – managing research and insight in house across a whole range of methods. The Research Ops movement – another really powerful, exciting current coming out of UX research and government digital that “market research” seems to have ignored – is testament to the strengthening and maturity of insight within the organisation.

    The future is rosy for the individual research employee or consultant: we have strategically useful skills that are in demand. In-house will grow, and traditional market research agencies may shrink in size if they can only deliver ‘trad research’ and not a wider data analytics offer. The question of whether that’s a problem depends on where you stand.

    We should be careful not to conflate “Bad for legacy research businesses” with being “Bad for research” overall. The field is changing. New opportunities open up, old ones cease to be viable. That’s just the nature of doing business.

  4. Interested to read/ watch event as I missed this opportunity. Is the recording available?, I would request if you can share.

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