Researchers and insights teams know that client expectations are growing daily. Traditional market researchers, whether in-house or at agencies, are under immense pressure to deliver their results faster and cheaper.
The good news is that automation and AI help deliver quick, lower-cost results. The bad news is that this fuels even greater demand for immediate insights.
Two major elements of research—operational and cognitive—are now being partly or fully automated. Creativity is what separates people from technology.
Market researchers have always done well at automating process (remember paper scanning?), but there are some key differences in the approach and impact of AI:
- AI is not confined to a single stage of the life cycle: It’s involved with survey design, sampling, data collection and reporting. Automation tools are becoming available for more complex cognitive techniques as well, including emotional response recognition, multimedia feedback and social media analysis.
- Researchers can focus elsewhere and specialize: With machines handling the repetitive work, researchers can focus on the more in-depth analytical and creative processes, such as the design of new surveys and methodologies that require human interpretation. Research teams can evolve into specialist hubs, with researchers becoming data scientists and ordinary reports becoming strategic business guidance for C-level executives. Automation also increases the need for project managers with a wider understanding of the many automated steps of the research process.
- The death of the silo (hopefully!): Automation can promote collaboration, both across survey teams and with external partners and customers. AI brings research content and knowledge into tools used by many teams, teams that may traditionally not have owned the insight process. As a result, they can make immediate positive impacts throughout their organization.
What’s Left for Human Researchers? Marketing insights and research won’t be staffed entirely by robots any time soon. Here’s why:
- AI and automation don’t create new things: Once enough scenarios are fed through an algorithm, machine learning will be able to create surveys. But they won’t create new approaches to solve new problems. Developing new surveys that react to market dynamics will continue to be a human role for the foreseeable future.
- They have no instinct: You know that gut feeling that tells you something isn’t right? AI doesn’t have that. People must oversee data quality assurance. This isn’t a statistical exercise as much as it requires an experienced researcher knowing that something is amiss in the data.
- Clients will always be people: Human clients will always prefer a human relationship. Most businesses want to work with researchers as partners and trusted advisers, not vendors of data. Clients with real business issues don’t want to only get answers from a dashboard, no matter how sexy the data. They want a person they trust to answer their questions.
The developments in automation are driving the insights industry toward a custom model of research. In this model, the needs of clients are met with whatever level of program they require and can be delivered in the timeframe and format most suited to each need.
Clients aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a fast turnaround, as automation also benefits researchers through repeatability. The more processes that can be set up and repeated, the more efficient an organization becomes. This boosts productivity and increases the usability of automation tools. Furthermore, when automation is applied to multiple processes across the organization, time and cost savings are magnified. This ease and speed of delivery becomes a differentiating factor against competitors.
For some insights users, a new world of ownership—built on automation supported by human researchers—will open. This will take the form of more self-service research programs. This model is proving increasingly popular with companies that need to gather high-level insights quickly. They can use self- service portals to select the appropriate tools for their project, select the audience or sample and select the type of reporting they need to produce—all from a single source. This shortens timelines and simplifies results-sharing and analysis through easy-access dashboards.
This may ring alarm bells for market researchers worried about the diminishing need for their skills. But they can relax. What many companies need is quick insight; sometimes they only want to focus on questions that quickly get to the heart of their enquiry. Automation tools may give them 80% of
the information they need in 25% of the time, which makes a justifiable business case for self-service. But there will still be the need for in-depth research programs. A self-serve approach becomes a new layer that sits on top of substantial analysis and insight.
The future is bright for creative researchers to think high- level and holistically. These new professionals will oversee elements, design new methodologies and advise and work with clients as a partner, not a data source.
The role of the insights professional is changing, but it’s not a bleak future. Evolution is critical, but extinction is not inevitable.