Let’s not fool ourselves: The future of the insights industry is today. The advent of the “always-on” lifestyle, fueled by technology, has allowed consumers to take part in any number of real-time activities from powerful personal devices: sharing an activity or an opinion with a friend (or a brand), shopping for new shoes, or watching a favorite YouTube channel. This reality will continue to not just transform our lifestyles and our economy; it will fundamentally change market research as well.
As consumers engage more and more in the digital economy, these activities throw off digital “exhaust”—bits of information that leave a trace of our digital behaviors, from viewing habits to buying preferences to social media exchanges. The proliferation of this digital exhaust (some call it Big Data) is the currency of change that will continue to transform the practice of market research. The implication is simple: brands and marketers have a wealth of data at their disposal even before they put out their first RFPs or field a single survey. While “traditional” survey-based research will remain a tool in the marketing arsenal, it is just one input to the decisions clients need to make and, many times, they are being asked to make those decisions while research budgets are under pressure and insights teams are trimmed.
In the midst of this whirlwind of transformation, researchers have a clear choice. They can cling to old models and ride out the era of siloed information-gathering using time-honored survey methods and analyses. There is still some residual steam in this engine, so it will keep moving for a little while, albeit slower and slower. Or researchers can rebuild their vehicles while speeding down the highway, combining the knowledge they have gained over the years with some new skills to meet the challenge, and calling in a host of new talent to help them tap new sources of energy and smarter vehicle designs.