Towards more SONIC market research
Deep down we probably all acknowledge the fact that market research needs to be(come) more agile if it wants to stay relevant. But how can it do so? The terms ‘agility’ and ‘speed’ are often used interchangeably, so the straightforward answer is automation, right? While we, at InSites Consulting, embrace technological change and strongly believe that things like artificial intelligence and smart robots will disrupt our industry, we are also convinced that technology alone is not the answer to a more consumer centric world. In our opinion, it is the human touch that will ultimately make the difference, where the voice of the customer is embedded in a sustainable way. To do so we need to become more SONIC:
Being consumer centric is not a one-off thing. True customer centricity requires an ongoing conversation with people who are interested to take your brand and category forward. You need to make it worthwhile for people to stay on board for the long run and involve them in sufficient interaction so there’s that mutual feeling of ongoing dialogue.
But this ongoing, structural character should also be present inside the company walls, where you create a habit of consumer listening across all company stakeholders. This requires taking away any barriers for connecting with consumers within your organization, both in terms of the easiness to connect with consumers and the speed at which a connection is made. In this context, people often refer to the rise of the DIY solutions. Although these have made it possible for anyone to connect with consumers anywhere in a lean and mean way, the amount of companies self-servicing their research needs are rather limited due to the time investment they bring (let alone the fact that setting up research questions is a skill on its own).
Whether you are setting them up yourself or not, structural consumer connections allow brands and marketers to have a finger on the pulse. They make it easy for internal stakeholders to install consumer checks right when an information need occurs, while getting tangible, digestible reports in return.
One Stop Shop
In an agile research world, the boundaries between qual and quant are obsolete. Research capabilities need to focus on solving business challenges, not methods. It is about blending validation with understanding, while at the same time mixing existing data sources with primary research efforts.
Yet, the need for research is (and will remain) very present. Although today’s big data world provides access to large streams of behavioral and social data, we still need research to understand the why behind those observations. The power, essentially, is in the mix.
And this cocktail of data and methods is also necessary from the participant perspective. A single focus on asking questions leads to research fatigue. Involving them in mixtures of quant and qual challenges and even giving them a co-creation and crowd interpretation role will not only lead to better data but also boost engagement.
Research needs to be(come) a one stop shop offering the versatility of tools and methods necessary to feed agile decision-making and help organizations forward. At the same time, this variation is necessary to keep the consumer connection in place by keeping participants engaged.
Research, with its long, often desktop-only surveys, fails to match today’s snappy reality. In order to stay relevant, we need to move towards more natural consumer connections. This, by working with iterations of short research challenges in moments that are relevant for people to give their opinion. For example, during idle times, when people take a break or have some time left or on moments where they just had a certain product or service experience and want to share their feedback.
Yet increased naturalness also means embracing more contemporary channels of communication. With people using more and more chat-based communication means like WhatsApp and Messenger, research should also incorporate these more natural communication settings.
The research industry should thus create a path towards more natural, conversational research, rather than focusing on fixed question solutions.
A key reason for people to participate in research is that they want to learn something new about a topic or brand of interest. By sharing their opinion, they hope to have an impact on these brands. Yet, as an industry, we hardly feed things back to the people that are taking part in the research. Although confidentiality limits what can be shared, there are many possibilities to share back with consumers what they have been contributing to. For example, by giving them a preview of a product or ad you are planning to launch anyway or by giving them a sneak peek on how things are going ‘behind the scenes’. Or why not just start by introducing yourself and your role in the company.
Consumers are not only looking for direct impact of their research contribution, they want to help brands forward. We thus need to keep them involved in the bigger picture.
And finally, it is not only about you reaching out to your network of consumers. It is equally about giving them a platform to speak up and allow them to raise issues that are important to them. You might be surprised by what you can learn from tapping into bottom-up flows. There lies a lot of untapped potential in unsolicited feedback, as you can get answers to questions you did not ask. Consumers can help you see blind spots in the market and in how you might (wrongly) perceive the world.
In this supersonic world, we need to make sure that consumers are heard by brands and, likewise, that they want to speak up and share their opinion. Consumers are the heartbeat of marketing (research), in order to maintain a sustainable consumer connection it is essential to be(come) more SONIC.