Research is dead? That’s news to me

Over the last couple of months I have read blogs and articles proclaiming that research is either dead or dying. I don’t believe this. There is no doubt that the game is changing significantly but from where I sit, it’s far from over.

For research suppliers and corporate researchers alike, the mix of tools has changed with the introduction of social networks and new DIY and data-gathering solutions (e.g., mobile research, crowdsourcing, social media mining, etc.). New data sources are coming faster than ever before. And more than likely, over the past few years both suppliers and corporate researchers have seen increasing pressure to prove ROI at the same time as their budgets and staff have dwindled.

While some might see only gloom in all of this, I see great opportunity – if you are willing to embrace change and change yourself, that is. Mobile technology, neuromarketing, predictive markets and behavioral economics are just a few new options in the vast sea of tools available to researchers. Researchers should be swimming (or even drowning!) in data – which gives them a chance to become experts at sorting through and managing this data and providing real insights to clients, perhaps earning them that ever-elusive seat at the table.

Some of my hope for the future of our industry has been fueled by a reading of Leading Edge Marketing Research (Sage Publications), which does a great job addressing the skills and tools a researcher will need in the 21st century. Chapter one, written by Ian Lewis and Simon Chadwick of Cambiar, and the epilogue, written by Robert Moran of StrategyOne US, are particularly effective in explaining the future role of the researcher.

There is no doubt that this transition will be fraught with challenges. Change is never easy. But I truly believe that researchers can and will have a more visible position in the future if they can adapt to the changing requirements of their job function. Instead of accepting that the industry is dead, we need to embrace and encourage the change that surrounds us.

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4 Responses to Research is dead? That’s news to me

  1. Rotimi Osho says:

    Great insights.

  2. Hi Steve,

    I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you.

    I’d agree market research is heading into a renaissance period rather than a continuous decline. Indeed, the need for data analysts and data literate managers will outstrip supply by the millions in the years to come. This fact, in and of itself, seems to guarantee the future of the industry. In fact, many folks I’ve been speaking with this year are busier than ever. I’m not completely sure if that is due to more research needed, different types of research being conducted (to your point), or simply that budgets are recovering and that there was a lot of pent up demand. Whatever the cause, my guess is that many firms had a pretty good (or at least very busy) first quarter.

    With that said, there are some ominous shifts going on in the industry. The folks you mention have done some great thinking on the topic. I’d add to that list Census Director Robert Groves POV on the history of survey research and the predicates of an accessible public as well as an agreeable public (one that trusts unknown callers).

    My own POV is that the macro shifts can be boiled down to the emergence of big data (and the resultant cannibilization of some primary research), data collection commoditization (i.e. DIY through firms like Decipher; not to mention Google’s recent move into the space and the inherent advantages such a platform provides to companies), and the shift in cognitive science (i.e. your point of moving to behavioral models and more experimental designs). The technological shifts such as mobile, RFID, etc. have their own implications that are certainly revolutionary in their own right, but I believe they are more tactical in nature when considered from a macro market research perspective (i.e. they are data collection oriented and more akin to the move from phone/F2F to on-line at the turn of our century. Ultimately, such changes reoriented research, but did not completely disrupt the field).

    We of course talk about the changes in the research field, but it’s really a renaissance in marketing that is most interesting and the driver of research changes. These are marketing through the use of predictive analytics, propensity to purchase models, next likely purchases, discount thresholds, campaign analytics, keyword/phrase optimization, portfolio/price optimization, churn/attrition models, and the list goes on. Whereas, many marketing decisions and modeling used to be episodic and in need of episodic research, it is now ongoing and in need of consistent streams of data (again, this moves us back to our behavioral models discussion and the proliferation of experimental designs). This opens up another discussion with respect to the implications for market research departmental and research supplier alignment (one I won’t delve into here.)

    All the best.

  3. Dan Quirk says:


    Reading your description of the shifts in the research industry reminds me of exactly what has occurred in the media space — cannibalization of traditional media by bloggers and other non-journalism types, commoditization of news, a lowering of standards, technological shifts etc.

    Interestingly, like the research industry it was actually marketing leading the shift in the media industry. Marketers have been abandoning traditional advertising at the same time the number of viewers reading newspaper and magazine content is actually up because they are now reading it online as well as in print and the distribution is much wider. In the case of media, it is the change in marketing (and the related financial implications) that is changing media far more than it is the consumer leading the change. As a result of these shifts, Media, like research has moved from being episodic to being ongoing with consistent streams of stories.

    If this parallel hold true, then it might make sense for research companies to discover what successful media companies are doing compared to those that have failed.

    I can almost guarantee it will mean more work and innovation, for less money. On the other hand, I know I for one, would never want to go back to the way we used to operate. I find the new opportunities and challenges exciting.

    • Tony Cosentino says:

      Good stuff, Dan. I had not thought about that comparison; it is a really interesting one and seemingly quite true.