Beware the self-limiting brief and the limits of your own business culture

Last December MarketResearch.com reported on what international market research heavyweights predict to be the biggest market research trends of 2017. Pleasingly, all the trends are evident in New Zealand and Ipsos isn’t the only company up with the play. But that’s not to say that research buyers are also on top of things because new ideas in market research are still all too often crushed by overly rigid briefs and selection criteria. 

So as 2017 gathers momentum it is worthwhile highlighting what market research is doing now – the more that research buyers know about newer market research offers, the more acceptable those new ideas should appear to be.


Discerning whether respondents’ answers are what they truly think or what they want others to believe is a perennial challenge, particularly insensitive categories. Traditional methods to counter this are now being enhanced by tools such as facial coding, implicit reaction timing and galvanic skin responses. The greater the social baggage of an issue, the more useful such techniques can be. 

Automated observation

It’s never been easier to passively track people for research. Smartphone apps that track radio, TV, and outdoor media consumption; in-home observational cameras; retail eye-trackers and pathway trackers have never been cheaper or easier to use in research. 

A focus on change

Research is commissioned when an organisation needs guidance to facilitate change. But as all marketers know, you need to do more to initiate behavior change than simply providing information. So why should research presentations be any different? All manner of non-traditional methods (e.g. workshops, multi-media, role-playing, gameplay) are increasingly being used to ensure that research-buying organisations really ‘get’ the answers and are empowered enough to act on them.

Good researchers also recognising that if their research is going to be effective at driving positive change, it has to be more concise and accessible. The Ipsos goal is ’30 slides in 30 minutes’ – not always appropriate but worth bearing in mind. Ideally, one slide or infographic should do it. 

Cyborg researchers

A cyborg is a blend of the human and the machine, and a great way to think of how Big Data is increasingly being used. Nothing beats humans for interpretation, insight and judgement, and so the use of specific analytical frameworks with which to make sense of data has become increasingly popular. 

More varied qualitative research

I once heard a businessman say “we don’t do market research, we go to people’s homes and talk to them as we go through their wardrobes”. Clearly he thought qualitative research was just focus groups and interviews, which has never been the case. Qualitative research is now more varied and imaginative than ever. Give your qualitative researchers the license to spread their wings and be pleasantly surprised. 

Online reporting

Static reports are increasingly making room for interactive online reporting, online insight libraries, drillable datasets and other variants on online reporting. These enable research users to access and interrogate their research as and when they require, making it more useful and effective as a result. 

Are you game?

These developments are exciting and hopefully, readers will be rethinking their perceptions of market research. But just as changing consumers’ behaviours can be difficult, so too can changing business practices. Too often in market research do we see research briefs that call for ‘innovative solutions’ that, when offered, are declined in favour for the tired, risk-adverse status quo.

So consider the following before you request “innovative solutions” in your next brief: 

  1. Recognise that commissioning new techniques and then acting upon the recommendations that ensue can be difficult when money and reputation are at stake. If your business doesn’t truly support new thinking, don’t seek it out. 
  2. New methods shouldn’t be pursued for their own sake, and innovation is often just a close cousin to pragmatic problem-solving. So, don’t ask for new methods per se, just specify your needs, your parameters for an acceptable solution, the risks you are prepared to make (including office politics!); and your actual openness to the new will be apparent. 

In classic marketing speak, market research in 2017 is now truly new and improved!

Jonathan Dodd is the research director at Ipsos NZ ([email protected]). This story is part of a content partnership with Ipsos. 

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