Turning the Tables on Research to Understand the Process

Insights professionals seek to understand customers, learn their opinions, what frustrates and excites them and how they make buying decisions. FocusVision recently fielded the second annual How You Research survey to explore these questions and more. Because understanding the how of gathering insights is just as important as the insights themselves.

For the 2019 survey, 168 marketing and insight professionals were surveyed, all of whom used market research as part of their job function. The sample included a mix of agencies and brands. Participants came from large, 1000+ employee firms, as well as small, under 25 employee firms. (Figure 1).

The results showed that research is alive and well with a majority conducting it at least weekly. This hasn’t changed much since last year. (Figure 2).

Traditional research methods like surveys, in-depth interviews, and focus groups are the research techniques employed most often, with surveys leading the way. Interestingly, the number of research approaches being used has declined a little with focus group usage seeing some softening compared to last year. Enterprise is driving this decline, as larger firms are shifting to fewer in-person focus groups and in-person in depth interviews. (Figure 3, 4 and 5).

Large Enterprises

Brand and customer research continue to be the most prevalent areas of focus of research, with customer experience topping the list for the second year in a row. For 2019, there seemed to be a re-doubling of efforts to understand customers as customer journey research saw an increase. (Figure 6).

Respondents were asked what market research trends were of interest. (Figure 7). Mobile ethnographies, technology, surveys and diaries remain a hot topic, followed by data visualization and integration of qualitative and quantitative technology tools.

Some differences emerged depending on the size of the firm. Large firms are understandably more keen on specific tools designed for their industry, including better integration of qualitative and quantitative technologies and AI.

What do respondents find most frustrating? Budget constraints and sample quality again topped the list. (Figure 8). There was an increase in concern over integrating multiple data sources and managing multiple research technology providers.

This suggests that research is becoming increasingly multi-faceted and that companies are struggling to integrate the tools and variety of data being collected. This is especially true for large enterprise firms as their reliance on and use of research technology tools has become more challenging. Large enterprise also showed a dramatic lift in frustration with budget constraints in 2019.

Survey participants were asked to elaborate on their research frustrations and share the one thing that would make their research lives easier. Indeed, there was a strong call for improved technology that integrates and synthesizes information across departments and multiple data sources. (Figure 9). With this, insights can be delivered quickly and more efficiently.

While things like the emphasis on customers and the use of traditional research methods remain the same, the survey findings suggest other areas of the research industry are shifting. While technology has always been a part of conducting research, the pace of its impact moves quickly not just in the way we manage and collect data but also in the quest for cheaper and faster insights.

The shifts in businesses’ data needs together with the corresponding rapid technological development has led to a protracted time of change within the insights industry. It’s clear that most are still grappling with managing the transition, evolving technology and increasing demand for high-profile consumer insights to lead business decisions.

What’s important is that the insight professional continues to evolve and use the most fit-for-purpose approaches for the business question and associated business need. At the same time, we should continue to demand more from our technology, because that’s a large part of what’s going to get us there.