Remember when IBM dominated the computing market in such a way that the Justice department filed an antitrust suit? The suit lasted for 13 years, from 1969-1982. That was the time when IT departments not only managed the IT assets of a company, but also provided the data crunching IT services.
Everything changed when Apple and Wintel liberated departments from that dependency. All of a sudden they were able to perform financial modeling, accounting, HR administration, and marketing analysis by themselves, using decentralized IT resources in the form of the PC.
Was that a bad thing? Clearly not for the users of IT, who radically increased both the range of what they could do and the speed of obtaining results.
What about the IT department, did it disappear?
No, it went on to better (and more strategic) things, such as guiding, standardizing & managing the integration of the disparate IT assets within the firm, and later, with the Internet.
In other words, despite the initial resistance of the IT department to users taking control, the decentralization of IT actually empowered the IT department, and made their jobs more interesting and less mundane.
So, what does this have to do with the current state of the Market Research industry?
Traditionally, corporate users of Market Research (Marketing, Product Development, Strategy, Planning) have had to rely on an internal or external provider to conduct everything from planning, executing, and analyzing a study.
This method requires significant time and money1 to obtain results. As a consequence, Market Research is conceived and conducted as a series of discrete “projects” rather than a continuous and iterative learning process.
Coupled with long lead times, this approach frequently yields results that are too late to impact the marketing, development or strategic decisions it is intended to guide.
The emergence of social media, as well as a variety of new tools and platforms, is rapidly changing the Market Research landscape.
Social Media is merging the historical distinction between Marketing (unidirectional conversations of company to customers), from Market Research (bidirectional but not spontaneous).
In other words, Social Media is enabling a true dialogue, where both parties (the company and the customers) can proactively initiate and respond to the other’s communication.
The advent of tools such as Survey Monkey and Zoomerang2, because of their ease of use, short lead times and low cost, allows for anyone, not just the MR department, to initiate a quantitative survey and analyze the results, almost in real time.
Similar to how the advent of the PC allowed for anyone in a company, and not just the IT department, to create, analyze and compile a stream of data.
Some Market Research and Usability practitioners feel this is a dangerous trend, as in “a little knowledge is dangerous”. A similar attitude was initially displayed by a number of IT professionals when the PC arrived, until they pivoted and adapted, with great success, to the new decentralized IT revolution.
In the areas of qualitative research and user experience testing a similar revolution to what Survey Monkey has achieved is taking place.
Some web usability testing tools allow an easy and timely way to receive feedback on what people see and say on their screens as they interact with a website.
Online focus group tools allow for webcam based feedback as respondents react to stimuli in their home or workplace.
Platforms such as Userlytics.com combine both approaches to enable a fast and easy way to conduct In Depth Interviews (IDIs) within the context of a user test, simultaneously viewing both respondents as well as what they see, hear, do and say as they interact with any type of static or dynamic asset or stimuli.
What all these quantitative and qualitative user testing and online market research tools have in common is that they liberate the users of Market Research services to initiate and complete quick, continuous and iterative insight exploration and sanity checks with real or potential customers, on the fly, with no intervention on the part of the Market Research department or vendor, practically in real time.
In other words, they allow for the decentralization of Market Research and User Experience testing
Should the Market Research industry fear the above developments? Is this the end of Market Research as we know it?
No. And Yes.
We should not fear what is inevitable, but adapt and embrace this change, which will ultimately empower Market Researchers and make their jobs much more interesting.
They will now have the time to focus their skill sets in guiding and analyzing the myriad decentralized company-customer conversations taking place, and help to strategically shape these conversations, rather than conduct them themselves.
1 The Global Market Research industry is a $ 30 billion business.
2 Recently acquired by SurveyMonkey