Reframing MR for the 2020s


“It’s time to reinvent ourselves!”, according to industry experts who discussed the future of Market Research at a recent event hosted by Wale Omiyale, SVP Market Research at Confirmit in London. Instead of focusing on data collection, response rates and margins of error, the industry needs to create a new identity for itself and reskill for a future as sense-makers.

The existing MR talent pool is up to the job, according to Vanella Jackson, CEO at Hall & Partners. “We’ve always been good at gathering data and distilling it but we must reframe and retrain talent to do a different job if we are to deliver at speed and provide advice that inspires and motivates people to do things differently. If we don’t, we’ll become redundant.”

Jude Nottingham, Managing Director at TLF Research agreed: “People are looking for something more from researchers now. Very few people are asking about sample size and confidence intervals, it’s a given that the data is reliable. Clients are looking for guidance, rooted in research. Our job is to inspire people to do something. Market Researchers need to deliver value by using conversations based on insight to unpick and understand issues that make a difference to a client’s business.”

David Smith, Director of DVL Smith and the author of The High Performance Customer Insight Professional, stressed the importance of insight professionals being able to seize strategic business opportunities. As a contributor to the recent ESOMAR thought leadership initiative – “How to demonstrate the value of investing in customer insight” – he highlighted the value of insight professionals being able to futureproof organizations. He suggested we enhanced our skills to operate as “managers of disruption”. For Smith, the question is: Are we able to recognize opportunities for strategic change?

Fortunately, organizations that demand big things of themselves are increasingly pushing MR professionals to challenge the status quo and do things that they’ve never done before. “The new generation of agencies are technology-driven, focused and innovative. Automation has its part to play but we need people who have amazing judgement and advisory skills. And we need to recognize the importance of those skills to provide the external perspective that our clients need. If we can do that, moving much more quickly to identify problems and solve them, we will have a sound future,” added Roger Perowne, CEO at Savanta.

Looking ahead, we need to recruit inspiring storytellers alongside data scientists. “We also need to make much better use of the whole MR ecosystem. We need to work with other agencies and technology providers and reach out to different areas of the business,” said Fiona Blades, Chief Experience Officer at MESH Experience. “The human element in research – the ability to listen and adjust to changing parameters – is going to be more important than ever.” Jack Tadman, Research Manager at Opinium added “for young researchers, the data part of MR is easy, but talking to people and engaging with them to make decisions is hard – that’s an area that MR agencies need to focus on for training”.

Ethics was also on the agenda, particularly in reference to trust from younger consumers. “Young people understand that nothing is free, and that we’re sharing some of our data” explains Katherine Nicholls, Director of Research at NetNatives. “But in most cases, they understand what the deal is and if they trust that their data is being used ethically, they’re ok with it”.

“Technology and people are where we must put the effort”, Omiyale concluded. “We need curious, insightful, challenging people to create diverse teams that deliver advice that provides real impact. We must stay ahead of the ways in which our clients are changing, view the world through their lens and innovate in how we deliver insights across the board. A full makeover may not be needed but MR’s role at the heart of Insight should not be under any doubt.”