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From AI-driven platforms, transformed shopping experience to new qualitative technologies: An overview of trending topics in market research

min. read

COVID, digitalisation, AI and machine learning, and data visualisation tools are just a few topics that keep evolving and changing the market research landscape. Motivated to learn more, beginning of this year, we organised a roundtable with our customers and partners to discuss trends and challenges in our industry.  

Similarly to our session, Greenbook recently hosted their roundtable discussion with industry experts. Moderated by Leonard Murphy (Executive Editor & Producer/Partner at Greenbook and Gen2 Advisors), the four speakers who joined the panel were Kelli Hammock (Senior Client Solutions Manager at L&E Research), Brett Watkins (President at L&E Research), Charlie Rader (Digital insights Designer at P&G) and Barry Jennings (Cloud and Commercial Business Planning Insights at Microsoft).  

Starting with a premise of how the market research industry is evolving rapidly, the lively conversation revolved around the post-pandemic “new normal”, exciting technology solutions and research methods.  

Expanding digitalisation  

Leaning on the “new normal” topic, the conversation opened with the transitions of research into new technological ways and how it changed qualitative research. Due to restrictions in travelling, our industry was forced to turn to digital solutions to convey studies.  

Leonard Murphy sees the value of digitalization on a bigger scale: “We're beginning to see more and more innovation, thanks to investments flowing into our industry right now. As we get closer to consumers in real-time, our ability to process the given information increases and adapt our messaging, products, and pricing. The sexy stuff is kind of behind the scenes. I think the change will bring efficiency and scalability to deal with video analytics, text analytics or to help one moderator discuss with 1,000 people at a time. I believe our industry will be more digitally-led going forward.” 

Still, digital or in-person, conferences remain important meeting points for sharing ideas and connecting with peers. “Conferences bring so many insights because just talking to people happens in an organic and authentic way. I like to do my research and prepare before going to any conference to make sure I meet and talk to the right people,” reveals Jennings. 

Key takeaway: Without a doubt, COVID accelerated the digital journey of many industries, including market research. Companies are investing more money in research to become more customer-centric. Thanks to digital platforms and tools, researchers can tap into new audiences regardless of location or time. 

Hacking technological solutions 

Market researchers have been hacking available technology teams or other video conferencing solutions to connect to people. Even though many solutions aren’t designed as qualitative research platforms, people are taking the plunge because that’s what has been available.  

Murphy takes the example of Zoom as a platform that enables the building of custom solutions. “Zoom obtained a leadership position, because they're built on API's, and that makes it very extensible. There are a lot of opportunities to build custom solutions, something like a qualitative research-centric suite of tools, which make it easier for respondents and buyers because it'll decrease friction. Mostly based on the plug-in principle, these new tools are easy to use and tailor them to what we need in research,” he explains. 

Kelli Hammock agrees that technological innovations are moving fast forward. “The pandemic has pushed us over this hill that we were originally going over as an industry, and now that we're over it, we're just starting to see the possibilities that technology can bring into our focus. We're going to see more things we can do when it comes to video, especially when it comes to VR and AR applications. There’s still so much to explore in this area and I believe we're only limited by our imaginations,” says Hammock. 

Key takeaway: As a natural consequence of digitalisation, we see a rise in many different tools and platforms. People are using these tools to communicate, work, and collaborate daily, and we've all got used to it, meaning we are at the point where we find other applications of familiar tools. 

The dawn of qual tech 

COVID accelerated digital qual to arrive on the scene — and it’s already making a lot of waves. As Charlie Rader puts it: “When qual tech has been introduced last year on enabling us to talk and learn from consumers, we were able to see the advantages. COVID was the trigger that pushed us off the ledge.”  

“The world of work, especially for the audiences that I typically tend to look for, is increasingly hybrid. I can't say all digital things are better, but they are effective in many ways. I absolutely love to be at conferences getting much closer to where our customers are doing really cool things,” agrees Barry Jennings.  

However, some aspects of consumer studies cannot be replaced. Charlie Rader lays out the situation at P&G: “We make stuff that people need to touch, feel, smell, experience, and sometimes there's just no substitution in an online world. We need to make sure that we’re doing the right research that keeps both our employees as well as our consumers comfortable and confident - despite the pandemic.” 

Key takeaway: Considering many companies saw the benefits of online qualitative research, it’s safe to say that qual tech isn’t going away. Even as we return to physical events and personal contact, qual tech will be used in combination with in-person methodologies. 

Transforming the shopping experience 

Our shopping experience is irreversibly changed due to COVID. We touched on this topic in our COVID-series last year, however, we still don’t know all the consequences of this mindset and behaviour change. “We still don't know the long-term effects of COVID. I think the Great Resignation and supply chain issues aren’t just blips on the radar. They might last for months, and further change consumer behaviours,” says Murphy. 

Jennings took Amazon as an advanced example of the shopping experience that is both valuable for the business and tailored to modern customers: “In the Amazon store, if you had all the items you want in your cart, you just walk out the door because it's already connected and paid directly with your credit card as soon as you cross the exit. I'm sure on their side, it’s a gold mine from a data and insights perspective.” 

Key takeaway: The Great Resignation, supply chain issues and health concerns made traditional shopping almost non-tolerable. It’s no surprise most consumers turn to online shopping, forcing retail companies to create new hybrid shopping experiences. 

AI-driven analytics supporting researchers 

Talking about trends in our industry, it’s impossible to skip AI and machine learning. Charlie Rader predicts how artificial intelligence will finally become a more practical tool. “Beyond the initial experiments, we're recognising where we're going and it's being more democratised as we learn at a much deeper, richer level with the amount of data that we can now ingest and consume. AI is really starting to take off with us,” he reveals. 

“Sometimes it’s all about getting that creativity and asking the right questions to get those developers thinking, ‘oh, this is what they need’. So, how do I build this for what they need and give them an all-inclusive package so that they can do ABC and also all the way through XY and Z,” concludes Hammock. 

However, we are still quite far from the scenario where machines can understand and perceive patterns as good and intricate as humans do. “Market researchers and experts are needed because people understand how to do the research and discover the right types of solutions, as well as refining research questions. Added to that, people embody some irreplaceable assets, like empathy and curiosity,” confirms Rader. 

Key takeaway: Although we are curious to see more of AI technology, we are still at the early stages of adopting it in market research data processing. The general opinion is clear about the importance of the human role in applying AI to make sense of it fully.  

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