Marketing research and innovative technology

Editor’s note: John Bird is executive vice president at market research firm Infotools, San Francisco.  

Experts predicted yet another year of uncertainty as we sailed into the start of 2023. With business leaders having lurched from the challenges of the pandemic to economic woes and inflation, it can seem as if there is no end in sight. Instead of seeing doom and gloom, we can choose instead to approach this climate with optimism and a sense of opportunity.  

The marketing research and insight industry would not exist if it weren’t for uncertainty. It’s times like these where market researchers can thrive, as we use data to alleviate that sense of unpredictability and doubt. But we don’t just leave it there – great market researchers go on to provide a way through the murk to a better place.   

Today, we are presented with a moment in time to re-evaluate to improve outcomes and ensure preparedness. This includes bringing clarity to technology priorities; fusing technology capabilities with business strategies to stay a step ahead. Can we seize this opportunity by identifying and committing to a future-forward approach, employing purpose-built technology that will help us prove value and advance the insights space as a whole? Businesses need data in uncertain times, and we need to provide it efficiently, quickly and accurately. Technology can help us get there.   

How can the right technology work in real life? 

Most of us can relate to using technology solutions to improve workforce productivity during the pandemic. Think about the rise of Zoom and Slack to “household” names – these types of solutions were crucial as people moved to a remote work model. In fact, during the height of the pandemic, Zoom reported 350 million users, even providing free access to schools in multiple countries.  

When implemented properly, technology augments our work and enables us to either do more or produce higher quality outputs. Sometimes both. But it takes work. The pandemic showed the divide between those who had invested in technology and those who had not. We saw this clearly in countries that had no national broadband networks prior to the pandemic as their ability to work effectively from home was hampered, while those with infrastructure in place were able to adapt. Likewise, companies that were able to pivot and adopt technology with domain expertise to keep their workflow and business processes running smoothly, without an in-office model, were better positioned to succeed.   

In the market research space, we were forced to innovate quickly to do things such as move the execution of in-person research methodologies to an online model. New technologies emerged for online focus groups and additional solutions were brought to market that could quickly bridge the data gap. For example, neuroscience organization Immersion saw an opportunity to pivot to analyzing data from smartwatches, which did away with the need for purpose-built labs. Highlight unveiled agile in-home product testing via curated discovery boxes.  

Tips for marketing researchers looking to choose technology to reap competitive advantage  

The pandemic proved that technology has a key role to play in overcoming challenges, but identifying the right solutions that will provide the most benefit to your business is not always easy. In addition, right now, insights teams need to do more with far less. Technology, which often sits in unaffected budgets during uncertain economic times, can help create more efficient workflows so that you can be more productive, especially when it’s unlikely you can increase headcount on your team.  

You can start your technology road mapping process by first focusing on business goals and strategies – whether that’s maximizing value from data, accessing insights more quickly, bringing multiple data sources together or any other path you see toward achieving your competitive edge. Then, drill down a bit further and take an objective look at your common daily tasks. Identify sticking points that might be costing you time and money. Technology can help streamline some of these road bumps. 

For example, many of us have multiple data streams coming in that need to join to form a cohesive whole. A solution that can integrate and organize all your data, such as survey responses, online interactions, in-store shopping data, social media posts, qualitative interviews and more, could be just the ticket your insights team needs. Empower your team to provide a deeper level of detail and generate greater understanding and insights from data you already possess. 

There are many other examples of how technology might positively impact your workflow and all the daily tasks that accompany market research projects. Keeping speed, accuracy, cost-effectiveness and quality top-of-mind when you’re making your decision, plus the solution’s ability to handle the intricacies of market research data, are important considerations.

Moving beyond the puffery surrounding AI in marketing research 

As your organization seeks to embrace uncertainty with the smart use of technology, it must also navigate one of the biggest buzzwords of the last decade – AI. There has been so much hype around AI and so many claims, yet a huge percentage of those claims are far from reality. It’s only with the recent releases of GPT-3 and GPT-4 that we’re beginning to see AI in commercial use. And even that has been hit and miss. The theory has been around for some time, but the computational power and processing just hasn’t been there. There are also some significant ethical and privacy questions shadowing the use of AI, which organizations need to keep in mind.   

If you think of many of the AI claims made by vendors over the past decade, most have been algorithms. Even at my company, we use a series of statistical algorithms to find patterns and trends in the data. We’ve never claimed to be an AI tool because we acknowledge that we can never replace human curiosity and creativity.  

There are many considerations when choosing the right technology but the bottom line is that you need to get the most out of your all-important data and minimize uncertainty. Take this time as an opportunity to create efficiency in your market research workflow and implement solutions that help you prove the value of the insights function once and for all. There is a reason innovative technology has blossomed during the upheaval of the past three years, and your market research technology choices today can help your team manage the storms ahead.