Research doesn't need more insight. It needs more innovation.
No... not that type of innovation. There are plenty of technological innovations in market research. In fact, everywhere you turn, new technologies are vying to become the next big thing. From eye tracking to predictive intelligence, automation to DIY tools. Even virtual reality has seeped into the researcher's lexicon before mass market adoption.
What I'm talking about isn't a piece of software, an algorithm, or platform. I'm talking about marketing innovation. New ways to sell and differentiate market research offerings... that don't just rely on the cliché sales pitch of insight.
Why is insight a problem?
Don't get me wrong, insight is great. Everybody wants it. From board level directors to research team members moderating tasks. There's no limit to the uses and applications insight has.
Insight helps you stay closer to your customersInsight tells you how to grow your customer baseInsight explains why market strategies do & do not workInsight delves into the emotional connection your brand has with customers.
In fact, you would almost be forgiven for mistaking insight for a wonder-drug that will alleviate all of your business pains. It is, seemingly, the answer to everything. And, perhaps more worryingly, everyone is selling it.
There is no shortage of market research firms lining up to tell you that their version of insight is better than the next. Speak to enough agencies and you might even begin to question what insight is (or if it even means anything at all).
Why conduct a focus group? For the insight it provides! What about a research community? Group insight! How about a survey? Insight at scale!
The problem here is that none of these provide insight. If you drop a 10 page focus group transcript onto your marketing manager's desk, they aren't going to tell you what an insightful read it was. And that's if they even read it at all.
So, what is insight?
It's clear what insight isn't. It's not the direct output from your market research effort. It's not the report your agency delivers to you. It's not the technology that you use. But, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, insight is:
An accurate and deep understanding.
This is partly where the root of this issue lies. Insight is so unanimously ambiguous, that nearly research methodology has the capacity to create insight... but it does not automatically. Insight is only created by you (the researcher), when you develop that accurate and deep understanding through time, analysis and research triangulation.
So don't be fooled into thinking that the next piece of research technology that catches your eye will magically create better insight than the last. The process of developing insight will not change. It can still only be created through your understanding of an issue.
But technology can make that process easier. It can provide new information to analyse that would have been previously unattainable. It can create new types of environments that lead to different answers. It can save you money through greater efficiency. In fact, understanding the issue for you is (nearly) the only thing it cannot do*.
*I can almost hear the die-hard AI champions raising their pitchforks. But until an artificial intelligence is developed that can understand, rather than learn, this point still stands.
What Does This Have to do With Innovation?
So far, all I have talked about is how insight is misconstrued and misrepresented by research vendors. But bear with me, I'm getting there. This is where market research needs to innovate. We don't need to create a technology arms race, we need to come up with ways to stand out from the crowd.
If everyone's unique selling point is insight... then no-one is.
For an industry that is dead-set on helping firms of all shapes and sizes in developing exciting, different and relevant marketing propositions, it strikes me that the research industry seems to do a pretty poor job of it ourselves.
We need marketing innovation. Research agencies need to find out what makes them different and hold onto it for dear life. To get started, I'll suggest some ideas that probably aren't unique:
Being able to generate insight (I cannot stress this enough)
Understanding people (this is literally the point of qualitative research)
Having an online/offline offering
Conducting qualitative AND quantitative research
Putting Money Where My Mouth Is
If you're reading this, you may know that I manage the digital marketing campaigns for online market research agency FlexMR. In fact, the inspiration for this article came from researching the brand's position - and the astounding similarities I noticed between USPs in the market research industry.
So, do we enable insight? Yes. Do we focus on understanding people? Yes. Do we conduct qual and quant research? Yes.
But, crucially, these are not what is unique about us. What makes FlexMR unique is the flexible model which provides an unparalleled ability to build a research system and service level from it's individual components. (Apologies, the marketer in me wrote that sentence).
The point is: our USP is the flexible product/service model and the benefits this has for a research team - not insight.
This, to me, is innovation in market research. It is creating a new concept that aligns the agency/client (supplier/buyer if you prefer) relationship in a new and beneficial way.
3 Extra Examples: Research Agencies That Get It
Zappistore is revolutionising research buying by creating a new way to access research, and investing significantly in the automation required to make that possible.
BrainJuicer practically own the concept of emotional intelligence in market research - and they do it well. Rather than focusing on the market or the numbers, BrainJuicer have pinned down emotion to a fine art.
And Northstar? Well, I love their strapline. Fearless Intellect. It's simple, memorable, conveys a powerful point and most importantly isn't focused on insight! Perfect.
Can you explain what is unique about your approach to market research as an agency? If you're answer is: insight, mixed methods or the ability to understand people, you may need a little innovation injected into your marketing department.