THE BLOG
10/10/2013 10:53 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Is Research Dead?

Perhaps! But more than likely, it is just in hiding.

The maturation of market research as a quantitative social science has been well protected and isolated to an area of professional expertise. Data collection evolving from in person to mail panels to phone, Internet, mobile and perhaps to behavioral and sensory perception in the future has proved that expert professionals are needed to navigate speaking to the right respondents in the right way.

The evolution of statistical analyses, which is partly due to increased computer processing speed, adds another dimension to understanding human attitudes and behaviors. By starting with simple frequencies and evolving to complex, statistically based behavioral models, we have become ever more accurate in evaluating values, needs, opinions and behaviors as well as being able to tailor our strategies appropriately.

And, in some cases, the delivery of information has become real-time and has made accessing analysis and geolocational targeting at the most complex levels even simpler.

The result: an estimated $30 billion global industry with more than $10 billion in the U.S. and growing at a rate just barely ahead of inflation.

So, is research in a death spiral? Does such an insignificant growth rate foretell the death of research?

We don't believe so. Rather, research has become so ubiquitously embedded in the marketing process that often it is hard to find. Academically, research professionals who once came from the social sciences, operations research and mathematics now come from all areas of academic study -- business, medical, engineering and technology to name a few.

Because research professionals and companies have done such a good job of integrating techniques and approaches into every aspect of marketing, research has become an acceptable given in the marketing process. And this research is done under the budgets of the brand and product managers themselves utilizing self-service and other inexpensive data collection and analysis tools.

These tools, often developed and offered by non-research professionals, have nibbled at the growth of the traditional industry because they met a need for real-time response accompanied by simple interpretation. Not that these tools aren't useful in the hands of individuals that understand the scientific research method, but simple data collection and analysis techniques in the hands of business professionals who do not understand the intricacies of who to talk to, what to ask and how to analyze data can lead to bad business practices. And, all too often, the method is obfuscated from the recommendation.

So, how do research and marketing professionals respond to this trend and recapture the growth of our industry? The answer is that the industry needs to meet the needs for fast response and simple interpretation of results by utilizing appropriate populations and complex models with easily interpretable decision-making marketing metrics.

Such a strategy will result in the rebirth of the industry -- not to commoditize it, but to rethink our efforts to meet client needs. What is needed is an updated research process -- one that does not negate industry expertise and knowledge of complex techniques but capitalizes on them to build a research process made up of both integrated consultative and technology platforms to respond to timing and decision-making needs of clients.

These platforms should not be generic but should be customized to the categories of marketing metric needs such as:

• Communications, advertising and brand
• Consumer experience
• Product development/innovation
• Direct marketing
• Ad hoc marketing

It is through these integrated consultative/technology platforms customized for needed decision-making metrics in areas of the marketing and sales process that market research will truly be reborn.