The Market Research industry is constantly looking to improve through innovation. Research clients’ RFP’s specify a preference for innovative approaches and Research Agencies promote their latest techniques as innovative ways to discover market insights. But, underlying all of this there is the sense that we are not really innovative enough. I think the benefits of market research innovations have been clear. However, the characterization of a method as an innovation is often dependent on the perspectives of the parties involved. An agency and their client may still consider a particular approach to be an “innovation,” but academics and competitive agencies will not necessarily agree. How many times have we heard the phrase, “We do that, too. We just call it something else.”
Our concerns about the extent of success through innovation in market research should be tempered with the understanding that:
- We would all like to adopt innovations that are proven. There is a practical and reasonable tension between choosing a promising new method and needing to be confident that it will deliver useful results
- What is old, once was new. Much of what we are doing today is already infused with methods that were innovations that developed into standards of practice.
Valid claims of innovation have come with the introduction of techniques like: conjoint analysis, on-line surveys, ethnography, linguistic analysis and mobile surveys. The novelty of these tools was apparent at the point when they began to be introduced by research practitioners and adopted by their clients. These were “innovations” in market research because evidence quickly developed to show that they delivered insights that were not easily achieved through traditional methods. Given the broad adoption of these “innovative” methods, it’s hard to say that Market Research does not innovate.
The road for innovation, however, is not an easy one. Recommendations for the use of innovative methods have always been met with serious questions of risk for clients and their research agencies. When a method is new or unfamiliar, how do we know it will work? The availability of some successful experiences applying a new method (from academic literature or commercial applications in other industries) will often overcome the earliest of these concerns.
Innovation is not instantly gratifying. What is generally recognized to be an “innovation” will naturally transition in status over time. First it will appear to be a specialty offering of the few agencies that have acquired expertise in the application of technology. It is only later, when the label of “break-through” seems wrong, that we have achieved success with innovation.
It takes continuous effort to innovate and develop methods that ultimately demonstrate their benefits and achieve the status of standards of practice in the identification of business insights. Perhaps a real innovation for market research would be to get people excited about “our standards of practice”?
Paul Snyderman is Vice President at Ipsos Healthcare.