Observations from the past 20 years – the evolution of market research and its impact on decision-making
By Sifiso Falala, Chief Executive, Plus 94 Research
The days when the all-knowing conglomerates dictated consumer demand are behind us – consumers have become more discerning, and service providers that fail to have their finger on the pulse of evolving consumer needs through innovative use of tools such as market research and big data analytics run the risk of being left behind.
The market landscape is changing rapidly as lifestyle changes precipitated by the economic downturn, evolving innovations, trends and the growth of the health-conscious lifestyle have empowered consumers to take more control of their life and lifestyle.
Market research has always played a very important role in businesses throughout the world and also in South Africa, but the financial crisis we have witnessed has led businesses to rethink the bouquet of products and services they offer and how they are offered in order to remain relevant. Although the role of market research as a business tool has become increasingly important, the evolution of technology has increasingly shaped and influenced how companies and organisations conduct market research.
There is a big transformation shift today compared to 20 years ago when Plus 94 opened its doors for business. There has been both a consumer and business mindset shift. Research is no longer a black box, and researchers are no longer quasi-crystal ball gazers and wavers of magic wands. Everything is a lot more open, and a lot more integrated.
Technology is playing a big role in empowering respondents, clients and researchers. The transition between the collection of data and reporting it has been radically reduced in time span. We can now talk of live reporting which is quite nice but places an extra burden on remaining current.
Ten years ago, research was conducted using pen and paper. This process of deciphering all this data today would be laborious and labour-intensive given the market scale growth. Today research can be completed without the use of pen or paper and in a growing number of cases without an active human interface. Sophisticated technology has meant sophisticated respondents, clients, and researchers. Deliverables are now expected to have synergies and integration with other aspects of the business which may be running in parallel such as advertising, the product, distribution and pricing.
The use of devices operates with the aid of live or delayed Internet connectivity. Accessibility of complementary customer databases has increased the importance of data fusion in recognition of the fact that all national sample surveys are approximations of the same population.
The world is on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will be characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical and digital and challenging ideas about what it means to be human.
Market research has always been done, but what makes it seem that much more important now is that it is easier with the use of technology while uncertainties about customers have and continue to increase in the face of rampant consumer sovereignty. Notwithstanding the proliferation of technology, the basic principles of research design, questionnaire design, and field ethics remain fundamental to the success of market research projects.
We are in an era where business is more competitive, and some industry barriers have become blurred. The risk of whole industries becoming obsolete is at its highest.
Despite the advent of technology, the underlying tenets of market research have remained intact.
Consumers evolve; brands, products, and services have to go where consumers are going and research is helping brands keep up with the constantly evolving market and consumer trends.
Market research is a kind of accessory that enables decision-makers to reflect to ask the difficult questions about whether the products they sell are what the customer wants, whether the prices they charge are affordable for their target audience, how products fit in with their daily lives, and what the long-term implications of using their products and/or services are.
Now more than ever, businesses are taking into account facts from the consumer or how customers feel about their product because they are aware of the flooded nature of consumer options and the speed at which migration could be affected.
The automotive, mining, agriculture, banking and FMGC industries are examples of sectors that have benefited from advances in market research over the past 20 years. In fact, benefits accruing from advances in data collection, processing and dissemination have meant that there are more new users of market research in the past 20 years than in the previous 20.
Some of the examples of successful transitions include the personalisation of formulae, service structuring, and communication. Consumers are now more than ever before exposed to larger doses of aggregated service offerings where so-called value adds are thrown in to go with a basic value proposition.
Consumer platforms and social networks mean that research no longer needs to be a prerogative of the researchers to initiate. Consumers can now spontaneously give a stream of vital, albeit unsolicited, research data, using both direct and passive means. To that extent, therefore, harnessing and reducing consumer messaging has become even more important, in line with the dire consequences of failing to do so in a modern world that is alert, empowered and inherently not motivated by loyalty.
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