Six marketing research wake-up calls (by Joel Rubinson - ARF)

2009 was a year where the marketing research profession got six big wakeup calls. For each challenge, I describe how marketing research must respond to remain relevant.

Online research panels proven to produce different results

The ARF foundations of quality research compared results from the exact same questionnaire across 17 online research panels (including all of the big ones) fielded at two different points in time (2 weeks apart). We found that the test retest reliability of each panel was high but that results differed across panels by more than you would think based on sample sizes (n=2,000 per panel per wave). This insight led to the ARF Quality Enhancement Process, a series of metrics, planning, and reporting templates intended to control for this effect.

Cell phones are primary for close to 40% of US households

The most recent CDC NHIS survey found that 23% of all US households are cell phone only (46% of those aged 25-29) and another 15% have landlines but are cell phone primary. We are changing the way we connect. Landlines have become less important than cell phones and for many, talk is becoming a less important method of communication than text and social media updates. 
The Media Ratings council has said that media research must have a solution for this, implying that landline-only research can no longer be equated with probability sampling. Nielsen, Arbitron, and Knowledge Networks have all switched to addressed-based sampling methods to restore probability sampling properties.

Listening becomes a source of insights and marketing intelligence that anyone can access

Listening is a way of hearing in real time what people WANT to talk about, rather than what marketing wants to talk about. People express themselves in their own words rather than the interviewer’s vocabulary. Google’s team of economists proved that what people are searching for predicts many things from the geographic spread of the flu to auto sales right down to the brand.

Marketing research is no longer a gatekeeper to rich consumer insights as marketing, customer care, corporate communications, agency of record planners can now can tap into Twitter, forums, etc. directly. Only by listening would J&J have known they needed to pull the Motrin campaign. One of the Ogilvy Award winners, the NBA, needed listening to find the way fans’ express and share their passion. The research team must embrace listening as well as asking (i.e. surveys) to remain relevant and get to the front-end of marketing innovation.

Marketing research still struggling to be recognized as having significant impact

The ARF research transformation initiative has brought many leaders together and conducted executive interviewing in 2009 among 20 research leaders. The consensus is that the research team is often brought in too late in the process, viewed by many below the C-suite as an expense rather than an investment, and as an impediment rather than an enabler. We must prove that research creates an indispensible runway between the consumer and the boardroom that leads to making the right calls on big, future-focused issues that result in business growth.

Media companies and advertisers form CIMM

The leading media companies and advertisers came together to create the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, making a clear statement to the industry that they intend to turbo-charge innovation in media measurement. Why? They believe existing media metrics are not keeping up with the fast-paced evolution towards the multi-tasking, multi-platform, long-tail way that people consume media.

Shopper research takes center stage at understanding the effects of the recession

Numerous studies about the effect of the recession focused on changes in shopping patterns and increases in buying store brands. In other words, shopper research became as important as consumer research this year, especially on the big issue that was keeping marketers up at night. Marc Pritchard (leading marketer at P&G) has been emphasizing “store back” marketing. The ARF formed a shopper insights council to inform media planning and the new era of winning at retail. We foresee a powerful convergence of mobile and shopper marketing.

Marketers have always been more focused on brand-building than what happens at retail. Marketing research has always been more comfortable with consumer research than shopper insights. This must change.

Six big wakeup calls in 2009 are doing our profession a favor; refocusing us on what it will take to conduct trustworthy research, find unexpected feedback, provide anticipatory insights, measure media in a way that people now choose to experience it, and properly rebalance our understanding of how people choose brands by placing more emphasis on understanding the shopper.
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