This is the last Blackbeard Blog entry for a little while, because I go on paternity leave tomorrow and will be hip-deep in nappies from offspring #1 and #2. So here’s something a little more whimsical than usual…
A Research Fable
It’s May 1989, and you’re sitting at your desk in a research agency, filling in the labels on an overhead projector chart and thinking about the future. You’re enjoying your work, but is it really a long-term career? You’re young! There’s still time to change – do you really want to be doing market research in 20 years time?
Just as these thoughts bubble up in your brain, there’s a popping sound, and through the space-time continuum drops a letter from the future. “FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE YEAR 2009”, it says.
- The world’s number one brand makes its money largely from the intelligent use of consumer data.
- Hundreds of millions of people share their likes, dislikes and opinions, every day, linked to demographic data, and no incentives needed.
- You can find out what consumers think about any subject you can imagine, without leaving your desk.
- Marketers are buzzing about the idea of their customers having conversations with one another about their brand.
- You can bring people from Oslo, Ohio, Osaka and Ouagadougou together in conversation, virtually for free.
“But this is fantastic!” you cry, “Surely for market researchers this is the best of all possible worlds! My goodness I’m glad I made such a sensible career choice: riches here we come.”
But then there’s another popping sound, and a second letter drops into your lap. “FIVE MORE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE YEAR 2009”. Nervously, you open it.
- More consumer data is going to be produced this year than in the rest of history put together – but only an infinitesimal fraction by market researchers.
- Anyone who wants can put together their own surveys for free – and get respondents answering.
- It will become generally accepted that most people can’t report their own behaviour or motives accurately.
- If someone wants to talk to a brand, they’ll talk to a brand – and the brand will be desperate to listen, with no researcher required.
- Response rates will be lower than ever, and the hot topic for researchers will be a perceived crisis in engagement and data quality.
“Whaaat?” you howl, “But this is catastrophic – it sounds as if research will be completely undermined! What a disaster! I wish I’d gone into something more solid, like journalism or the music industry.”
You hold the two letters in your hand. “Some help you are, The Future!” you curse, “Now I’ve got to decide which of you to trust. After all, you can’t BOTH be true.”
But they were.