Here are ten things I think might happen in and to market research before too long. As usual, I’m chasing ideas that interest me. They aren’t supposed to be sober predictions. They are not representative of the views of my employer, they are not wholly representative of the views of ME, and some of them contradict one another. Here, in other words, be dragons. I hope you like them.
1. Respondents, RIP: With enough behavioural data and the right algorithms to analyse it, there is nothing we cannot know about people. This statement is one (extreme) conclusion of a tendency to move away from self-reported data and claimed attitudes, towards a kind of post-respondent research, in which information is crunched out of the datamass with never a question asked. What matters isn’t whether the statement is right but that powerful people are acting and investing as if it’s right. The giants of the internet – Google in particular – seem to have a near religious belief in the power of accumulated data to drive decisions.
2. Social Meteorology: What then of social media? We’re already seeing the metaphor appearing of social networks and communities as a kind of weather system of human attitudes and feeling. Studying this highly complex weather system (and mapping it, since social-local doesn’t map to geographic local) – with the ultimate aim of learning to navigate and predict it – will be a preoccupation of marketers, researchers, academics and quite possibly politicians in the 10s.
3. Dawn of the replicants: I’ve written on Research’s site about experiments creating demographic twitter bots – replicant individuals who retweet content along particular demographic, attitudinal or interest-based lines. John Griffiths calls them “furbies” for clients – the target consumer digitally manifested and personified, like a 21st century pen-portrait. And as the technology advances, the ability of replicants to predict or typify groups of people will only increase.
4. Data brokers: What about flesh-and-blood respondents (assuming they’re needed at all)? Also in Research I’ve predicted that participants – particularly in-demand or hard-to-reach ones – will have a growing awareness of the value of their data and opinions, and that the incentivisation system designed to reward them for these may be broken. Why shouldn’t they bargain – collectively or individually – for better incentives, or sign up to new kinds of panel which can act as their information brokers: a tilting of the research bargain back in the participant’s favour.
5. Business class research: For the real high rollers and super-hard-to-reach participants, incentives aren’t enough: you need to retool the whole research experience to make it as seductive and delightful as possible – a kind of first- or business-class research to set against the economy experience we usually offer. Whether this is a bespoke, beautifully designed and smooth online questionnaire or a luxurious one-on-one interview, there will be some participants who are definitely more equal than others.
6. Spontaneous surveys: The rest of us might find ourselves faced with authorless surveys. If we can be served ads based on our searches and interests, why not questions? Researchers will be thinking in terms of short, highly modular questions anyway – release those as streams of individual attitudinal questions and let Google serve them individually. Eventually it might auto-generate its own questions and let you buy “information terms” like you buy ad words.
7. Goodbye community, hello swarm: “Community” may be the hottest word in research right now but in terms of the wider web communities are a staging post – a destination-based solution to the problem of group formation. The direction of the net is towards flows of information, not destinations, and the temporary, ad hoc swarms of interest around a Twitter hashtag or Facebook group are nimbler and less demanding for participants than community membership. Future research communities will be task or goal-oriented swarms, not carefully-built MROCs
8. Peak crowd: Just as crowdsourcing is becoming wholly mainstream as a creative tool, the spectre emerges of “peak crowd” – the point at which the effort demanded by all the creative competitions, open innovation platforms, brand communities, crowdsourcing opportunities etc. out there exceeds the creative ability of those who could give a monkey’s. The result, hopefully, will be a big flushing out of limp activities and lame techniques.
9. Play Power: So the lesson is, amuse people. To get all Herd-y, bring people together and give them something interesting to do. Actually interesting. Researchers are going to be learning a lot more from game designers, who are not only good at building stuff people want to do (individually or together), they can get those people to actually pay for it.
10. Social sabotage: At the moment we’re in a happy era where in the excitement of getting our hands on social tools people actually believe they can trust what other people say using them. Information gleaned via social media is natural, authentic, the true voice of the customer, etc. How we will look back and laugh. We’re already seeing people gaming review systems – the iPhone App Store, for instance – and we’ll see a lot more social sabotage: from anti-consumer groups spreading misinformation, brands seeding social media with breadcrumb trails of false insight, refund-chasing customer complaints, and simple trolling.
I would love to hear some of YOUR curious ideas for what’s going to happen.