Yeah, I said it. Now I bet you can’t wait
to find out what on earth I could possibly mean by such a statement.
As an industry of very bright and
inquisitive people, researchers are often too committed to doing what they
know. There only seems to be a handful of people in the industry who are truly
shaking things up, apart from some super-dynamic tech start-ups who are banging
their heads against walls to get researchers to work with them to create a more
harmonious balance between tech and research method.
I don’t need to waste your time with
another blog post about how the world is changing all the time, that change is
inevitable, that smartphones are our best friends now, etc. You know all that.
You LIVE it.
However, I don’t have a problem reiterating
the fact that technology is so incredibly central to our lives and it’s already
outpacing us and our industry. We need to re-focus. This
does not mean we are going to lose our jobs to robots
, it means we need to
be smarter in how we collect, interpret and communicate data and insights.
How can we expect to accomplish intuitive
research and technological harmony if we aren’t happy and willing to adapt to
new ways of working, new technologies and methods?
Dr. Albert Einstein famously said: ‘The
definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again,
but expecting different results.”
Ultimately, research is about exploration
of people and culture as to produce a new way of thinking, a new perspective or
angle that can help brands be more relevant to their customers. Clients depend
on us for exactly this and, as our industry matures and many of our techniques
stay the same, I am sceptical of what we are bringing to the table that is
genuinely ‘new’. I personally believe we can do a lot more.
With new technologies comes unfamiliar data
sets. This can be intimidating and enough of a reason for many people not to
engage with a new method or technology. However, I can’t think of an instance
where we’ve done something experimental at Firefish where we didn’t uncover
something new. In our experience, that gem of an insight you couldn’t have
found in a traditional way is always worth the venture into the unknown.
Why do you think Tinder, the dating app,
became so popular among those looking for love? Vast amounts of choice could
lead to meeting ‘the one’, but you would have to put in the work into going
through the ‘data’ (i.e. possible partner profiles) in order for that to become
The GRIT Report from June of this year
states that one of the four most sought after training topics among researchers
is ‘Introduction to emerging technologies & methods’ (32%)
that the appetite is there, but I can’t help but notice the ‘Introduction’
part. A third of our industry has barely touched the surface and is without a
solid foundation in how to deal with emerging technologies and, dare I say,
possibly an even bigger proportion aren’t actively building their skills &
knowledge in this area.
I can empathise, to an extent, as I know it’s
not as easy as it looks. I understand that we need to be confident in the work
we deliver to clients and this can hold us back when we have 24 hours to
deliver a dazzling proposal for a 5-market global study. I also understand
that, when you’re an agency who doesn’t have your own platform, you can end up
with a patchwork of costly technologies that creates a lot of data streams.
This gets expensive and complicated, but this is not a good enough reason to
give up. This is the time for us to be brave and to experiment, to break free
of our commitment to doing only what we know.
However, what if we weren’t so committed to
doing only what we know, but worked harder to push technology along so that it
did everything we needed? The brains behind our tech counterparts in the
research business crave to be the best but they are also challenged by roadmaps
and priorities’but are their priorities the right priorities for us? This
asynchronous approach isn’t working. We need to work together.
This is a hot topic of conversation that I
frequently have with many of the leading tech companies in our industry. Robin
Hilton, Co-Founder and Director of UK-based ResearchBods, has this to say on
‘The market research industry has been one
of the latter to embrace digital and technology – and this has seen MR lose its
relevance in businesses as marketing, digital and new tech sectors have
developed their own techniques and methods to obtain consumer insights.
Many researchers are now starting to use and look at how tech can improve
their offering and provide solutions, but agencies are in a difficult place
when they receive briefs with very short timelines to respond, so understanding
how technology can best help to provide the best solution in a short time and
with limited budgets can be difficult.
The ideal solution is for tech providers
and researchers to work together much more closely, using the knowledge of each
discipline in a genuine partnership, rather than a client/supplier
relationship. This approach needs genuine trust between agencies and must
be worked at – but it also provides researchers with the knowledge and
understanding of how tech can help their clients get closer to consumers, and
in doing so, provides genuine added value for working with that agency.’
Ask yourself: why are you so committed to
something? Just because it’s easy? I can’t imagine anyone in an analysis
session giving up on finding out that ‘ray of insight’ to settle for the
easiest and most convenient answer, so why aren’t we challenging the commitment
quo to achieve a higher level of technology and research harmony?
To close, I’d like to share 5 tips on how
we approach working with technology at Firefish:
1. Invest time to build knowledge and confidence: We regularly invest
time in learning about different technologies available. We know tech isn’t
going anywhere and we also know how effective and inventive it can be when part
of our projects.
2. Ask the people what they want: We conduct ‘research on research’ at
the end of every digital qualitative project, to learn about the end-user
experience, so that we know how to be effective in our research design. For
example, we have learned that nearly every study should be mobile-first with
the option to seamlessly switch over to desktop/laptop, simply by asking people
what worked/didn’t work for them at the end of their project.
3. Have a clear point of view: We continue to develop our best practice
which gives us a clear point of view when speaking to clients and colleagues.
This is also a great way to socialise thinking and consistency within your
4. Be part of the journey: We don’t accept everything at face value
because, just like people, technology changes and evolves. We try to be part of
this process as much as possible. This includes providing feedback to suppliers
and learning about what is on their roadmap so that we can have confidence in
the technology we employ for each project
5. Be bold: We know that we can be creative with technology. A tool
sold for quantitative data collection & analysis might also be effective
for qualitative research when executed in a smart and clever way. For example,
we used online eye-tracking with a robust, quantitative sample size, but our
analysis and the way we pushed our supplier to use the tech was underpinned by
a strong qualitative approach and analysis.
Commitment is for marriage, children and
filing your taxes on time. If the objective is to make data collection,
interpretation and communication easier, simpler and faster, then let’s break
free and explore, together, how we can become a little more flexible in how we
work as a wider industry. Share your experiences and your commitment to this
cause in the comments below.
See you at TMRE.
Williams is Director of Digital at Firefish