We are all becoming increasingly aware of the need to ‘evidence’ gut feelings as pressure around decision making and justification of expenditure continues to grow. Accessing tools that can help you to understand your audience, profile fans, or identify purchasing and consumption habits, puts brands or rights holders in an extremely powerful position. The key question to determine however, is how can businesses truly access the information that is most valuable and what measures should be put in place in order to give companies the best opportunity to drive sales?

In traditional terms, market research has provided the answers to some of these questions. A recent article in the FT (Life & Arts 6/7th June) however, considers the flaws at the heart of the purported £2.5bn market research industry in light of YouGov’s failure to be able to predict the general election result. Should we therefore consider whether the fundamental methods of market research are wrong?

Is market research really the best way of determining a person’s behaviour? In theory it is a very sensible way of trying to quantify what arguably seems unquantifiable, but is it really the ‘best in class’ solution? There must be a more scientific way of determining or predicting purchasing habits or fan behaviours. Ultimately market research is reliant on asking people questions and then analysing the results to establish behavioural patterns, trends, or areas of predictability. Can we rely on a person to be able to remember, determine, predict or estimate how they might respond to a given situation in the past or predict how they might react to something in the future?

We need to understand that there are varying social, political, economic and religious factors that could all influence survey results. Typically, people want to please, and therefore may feel that they are meant to respond to a stimulus or question in a certain way and provide the answer they think is required or exaggerate responses. For example, a person might consider themselves to be a true Gooner, when in reality they haven’t been able to attend a home match for the past 2 seasons and ended up missing their FA Cup triumph in favour of attending their daughter’s swimming gala. Furthermore, a person may not be prepared to admit to the fact that they actually spend £100 per month on personal grooming products! Regardless of the reasoning behind the results, we still need to establish the likely impact and consider whether market research alone provides the answers needed to determine consumption habits and assess decision making amongst key audiences.

The good, albeit it slightly terrifying news, is that rapidly evolving technology can help provide more accurate measures of behaviour. Our incessant need for the latest technology and products is inadvertently providing quantifiable documentation of who we are and what makes us tick. We are all aware that our movements can be tracked via phones, tablets, some smart TVs and Oyster cards, but we are also not far away from our cars or perhaps even our employers being able to monitor our every move (imagine your employer knowing your sleep patterns or current stress levels!). The lines are slightly blurred between what we unknowingly allow companies to monitor and what information we think we have agreed to let them access. Rightly or wrongly, research companies, big data analysts or even your neighbour can in theory purchase personal general information, such as age, gender and location for as little as $0.0005 per person, or $0.50 per 1,000 people.

The correct and proper use and analysis of big data could allow us to populate an accurate sales funnel and truly establish whether the revenue streams we stand by (for example sponsorship, advertising, merchandise etc.) are actually generating and improving sales. In order to do this accurately, a combination of new big data mining technologies as well as the implementation of more traditional research and evaluation methods relying on the question and answer approach is needed.

Will the consumer, fan or potential customer become increasingly savvy and realise that they are the ones with all the power? Will providing desirable sought after content really be a big enough incentive to convince the sceptics to give access to their precious personal data?

With this in mind, we must question the future role of research agencies, will they simply evolve into big data and evaluation houses or is there still a place for traditional research methods, or will they simply evolve to incorporate new consumption habits? Market research agencies are adapting and looking at new quantitative and qualitative methodologies to utilise and maximise online and digital platforms. The rate at which they are evolving will obviously vary and therefore provide further discrepancies around industry consistency and best practice.

Fans or potential customers interact with brands or properties across a wide range of touch points and therefore it makes sense to conduct analytics across smartphones, tablets, social media, websites and videos in order to create targeted campaigns across key audiences. Research conducted via Google Analytics for example, is providing a vital additional layer to traditional surveying research and is often sold as a ‘bolt-on’ to companies wishing to get a better understanding of the traction achieved by a specific activation campaign. Is there really any value in knowing the number of people aware of your campaign when you could actually judge success by calculating the conversion rate of those aware to the number of people who have engaged with the campaign? Further analytics can also be carried out by determining the sentiment of a Tweet, post or comment, i.e. is the consumer being positive, neutral or negative about my brand? This is obviously important because people will naturally give their honest opinion on Twitter without the ‘hassle’ associated with filling in a questionnaire.

Research alone is unlikely to provide all of the answers, as perhaps the YouGov general election results highlighted, however if used alongside big data and social media monitoring the level of marketplace understanding arguably triples placing the power firmly back in the hands of the controller i.e. the brand or rights holder and not necessarily the consumer or fan! 

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