The market research industry is in a bona fide golden age. Between 2020 and 2023, global turnover is forecasted to increase by 33% to over $100 billion, and innovation is at an all-time high. More businesses are relying on data than ever before for their day-to-day decision-making. This data is also more sophisticated than ever, with new technologies making research and insights data easier to gather and integrate as well as analyse and visualise. As these capabilities get more sophisticated, the expectations of these insights are evolving as well.

There’s growing demand for market research agencies (MRA)to generate more nuanced and holistic insights that reflect the human experience of their customers’ audiences. In this shift, advancing strategy will make the difference in standing out amidst the industry boom we’re currently experiencing. Consider these five steps to ensure success in 2023 and beyond: 

1. Inject emotion

In recent years, we have witnessed a growing value of the ability to measure emotion as an influence in the decisions of audiences. Researchers who are able to incorporate emotion and behavioural science into their work can better position themselves as premium insight consultants. 

The good news is, as decentralised engagement has become integral to our day-to-day lives, the time is ripe to expand qualitative research methodologies. Digital focus groups give MRAs the opportunity to perceive and capture moments in a holistic way –from the ability to record and watch back, to enabling feedback from a digital backroom, to simply being able to see everyone’s faces at the same time. Details that might have previously gone unnoticed or overlooked can be examined and considered more closely.

Carrying this thinking through to reporting, dynamic and easy-to-understand visuals, by definition, inject emotion into the way data is consumed. The ability to tell impactful stories with data can be a key tool for MRAs to delight their clients and stand out in the crowd. 

2. Incorporate behavioural data

Observational behavioural data can be a great way to supplement traditional qualitative research methods. Let’s face it: People don’t always complete surveys. Even when they do, or when they participate in live conversations like focus groups, participantsmay not recall experiences accurately; and various biases may influence their answers. Observing and collecting observational behavioural data offers a path through roadblocks and creates a more holistic view of what might be shaping a participant’s unique point of view.

For example, customer relationship management (CRM) systems can provide valuable insight and ‘event’ data such as purchases, website visits or contact centre interactions. In-store or in-home video can reveal the differences between what people say they do when questioned and what they actually do when observed. Social, search and reviews data can help signpost attitudes. And digital experience tools can provide a further layer of behavioural data through insights on website or app usage, clickstream analytics, or passive device activity.

3. Use the power of data democratisation 

A focus on customer experience (CX) means that decision makers across industries want to embed the customer perspective into their decisions. By enabling them to self-serve basic data requests, MRAs can focus on higher value work while proving the value of their partnership to clients.

Enabling their client base to seamlessly access CX data allows MRAs to offer tangible additional benefit to clients. Furthermore, enabling them to present this CX data with modern online reporting tools allows their customers to go beyond static PowerPoint presentation and truly tell a story with their data. The net result is an enriched partnership that fosters greater trust, transparency, and delight with clients.

4. Develop your human experience capabilities

The market for human experience (HX) management is expected to grow from $10 billion in 2020 to $27 billion by 2026, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 18%.

There are four main sub-categories that comprise HX – CX, employee experience (EX), user experience (UX), and local experience (LX) – all of which share many common attributes, but also have distinct features.

CX is something many research agencies already offer through customer satisfaction surveys. However, deeper opportunities in CX include consulting on program design, platform selection and implementation; providing on-going analysis and interpretation; and managing ad hoc research studies to dig deeper into specific touchpoint issues or experience bottlenecks.

EX programs are a natural extension to CX for MRAs. With EX programs, they can manage employee communities or panels, frontline innovation or crowdsourcing projects, and workshops to help embed the Voice of the Customer (VoC) with frontline staff.

UX has many features in common with qualitative research: small samples, open-ended enquiry, and the use of observation together with feedback. Because of this, qualitative researchers are increasingly working across UX teams on projects to explore needs and context-of-use; understand user journeys; and gather usability feedback.

Finally, LX is emerging as a critical fourth arm of HX. Today, given how dependent consumers are on search tools to find information about nearby businesses, LX – or customer experience at the local level – begins before they even walk in the door. It starts with online reviews, local listings, and local search pages.

Developing an overarching strategy for each of the sub-categories within HX is necessary for market research agencies to better provide research services and expert consultancy in the future. 

5. Tell stories that inspire action

Businesses today have one overarching objective: to understand people and use that understanding to inspire action. To this end, MRAs have the opportunity to deliver findings with a compelling narrative. A combination of storytelling, data visualisation, and high impact reporting are all essential components of this endeavour.

There are many ways to tell powerful stories with research data. Blend qualitative and quantitative data using human insights and anecdotes to support survey data analysis. Use video clips and showreels to engage an audience to land on insights. Or distil complex information into a digestible format using creative data visualisation. 

One thing is for certain: Strategy that best utilises the technology and techniques to meet emerging customer need for holistic human understanding will equip savvy MRAs to emerge victorious in this golden era.

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