Technology in an evolving research landscape

Technology in an evolving research landscape

Technology is reshaping what we research and the way we research it. Take mobile, for example. The increase in response via mobile requires us to develop shorter surveys with simpler response options. It also presents an opportunity to communicate with people who were previously hard to reach: young men in the developed world and people in emerging markets where there are typically still low levels of PC penetration, but high levels of smartphone usage.

This is an exciting opportunity that is allowing a far greater degree of cross-border comparisons, encompassing many previously unreachable countries. Yet I believe we need to be careful about how we view some of these comparisons. Asian respondents, for example, have a greater tendency to select middling, less extreme answers. I also think there is an under-appreciation of different conceptions of value in different markets.

Technology is contributing towards the democratisation of research. No longer do people need to hire research professionals; nowadays, they find it cheap and easy to do themselves, and this trend has been exacerbated by the recent launch of low or no-cost research solutions by Google and Microsoft.

Yet, paradoxically, this makes it more critical that research is conducted by professionals who know how to validate answers. It is not enough to simply ask a question; you need to be able to assess how well equipped the respondent is to answer the question, and whether it is something they truly believe in. I expect the importance of this will grow as we see respondents to political surveys becoming more aware of the effect poll outcomes have on politicians and, as a result, policies; therefore, get more adept at modifying their answers accordingly.

A major trend in research is the growing appreciation of behavioural economics. Psychologists have put forward the idea that humans have two types of decision-making processes: system one is automatic and emotion-driven, while system two is deliberative and controlled. System one tends to prevail and be more powerful, yet traditional research relies on system two-thinking. In an attempt to address this, agencies are using biometrics and other technologies to gain a clearer understanding of how we react to stimuli, as opposed to how we think or react, or what we say.

The advent of big data requires researchers to connect large-scale, disparate data sources, and our industry is rising to this challenge. But the insight and answers this process produces is presenting challenging questions to marketers. It requires them to demonstrate the value of their brand-building activity in a way that was never possible or necessary before.

Crucially, marketers need to approach research in the right way. Too much research is done to sell, not to know, and I believe this often encourages agencies to give their clients the answers they want. Ultimately, this serves no one. Therefore, as technology makes research more precise, insightful and relevant, it is incumbent on those who commission the research to ensure it is used in the right way.

Zakaria Haeri Research Development Lead Dunnhumby
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