Doing rapid, cost-effective, and high-quality market research across multiple countries has never been easy, but as businesses become increasingly global, gathering actionable data from all over the world has become more important. The challenging variety of languages, infrastructure, and local knowledge keep researchers busy, and the reality is that much of conventional market research is now living in the shadow of digital platforms that measure as they engage with online users (like Google, Facebook, and Amazon).  What can the market research community learn from these platform companies and how can market research use these learnings to continue to innovate in their own field?

This short article attempts to highlight three key factors that market research and insights providers can use to get out from the shadows and carve out our fair share of sun: The how, the what, and the why.

How can market research companies innovate like the big platforms and their ecosystems?

While they have been buzzwords for some time, agile and incremental systems development remain just as key for market research innovators today as they do for the latest technology start-ups.  Being agile means prioritizing shipping products collaboratively with clients, and doing so in structured loops that are responsive to emergent challenges and opportunities.  It means rapid prototyping and continuous deployment and calculated risk-taking.  Incremental development also means starting with smaller budgets, and following with multi-client subscription projects.  The “how” might not be the most obvious place to start an article like this, but without the “how” there is no way to achieve a “what” that matters.

What can market research companies do to keep up with changing technology?

Today there are thousands of devices running hundreds of versions of dozens of operating systems, and they are all coming on and offline able to collect and transmit market research information.  What are market researchers to do?  The solution is stepping backward and stepping forward at the same time.  Let me explain.

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What are the lowest common denominators still in mobile technology?  Voice and SMS.  Integrating solutions that can still reach every device are key to keeping up.  This is also key for minimizing selection biases when people can only be reached by conventional mobile methods. That’s stepping backward.

Simultaneously, market research must step forward by leveraging the new capabilities that modern communication technology brings, including the Internet, email, mobile applications, and over the top messaging (like Whatsapp), amid a myriad of nearly endless (although not all endlessly lucrative) sensor technology options.  Combining the old and the new in a credible and logical fashion so that everyone can be reached and results are comparable is key.

Why must market researchers differentiate themselves from platform companies and their ecosystems?

While platform companies like Facebook and Google have earned the wary trust of consumers through free products and services, the drawback is in individuals sharing deeply personal information and trusting these groups to be responsible with it.  There are some fissures in this implicit bargain which are starting to show, as demonstrated by the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, among other recent events.

This access to personal data is why it’s so critical that market research industry associations like ESOMAR continue to distinguish market research practices from platform practices. The market research industry, including companies like GeoPoll, abide by a set of ethics in the management of personal information. Not marketing or trying to sell services to survey respondents is critical for ongoing trust and honesty in market research.

The research we do is our How, What is the way we conduct research, and Why is to make sure we act responsibly with the personal information to which we are entrusted.  With the arrival of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May, it is not only morally critical but legally critical to make sure our ethical codes around data use remain strong and adhered to.