By: Crispin Beale, Chief Executive, Insight250; Senior Strategic Advisor, mTab; Group President, Behaviorally
Like many before it, this past year has been one of ups and downs. However, as we enter the Age of Artificial Intelligence, the excitement and concerns around the capabilities of the technology have emerged and will, no doubt, continue to evolve in the coming year.
I had the opportunity to chat with insight, research, and marketing leaders from around the world to get their thoughts on the influence, impact and insecurities AI is generating and what they see ahead in 2024 for both the good and bad of the technology as it advances. The question posed to these experts was, "With the new year, 2024 is emerging as the Age of Artificial Intelligence. In your view, what are the biggest opportunities and threats with AI in the coming year?”
Urpi Torrado, CEO Datum Internacional, Peru
Whether an expert or not, integrating AI-powered tools is a must. AI tools have the potential to augment and significantly elevate our capabilities. From experimenting with robot moderators to coding open-ended responses and transcribing focus groups, the landscape is rich with options. While some tools exhibit impressive performance, others fall short. Nonetheless, AI undeniably ushers in opportunities within our profession that we cannot afford to overlook. Research projects gain agility, allowing professionals to concentrate on asking the right questions, crafting compelling narratives, and providing valuable consultation. However, inherent threats lie in ethical considerations, transparency and veracity of the data.”
Sir Martin Sorrell, Founder & Executive Chairman, S4 Capital plc, UK
AI will affect visualisation and copywriting (greater efficiency); hyper-personalisation at scale (more content); digital media planning and buying (defenestration of traditional media planning and buying); general client and agency efficiency; and democratisation of knowledge at scale (flattening of organisations and reduction of politics). There will be pluses and minuses. The first will result in a sharing of productivity gains between client and agency. The second, third, fourth and fifth will benefit agencies, particularly digital ones like S4. Some may result in people additions and subtractions. John Maynard Keynes may prove to have been right, almost a 100 years later - we may have more holidays.”
Laura Ruvalcaba, CEO, Brain Research, Mexico
Artificial Intelligence in research comes to help us greatly enhance our understanding of behaviors. As an example, it's worth mentioning how the unconscious mind handles 90% of decisions, which are often challenging to verbalize and capture. It is in this understanding that tools of this kind assist us in maximizing our knowledge. When used on your side, it is assistance, but it can be a threat to those who do not embrace this topic. We must unlearn, learn, and adopt. Welcome 2024.
Kristin Luck, Ex-Officio President, ESOMAR, Founder WiRE, Scalehouse, Growgetter, USA
Opportunities abound with AI, in particular, the opportunity to bypass much of the rote work so many of us toiled under in the early years of our careers. I am also cautiously optimistic about early experiments with AI generated synthetic data and the opportunities it presents to both speed the time to insights and improve data quality.
Threats? Although much of the AI currently used in this sector is generative, the scope of AI being experimented with is much broader. A recently released book titled “The Battle for Your Brain” describes a near future world of brain transparency in which governments and companies have a view into our brains and minds.
Should this worry you? The reality of brain tracking is closer than you may have imagined. In some countries, workers’ brain waves are already tracked to monitor fatigue, productivity levels and emotional states. When they’re used for good, these types of technologies tend to dazzle us. But think a few decades ahead. Without appropriate guardrails- the way social media ran wild for years before lawmakers started to push back – AI potentially puts our civil liberties at risk and could push future generations to greater intellectual and creative conformity.
Are we, are our respondents, entitled to cognitive liberty? I’m guessing the answer for most of us is, profoundly, YES.
Dr. Roland Abold, Managing Director, infratest dimap, Germany
What will be the role of AI in market and social research in 2024? If we ask ChatGPT, then the answer is clear: “In 2024, the opportunities for AI in market research are vast, promising unprecedented efficiency and insights”. If we ask ourselves as industry experts and experienced human researchers, then we will (hopefully) come to the conclusion, that AI based tools are a massive help in many ways but need to be used wisely and carefully. Only via hand-in-hand collaboration of AI and human intelligence, we will fulfil our most important goal as an industry, which is “understanding people”.
Nick Baker, Chief Research Officer, Savanta, UK
Bain expects up to 20% productivity increases. The MRS Delphi Group points to the ability to adapt to rapidly changing data streams, real-time analysis and prediction, so enhancing response strategies. ChatGPT itself says ‘AI is a tool that complements human expertise rather than replacing it. Human interpretation, contextual understanding, and domain knowledge remain crucial in ensuring the accuracy and reliability of market research findings. So, within a frame of complete certainty that AI will be the most transformative force in the MR industry since the arrival of the mass accessible internet, there is clear uncertainty about its impact – who will be right? The clear ‘safest bets’ right now sit in process harmonization, efficiency improvements to manual processes and the integration of AI and automation capabilities to save time and reduce costs of delivery. The exciting stuff though is in stretching the boundaries of what’s possible and using the process advantages of AI to enable far more impactful, commercially relevant and focused interpretation and use of data to drive action. This is where the most fundamental opportunities in AI exist for the research industry.
Isabelle Landreville, President and Chief Insight Seeker, Sylvestre & Co., Canada
The influx of AI is transforming market research tech, with nearly all platforms integrating it in some capacity. Yet its pitfalls are clear - overreliance can lead analysis astray. In focus groups, I still detect subtle tells - a fleeting micro expression, a pregnant pause - that signal the need to probe deeper, to explore the questions AI isn't asking. Machines remain limited in empathy and the ability to enter a conversation without hypotheses, making human creativity and oversight crucial. While AI excels at finding patterns in data, experienced researchers ask the right questions in the first place. We contextualize results rather than taking them at interface value. So, I welcome how AI can augment my team, not replace us - freeing us from repetitive tasks to focus on the unstructured art of discovery, where our expertise and intuition uncover richer, human-centered insights untouched by even the most advanced algorithms.
Seyi Adeoye, CEO, Pierrine Consulting, Nigeria
AI brings three words to mind: Scale, blended intelligence and blind spots! The age of artificial intelligence is truly upon us with capabilities to drive ‘never-seen-before’ intelligence at scale and momentum not possible before now. Everything is on the table as the transformative power of AI straddles all areas of the insight industry, while redefining the required set of skills to excel going forward. However, it’s not a ‘silver bullet’ scenario as AI systems may reach conclusions that appear logical but bereaved of contextual understanding, thus leading to ‘blind spots’, or at times outright ‘hallucinated’ outputs. The future is one of ‘blended intelligence’, where AI’s superpowers are blended with human intelligence, and still at scale!"
Jane Frost CBE, CEO Market Research Society (MRS), UK
I think I can do no better than to direct everyone to the latest ( free ) report from MRS thinktank, the Delphi Group, which introduces the BEST framework; https://www.mrs.org.uk/campaign/id/genai?MKTG=GENAI. This addresses the current hype vs reality issue we face when dealing with the claims for AI. As a sector, we have been introducing machine learning systems for a while now, so much of what is dangled in front of us is a development of the direction in which the sector is heading already rather than something completely new. We must not be panicked into deifying AI as we risked doing with “ big data “some years ago – there was nothing inherently good in being “big”, what we really needed to do was shape data to be “smart”. We need to shape the promise of AI to our needs rather than let it shape us, and design in safeguards to accuracy and privacy. This means designing for transparency and verification. AI also demands we improve briefing and develop dialogue between client and agency that allows for intelligent debate on the brief- after all the potential of AI is matched by its potential to go wrong, and the briefing process is one guard against that.
Mark Langsfeld, CEO, mTab
While there is much focus on the downside of AI, and perhaps rightfully so, the opportunities to build speed and efficiency by doing the ‘heavy lifting’ within constructing unbiased surveys, analyzing complex data, and extracting the ‘gems’ within research are tremendous. As we integrate these types of capabilities into our insight solutions allowing researchers, analysts and insight professionals to focus on compiling the stories that drive innovation and creativity across products, content, campaigns, and strategies to deliver more precise alignment with the consumer.
Diego Casaravilla, Managing Partner, Fine, Argentina
Will 2024 see us ascending to the heights of being AI-empowered 'SuperMarketResearchers,' or finding ourselves victims of job-stealing AI analysts armed with synthetic avatars? All I know is Chat GPT made its leap when 'transformer' technology enabled the precise weighting of each word in context— in human terms, it started paying attention. Paradoxically, this is exactly what insight professionals need to do. In 2024, staying tuned means discerning breakthrough signals amidst the invasive noise. So my wish for you in 2024 is that you can sharpen your research listening capabilities....then write your prompts.
Victoria Usher, CEO GingerMay, UK
The benefits of AI will lie in many areas including its ability to take on the heavy lifting of repetitive human tasks. However, these tools are no replacement for the expertise of specialists: human thinkers are vital to progress, and AI is not (currently) at a point where it can provide the same creativity and critical thinking required for success in our industry. While there are a plethora of potential issues with the technology, I am concerned about the impact on those entering the workforce. With many of the more routine tasks optimised via AI, those at the start of their career will have fewer chances to hone their skills and learn through experience. Avoiding this potential talent drought needs to be a focus of all industry leaders in the coming years.
Jean-Marc Leger, CEO of Leger, Canada
AI is an exceptional opportunity to refine our insights and increase the performance of the market research firms. But the biggest threat comes from our employees. Some will be reluctant to use these new tools and others will use them without limits and without respect for ethical rules. Artificial Intelligence will not replace researchers, but a researcher who does not use AI will be replaced by a researcher who uses it...intelligently.
Priscilla McKinney, CEO, Little Bird Marketing, USA
The biggest opportunity AI poses is twofold. Firstly, it is a time saver. I get the actual concerns about safety and privacy and we'll handle those - this industry has very smart people. But the luddite downplaying of what this means for our everyday bandwidth restoration is monumental, in my humble opinion. They were worried what we were going to do with all of those telegraph operators when the telephone came on the scene. No one is talking about that today! The second opportunity comes from the first and that is "What are we going to do with all the time?" Will we fill it with more work that is the same as how we have always operated? Will we simply produce more? In 2024 I hope we see people take a pause and ask how we could create something new. The opportunity for collaboration is so great, unlike we have seen probably in any of our lifetimes. I feel so strongly I wrote the book on it, Collaboration is the New Competition. I urge you to consider changing your mindset about work. This is an opportunity for fundamental change we may never get again.”
Jonathan Williams… ONE Virtual Strategy Studio, UK
There will undoubtedly be lots of potential threats / opportunities, but I wanted to focus on just one. Generative AI is fantastic at creating content, and people and businesses love creating content... productivity is easier than impact. The key threat to the insights industry is AI being used mostly to enhance existing processes and generate a tsunami of content that overwhelms decision makers. The real opportunity is to use generative AI to reinvent how insights is done,cut through the noise and get to the heart of the brand growth challenges decision makers face.
Mariela Mociulsky, CEO, Trendsity, Argentina
Commencing 2024, the Era of Artificial Intelligence unveils crucial opportunities and challenges for the Insights industry. The key lies in harnessing AI's capacity to unearth valuable consumer insights, propelling data-driven strategies. However, the threat of excessive reliance emphasizes the need for cautious ethics to prevent undesirable biases. For instance, a confirmation bias may arise when interpreting data to support existing preconceptions rather than objectively exploring new perspectives. Striking a balance is paramount for innovation. We must leverage AI to enhance Insights, managing risks through robust ethical frameworks. As pioneers in the field, we are at the forefront of shaping a future where AI amplifies, rather than replaces, human intuition in the pursuit of actionable knowledge.
Alex Hunt, CEO, Behaviorally, USA
The opportunity AI presents the insights sector today is similar in scope to the opportunity the advent of Internet research presented in the early 2000s: with an appropriate amount of innovation and ambition AI can be a tool that unlocks greater value from both new and existing datasets, curating and generating better insights at a scale, speed and cost relevant for the age of digital commerce. But therein lies many of the same threats evident at the dawn of Internet research which itself took a full decade to mature: the double bind of an insights sector where experimentation is too often inhibited by a fear of being wrong, the temptation to build new solutions on datasets that fail to accurately reflect human behavior.
Amy Lee, Global Vice President, Brand Growth Intelligence, Estee Lauder Companies, China
For 2024, I think AI can help to enhance data collection, improve analysis capabilities, and gain more actionable insights. Specifically:
- AI-driven automation can help to streamline data collection, analysis, and reporting, allowing us to focus on deriving insights and drive business impact.
- AI can help us to analyze enormous data sets with speed and precision which enable us to uncover meaningful patterns that were impossible in the past. This deeper understanding of consumer behavior can enable more data-driven and consumer centric decisions.
- AI can facilitate forecasting future trends and consumer behavior.
- AI-enabled technologies/ tools like facial recognition/ eye-tracking etc. can help to gain deeper insights into consumer behavior, preferences and emotional responses.
While AI can potentially be powerful, we need to consider possible ethical concerns, e.g. data privacy. We also need to use AI responsibly and adhere to ethical and legal guidelines. We also need to be careful about confidentiality issues.
Charlie Butler, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Bounce Insights, Ireland
Generative AI can save our industry, if we learn from our past. Previous technology solutions have ignored the human element of research, which has led to slower adoption and delayed benefits for researchers. If we can successfully cross the aisle, and combine the best of people and technology, incredible things will happen. Stakeholders must come together to collaborate and embrace the Artificial Intelligence Age if we are to keep up with the speed, efficiency and effectiveness this technology has already proven that it can deliver for companies. This expectation from buyers must be met by the new reality set by those researchers who choose to embrace change, iterate quickly and disrupt the old way of doing things.
Tony Costella, Director Global CMI, Heineken International B.V., The Netherlands
There are clear threats in terms of Quality, Privacy and Bias of AI – which is why proper regulation will be critical. The larger threat to the industry is the snake-oil salesmen ignoring these issues and stealing business and undermining the potential of AI with silver-bullet solutions. But the opportunities are there to build integrated systems, together with real consumer data feedback loops (and leveraging specific databases and knowledge) that will out-perform pure AI and provide sustainable competitive advantage. Additionally from a client perspective, when these solutions are honed, the winners will be those who can identify and frame the opportunities best, so more effort will move upstream into truly understanding and articulating consumer needs. Exciting times ahead for all!
Sinead Jefferies, Market Research Society (MRS) Chair, SVP, Zappi, UK
People’s willingness to engage, learn and experiment with AI tools is both the biggest threat and opportunity within the insight world. There is a minority within the sector who are truly working with the technology to fully understand its application first-hand. Everyone else is observing from the outside in, absorbing what they see and hear from others, whether that is over-hyped potential or doom-ridden fear. Those that engage first-hand with new technology can fully understand and apply it. Those that don’t risk being left behind in their echo chambers and hindering our collective progress as an industry.
Ben Page, CEO, IPSOS, France
At present the opportunities outweigh the threats. Faster translations, better transcription, faster draft reports and presentations - more time to think!
Alexander Edwards, President, Strategic Vision, USA
AI has already created more opportunities for success while simultaneously making other jobs irrelevant; most humans haven’t fully realized this yet. However, the idea of AI being “intelligent” is exaggerated. Instead, AI follows rules humans organized to review data at increased speeds, complexities and scale. Some AI opportunities we have implemented for 2024 are in:
- Healthcare - Improving research, diagnostics, and assigning personalized treatment plans, leading to improved outcomes.
- Enhanced Customer Experience - Focusing on one-on-one customer engagement at scale personalized summary of consumer reviews that are relevant to the individual and lead to loyalty, advocacy and conquest.
Unfortunately, AI and the rules humans utilize also introduce problems such as:
- Bias and Fairness - Addressing bias in AI algorithms is a significant challenge as they often include the bias of the rule makers.
- Ethical problems - in critical areas such as criminal justice, finance, and healthcare (where a major insurance company was caught using AI to deny claims), ensuring transparency and accountability is essential.
These simple insights were written by Alexander Edwards and his faithful AI companion.
Ryan Barry, President, Zappi, USA
Artificial intelligence will change our industry for the better, and its timing is a massive opportunity. Consumer privacy restrictions are getting stricter, which means first-party attitudinal data is cool again. When applied to a high-quality data set, AI will let us better leverage what we already know to make smarter decisions. It will change the types of data we collect, how we store it and ultimately help us read the room rather than survey it. I suspect corporate safety and IP concerns will threaten universal adoption, but the brands that achieve this balance first will have a massive strategic advantage.
Henning Hansen, Chairman, Norstat Group, Chairman, Defendable AS, Norway
In 2024, I anticipate that the AI landscape in market research will present significant opportunities rather than threats. AI-driven data visualization, automated report generation, and dynamic surveys can enhance insights. Beyond the near future, transformative shifts include exploration with synthetic quant and qual research, aiming to revolutionize predictive capabilities and qualitative exploration. Nevertheless, concerns about data quality, ensuring the reliability of AI-generated insights, and the risk of job displacement pose challenges. It falls upon us in the industry to adeptly navigate this evolving AI landscape, transforming potential risks into opportunities and ensuring the continued delivery of trustworthy data and insights. A special thank you to all the leaders and innovators from around the world who have shared their views with me for this piece - it has been fascinating hearing your perspectives.
Thank you and here’s to a successful 2024 everyone.
- Crispin Beale
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Crispin Beale is a marketing, data, and customer experience expert. Crispin spent over a decade on the Executive Management Board of Chime Communications as CEO of leading brands such as Opinion Leader, Brand Democracy, Facts International, and Watermelon. Before this, Crispin held senior marketing and insight roles at BT, Royal Mail Group, and Dixons. Crispin originally qualified as a chartered accountant and moved into management consultancy with Coopers & Lybrand (PwC). Crispin has been a Fellow, Board Director (and Chairman) of the MRS for nearly 20 years and UK ESOMAR Representative for over 10 years. Crispin is currently a Senior Strategic Advisor at mTab as well as Group President at Behaviorally.