In 2017, market research professionals were challenged like never before to garner deep, dynamic consumer insights capable of keeping pace with constantly changing market sentiment. It became increasingly clear this year that incremental improvements in speed and accuracy were insufficient to address the new realities of an on-demand economy. Marketing and advertising professionals execute campaigns at 10x the speed as previously done, and as such, conducting market research “the old fashioned way” is no longer viable.

There were also continued shifts in consumer behaviors last year. Today’s consumers are more adept at using technology to evaluate available products and services. They browse and shop online across multiple channels and devices — from mobile to desktop — to review, compare, and purchase. They also expect brands to deliver personally tailored content, products and services — all in real-time and on-demand. This makes the process of connecting consumers and brands along the path to purchase even more complex.

Keeping Pace with Technology

In 2017, the market reseach industry began to leverage various technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning designed to dramtically speed up the delivery of consumer insights and subsequent decision making and campaign execution. These technologies enabled brands to gather and sort big data in real-time, fully automate the delivery of insights, as well as answer questions and deliver results faster than ever before based on a complete snapshot of consumer sentiment.

AI will continue to play a key role moving forward, but for the most part, those technologies mainly reveal the “what” behind consumer behavior. Deeper insights are needed to transcend big data and get at the root of “why” a consumer acts/reacts a certain way. While emerging technologies are the future of the market research industry, technology can only take us so far.  The true benefit is providing researchers with direct access to technology to speed insights to action. Moving forward, we forecast even tighter integration between technology and people to provide real-time insights to organizations – no matter their size, or timeliness of need.

Consumer Insights Drove Winning Campaigns, Company Transformation

Throughout the year, consumer insights – or a lack of them – played a leading role in advertising and marketing industry stories that either dominated the headlines for the wrong reasons or earned rave reviews.

Dove’s Facebook ad and Pepsi’s “Live for Now Moments Anthem” were widely criticized as tone deaf campaigns that failed dramatically with consumers and forced both companies to issue apologies. In both cases, the negative reactions could have been avoided by conducting more in-depth consumer research. Conversely, Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” stood out in a positive way  by channelling authentic passion and addressing key political and societal issues during a time of increasing divisiveness. The campaign’s messaging was simple, but extremely powerful – bring polar opposites with conflicting views together for dialogue and collaboration as a way to break down barriers. In the process, Heineken demonstrated that brands can project a wider social purpose while selling their products.

Nike’s “What Will They Say About You” campaign also earned positive reviews by being both timely and emotional in ways that clearly resonated well with consumers. Prior to launching these winning campaigns, both Heineken and Nike leveraged a significant amount of research and data derived from consumer insights. In Nike’s case, the brand also consulted directly with Muslim women athletes around the world when designing its “Pro Hajib” product, which will launch in the spring of 2018.

More recently, Kraft’s #FamilyGreatly campaign was developed after conducting quick-turn survey research of both parents and children to better understand the pressures of parenting, and what it means to “family” effectively. The findings from that study were used to create a concept that all families can get behind: parents don't have to be perfect to be great. Using the survey findings as a guide, the company has created an extremely touching video featuring real parents and children, rather than professional actors. It quickly made an impact, with more than 4.5 million views on Twitter and 3+ million views on YouTube in just one week!

Brands that were forced to invest heavily in damage control in 2017 would be well served by taking a lesson from these leading brands to avoid further missteps in the New Year. 

We also witnessed a remarkable brand transformation largely driven by taking a fresh approach to market research. Nintendo’s design and launch of its Nintendo Switch console showed that a company bordering on irrelevance could essentially reinvent itself in the marketplace by listening to a new generation of consumers. Nintendo drew upon consumer insights from a new target audience of gamers, and Nintendo Switch is now the fastest selling console in the company’s history. In the process, Nintendo has re-emerged as a legitimate competitor to Sony and Microsoft.

What’s Ahead in 2018

Our forecast for 2018 and beyond is that there will be an increased need for fully integrated approaches to understanding constantly shifting consumer sentiment and taste. Additionally, there will be a marked shift in the way that professionals at companies of all sizes access insights into consumer intent. No matter who is charged with managing this process – whether it’s an in-house team or outsourced to an agency partner – real-time insights are now a “must have” for companies that need to gather information and complete research projects in hours.

Agile and innovative companies of all sizes must continue to seek new ways to obtain these dynamic insights and look beyond traditional research to obtain consumer sentiment. Brands like Amazon have raised the bar by providing customers with the items they need within hours, not weeks. Insights must be readily available at the same pace. Anything slower is old news.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, success will be defined by how effectively marketers can stay one step ahead of consumer demands and maintain a competitive advantage. The only way to achieve that edge is by having access to real-time consumer insights that accurately reflect these new realities, provide a complete picture of consumer sentiment, and are driven by cost-effective technologies that automate the delivery of those insights to speed up the decision-making process.

In the New Year, market research must become even faster, more agile and more accurate to reflect changing consumer behavior and attitudes that will be driven by increasing demand for immediate gratification and highly personalized point-to-point services. Consumer research must completely transform to face these new realities. Because if there’s anything we learned over the course of the past year, it’s that the future of market research is now.