Like virtually all aspects of modern life, the market research industry has undergone an explosive change in our COVID-19 pandemic era. While most of the principles of market research remain intact, brands worldwide have had to refine and modify their research methods as part of this “new reality.”
Generally speaking, market research starts with a “wide-angle” look at the spheres of influence upon a market (including new and changing customer behaviors, emerging industry trends, etc.), then zooms in on specific nuances within a target audience.
The data collection and analysis gained from in-depth market research offer brands “a clear and detailed understanding of what your customers want, what they already like, where they conduct their own research, and much more.” Understanding the broader context of a market enables companies to:
- Gain insights into how customers use their products or services
- Differentiate their offerings from competitors
- Lay the groundwork for successful product upgrades or launches
- Identify new opportunities for growth
These insights gained can set the tone and messaging for a brand’s marketing efforts both now and in the year to come.
Here’s a look at key trends in the market research industry today and what lies ahead on the horizon for 2022.
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Trend #1: Agility and Technology
Despite the changes wrought by the pandemic and other global forces, one factor remains constant: the continual evolution of technology underpinning advanced market research.
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, for example, enable researchers to gather information from an increasingly wide range of distinct sources. These advances also contribute to a new emphasis on agile research and speed of insight. Various elements include:
Automation of routine research practices. Automating the more routine facets of research facilitates a speedier analysis and interpretation of findings. This helps researchers save considerable time and effort while winnowing down to what’s truly essential in their work.
Shorter and smarter polls and surveys. Employing surveys that can be positioned and distributed quickly (and which take respondents only a short time to fill out) are a further boon to the speed of analysis and insight. This approach involves identifying a “mobile-reliant” population that will actively engage in a poll or survey upon request, and within a brief period of time.
Ongoing research. Agile research equals ongoing research. In a global marketplace that’s continuously in flux, the insights garnered from one survey can dramatically change by the time a new survey is undertaken. In the same respect, researchers can expand on findings garnered from one survey to craft a new, more specialized survey that focuses on changing factors in the marketplace.
As we have stated before, “when you know your offerings suit current and emerging customer needs, your business will develop a reputation for being wholly customer-centric that your competitors can’t match.”
Trend #2: AI, Machine Learning, and Emotion
If 2021 is any guide, we can expect the avalanche of raw data to keep increasing in the year to come. The vast array of sources promises to generate more information than researchers can ever hope to compile and analyze on their own. That’s why AI and machine learning are invaluable for research purposes.
Emotion AI, for example, seeks to “decode” human emotion by analyzing voice patterns, eye movements, facial expressions, and a range of non-verbal cues—all designed to generate data that enhances a brand’s capacity for linking emotion to consumer behavioral patterns. By evaluating consumer responses to a proposed upgrade or new product launch, emotion AI can more precisely “read” human feelings and gauge the success or failure of a new venture.
As MIT Sloan notes, “New artificial intelligence technologies are learning and recognizing human emotions, and using that knowledge to improve everything from marketing campaigns to health care.”
Trend #3: Social Listening
Interacting directly with customers often yields the most pertinent data for marketing trends. But engaging in social listening can be an equally effective research method.
Social listening involves analyzing social media conversations and trends related to your brand to your industry. This extends beyond monitoring basic metrics such as “likes” or “mentions” or “followers,” with a focus instead on the buyer’s mood behind the data.
Customers frequently express their sentiments about products and services on popular social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Market researchers can look at this as real-time feedback about customer preferences, brand awareness, the inroads made by competitors, etc.
In this respect, social listening offers a beneficial way of gauging customer sentiment (what they like and don’t like about the purchasing experience, preferences regarding how a purchase is made, and so on).
For effective social listening, research methodology can include the following actions:
- Search on the most popular social platforms for branded keywords, phrases, or product names.
- Explore customer review sections on platforms.
- Learn about customer sentiments regarding competitors.
- Anticipate potential new trends using Google Trends or other social media listening tools.
- Identify relevant or industry-specific social media influencers.
Social listening should be “a critical component of any company’s marketing strategy, as it allows you to react and respond to customer sentiment — and gather data to make improvements in the way your business runs,” notes Reputation.com. In essence, social listening is like “your very own perpetual focus group, rich with constantly updated and actionable business intelligence.”
Trend #4: Longitudinal Studies
There has been a steady increase in longitudinal studies for long-range market research, and the trend will continue in 2022. This approach works most effectively when a brand wishes to continuously monitor a fixed sample of its target audience over a pre-determined timeframe.
Longitudinal studies, also known as continuous research, tracks consumer and market attitude trends over extended periods. To do so, researchers gather information from the same sources through a long-term methodology that yields insights into buying habits or consumer response to a new product or service launch.
Trend #5: DIY
Another emerging trend is the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to market research. The proliferation of agile or smart research tools enables in-house teams to conduct surveys and other research activities, often using a centralized online platform. Types of DIY market research include:
- Interviews with existing and potential customers through surveys, questionnaires, or focus groups
- Segmentation of the target audience into clearly defined groups (demographic, behavioral, psychographic, and geographic)
- Product testing, in many cases, before a brand reaches the initial production stage
- Measuring satisfaction with loyal customers
DIY research should aim for gaining “insights into how happy your customers are and any specific areas they like or dislike.” This enables brands to:
- Identify any areas of current (or potential) concern.
- Drill down to core issues by identifying (and then interacting with) dissatisfied customers.
- Determine what’s needed to improve customer attitudes and experiences.
One caveat worth mentioning regarding DIY marketing. As Forbes notes, “if you go to a third party [for market research], you’re going to likely get a different perspective than what you would get from your own team. There’s also a greater chance that the perspective you receive is an unbiased one, which is healthy” and potentially more insightful about what a target audience truly cares about.”
Trend #6: Aligning Brand Mission and Values with Customers
In 2022 and beyond, market research will continue to explore the value of aligning a company’s mission statement and the values of its customer base.
Gone are the days when a brand could tell consumers what it stands for and leave it at that. Today’s savvy customers do their research to determine if a brand “walks the walk,” particularly concerning those values consumers hold dear—be it the environment and sustainability, income inequality, racial harmony, and so on.
Consumers who prefer brands aligned with their values often become very loyal once they identify that brand. However, if and when customers detect a lack of consistency between what’s expressed in a mission statement and what actions a brand takes, they may abandon that company and seek out more compatible businesses to support.
In 2022, brands are encouraged to take a fresh look at their mission and values and how these are communicated to a target audience. Monitoring social media conversations around these values can illuminate the process of refining a company’s mission statement. It’s also an excellent opportunity to look into making a fresh commitment to support the causes and initiatives that a brand’s audience considers most valuable in their own lives.
Market research trends come and go, but the end result remains consistent from the past to the future. The primary objectives are always:
- Improving products or services
- Generating more sales
- Delivering expected results
- Enhancing customer service
- Boosting customer retention
Market research supports the need for brands to maintain agility in an ever-shifting marketplace. Customer needs never remain static. If a brand meets current needs—and, better yet, anticipates future customer needs—its place in the global market will be stronger and more durable than that of its competitors.