Note: This article, written by Bloomfire CEO Mark Hammer, first appeared on the GreenBook blog under the title “4 Future of Insights Trends from IIeX North America 2020.”
IIeX North America has always been an event that looks to the future of the insights industry, but that need to look forward felt more important than ever this year. IIeX NA went virtual for the first time ever due to the ongoing pandemic, and many sessions focused on what market research leaders can do to adapt and future-proof their insights in a rapidly changing world. It was a productive and informative three-day event, and it demonstrated just how capable market research leaders are of rising to the challenges ahead.
Four major themes about the future of the insights industry stood out throughout the event.
The Culture of Research Goes Company-Wide
Research doesn’t just belong to the insights function—and that’s a good thing. Several presentations at IIeX NA 2020 discussed how cultures of research and data-driven thinking are beginning to permeate through organizations, with insights teams laying the groundwork by earning stakeholder buy-in. Mary Martha Stasinopolous, Head of Consumer Insights at Kairos, stressed the importance of creating an org-wide culture of research curiosity when she built an insights function from the ground up at Glossier, saying, “Without culture, you’re not going to get far.” Stasinopolous also advocated for researchers to be in the room with stakeholders “from day one” so that they can see how decisions are made across the business and identify opportunities to integrate research.
Heather Dallam, Global Market Research & Data Analytics Manager at ExxonMobil, also spoke about the value of bringing non-researchers into the world of consumer insights. Dallam explained that when ExxonMobil’s research budget was cut this year, the organization adopted an “all hands on deck” approach to ensure they were still able to conduct and analyze research across their markets during a tumultuous economic time. Dallam helped train a team of engineers, most of whom had never done market research before, to moderate sessions, write surveys, and communicate insights. By getting employees without a traditional market research background directly involved in research projects, ExxonMobil was able to move quickly, completing projects that would normally take months in a matter of weeks.
If there’s one challenge for market researchers that’s not likely to be resolved any time soon, it’s that humans are complex. What a customer says in a survey or interview may not be what they actually mean or feel, and it’s up to researchers to study both the rational and emotional mindsets that drive consumer behavior.
In the past several years, we’ve seen behavioral science gaining traction within insights functions, and organizations are increasingly adopting tools that help them centralize and glean insights from a wealth of behavioral data and knowledge. Katya Andresen, SVP of Card Customer Experience at Capital One, spoke about how her organization is using my company’s platform, Bloomfire, to centralize behavioral research that was previously scattered across the company. All research reports, studies, and video interviews are now in one place and can be searched by keyword, allowing Capital One’s researchers to look at big picture trends and study both the rational and emotional levers that drive their customers’ decisions. This enables their stakeholders to make informed decisions based on what their customers actually want and need.
DIY or Agile: It’s About Taking an Iterative Approach
Agile market research was a popular topic during this year’s IIeX North America, but one thing that became clear was that there isn’t a universally agreed-upon definition of “agile” in the research world. While organizations may debate over the semantics of DIY or agile research, the common refrain is that researchers need the ability to adapt quickly, conduct iterative tests, and learn as they go. Diego Hahn, Senior Manager of Analytics & Insights at Procter & Gamble, pointed out that agile approaches can mitigate risk–rather than “putting all your eggs in one or two research baskets,” you can conduct smaller, faster studies and make changes as you learn what does and doesn’t work. This approach allows organizations to keep pace with consumer wants and needs as they change and evolve. It can also help increase internal buy-in, as stakeholders can see quick wins and learn alongside the research team.
Artificial Intelligence and Human Ingenuity: Better Together
The integration of AI technology into market research was another popular topic at IIeX (which was fitting, as artificial intelligence and machine learning was one of the most frequently mentioned buzz topics in the latest GRIT report). But while researchers are seeing more opportunities to adopt AI-powered technology, they’re also realizing that AI is more powerful when paired with human ingenuity.
We saw several examples of this throughout this year’s IIeX sessions. Allison Schoer, Senior Market Research Manager at LinkedIn, discussed how her team is using natural language processing software to extract both qualitative and quantitative data from open-ended survey questions, ultimately allowing them to tell more cohesive, engaging stories to their stakeholders. Michelle McDonald, Group Senior Vice President of MetrixLab, explained how her company’s latest technology offering uses both machine learning algorithms and input from human analysts to predict ad performance. The combination of machine learning and human intelligence shows that while AI can be a powerful weapon for automating repetitive tasks, there’s still a need for nuance that can’t be programmed yet. As Alex Bowsher, Strategic Insights Opportunity Manager at Colgate-Palmolive, put it, “You have to understand your brand and leverage that understanding with the metrics that lead to success.”
This year’s IIeX NA sessions left us with a lot to digest—and because the event was virtual, we all have the opportunity to dive into recordings of sessions that we might have missed or want to rewatch. It’s clear that market research has become more critical than ever as consumer behaviors rapidly change and businesses work to meet the needs and expectations of their every-evolving customers.