From the overwhelming abundance of online information, to social media tracking and the new trend of monitoring consumer behaviour using Google Glass, the face of market research has changed dramatically. Here’s what it means for exporters.
According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index forecast, about 966 exabytes* of information will be consumed on the Internet during 2015—nearly a thousand-fold increase from what was consumed annually a decade ago, but only one-quarter of what will be consumed by 2019.
Yet despite the growing proliferation of readily accessible information, Canadian companies participating in Export Development Canada’s (EDC’s) Online Research Panel continue to list a lack of knowledge as one of their major challenges to finding new exporting opportunities, foreign markets and customers.
Kara Mitchelmore, CEO of Canada’s Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA), is not surprised. “The last decade has seen many new trends in marketing research with increased panel surveys, Google Glass biometrics, and searchable online data,” she says. “But the biggest trend is that along with the wealth of information, organizations have an increasing need for analysis and insight.”
Mitchelmore says that for companies of all sizes, quality research is critical for a number of reasons. “The most obvious is to optimize the return on investment. With so much riding on the research, executives need to feel confident about the accuracy of the data, how best to apply it to business decisions, and even if they are asking the right questions.”
The ability to justify business decisions can also smooth the way for businesses to secure investors, grants, financing and even overseas distribution chains.
How to conduct research is changing too
With the rapid pace of change in the world in general, and technology in particular, market research can’t afford to stand still. Traditional research methods, still highly useful for certain types of information gathering, typically involve a survey or focus group of a small, often random sample and can take weeks or even months to analyze and provide usable insight.
On the other hand, with evolving research methods using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, feedback is an immediate and ongoing conversation with a much larger population of people. Social media also provides enhanced ways to discover the opinions of niche markets by conducting research on niche websites, or by building a site or social media platform to attract these target markets and start a discussion. Social media can also quickly test how people respond to one ad or message as compared to another.
How to choose a research partner
With so much to consider, companies are increasingly looking for professional guidance. “Smaller companies that don’t have marketing research resources in-house are especially looking for that one-stop, turnkey solution,” says Mitchelmore. “Larger companies are looking for ways to contract out parts of the process, or tap into specialized skills they don’t have on staff. They’re also looking for professional development and ways to keep their staff abreast of all the new developments.”
That’s why choosing a market researcher through an association such as MRIA can have its advantages, especially for smaller companies or those that don’t have a lot of experience in the process.
This is increasingly important for Canadian exporters. “With more companies working overseas, we’re cognizant that our standards need to be globally acceptable. We’re rewriting our standards for release this fall, to be aligned with standards set by ESOMAR (the European Society for Opinion and Market Research). This gives the Canadian exporter assurance of standards whether they’re conducting research in Nova Scotia or Istanbul.” (ESOMAR is the benchmark organization for encouraging, advancing and elevating market research worldwide. It has nearly 5,000 members in 130 countries.)
“Research is what you’re basing your entire business strategy on,” Mitchelmore sums up. “If you’re planning to make good business decisions that are going to have a positive impact, make sure your research is solid.”