Let’s start with first principles in insights
Prediction is as much an art as it is a science, but it all starts with extrapolation – using today as a base to know what to expect tomorrow. Given the tumultuous backdrop of a pandemic, global inflation, global warming, seismic geopolitical shifts and technological acceleration, it’s clearly not an easy task to just extrapolate!
How do these momentous events shape the global insights industry, tucked away in our ($90 billion) corner of the world?
As for first principles, organisations still need to understand people to create products and experiences that people want. That will never change. To do this, organisations must listen to people (customers, markets, and employees) to glean new insights, and then translate those insights into action that yields commercial benefit.
This is a good foundation to build off what may change in the insights industry. It tells us that despite the tumult and craziness, the underlying need to know people will keep driving companies to optimise the products and experiences they provide to their customers, as well as employees and other stakeholders. How they go about that, however, may well change because the range of options to know people is now different due to COVID and wider due to technology advances.
The impact of virtualisation
Beyond COVID there are some big shifts in the undercurrent of technology. This is evident in re-branding of Facebook to Meta, Microsoft buying Activation Blizzard, and the huge amounts being spent on R&D by global tech firms including us. The trend that is driving this is virtualisation – that is, creating virtual experiences for consumers that augment or replace reality.
This isn’t going to go nuts in 2022, but the foundations are being laid for it to happen. Remember Google Goggles…they are going to come back, but this time they are going to work! Virtualisation is exciting, but remember the layer underneath it is data and what we do with it (aka insights). Data is, in turn, generated through human and machine interfaces.
Key insights industry trends we saw in 2021
- Mass migration of qualitative research to online platforms as organisations sought to keep insights flowing in a locked-down, travel-constrained world.
- The continued insourcing of insights technology tools by organisations driven by a desire to unlock the full value in data by integrating data pools and applying data science. They also sought increased speed and agility over traditional outsourced research models in a more uncertain world.
- Human engagement at scale – this is the area we are playing in with our Conversational AI technology. For example, in creating our ground-breaking Conversational AI companion, EVE, we created the ability for organisations to engage with millions of people in human-like interactions and use analytics to learn in a way never before possible. This new technology is part of a broader movement that goes beyond surveys, to ‘human engagement at scale’.
An increasingly interdisciplinary industry
A quick moment of thought for the people working in insights. What does it take to excel in this world of data, modelling and technology-mediated human interactions at a vast scale? I’d suggest that more than ever, the traditional underlying research disciplines of psychology, marketing, data science, statistics and social anthropology remain as relevant as ever. However, what is becoming more apparent is the ability to work across disciplines.
For example, harnessing technology to engage meaningfully with people requires coding skills, analytical skills and qualitative researching skills. Bringing them all together requires a focus on project management, risk management and strategic thinking. Researchers, who were already often multi-disciplinarians, now must wear even more hats.
Of course, there will always be a place for deep expertise of all sorts, including human-to-human qualitative research. People that can bring these disciplines together and see the big picture are super important. Then there is the challenge of integration. In organisations that are using technology to support subject matter expertise, integration will be ever more paramount.
Taking things up a level to the broader technology trends, virtualisation will bring a lot of diverse fields together. Creating virtual experiences and virtual worlds requires people that understand the technology, but also understand people and the different services on offer. Whether that is designing cars, creating augmented reality headsets or biometrics – sociologists, game designers, linguists, engineers and lawyers (remember the T&Cs) are all going to start working a lot closer together.
Back to the insights industry, what are my top 3 insights industry trends for 2022?
1. Scaled AI intermediated human-to-machine interactions
The experience we create between brands and humans is a measure of the relationship – better and more meaningful conversations deliver better brand relationships. With people expressing themselves every day to Siri, Alexa and Google Home, soon they will have conversations with their other favourite brands in the same way. The normalisation of human-to-machine interactions will accelerate and expand and asking questions to learn about customers through a machine interface will grow rapidly. WHY?
The reason that organisations are heading this way is because things just keep getting faster. Why run 6 focus groups when you can engage interactively with thousands of your customers? Why wait 3 weeks for a report when you can see how themes are unfolding in real-time with easy to understand visualisations.
Between emerging trends such as VR, click and buy quantitative survey methods and Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), companies will soon know the what and why of their data at a pace never before achieved. We aren’t going to fully get there in 2022, but integration and how it supports real-time interactivity will start becoming a key area of consideration for all methodologies.
2. AI will become even more integral to all aspects of research, from data collection to analysis
Okay, maybe not for traditional focus groups, but for forward-thinking, tech-focused companies – AI will be applied across the research process. We’ll be able to pinpoint audiences in new ways based on prediction rather than basic demographics.
We’ll continue to move away from static, unchanging questions and associated data sets to dynamic questioning AI that learns based on what’s being heard and retained. At the analytics layer, data sets will continue to be merged into CDPs that allow customer experiences to be tailored in real-time through knowing the customer at the point of contact, online or offline.
This trend in turn will start to unlock thoughts on how we engage with consumers. Email surveys and SMS will continue, but expect more interest in other media – chat, video and other formats where engagement is more natural and interactive.
3. Brands enter the circle of friends
Just as we make friends with people with similar interests, we will want to “make friends” with the brands that share our values, express them, and live them. Why? Because I can have a say in new products. I can have my say and feel heard. I can align with brands that reflect my values. Consumers will also become more aware of company values because of this. This makes a traditional survey look old school.
Suddenly, the idea of the brand personality is about to get VERY real. It is going to matter a lot more than just a television commercial, when you can literally talk to your favourite brand and have an ongoing conversation with it and things that matter to you.
Moreover, you’ll want your favourite brands to know who you are to continue the conversation. Brands will need to have memories. To have memories of you, they’ll need to understand you and what you believe. They’ll also need your permission to be a friend and know these things. In other words, data, privacy and permission will only become more important.