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Market research and the restrictions of real-time customer insight

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22nd Jul 2015
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Keeping ahead in today’s increasingly competitive market is all about getting close to the customer, understanding their needs – and then exceeding their expectations, time and again. The business that truly understands its customers is on the first step to a winning formula.

With the emergence of new market research technologies and techniques, it is now possible to access real-time data across multiple markets on any device. This is gold dust to any company wanting to get to know their customer base better and target them accordingly. The right research techniques can turn a news scandal to a business’ advantage or lead to the development of new product offerings based on consumers’ perceptions.

But the range of market research tools and techniques – both traditional and contemporary – can be overwhelming for any business, and it’s all too easy to become swamped in data without benefiting from its value. The trick is to pick and choose the research techniques that will add real value to the business, filling information gaps and combining short and long-term research to gain a better understanding of customer needs.

So what trends and techniques can businesses bring together to gain a complete understanding of the consumer in both the long and short term?

According to the latest GreenBook Research Industry Trends Report the top three most commonly used research techniques are currently mobile surveys, online communities, and social media analytics:    

· Mobile surveys tap into the trend of always-connected consumers using mobile devices for everyday activities. They enable businesses to reach on-the-move audiences at the very moment they are using the product or service. Mobile surveys benefit from high response rates, increased consumer engagement, and real-time feedback that can be used for continuous improvement.

· Online communities are specifically targeted groups of consumers recruited into a private online environment to take part in market research-related activities. Online communities allow insights to be generated at relatively little cost and give businesses instant access to consumer opinion without the need to source a sample from scratch.

·  Social media analytics enables the mining of social media platforms, blogs, forums, and news sites to discover consumer sentiment and opinion, allowing businesses to stay ahead of the game in uncovering particular trends and concerns. Social media analytics can effectively be used to supplement other techniques.

These are just a few of the more common methods available, but there are countless other niche tactics that may suit individual businesses. Whatever techniques businesses use to gather consumer insight, they need to balance instant real-time quantitative research with longer-term qualitative analysis to get the most from market research.

Real-time restrictions 

The demand for real-time research has grown in today’s instant gratification society, and the development of DIY research tools has accelerated in response. DIY surveys enable the timeline for insights to be compressed from several weeks into a few hours, allowing businesses to gain a swift answer to a specific question, often in response to real world events or developments. 

By finding out what their customers think, businesses can react quickly and efficiently to maximise marketing opportunities or limit potential damage to their brand. Real-time research is usually quantitative in nature – giving consumers a limited choice of responses that can be quickly analysed to produce insight in number form.   

While real-time quantitative research enables businesses to find out quickly and simply what their customers are thinking, it doesn’t provide reasons for their answers. To understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, businesses need to combine real-time techniques with longer-term qualitative research to provide a more in-depth understanding of customer views, motivations and desires. This type of research includes discussion groups and forums, interviews and workshops – focusing on words rather than numbers – to help businesses really understand the reasons behind their customers’ opinions. Qualitative research is particularly vital in product development to realise the needs the product must fulfill and any barriers it needs to overcome.    

Take a brand that manufactures meat products as an example: in addition to on-going market research to drive continuous improvement in its products, the brand uses research to respond to world events. Immediately following the European horsemeat scandal they used instant DIY survey technology to assess the issue and find out what their customers were thinking. This data was then used as a base for an immediate media response. Once the initial crisis had passed, the brand used more in-depth qualitative research to understand the long-term impact on its business and gain a better understanding of how this episode had affected consumer opinion – allowing it to plan for the future.

Consumer insight is incredibly valuable to modern businesses – allowing them to respond to their customers’ needs and stay ahead of the competition. By choosing the market research techniques that really add value and fill in the information gaps, and by combining real-time and long-term research to discover the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, businesses can reap the rewards of consumer insight and get closer to their customers. 

Frederic-Charles Petit is CEO of market research company, Toluna Group

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