The Evolution of Research: Embracing Automation

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Posted May 15, 2018

Research has existed since the early 1900’s when Herman Hollerith revolutionized data collection for the US Census by introducing punch cards. Market Research as we know it today was pioneered by people like Daniel Starch or George Gallup, who developed the theory of aided recall that is still used in advertising research today.  While we are still using Gallup’s theories the evolution of the internet and technology has allowed us to gather data faster and cheaper without sacrificing quality and gaining even deeper insights about consumers.

The Digital Era, Big Data and Automation

One of the biggest challenges companies face is keeping up with rapidly changing market and consumer trends. With the widespread adoption of social media, new trends and stories that would have taken weeks to see traction can go viral in an instant.  By embracing technology researchers can keep pace with these rapidly shifting market trends, which starts by listening to your consumers. The Internet has had the biggest impact, allowing us to conduct surveys on a much larger scale in a fraction of the time.  Whereas survey research is actively asking and engaging consumers, Big Data is listening while integrating data and analyzing patterns. Big Data may be the buzzword of the decade, but it accurately reflects the massive amount of information we have at our fingertips at any given moment. Automation, on the other hand, is about leveraging technology to automate typically manual, expensive, and time-consuming tasks. Choice Based Conjoint for example, is a research methodology that typically takes weeks to implement, gather data and analyze. With the power of automation, it can now be completed in a matter of hours.  With dozens of tools and methodologies like this at our disposal, researchers can provide a much more comprehensive view of the consumer faster and cheaper without sacrificing data quality.

The Rise of Mobile Surveys

Market Research pioneer Daniel Starch, developed a theory that advertising had to be seen, read, remembered, and most importantly, acted upon, to be considered effective. His methodology would be to approach people on the street, asking them if they read certain publications, and if so, whether they could remember specific ads within them. They would then compare the number of people they interviewed with the circulation of the magazine to figure out how effective those ads were in reaching readers. Taking Daniel Starch’s theory and embracing technology we can now reach thousands of respondents all over the globe in a matter of hours. Similarly, phone surveys have evolved with the adoption of smartphones. A 2017 study by the CDC found that 50.8% of American households were completely wireless, meaning no landline. People’s relationships with their mobile phones makes it easier to connect with a wider cross-section of respondents and reach markets that were typically unreachable. As smartphone ownership increases this will continue to simplify recruiting and make it possible to field surveys more quickly and on tighter budgets. As smartphones and other mobile devices continue to evolve, new features are going to make it easier to reach consumers. In addition to streamlining participation, mobile device features are making it possible for researchers to expand their approaches to data collection. From using video to be in the moment with consumers as they make decisions, to leveraging geo-location technology to track respondent’s locations, mobile technology is enriching market research.

The Takeaway: Improving the Respondent Experience

It’s easier to reach more people in more places than ever before, but participation is only half the battle. The other half is engagement, respondents will stay engaged if they trust that you will provide them with a quality survey experience. Ensure your targeting is precise so your survey is in front of the right respondents. If you are conducting a mobile survey, make sure that survey is optimized for mobile devices. While automation and big data streamline and improve the research process it should also improve the respondent experience. Having consideration and even empathy for your respondents will increase engagement and provide the highest quality data.

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