It’s Friday, an often slow day to start, and like many other people here in southeastern Michigan where I live I’m holed up at home with a backpack full of work I brought home last night in anticipation of the crippling snow storm that was widely predicted but never came. Catching up on my reading seemed like a good place to start and I was especially intrigued by the current issue or Research World. The issue is titled, “Irrevocable Change: The digital revolution is transforming the market place.” That title is a little hyped up for what follows because the issue itself is mostly a welcome relief from the apocalyptic pronouncements that have become the standard fare of any discussion of how MR should confront the economic, social and cultural changes flowing from global digitalization. In his editorial Simon Chadwick sounds downright confident when he writes, “We have the talent, ability, methodologies and technologies to be able to manage the data deluge, and to provide the frameworks with which to analyze it and derive the insights which it is capable of providing.” The articles in the issue taken as a whole seem mostly to argue for accommodation, augmentation and creative evolution rather than replacement, destruction and revolution. We are indeed at an inflection point, as Simon describes, but that doesn’t mean we can no longer deliver value. It only means that we have to be smart and thoughtful about how the frameworks we choose genuinely help clients makes sense of the data deluge, because that, after all, is the point of it all.
As luck would have it, I subsequently came across this piece In Research by Tom Ewing that seems relevant to the process by which we choose those “frameworks” that Simon mentions. Tom points out that with the help of the behavioral sciences we more or less have come to accept the idea that consumers don’t make completely rational purchase decisions, but that they are influenced by all sorts of things that we are only beginning to understand. He invites us to view the decisions that we make as researchers about methodologies, for example, through the same lens we view the choices consumers make when we study them. And he points out that when you do that you find that many of these decisions are, well, irrational in that they are less about how best to deepen a client’s understanding of a business problem than about ourselves—the methodologies we love, the need to appear hip and innovative.
Living in a world with so much data and so many cool technologies is both a curse and a blessing. As John Gambles says in the same issue of Research, “The industry has lost its way and allowed process to overtake purpose. And the value of research is not in the process but in its purpose.” We probably should spend less time worrying about being gobbled up big new well-funded competitors who don’t know what we know about consumers and our clients’ businesses and more time remembering why this industry exists in the first place.