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Is Your Market Research Toolkit Older Than You Are?

Changing customer behavior is changing the customer experience, to help marketers keep their market research toolkit relevant Suzy offers its tried & tested solutions

The past year has taken a drastic toll on the market research industry, primarily because consumer behaviors and needs have changed rapidly. Today, it can be hard to keep up with traditional survey measurements and a challenge to check in on consumers with in-person focus groups or other live qualitative interactions given the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, the industry has seen faster-than-ever-changing market dynamics sparked by increasing political and social unrest. Consequently, brands are facing increasing pressure to understand their consumers and the fast pace at which their behaviors are changing.

A key principle when it comes to understanding consumer behavior from a market research perspective is the fundamental truth that “perception is reality” when it comes to what consumers say they do.

The reality is this: many brands struggle to decipher the difference between what their consumers say and what they actually do. Why? In many cases they’re using 70s-era market research tools that are obsolete and expensive nearly 50 years later.

Fortunately, today’s market research tools are more diverse and specialized than ever and provide a range of options for bridging the knowledge gap between what consumers say and what they do.

Unlike some of the original market research solutions that rely on normative databases – which were effective at the time when consumer behavior was relatively stable – the latest tools provide brands with ample opportunities to capture a deeper understanding of ever-shifting behavior through observational datasets generated within the digital landscape. Leveraging these tools is key for today’s brands in their efforts to stay relevant during turbulent times and beyond.

In fact, market researchers should look at these uncertain times as an opportunity to adopt new methods that can ensure they remain relevant in the industry, starting with their toolkits. Tools that use data science and advanced data analytics can drive a company’s get-keep-grow strategies now and in the future.

Incorporating Latent Variables

 With the adoption of techstacks that bring together wide ranges of quantitative observational data sets such as consumption trends, campaign metrics and social listening patterns, brands can derive new insight about consumers at a scale that enables predictive modeling. There is a critical role for the market researcher to play in this data driven world, and that is to provide the latent variables derived from consumer research that provide context to growing streams of observational data.

Latent variables, or the influences of a measured observation that can’t be directly observed is where today’s market researchers can add significant value.

Latent variables are descriptions of experiences that consumers can easily describe or understand within the sense of a traditional survey design. Brand and product perceptions, category attitudes, emotional/functional need states and even usage impressions can all become measurable “latent variables” that add value when leveraging data streams into predictive models. How? By providing the attributes that serve as context to the consumption and campaign data.

The antiquated industry rule, “you should never ask a respondent something that can be observed,” needs to be redefined. It’s a very different world today than when the market research industry first emerged.  You can observe, measure and track a wide range of purchase behaviors, so asking consumers about the experiences leading up to those purchase moments can provide the data that allows brands to predict future behaviors and bridge the gap between what consumers say and do.

New ways for Mixing Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies

When latent variables are tracked in such a way that they add context to existing observational data streams, qualitative feedback becomes another tool market researchers need to leverage so they can understand the nuance behind the consumer experiences that are driving behavioral outcomes.

Qualitative tools that let you intercept consumers who have provided specific answers to tracking surveys for qualitative interactions will make the latent variables market researchers identify even more usable when developing growth strategies.

Intercepting respondents for qualitative feedback based on survey responses also works well for agile innovation and campaign development. In such a use case, market researchers use qualitative tools to explore, iterate and evolve campaigns, around the experiential “latent” attributes that drive behavior.

Taking these steps helps market researchers influence business innovation and campaign assets around actual experiences that drive consumer behavior change. While many companies may be reluctant to shake things up, it’s important for market researchers to analyze the behavior changes and brand experience shifts that are at play in today’s digital world.

Turning to Data Science and Machine Learning

Thanks to advancements in data science and machine learning, there are many tools now at the disposal of market researchers to measure the impact of latent variables. The only challenge being that qualitative research is still needed to come up with the attributes that a consumer could react to effectively.

It’s becoming much easier for consumers to talk about the experiences that they’ve actually had, than to talk about hypothetical ones that a brand’s market research team inquires about. For them it’s personal. It’s time to start asking the questions that can correlate and understand causation for intended outcomes.

This can be accomplished through observation and by asking consumers questions around qualitative, latent variables and attributes that they can answer. It could include soliciting statements that describe the way they perceive the brand or the product that they can react to. This steers market researchers to the collection of more advanced data analytics that help to tell a story about what really drives consumer behavior change. Qualitatively, market researchers can come up with the attribute statements and quantitatively, they can find out which ones are driving that behavior.

In summary

 If market research is going to stay relevant, it needs to adapt to a world that uses data science and advanced data analytics. In doing so, circled behaviors are going to be more relevant, which is why market researchers need a toolkit makeover to help translate this information into better experiences for driving behavior change and more effective get-keep-grow strategies.

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William Cimarosa, SVP of Market Research, Suzy
Will leads the market research practice within the Suzy Center of Excellence. He’s focused on developing data-driven insights that drive brand growth for clients. Will’s previous experience includes global insight and strategy positions within CPG and pharmaceutical companies such as Mead Johnson Nutrition and GlaxoSmithKline. In these roles, he developed a passion for behavioral models, innovation, and communication strategy.
Will is an avid kayaker and traveler who currently resides in Jersey City, New Jersey.


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