10 Predictions for the Market Research Industry
The next 5 years

Having the ability to know the future turn of events is a human obsession. Unless we are declared prophets by some religion we are not great at predicting the future using our intuition, dreams, and premonitions, or maybe we are but no one is willing to listen. The human mind can handle linear projections well, but exponential…not so much. Humans usually overestimate the short term and underestimate the long-term evolution and progress. Having this thesis in mind, I will attempt to “call” the linear trend interruption of a couple of slow growth technologies by a “hockey-stick” in market research spend.


We are increasingly using advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to aid our intuition and gut feeling about what comes next. We now have ways to consolidate the wisdom of many humans as expressed on social media and other online sites. The wisdom of the masses, the meeting of minds - especially if they are physically close as in churches, football stadia, or live concerts - has a scientifically unexplainable power. If there is a seemingly plausible explanation for this “power” it lies in the spiritual realm for the time being (as opposed to the scientific).

According to Tetlock and Gardner in their book ‘Superforecasting’ (2015) the most successful approach to forecasting is to combine humans (talented?) + a process (an outside view combined with the inside view and unpacking the original question in multiple questions) + computing.

Without a lot of explanation I am listing my 10 new predictions for market research and customer insights below:

  1. The total spend on social listening and analytics from market research budgets will be US$ 9 Billion by 2020, up from US$ 2 Billion
  2. Social media listening will be about integration with surveys and other data sources instead of a single customer insight source
  3. Market research online communities will replace a lot of the “asking questions” part of market research, possibly 50% of all spend by 2020
  4. Listen-probe-listen-probe using a social listening platform in conjunction with online communities will become mainstream by 2020
  5. Micro surveys that will intercept customers while they perform a relevant action and ask about the experience will grow exponentially by 2020
  6. Traditional customer tracking surveys will become a lot shorter in the meantime, until they will at some point during the next 5 years be replaced by a combined approach of intercepts + social listening + online communities
  7. Artificial intelligence will become mainstream in analysing data for customer insights in the next 5 years
  8. A lot of the market research solutions in existence will become available as DIY in the next 5 years
  9. As a result of point 8 market research will be democratised as a service i.e. become affordable for SMEs
  10. I will chuck this last one in the category of “self-fulfilled prophecies”.  A very powerful notion that has to do more with the persistence and drive of the “prophet” to make something happen. By 2020 DigitalMR will become a global powerhouse in the market research industry or it will be acquired by a global multinational player who will emerge as a winner in the current consolidation wave.

Now you must be asking the question: is this guy a superforecaster (Tetlock & Gardner 2015) according to the definition below?

  1. Outside View
  2. Inside View
  3. Unpack the questions

I will not go through the detailed process on how each of the 10 predictions came to be but I will illustrate it using one example.

Let’s take prediction #1:

A. The Outside View

Outsell, an independent analyst company, predicted the social listening market size to be US$ 5.5 billion by 2020. We know that the human mind is linear and fails to predict the time point of exponential growth. If the growth of social listening was expected to continue to be linear then they would be right.

Innovation in market research historically takes 15 years to become mainstream (examples: CATI, online panels). Social listening started being used by early adopters in 2006. 2020 will be the 15th year since the beginning; evolution of technologies takes a lot less time nowadays, it becomes exponential and ubiquitous a lot faster than in the past (examples: broadband, smartphones, digital content uploads on the web, mobile advertising etc.). This implies that we could see a “hockey stick” before the 15th year.

The total market research market including adjacent companies offering technology solutions for market research is US$65 billion.

B. The Inside View

General Mills, Reckitt Benckiser, Heineken, Vodafone, Diageo and a couple of the largest multinational market research agencies globally all asked DigitalMR to demonstrate how social listening integrates with surveys and other data sources. Successful pilots have already taken place.

These companies are not happy with the accuracy of the social media monitoring tools their marketing departments are already using for other purposes.

They are asking for one social listening tool that can handle multiple use cases, including the one for customer insights.

They are all keen to reduce the spend on monthly customer tracking surveys.

Some other younger companies which are more focused on technology are looking for ways to avoid traditional surveys and use big data in a predictive manner.

C. Unpacking the original question: what will be the spend in social listening and analytics by 2020?

  1. What is the total market size of market research? US$65 B
  2. How much of the total MR spend will not be impacted by the rise of social listening? What is left? Retail measurement, Offline Ad effectiveness, Qualitative research (it will become probing), intercepts= US$ 30 B, US$ 35 B left that can be shifted
  3. What is the current spend on market research and other marketing activities that involve social listening? US$ 2 B
  4. How many years did it take to get to this spending? 11 years. This is an indication that the trend break to a “hockey stick” is close
  5. How many companies that currently spend money on market research will invest in social analytics? Conservatively 70%. These will be the largest MR spenders. What % of the relevant spend will be diverted to social media listening by 2020? Conservatively 15%. This adds up to US$ 5.3 B
  6. How many new entrants will there be in the market research industry from the bottom of the pyramid i.e. SMEs? There are over 10 million SMEs in the US and the UK alone. If 5% of them decided to invest in social listening for customer insights we would be looking at 500,000 companies. How much will they spend per year? DigitalMR is currently a small company and spends about US$ 15K per year on marketing related SaaS. We can assume conservatively that they will spend on average US$ 5,000 per annum. This adds US$ 2.5 B to the estimate of the social listening market for customer insights. For the whole world we can again conservatively add another US$ 1.5 B. The total is US$ 4 B.
  7. As a result the total market is estimated at US$ 9 B.

As ever we are interested in your views and opinions about these predictions. What do you think? Is the social listening and analytics spend about to take off?

 




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