Guest Column: Einsteins and Picassos
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Einsteins and Picassos: Scientists & artists will lead research into its future by engaging people, not mining data

By David Wiszniowski, Research Through Gaming (Twitter: @dwiszard)

David is a research analyst intern at Research Through Gaming Ltd. in the UK. He is attending the research analyst post-graduate program at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario, Canada and was a recipient of the John H. Fryer Award for excellence in research in 2013 (sponsored by Ipsos Reid Canada).

Surveys have run their course. We must use both our scientific prowess and artistic merit to explore new means of gathering information. There are little bits of Einstein and Picasso in all of us, and it is up to us to understand the potential this gives us, as well as our industry.

The future of market research, in my opinion, does not depend on technological innovation or advances in data mining. We need to challenge one another by using our education and experience to carve new pathways. Larger research firms are weighing down the heart and ingenuity of market research as a whole. We need to start commending exploratory techniques and make the questions we ask feel different for our respondents. The desire to answer mass-produced surveys does not exist within the modern population. Yes, you always will be able to recruit by using elaborate incentives, but that method fails to assure the respondent that their opinions are of the utmost value to us. In short, I contend that we must revolutionize the way we conduct our research, ensuring that with each piece of work we help to create a vibrant, engaged and modern research industry.

The need for research to focus on drastically different approaches to data gathering became strikingly evident to me in August when some classmates and I were asked to be ‘note takers’ (see cheap moderators) for a focus group being conducted by a Toronto-based company. It was unlike any focus group I’d ever seen. A banquet style room was rented out, and there were seven tables spread throughout. Each table had seven participants and I was charged with moderating table number five. Questions were brought up on a projection screen, with participants asked to share their answers at each table. I thought this was an interesting way to conduct large scale focus groups and thought that this company was really thinking outside of the box. But I hated every moment of it. The room was loud, people didn’t have enough time to think of their responses, everyone was bored and I felt awful for the poor souls. The questions being asked of them were agonizingly repetitive, and I could see the glimmer in their eyes fading quickly. By question three, my participants were already over it. I did what I could to make the best out of the situation. I attempted to probe for interesting answers; I laddered my questions and did everything I was trained to do. Even though I’m sure the client got what they wanted, I knew that I never wanted to be involved in a focus group like that again.

After that experience I couldn’t help but think there had to be a better way to go about it. A better way to engage our respondents. A better way to make research fun again. Engagement is the way to go. The work I’ve been doing throughout my internship has instilled that resolve within me.

I’ve recently done some work where I’ve had to focus on why the company I work for uses games to conduct their research. The story I developed focused on the fact that games make respondents feel more engaged, more engagement on their part leads to more honest opinions and more accurate responses, this in turn leads to better results for us. I got this storyline from comments left by respondents who had previously been involved with a Research Through Gaming survey, and I believed them. I truly think that more involved or engaged respondents lead to data with better quality than others.

I’m not saying we should all abandon ship and start making games for every survey. What I am saying is that there have to be better ways to collect data than those which we’re currently practicing. We have to try and change the perception that our occupation is built around grilling innocent bystanders with question after question. We should modify our procedures so that instead we are perceived as people who interact with other people. I have always found my strengths as a researcher lay in my casual demeanor. I have always tried to keep things light in efforts to distract from the fact that I am collecting data. I have joked around with respondents while conducting intercept surveys of a general population, and, as a result, I was able to attain the most completed surveys out of my group. I think that atmosphere is very important, and if you phrase questions the right way people will want to be involved in what you’re doing.

Context is crucial and I think that part of being a great researcher is being adaptable. I think it is our adaptability that will set us apart in the future. As researchers, we should try to keep others excited in the work we do. While most may not share in our excitement when we identify a statistical difference within an unexpected subgroup, a little spontaneity would be good for the industry. Twenty five years ago, no one had ever heard of a social media strategist. As the world becomes smaller, our industry will have to focus on its own diversification.

Instead of booking a room with one-way mirrors for a focus group, take your respondents to dinner, let the conversation flow naturally and get your "guests” involved. People appreciate honesty, and we can’t expect them to be honest if they feel uncomfortable. Organizations do this all the time. Instead of a company retreat, have a retreat with participants. Don’t waste people’s time by asking them the same questions over and over. Get them involved. Get them engaged. You’ll get better data.

My ideas may seem a little outlandish to a few (or even quite a few) of you, but they may not be as far into the future as you might think. There are currently patents in the U.S. for a television equipped with infrared cameras which determines the advertisements you see based on your body language. As well as one that monitors your emails in order to decipher a mood and how to best advertise to you online. In an age where having nanobots placed within your blood stream is common, I believe that market research is only a decade or so away from getting much more physical. What job titles will the future hold for market researchers? I predict that many more researchers will have large graphic design departments, creative consultants, etc. If Google Glass catches on, an incredible amount of mobile ethnography can be done. As the idea of sharing personal information online becomes more and more commonplace, who is to say that medical records couldn’t be used to conduct market research on a genetic level?

While right now these seem a bit creepy (I’d almost go as far as to say dystopian), we should encourage these kinds of ideas to keep our community ahead of the ball. We should stop being so generic, and should always be on the lookout for new ways to integrate market research culturally.

The future of market research is just around the corner; it is our duty to embrace it by being creative, adaptable and most importantly engaging.

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