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The Market Researcher of 2021

What skills will market researchers need to hone to thrive in 2021? Learn how 100 industry professionals from brands like Nestlé, Kantar, and Mitsubishi are adapting as we head into the new year.

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REPORTThe Market Researcher of 2021

Last year when we looked ahead to 2020, we talked naively about preparing for things that couldn’t be predicted. Little did we know just how unpredictable a time we would have.

In this guide, we’ll take you through how market researchers can adapt and excel in 2021. We’ll draw on input from over 100 industry professionals who were kind enough to share their thoughts on the upcoming year.

Data and tools

We’ll start by looking at the challenges that must be faced in getting to know customers and target consumers in 2021.

Not having the right data is a major issue 58% of our respondents.

The second most popular option was not having the right technology to help, while the third was not having an understanding of what kinds of research could be helpful. Meanwhile, not having the right skills was the least popular of the options we offered as an obstacle.

It appears that more data is needed. But blending data can create new challenges.

A theme that cropped up in custom replies to this question about obstacles was the ability to bring together different data sources to stitch together a narrative. For example, Eric Crossfield, Senior Analyst, Social Listening Insight at John Lewis Partnership wrote that “Joining up all the voice data into a coherent story” was a significant obstacle.

Eric’s sentiments were echoed by Kantar’s Rahul Shah and Bayer’s Andy Schaul:

“Working with and combining multiple data sources to build a meaningful picture of the consumer will be a key skill in 2021 as consumers continue to use a wide range of platforms and communicate in a multitude of ways.”
— Rahul Shah, Data Manager at Kantar
“A major challenge is reconciling the often divergent insights gained from online digital sources and those gathered via traditional market research methods.”
— Andy Schaul, Global Insights Lead at Bayer Crop Science

The blending of different data sources presents both an exciting opportunity and a challenge to analysts heading into 2021.

Speaking of different sources, we asked our respondents what tools and resources would be most valuable in supporting the generation and sharing of consumer insights in 2021.

Social data analysis tools came out on top with 81% of respondents choosing this option. Data visualization tools and search data analysis tools were also very popular, with 75% and 73% of respondents selecting them respectively.

We were surprised to see that traditional consumer research methods were only selected by 31% of our respondents.

One possible explanation for this is that 2020 has made some forms of traditional research (eg in-person ethnographic research or in-person focus groups) much harder, and sometimes impossible, to carry out.

Next, we’ll dive into themes that came from our open-ended questions to find out what respondents had to say about digital consumer intelligence and their thoughts on 2021.

Internal conflict and resource

Insights teams around the world saw unprecedented demand in 2020. Rapid generation and distribution of insights was crucial to be able to track changing consumer behavior. Prioritization became key, especially with multiple and possibly conflicting requests from all sides piling up.

“Everyone wants consumer intelligence so how do we manage our limited resources and bandwidth to ensure business objectives are met?”
— Trina Cody, Senior Manager, Business Insights & Brand at Wiley

In 2021, analyst teams must draw on lessons learned from a demanding 2020. That includes ruthless prioritization, automation where possible, and smooth insight distribution. As teams return in January and start to get busy preparing for the year ahead, the possibility of a spike in demand is very real.

But it’s not just an increase in demand that caused trouble for those gathering insights in 2020. In many teams people were lost to furlough schemes and redundancy, just when things were stepping up a gear.

Mae Johnson, Marketing Manager at Big Frog Franchise group describes the struggles of working in a small marketing team in a busy period: “As in any small team, the current challenge is in juggling the time, manpower, and resources to dive deep into data analysis to understand consumer behaviors as well as fully leverage existing technology to automate processes and build upon effective marketing strategies.”

In 2021, leveraging that technology to automate time-consuming processes and working on speed to insight will be vital for small teams looking to make a big impact.

Storytelling and delivery

We’ve already mentioned the importance of (and challenges that come with) blending data and pulling an actionable narrative from it. It’s something we heard again and again, from people across all kinds of industries. Replying to our question about key challenges our respondents are facing in their roles, Julia Roumani, CX Data & Reporting Manager at Nestlé Canada wrote: “Overwhelming number of data sources and connecting the pieces into a cohesive story and actionable insights.”

Going beyond storytelling, the ability to articulate insights in a way that drives action is also vital, says Bayer Crop Science’s Andy Schaul. In our question about the key skills needed to thrive in 2021, he wrote: “The ability to argue compellingly supported with insights as to why a leader should behave differently than they currently do. No matter how great an insight is, it is worthless unless a behavior or decision is changed as a result of it.”

Right on time

Andy’s thoughts lead nicely into the theme of the timing of insights — a reoccurring challenge for marketers in 2020.

Earlier this year, our DCI in Practice guide on Trend Spotting went into great detail about the importance of timing insights to make them as actionable as possible. For example, delivering insights at a cadence that fits with regular meetings of key stakeholders so that decisions can be made quickly based on the data.

Timing is also key when things are moving quickly. That relates to reacting in real time to opportunities, bringing agility into the heart of all operations, and, where possible, using predictive trend spotting to proactively prepare for what’s ahead.

Both Jose Sanchez, Listening Lead at Publicis Media, and Rod Pinedo, Product Strategist at Mitsubishi Motors Australia, highlighted the importance of timing in their thoughts for 2021.

“To be as close as possible to the consumer, respecting their physical space and privacy, but to be present at the moment they require it in order to help them meet their needs,” said Sanchez, in response to our question about what will be needed in 2021.

“Data capture and timeliness to plan proactive product strategies,” wrote Pinedo, in response to our questions about key challenges faced right now.

The limited shelf life of an insight

As Brandwatch’s Ben Ellis said in a recent guide:

“At any one time you only really understand as much as the last insight you received about your consumers. If you don’t tap into those conversations regularly, you can’t confidently say you know your consumers.”
— Ben Ellis, Senior Research Consultant at Brandwatch

2020 made keeping up to date with consumers incredibly difficult. With rapid developments came the quickened aging of insights. DRPG’s Emily Saunders-Madden has had first-hand experience with this:

“I am having to continually update my research findings and my skill with big data. Although my market predictions are often correct because of the tools (like Brandwatch) I have at my fingertips, I also need to be ready to explain that what I developed a month ago may well be wrong now.”
— Emily Saunders-Madden, Research and Insight Executive at DRPG

Meanwhile, Vivaldi’s Head of Communications Strategy Jane Hovey told us the “biggest challenge into 2021 is that retrospective data may become void in the new normal.” This presents a really interesting problem for analysts who like to use historical data to predict future trends.

Can historical data help in unprecedented times? Can data from such an abnormal year as 2020 help us to understand what might happen in 2021?

2021, here we come

To summarize, there is (surprise, surprise) a lot to think about as we head into the new year.

  • Data and tools: Accessing the right tech and data is vital, but so is making sense of multiple data sources and being able to blend them effectively. This will be a key skill for market researchers in 2021.
  • Internal conflict and resource: Ongoing high demand for consumer and market insights is expected, while team resource will likely be under continued strain. Prioritization processes, automated workflows, and the smooth distribution of insights company-wide will help keep things less frantic.
  • Storytelling and delivery: Analysts who can weave coherent narratives with the data they have access to will give their insights a greater chance at impacting action. Honing these presentation skills (whether verbal, written, or otherwise) will be key to raising researchers’ profiles and impact internally.
  • Timing (and the trouble with time): The world won’t move any slower next year. Be prepared for insights to go out of date and to fight for agile action based on the most current data.

Many businesses are relying on digital consumer intelligence solutions to learn how their market is changing in real time and to keep a finger on the pulse of consumer behavior.

“It's a way of understanding not only the customer, but the market and the trends specific to each industry.”
— David Ionut, Social Intelligence Analyst at Harte Hanks

Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.