The research landscape today is completely commoditized. Every company uses the same methods, and the same methodologies. In fact if you take the time to look you’ll find that apart from the introduction of technology to automate, there really haven’t been any new methodologies introduced into the marketplace. To put it bluntly, there really hasn’t been any significant innovation in research methods for many years now (at least from the major players globally). Which has created a really serious problem for the handful of innovators that are out there trying to disrupt the landscape.
“Transparency” of method
In a marketplace where everyone knows all the methodologies one could employ for research, there’s no intellectual property left to protect. This means, if you hire any one of the major research firms available in market today, as a client, you’ll be able to not just get a peek behind the curtain but influence and participate in the back end research and analysis process. This, to me, is the equivalent of Apple taking you behind the scenes to give you all the gory detail behind your device, and even letting to influence the type of hardware you’d like. Which of course does not happen. And for good reason. If Apple is innovating, they want the ability to protect their I.P. and their competitive advantage. The same principle should apply to the research industry, if we are to allow for innovative new methods to be adopted across organizations big and small. But standing in our way is the fact that most research professionals and teams have gotten used to, even comfortable with, the idea of “participating” and “influencing” the methodologies employed during research. So when faced with a situation where they can’t in fact peek behind the curtain, teams feel uncomfortable and take issue with the fact that the process lacks “transparency”. This not only holds teams back from employing innovative research methods (and unearthing opportunities they never would otherwise) but also creates barriers to new entrants into a market that desperately needs disruption.
Culture of research buying needs evolution
In the case of Apple, it took more than a decade for consumers to reconcile the fact that they couldn’t design their macbook from scratch, using exactly the brands/parts/configurations they wanted. The same I believe is afoot in the research business. For research buyers at organizations to truly feel comfortable with buying something that they can’t fully control or influence, someone has to play the role of an outlier - a buyer who is willing to take “a chance”. Through experience, our company has learned to identify these outliers, because we know they’ll work with us and be open to educating others within their own organization. These buyers are the true disruptors in research. Because by taking “chances” and seeing positive outcomes, they create space in the industry for innovators of research methods to create viable businesses that can last and compete.
It’s the results that matter
At the end of the day, it’s not about whether one feels comfortable with a new research method and how it’s utilized. It’s about the results. It’s about whether the research:
- Taught us something new and perhaps changed/evolved our understanding of the consumer
- Provided pathways to new business opportunities
- Helped the business achieve its desired results
This is what really matters to buyers because their job depends on it. But to get there, there’s a leap of faith currently required. I believe (and hope) that along with other innovators in the space, my company is playing a role to move this industry forward to a place where this leap isn’t in fact considered a leap but rather a little hop over the fence, into areas of learning and true innovation.