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Shock of the New: Where Exactly is Market Research Heading?

Opinion, 24 February 2013

Two things caught my attention over the past few weeks in the world of Market Research.

Firstly: the UK MRS Annual Event for 2013, "Shock of the New" ( The Conference states its intent clearly: it wishes to embrace a world beyond the narrow confines of research: science, technology, futurology....the forces that are changing the way we see the world.

The remit of the Conference sugggests a sea-change in approach:

"We will offer a varied programme of voices and ideas on the subject of predicting, understanding and influencing behaviour. It's a conference designed for anyone with a professional stake in helping shape the world. "

This really is worth reading twice: Market Research involving itself in influencing behaviour? For more of a flavour of the Event, check out the Highlights - The keynote speakers include: a broadcaster, an artist, an award winning sportsperson, a physicist, people talking about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility, apparently).

You have to look hard to find people who would normally be happy to be described as a Researcher.

Second up: the February 2013 issue of Research Live is, we are told with little fanfare in the Editorial on page 15, the last printed issue planned. Wow. We can look forward to a monthly digital-only issue - the future is digital, as we are reminded by the Editor..... A Quarterly print publication will now appear, apparently, with a focus on the things that "researchers, customer insight professionals and marketers should be interested in: the trends, technologies and scientific thinking that are shaping the future of customer understanding".

Got that?

Taken together, the above seem to indicate a radical new course being set by the UK MRS, arguably one of the more important industry bodies around: pushing MR into areas that we "should be interested in". It won't be about "Research".

How should we interpret this? I have not (yet) had the opportunity to talk directly to those concerned, so can only react to what I see and read. Here's my take:

1. Research in the UK is heading for Pastures New - Fast.

No doubt about it: after a year or so in office, the CEO Jane Frost seems to have decided that MR needs more than a gentle dose of refreshing. Out with a narrow perspective, in with a confrontation with things that seem to grip society today, grab the broad public imagination: the media, science, technology. 
I unfortunately cannot attend the Event, but look forward to hearing from those that go.

 2. Are We In for a White-Water Ride?

Re-positioning as a Marketing exercise is always a tricky task: if we lose the core of what Research is about, we lose much and potentially gain little. Fine to embrace change, but lets never lose sight of what we are paid to do: understand, measure, and possibly predict. There are plenty of people who can do the fields listed peripheral to research much better than we can.

3. Nobody Ever Misses Something when it's no longer there.

Who will miss the monthly UK MRS Research magazine? I will, for one - but probably only until I forget about it. Which is sad. We should be looking to strengthen the bonds and ties that hold us together, that create a sense of identity rather than dismantling something that potentially had a role in many people's professional lives.

If the above gives the impression that I'm against change, far from it - I truly believe that we need to operate differently to capture the opportunties potentially open to us, which means acquiring new skill sets. 

We need shaking up - but we shouldn't ditch our fundamentals, we should look to apply them in related fields, in a more business-savvy manner.  

Curious, as ever, as to others' views.



About the author

Edward Appleton is Senior Manager Consumer Insights at Coca Cola Gmbh based in Berlin, Germany. A graduate of Oxford University, he has over 20 years research experience, on both client and supplier side - Group Manager Research at Nestle UK, European Insights Manager at Avery Dennison, European Research Manager at Rohm and Haas, Insights and Planning Director at Grey Communications Germany were positions that followed his start in research at Mass Observation UK.

He blogs regularly at Research and Reflect. Edward is bi-cultural English/ German, speaks fluent French, is a Member of the Market Research Society UK and a founding Board Member of the Mobile Market Research Assocation (MMRA).