BOCA RATON, FL: Unilever, the FMCG giant, believes the future of market research will involve developing an "I Function" embodying capabilities that include insights, intelligence, intuition and impact.

Marie Wolfe, Unilever's director of research innovation/consumer and market insights, discussed this topic at The Market Research Event, a conference held by the Institute for International Research (IIR) in Boca Raton, Florida.

And she asserted that the market research industry required a major shift in emphasis if it is to thrive in the changing business climate.

"It's time to re-launch the industry," she said. "Market research emphasizes the process and not the potential of what we can do to transform our businesses and our world."

Wolfe drew on an analogy to support this contention: "Runners spend a lot of time in the gym perfecting their quads, perfecting their hamstrings. But, at the end of the day, what matters with runners is whether they win.

"That's a lot like our industry today. We spend a lot of time on methods - the nuts and bolts of what we do. But, at the end of the day, methods are nothing if we don't help our business win."

In response to this problem, Wolfe advanced a new articulation of research, or what she described as the "I Function", encompassing intelligence, insights, integrated ideas, intuition and impact.

The drive behind the "I Function" is partly pragmatic. As Wolfe observed, "There is more rapid change in our industry than there's ever been before. We run the risk of growing obsolete."

If researchers fail to adapt, they may come under threat from the increasing number of players that now occupy a similar terrain.

"I talk to about 30 companies every two weeks," said Wolfe, "and I have at least one person each week who tells me, 'I'm going to make research obsolete.'

"It's really part of the millennial mindset. They want to conquer the world. They have the technology knowhow and they no longer need a Master's degree to be an expert in research."

Data sourced from Warc