Research is changing, says HS2's Nick Jones, a speaker at this year’s Audience Analytics and Insight Forum. While data is all around, uncovering brilliant insight requires a much more precious commodity: curiosity.

Anyone working in advertising planning today is lucky enough to have at their disposal a huge array of insight tools. Whereas in the 90s we only had classic, big market research programmes (and typically it was only the big agencies that could afford it back then), we now have data mining, social listening, artificial intelligence and much more besides. All in all, this means we can still look at the ongoing, big picture view of our brand and consumers, but we also have the ability to carry out more ad hoc, curious investigation too.

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After all, those people that work in insight tend to be an inquisitive bunch. So you would think that they would have jumped at the chance of using new ways to test the temperature for ideas, prove or disprove assumptions and look beyond the horizon at fledgling trends, right?

 In truth, though, the answer is not really. Or at least not yet.

Most agencies and brands are still putting the vast majority of their insight investment and time into big, ongoing trackers and surveys. It seems that we are suffering from a form of insight myopia, becoming somewhat blind to what we’re looking for. We continue to track the same things to answer the same questions because that’s what we’ve always done – without stopping to check whether the questions have changed!

We will always need the more traditional insight that we glean from these big, ongoing research programmes and analysis, but we also need to look beyond them. Supplementing these with more opportunistic, on the fly research we can identify the next challenges and opportunities for insight and where to find them rather than the ‘same old same old’.

The rise of social platforms, social media and social data, plus the explosion of insight tools to mine them, should be a game changer. There are so many more questions we can ask and we can also start wearing down our digital shoe leather by walking around new and different digital neighbourhoods and getting to know them or spot patterns as they change. After all in traditional research we wouldn’t keep going back to the same focus group in the same town.

With life and technology both changing at a quicker pace than ever, it is important to regularly sense check the methodology and tool sets being used in any case. If the same ones have been employed for three years, it is not unlikely that there will be new ones on the market that can do the job more effectively, or in a new and different way. 

Using a number of alternative tools also brings with it flexibility as it stops you being locked into a particular tool or method for the long term. This helps provide a more fluid approach to insight as you can change the way you analyse ideas or situations as you go along.

In addition, as the price of technology tends to track downwards, this approach keeps budgets as tight as possible as you can shift to new, cheaper insight tools. (Social media listening is a case in point here as the cost has dropped by around 90% in just five years.) Importantly, using quick, tactical tools can also help sense check that your ongoing tracking is answering the right question so you can ensure that your ‘big’ insight budget is being spent in the right way.

Plus, by keeping budget aside for ad hoc insight you can keep yourself open to trying new insight techniques. AI is going to be a massive part of the way brands and agencies view the world, although it is currently priced in time and money for the more elite amongst us. However, it won’t be long till we see a new class of AI vendor emerging that will enable us all to start experimenting with what we can learn.

All of this means that it is important for insight providers to stick their heads above the parapet and think more laterally about the reporting they provide. Yes, it’s important to provide the bread and butter metrics people expect, but you are likely to surprise and delight them with additional insights you haven’t been asked for. Especially when the insight you gain in the next couple of weeks can help shape the questions you ask over the longer term.