I remember as a young man in the late 1980s encountering market research for the first time. I was exposed to the field in 2 different ways all in the course of a 4 month period.
It started when I started college in Texas. I took a trip to the local mall and while experiencing all the amenities, a person walked up to me and asked if I had a few minutes. They asked me a few questions and told me they’d give me $20 to try a few sodas and give my opinions on them.
As a young 18-year-old college student with limited income, I jumped at the chance. It took all of 15 minutes and I walked out with a crisp, $20 bill.
A few months later, still hurting for money, a friend recommended that I apply at a new telemarketing company that was close to campus. I went in and applied and was hired. My job was to get people to do surveys over the phone. It was a tough job and people weren’t receptive to being interrupted at home. But it paid decently at the time, so I kept at it.
Fast forward 30 years, I find myself working in market research again, but this time as a social media manager. In some ways, it’s similar to the person that got me to take the survey in the mall that day. I digitally try to flag down people that might qualify for a study and get them to complete a screener. The ones that meet the client’s requirements go on to the full study.
And while there are similarities, market research is a much different landscape than it was in 1989.
Technology, the internet, social media, and most recently, artificial intelligence have changed the game for market research.
Social media has been among the most impactful to the industry. No longer are telemarketers calling people to do surveys (people have stopped answering their phones with the advent of voicemail). Also, the mall researcher has disappeared (because malls are disappearing). Social media is not only a rich resource of respondents, but the top 3 platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube) combine are equal to ½ of the world’s population.
In addition to access to respondents, social media has provided a low-cost way to attract clients. Ads take the place of the dozens of telemarketers that spent hundreds of man-hours to get one or 2 people each hour to complete surveys. Some studies require no advertising at all, simple posts on social media attracts respondents.
Over the past decade, the social media industry has segmented itself. Younger people tend to favor video and picture sites like YouTube and Instagram. Generation X and late Baby Boomers tend to favor Facebook. Twitter and Reddit are frequented by both the technical minded and those who have completed advanced degrees. Moms and younger grandmothers comprise a big portion of Pinterest’s users.
But cost and segmentation aren’t the only benefits. Social media has helped market research by conditioning users to share feelings and opinions. This has spawned online communities and group discussions by market research companies that were unheard of as far back as a decade ago. It has provided a new path for the industry to gather data in a way that has become second-nature to respondents.
Social media shows no signs of slowing down. New platforms are giving even more access to potential participants. Companies like Facebook and Google are investing heavily in artificial intelligence and virtual reality which will eventually not only be a major part of the social media landscape but will undoubtedly be heavily utilized in market research. And more importantly platforms are growing. Facebook will hit 3 billion users within the next few years. Instagram (owned by Facebook) will hit 2 billion. 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every day and that number will double in the next few years as internet speeds increase and more people “cut the cord” from cable television.
All in all, social media has helped transform market research in the last decade to a point that it is a completely different animal. The next decade will see even more change that will make today look like methods from the last century.
The keywords for market research are innovation and technology. Those that take it to heart will thrive.