Several studies in 2017 focused on what trends are appearing for market researchers and how businesses can capitalize on these trends. As we know, Big Data involves the inclusion of market and customer insights and predictive analysis to produce results that have the potential to alter or create an organisation’s marketing strategy. In a study of 850 marketers in different types of business from around the world conducted by Smart Insights and titled “Which marketing trend will be most important to you and your business in 2018”, it was found that ‘Big Data’ was rated second (14%) only to content marketing (20%) as the most important marketing activity that respondents believed will have the largest commercial impact in 2018 for their business and/or clients. A prime example of the benefits of market research can be seen through a case study of the fast-food chain, McDonalds.

Third quarter same-store sales in McDonalds have exceeded expectations in the fast-food industry in 2017 by rising 6%, a 1.5% increase on the results expected by analysts (RTE.ie, 2017). This growth was experienced thanks to an effective marketing strategy which placed a large emphasis on the importance of market research. McDonalds market research strategy focuses on four different questions:
  • Which products are well received?
  • What prices are consumers willing to pay?
  • What TV programmes, newspapers and advertising do consumers read and view?
  • Which restaurants are most visited?
By answering these questions, McDonald’s is able to determine whether their target customers is growing or deteriorating.

One of the problems addressed by recent research and which played its part in exceeding sales figures, has been whether McDonald’s should be serving healthy or organic food. As a result of the findings from previous research, the company have changed part of their menu to include healthier alternatives, such as apple slices. They also made an effort to prove that their meat is real. Fast-food outlets worldwide have a reputation of serving food that is not as advertised, something McDonalds realised and capitalised on with the introduction of an overhaul of their products in the past year, leading to the introduction of fresh beef Quarter Pounders and premium customisable sandwiches such as the Signature Sriracha sandwich (RTE.ie).

The introduction of Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and automation will also change the market research landscape as we enter 2018. Many describe machine learning, artificial intelligence, and automation differently and separately, yet they go hand in hand. For e.g. machine learning collects big data then uses artificial intelligence [AI] to interconnect and transfer the learning and gather more information, therefore creating an automated process. This ability to collect, process, communicate and learn from information will have a huge impact on market research.

When questioned about his views on what the future holds with regards to AI, our own Director of Research, Adrian Wistreich explained how data collection techniques will change rapidly in the next few years to a point where asking questions in surveys will become less and less important. Managing multiple non-directive data streams, using analytics and modelling software to forecast human behavior will predominate, and undoubtedly, AI will play a huge part in interpretation, as well as in ‘creating’ the hooks for consumption.

The third key trend to watch out for in 2018 will be the rise of smartphone based research. According to GutCheck, “applications have the ability to gain access into the data of smartphone users and provide that data to others, for a price of course. While there will likely be some sort of framework set in place around how that process works, until then, there’s not much stopping researchers from gaining access to that information. Data like location, gender, age, purchasing habits, and app usage are just a few examples of what’s available. Fundamentally, this information will add an unparalleled level of insight into the behavior of consumers”. It is worth noting also that the opportunity for marketers to collect non-directive data, such as online search behaviour, social media behaviour, eye tracking, or purchasing behaviour (not to mention listening in to conversations or monitoring mobile phone movements in shops) is far greater than it has ever been.

Taking these trends into account, it is clear that the use of machines, technology, AI and gathering data through smartphones will take researchers into unchartered territory in 2018 and the years that follow. AI is going to play a huge role in saving time and forecasting human behaviour but ultimately, it will be the researchers job to humanise this process so that our human clients are dealing with people they trust to understand their feelings and needs.