The age of automation is upon us. We are already seeing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in various walks of life. From smart voice assistants to self-check-outs at stores, automation is already changing the way we shop, live and do business. And market research is no exception. Every brand or business needs research and intelligence to improve its product or service offerings. It also needs to track opportunities and risks, trends, competition and market forces to thrive. Market research acts as a guiding star for businesses to map their journeys.
Technological advances have ensured that market research, like others, is more accurate and efficient, and less time-consuming. Traditional methods of market research could include telephone surveys, door-to-door visits, in-person focus groups, and interviews. These methods are time and cost intensive, and also involve a lot of manpower. Traditional approaches come with yet another key limitation — geography.
However, the rise of the smartphone and the Internet has changed market research in many ways. The omnipresence of smart devices means potential respondents are always connected, irrespective of where they are in the world. Social media also makes it easy for market researchers to engage with respondents better and gather data in quick time. Online communities, wherein respondents interact and answer queries, survey through email or messenger apps such as WhatsApp, have all changed market research. Online surveys let firms create huge database of information and overcome barriers of geography and time. Another offshoot of technology in market research is the rise of ‘in-the-moment’ feedback or surveys, where real-time responses and data are of the essence. Thanks to the tracking of GPS location data, market researchers can collect data by automating surveys for customers who have entered or exited/just engaged with a brand.
AI and ML changing market research
The biggest game-changers in market research will be the use of automation by way of AI and ML. As per a report from eMarketer, 75 percent of developer teams will use AI technology in one or more business applications or services by 2018. Products based on Natural Language Processing can help in reporting surveys, while platforms powered by AI can create research reports using machine learning. One instance of machine learning in the market research sector is the use of text analytics in survey analysis. Market researchers often have to use open-ended queries when they can’t necessarily get answers via tick boxes. However, the results are overwhelming, because chunks of text come into the picture. Analysing this can be time-consuming and not always efficient. Text analytics help segment these responses and help researchers analyse by identifying intent/sentiment, topic, and other such trends. Text analytics also help in sifting irrelevant text and show researchers the answers/mentions they are looking for. This enhances online qual market research where you need to get an understanding of feelings, thoughts or behavioural patterns of respondents or prospects.
The rise of DIY tools
An offshoot of automation is the use of ‘do-it-yourself’ tools for market research. DIY is faster and easy. There are ready-to-use templates and automated reporting, thereby saving costs and time for clients. Researchers can choose tools that are ideal for their specific projects, and select their samples and kind of reporting from one source. This method will save time and make it easy to share results and analyse with the help of dashboards.
The rise of automation and DIY in market research will mean certain roles will change. Programming surveys, finding respondents for surveys or analysing open-ended answers are already being automated. But this shouldn’t be seen in a negative light as it makes space for qualitative, insight-rich researchers who have greater soft skills. Letting the machines take over whatever is labour-intense means creating more mind space for big and visionary thinking that machines can’t do. Brands can leverage DIY survey tools in combination with a range of social media channels and build loyalty, tell their story and engage with consumers.
With so many advantages including accuracy, compliance, quick execution of tasks and savings in costs, there’s every reason to believe that automation is the way forward. Automation can lead to synergies between man and machine, and make research less tedious and more insightful. However, it is also important that various solutions and processes pertaining to automation can’t function as niche or siloed solutions — what market research automation needs is an integrated end-to-end platform approach where the entire gamut of insights are available under one umbrella. As automation will gain in momentum, market research will pave the way for greater meaning and relevance in a brand’s decisions.
So what does automation in market research mean in the Indian context? The country is poised to become the third-largest consumer market by 2025, as per a report by Boston Consulting Group. The report also says that consumption expenditure will triple to touch $4 trillion by 2025. This means brands that want to benefit from this growth would need to gain comprehensive and real-time insights into the mind of customers or prospects, their needs, pain points, and aspirations. This jettisons market research firms into the picture. The market research firms that have adapted to the latest technological advancements, primarily automation, AI and ML, will emerge winners. It is, after all, a survival of the smartest.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)