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The Paradigm Shift: Rise of Automation in Market Research

Jasal Shah – CEO, Managing Director and Spokesperson of Markelytics and Velocity MR

 

The age of automation is upon us. We already see 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. 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 much else, 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 — that of geography.

 

The rise of the smartphone and Internet availability 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, surveys through email or even messenger apps such as WhatsApp, have all changed market research. Online surveys let firms create huge databases 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. 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. Analyzing this can be time-consuming and not always efficient. Text analytics helps 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 behavioral 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 analyzing 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 labor-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.

 

What does automation in market research mean in the Indian context? The country is poised to become the third largest consumer market, come 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.

 

About Author:

Jasal Shah – CEO, Managing Director and Spokesperson of Markelytics and Velocity MR

An MBA graduate from the Institute for Technology and Management and has worked with leading agencies like IDC (International Data Corporation) and IMRB International (Part of the Kantar Group, WPP’s information, insight and consultancy division). He specializes in technology related market research. He was recently felicitated with the Leadership Award by World Marketing Congress endorsed by CMO Asia for his contribution to Market Research Industry. On the personal front, he lives with his wife and sons in Bangalore. Mr. Shah has also served as the council member of most prestigious global market research association – ESOMAR.

 

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TIPS FOR BUSINESS EXPANSION

Alan Sutherland, CEO of Kind Consumer

 

Every successful business had a beginning.  Its founders usually looked for ways to gradually expand, attract new customers and increase monthly revenue.  From the outside looking in that type of success often feels as though it requires some form of magic or hidden formula.

So how do you drive success?  There are two which are fundamental to success.  On first glance they may seem obvious, but they are often neglected.

 

Do you have a strong team?

No matter how great your business or idea you will not drive it to its full potential without a strong team behind you.

The process of recruiting and finding the best talent is never easy.  You must over-invest time in the process as it is a fundamental investment and future growth driver.  Two principles I have learned over the years when looking at recruitment are, to surround yourself with people who are better than you and do not be afraid to recruit someone who could make you redundant.

If you can achieve these, the benefits are clear.  Better business results, stronger talent pool, and with capability future fit plus built-in succession planning.

 

Have you created a road map?

Strategy should not be complicated, as it is the set of choices you make to help you deliver your goals.  It is your roadmap.

In thirty plus years of corporate life I have reviewed many.  Countless textbooks have also been written on the subject, but there are some basic principles that I firmly believe work best.  Namely, the vision should be clear, motivating, and understood by all in the organisation.  In addition, it’s important to remember ‘less is more’.  Too often strategy papers can be voluminous and complex.  The best strategy work I have seen is on one piece of paper with clear, simple articulation of the choices you will do and equally what you will not do.  It is very empowering to tell a team what you are not going to do.

 

Alan Sutherland

Have you established a core market?

In any business, the “core” needs to be healthy before you divert any significant level of resource to expansion, there are thousands of examples where enthusiasm to grow has caused companies to fail.

As you evaluate expansion, having an array of ideas and opinions needs to be balanced with a clear brand that consumers feel they relate to.  Whilst adding new products or services is an organic part of company growth it needs to be tempered, so you do not drift too far from your core market.

Therefore, before ploughing resources into new markets, you do need to ensure that new product and services will be of value to existing (or new) customers.  You may need to ask some critical and challenging questions such as, is there a clear need for this?  Is it marketable?  Does it sit within the brand equity?  How much will consumers pay for it?

If you conclude that the demand is there, only then should you move onto executing that new idea because it will require a significant amount of investment of time, resources, and money.  If the market entry cost is potentially high, you should also evaluate a test & learn approach by launching in a limited way and, if early traction is good, then expand.

Once you have revised your existing offering, you need to engage with these new consumers to increase brand recognition.  If your business is not online, add this to your to-do-list because in today’s era, convenience is key.

A website is the shop window to your brand and, done well, can allow you to build up a direct one-on-one relationship with your customers.  If it was already an important criterion before, the impact of Covid-19 will make it indispensable.

With social media and the abundance of mobile technology, it is not difficult nor expensive to drive traffic to your site, so you need to ensure the site is engaging, easy to navigate, informative with a call to action to purchase.  Loyal customers who return to your site are worth their weight in gold!

 

Do you have a healthy working capital?

Finally, a healthy working capital is essential not just for growth but for the day-to-day operations of running a business.  Even as you start to see your business develop, you must keep a scarcity mindset with cash and make sure you have some reserves for when something goes wrong. This has caused thousands of start-ups to fail as they hit unexpected turbulence and had no contingency in place.

In today’s global economy, there is a lot of uncertainty so there has never been a more important time to maximise liquidity to meet short term obligations and avoid going bust.  Not to mention, flexibility is key when a business is looking to expand and without enough working capital a business can lose this flexibility.

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BITCOIN COMES OF AGE

Katharine Wooller, Managing Director, UK and Eire, Dacxi

 

The Bitcoin halving event, which occurred on the 11th May, has been a watershed moment for the industry.   It has been a deafening theme for crypto narrative in recent months, and more recently has caught the eye of professional investors and conventional media alike, with some predicting it will be the catalyst for a substantial boom.   It appears bitcoin, finally, has a hard-won place in the mainstream.

 

Halving: In a nutshell

Bitcoin has a key feature; there are a fixed amount available, and, crucially it has a pre-programmed supply reduction built in.  The miners, who maintain the bitcoin network, validate transactions and add them to the blockchain when they are verified.  They do this at considerable electrical and computing cost and thus are paid in bitcoin. Periodically, the reward for doing so halves.  In the past this supply reduction, which previously occurred in 2012 and 2016, has coincided with a strong run-up in its price.

 

All grown-up

Bitcoin has now been in existence more than ten years and has survived the doubters, the scammers, the hackers, government attempts to quash it, and along the way it has given rise to new innovations using the blockchain technology that underpins it.  To overstate this amazing “survive and thrive feat” as well as the innovation it represents would be difficult.  Bitcoin, conceptually, has exceeded expectations.  Alas the 5,000+ crypto currencies that have sprung up alongside it include the good, the bad, and so very ugly.  Nearly all of these should fall away as Bitcoin dominates; at time of writing it is 67% of daily traded volumes.  Understandably, there is a very short list of 3 what we call blue-chip coins (LTC, BTC, ETH) that the institutional investors have shown interest in.

 

Solving some our largest problems

There is a clear appeal of digital currencies to the cashless internet economy based, including 24/7 price transparency that is available, cross border usage, divisibility to many decimal places, as well as third party oversight and controls. Bitcoin has been on a roller coaster ride over the last two years and has held its value throughout the current dramas and even increased in value as governments have stimulated their economies on a massive scale via printing cash endlessly to avert a market meltdown.  This is likely to create a massive inflationary environment into the future and sets the stage for Bitcoin to make its next move upwards after stocks and real estate prepare to reset valuations and attractiveness.

 

A new gold?

A lot of the dialogue around bitcoin talks about an improved version of gold, as a medium to convey value.  Improved by virtue of the technology being quicker, and cheaper to both store and move. Indeed, a recent transaction of $1.1bn worth of bitcoin, by bitfinex, cost $84.  Unsurprisingly this has caught the imagination of the financial infrastructure industry.  Some market commentators postulate a 10x increase in prices in the next 12 months, based on a few % of the global appetite for gold switching to crypto, with bitcoin being the heir apparent.

 

Diversification: Now

For the industry as a whole, it is great news that bitcoin is now demonstrably decoupled from traditional markets.    It is apparent that the price of Bitcoin is outside the traditional assets’ ecosystem, and the market is determined by a new set of criteria.  Bitcoin now has the crucial “social proof” that it cannot be altered by external forces, no matter how powerful, bringing much joy to the libertarians and retail investors alike.  Indeed, google searches for ‘bitcoin halving’ hit an all-time high in the late April, suggesting firm interest from newbies.  Further, the quality of exchanges available to both retail and institutional investors has improved substantially in recent years, providing a much-needed ease of entry into the market.

 

Professional Investors

Indeed, leviathan investors, such as Paul Tudor Jones, coming out in praise of bitcoin, as a viable hedge against inflation, saw bitcoin enter – unexpectedly – stage left to a much broader financial audience.  Bitcoin is viewed as what gold was in the 1970s, thus driving increasing interest from his fellow baby boomer cohort. Indeed, Dacxi, a digital exchange focusing on educating retail investors, saw some of its busiest weeks in the run up to halving.  The addition of global pandemic and imminent worldwide recession has been the perfect storm for the world to crave safe new assets.  Crypto is firmly out of the niche and into the zeitgeist.

 

What’s next

In my opinion, crypto has reached critical mass in terms of adoption. There’s no going back.  I was delighted to wake up in London on the 12th May and see the BBC reporting on halving – it doesn’t get much more mainstream than that!

As digital currencies become the increasingly dominant technology, anyone with an interest in markets and investing would be well placed to educate themselves on this seemingly unstoppable asset class.  With the recent momentum gained from the halving, crypto is likely to be a broader theme of daily life for decades to come.

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