What are some innovative market research methods

Innovation and market research - they go together!

One of the greatest challenges for market researchers is to identify and apply the most suitable method for the question from the multitude of methods. Survey methods often have to be combined for this. This in turn creates challenges in terms of the questionnaire design and the length of the interviews. In addition, digital data is generated everywhere, which, depending on the question, should also be included. Flexibility, creativity and speed are often required here. Not every method is "sexy". But it doesn't have to be if it provides the customer with exactly the answers to the questions asked. Nevertheless, institutes are constantly on the lookout for new methods, whether in terms of data collection or data analysis.

Bettina Klumpe
is managing director of the ADM working group of German market and social research institutes. Before that, she was on the board of the association and managing director of GfK Media and Communication Research GmbH & Co. KG for many years.

But innovation and modernity do not rule out the anonymization requirement. The assurance of anonymity of the survey participants ultimately creates trust. Now some will say that the public's confidence in our industry is increasingly falling. One can hardly contradict that. Falling participation rates in surveys and panels confront us with this topic on a daily basis. But why are the numbers falling? Why did people lose confidence? There are certainly various explanations for this.

There were drastic cuts in willingness to participate at the end of the 1990s. Direct marketing companies - disguised as market research - harassed the population day after day with phone calls: first a short interview before they offered two cases of wine or a subscription to the newspaper for sale. Logically, that people became suspicious of the right market research. Of course, other forms of processing of personalized data are possible as long as they are legitimized by law. Market research, as the term is used in Germany, can only be called that if the data is processed anonymously and is not accompanied by advertising or sales.

This was followed by wiretapping and data protection scandals as well as scandals about data misuse and the "lively collecting" of data. This list was “topped” by the Cambridge Analytica affair, which, however, revealed the much larger scandal in relation to Facebook. As you can see from the press, Facebook now also wants to deal more intensively with the protection of its users' data.

But our industry too has to take the issues of data protection and privacy of the survey participants seriously. What happens to people when they are overwhelmed with contact attempts by market research companies? What do people think when they get a call from a market research company on Saturday evening at 8 p.m.? What is stuck in the mind? Certainly more of a defensive attitude than trust. The ADM's guidelines and code of conduct address these practices. All members of the ADM are committed to abiding by these guidelines and principles of conduct. Because one thing has to be clear: All of these incidents affect trust in the industry.

Giving up the principle of anonymity in Germany would, more than many might suspect, move us in the direction of those who are currently being shaken by scandals. And just because someone presses a Like button, it doesn't mean that he or she doesn't care or is okay with simply passing on his or her data. Caution should also be exercised here before the assessment that users could ultimately choose to whom to give their data and when, and that they should do so very conscientiously. Practice shows that the image of the “responsible consumer” is an unmatched ideal. Even more: It is becoming more and more difficult for individuals to assess the consequences of their actions in relation to their data. But if you have to decide on the basis of incomplete information, you cannot do so in a mature way. Our responsibility as an industry is therefore also to draw clear boundaries that the potential participants understand. That too creates the trust that is so urgently needed.

Market research without research and without science - is that even possible? Hardly likely. Because how do we come to objective knowledge and recommendations? Only by using scientific methods. It starts with the conception of the sample, includes the survey / measurement or observation and ends with the analysis of the data. If we do not do all of this from a scientific point of view, the reliability and validity of the data and thus also the recommendations to customers would have to be questioned. These principles also explicitly include the fact that we collect objectifiable data. This does not mean that one should treat study participants without empathy. On the contrary: Both the ADM and the BVM repeatedly advocate investing more in the participants' “wellbeing”. However, it must not come to the point where the distance between researcher and participant disappears completely in a "togetherness".

Science and its rules are the basis for what we do. We must not doubt that. To question the scientific nature of our industry means to endanger the industry. It forms the framework for our actions, also in legal terms. The term science has never been defined as broadly as in the new European General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR). It expressly includes both applied and private research. This also includes market research. We should therefore protect ourselves from market research being brought into the vicinity of advertising or marketing. Should that happen, many privileges would certainly be irrevocably destroyed - for the entire industry.

Quality can also mean not fulfilling a client's every request. The trusting cooperation between customer and institute is indispensable in market research. Without this collaboration, it is impossible to understand the customer's needs and develop a research design that answers the customer's questions and from which valid recommendations are derived. A lot of market research data forms the basis for central strategic decisions in companies. Independence and objectivity are therefore of essential importance in market research.

This also means that if you have any doubts, you have to critically question or even reject the customer's wishes. In their professional code of conduct, the ADM institutes have committed to doing high-quality work, acting objectively and independently and - by protecting the anonymity of the study participants - strengthening their trust in market research. We should present and defend these values ​​with a lot of self-confidence, even if the customer sometimes sees something different. Because last but not least, these rules are also for the benefit and protection of the client.

It goes without saying that the ADM has always stood for closely monitoring new developments in the market and examining them for their effects on data protection, science and quality. New approaches must never compromise the high demands placed on our principles. However, you can open our eyes and pave the way for innovations within our industry as well.

Published in planning & analysis 4/2018