ResTech Dominates Developments in Research Business
By Piers Lee, Deputy Editor, Asia Research Media
The Asia Research Annual Stakeholder Survey has again shown that ‘leveraging on technology’ is the main opportunity for the industry, with other leading opportunities being ‘faster/more agile research’ (usually via tech) and more insight.
The specific technologies that the industry can leverage on include artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. Some also reference the ‘influence of the metaverse’ for future applications of consumer insight – e.g. for more immersive consumer experiences, especially for testing innovative products.
AI will be used more in the analysis of unstructured data, allowing researchers to spend more executive time on the areas where there is a ‘human advantage’ over AI, such as understanding nuance, human empathy, and cultural context, and coming up with ideas on how best to use the research findings.
Automation will take away the boring and repetitive parts of the job, and tech solutions will facilitate ‘quick and easy’ solutions and better integration of research data with secondary data.
New research methods include more ‘self-performing research’, such as the application of social media listening tools and more use of neuroscience to obtain the subconscious thoughts of consumers. Social changes might create opportunities for research into new topics, such as how sustainability and social justice issues are impacting markets.
The main threats to the industry are financial pressures, including limits on budgets, pressure on prices, and the use of lower-cost tech-based solutions that would replace traditional consulting services from agencies. Many also see continued in-sourcing of research within client organisations as a leading threat to the supply side of the industry, which can be made possible via clients adopting tech-based solutions or going direct to online panel companies.
In the previous year’s Asia Research stakeholder survey, clients reported a fairly healthy recovery in research budgets, but in 2023 most clients expect their budgets to be static or even to fall compared to 2022. New threats, such as geopolitical tensions, inflation, and expectations of recession, are a concern, particularly in Western markets.
Despite the pressure on prices, most clients report that their vendors are raising prices, and this has been confirmed by most vendors, who stated that that they raised their prices in 2022 or will do so in 2023.
Some vendors will be selective about how they raise their prices and will do so if they see price rises from their own suppliers, and they are more likely to quote higher prices to new clients than existing ones, probably because these price rises would be noticed by existing clients!
Change in methodologies
Based on the Asia Research survey, the type of research undertaken has remained largely consistent with pre-pandemic levels, but usability research is growing. This can be attributed to changes in servicing (e.g. more use of self-serve), so clients are evaluating service interactions with customers through remote channels.
With inflation now affecting previously low-inflation markets like Singapore, pricing research is also growing. With most markets now fully open, ethnographic research is recovering, if not surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
However, the threat of a global recession is making clients more cautious. Client organisations are focusing more on their existing markets rather than exploring new ones. Many of their priorities are therefore focused around enhancing existing research, such as tracking studies and segmentation models.
More innovation can be expected as clients and suppliers demand more from their budgets in an inflationary environment. Hence, they will look more to tech solutions to increase efficiencies in data collection and reporting, but data quality (specifically from online respondents) will become more of an issue – now a leading concern in Western markets.
Panel companies are responding with more enhanced quality control measures and applying machine learning to enhance survey sampling (see the article on the Asia Research review of the research technology business).
Despite the pressure on budgets and the broader economic concerns facing the research business, 66% of clients state that research/consumer insight is gaining status within their organisations, and overall 47% of industry stakeholders see more opportunity than threat to the industry.
As the research business becomes more high tech, it will also attract more talent to the industry – it is now viewed as a more exciting and progressive career than it was in previous decades and has largely shaken off its more stuffy/boring image.
Asia Research would like to thank Dynata for sponsoring the Asia Research Stakeholder Survey.
This article was first published in the Q1 2023 edition of Asia Research Media