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AdWeek: Researchers Look to a Mobile Future

March 28, 2011

By: Mark Dolliver - March 29, 2011

As marketers clamor for useful data, change is coming in the profession that supplies much of it. Released last week at an Advertising Research Foundation conference in New York, a survey of research professionals by GfK Custom Research North America reveals ways in which these people see marketing/advertising research evolving in this decade.

One part of the survey, conducted in February and March mostly among ARF members, asked the 250 respondents to cite the research areas that will be "cutting edge" in this decade. Atop the rankings was "mobile marketing," with "impact of social networks," "digital marketing," "neuroscience" and "multicultural marketing" filling out the top five. As for cutting-edge research tools, respondents cited the collection of data via mobile devices as foremost among these. At the same time, more than half identified "social media/Web conversation monitoring" as an increasingly important research method.

John Wittenbraker, who was involved with the survey as managing director of GfK's brand and communications practice, says researchers, clients and agencies already have been paying keener attention to multicultural research. But he sees the nature of this shifting along with the country's demographics. "Pretty soon, the minority will be the majority," he said. "It'll truly be mass-market multiculturalism."

While respondents see new modes and areas of research growing in importance, that doesn't mean they believe traditional competencies are all falling by the wayside. Sixty-five percent said they disagree that "most traditional research skills will be irrelevant in 5-10 years." However, telephone surveys -- a longtime mainstay of opinion research -- were seen as increasingly a thing of the past. Sixty-nine percent agreed phone surveys are "fading fast." Against a backdrop of high non-response rates and growth in cell-phone-only households, fewer than half the respondents (43 percent) said they believe it's "still possible to conduct a nationally representative phone survey."

GfK's report of the survey data included a quote from one respondent who said it's now a challenge to get people to participate in marketing research "given the ample opportunities for consumers to express themselves directly to companies and organizations though various social media networks." And paying heed to such direct expression has its own potential pitfalls. Wittenbraker said it's important to monitor such online chatter, and that researchers are actively doing so. Even if it's a relatively small number of people initiating such commentary, it can spread and create buzz more widely. But he cautioned that "it's not a representative sample of the marketplace," making it important that the insights gleaned from social media be balanced by research that adopts "rigorous metrics."

Looking ahead to 2020, one popular prediction (made by 36 percent of the respondents) was that the research industry "will be more influential in the boardroom." Does this mean researchers feel their findings aren't sufficiently heeded by top execs? "I think everyone" agrees with this, said Wittenbraker. But he also sees this as a subset of the problem the advertising/marketing side of a company can have in getting a hearing at the highest levels.

"Marketing and advertising are often the supplicants," he said.

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