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Growing digital influence

Agencies must embrace digital technology, but remember the importance of traditional research methods

There can be no doubt that the rise and rise of digital technology has changed and continues to change the way we all work. This is no less true in the world of market research. Increasingly we are being asked to research and often help develop ways in which our clients use digital tools to engage with their customers.

Social media and viral marketing tools, website design, remote eDetailing, face-to-face eDetailing, are just some of the projects that are now regularly coming our way. In addition, market research is, as a discipline, increasingly developing tools that are underpinned by, and draw upon, digital technologies.

The emergence and improvement of digital technology has allowed us as researchers to develop and design a varied and value-adding set of extra research approaches. There are some obvious advantages to digitally grounded quantitative and qualitative techniques.

For example, online surveys can be designed to be more visually engaging, allow you to work with widely dispersed respondents, enable respondents to answer questions or fill in questionnaires in their own time and at their own pace. Visual prompting, materials and communications co-creation have all become more speedy and flexible, as have the emergence and effective delivery of online group discussions and video streamed focus groups.

Client challenges
The widespread prevalence of, and engagement with, social media by doctors and patients alike has also led to some challenges for our clients; how best, if at all, do we engage with this new informal and dialogue-based way of reaching out to our healthcare professionals' (HCP) customers and, if relevant, their patients? In addition the arrival of social media in medical 'discourse' has raised some interesting possibilities for us as researchers. 

The emergence of Insight's eVillage and no doubt other market research online communities of HCPs, draws on social media tools, such as blogging, video diaries, bulletin boards, chat-rooms, quick-polls, photo journals etc, to allow clients to tune in to this discourse. Indeed the commissioning of projects using the eVillage/market research online community approach has proved to be a real innovation that has allowed us to go deeper on research topics over a sustained period of time, generating new and valuable insights for clients, researchers and respondents alike.

Ultimately market research is about delivering real insights that can drive competitive edge for clients. These days that means having a fairly complete grasp of current and emerging digital technologies. Indeed the best agencies will use this knowledge and relevant external expertise to shape new research offerings in ways that add to and enhance the suite of approaches they offer.  

No substitute for tradition
However, traditional market research remains as valuable as ever. The digital world has added to, rather than replaced, what is possible from market research. We are still at the stage where there's no real substitute for face-to-face and group discussions for really getting to understand the energy, process, visual and non-verbal response to a topic. In turn this allows for deeper understanding of motivation and emotion and how best to influence, engage and shape a response in the area under discussion.

Digital will no doubt continue to grow, as will the integration of digitally-based approaches with traditional qualitative and quantitative research. In our view these are developments to be embraced and where possible shaped by agencies. In these rapidly evolving times one thing is crystal clear: the future will be different and this is a great time to be in market research.

The Author
Andrew Forman
director of marketing and sales at Insight Research Group

25th July 2011


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