Here’s Why I Doubled Down on Market Research

By Heather O’Shea, Alter Agents

Ten years ago, “Big Data” was one of the most referenced terms in the marketing world. Today, the consumer data landscape is evolving, decreasing the viability of some of our existing media and advertising measurement techniques. Beginning with the introduction of GDPR through to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency to the upcoming destruction of third-party cookies on Google Chrome browsers, marketers are scrambling to find new ways to understand their audiences and make predictions about behavior in the face of technological shifts and intensifying consumer privacy demands. It’s time to go back to our roots to help create strategies and make decisions: market research.

While market research and measurement can be viewed as two sides of the same coin, I’ve always felt that they exist in a bit of a “prioritization” battle. My career has consisted of a blend of thought leadership, custom research, traditional market research and campaign measurement – such as looking at brand and direct response based incrementality and attribution through a variety of survey, observed, and modeled methods. Over the years, I have seen the value of market research techniques rise to the surface, again and again. And this remains true in today’s complex landscape.

The case for market research initiatives

In a way, this decision is being made for us as the data ecosystem changes. Many marketers have been over-relying on big data and direct response advertising and measurement, optimizing campaigns on the fly based on what the numbers say about what’s working and what’s not. This approach has inherent pitfalls. It’s easy to look at this type of data and make assumptions without truly understanding how reliable it is – and without really learning anything significant about target audiences. Which in turn leads to optimizations where ads are served to people who are already predisposed to your brand, while potentially eroding your brand value among everyone else.

This is where market research can really shine. We have a host of tools at our fingertips, from consumer segmentation to trade-off analyses, and from qualitative interviews to agile neuroscience and eye-tracking, to help us get to know our audiences, deeply. And once we understand our audience, we can better identify and craft the most powerful messages for these individuals, and determine which mediums provide the best platforms for shouting these messages far and wide in order to engage and hold their attention.

This isn’t your parent’s market research

The recent shortcomings of media measurement are giving marketers a wakeup call to be more proactive and lean more on brand research, including something I call adaptive media research. Every brand is different, and every target audience is different, so there is rarely a “one size fits all” approach to market research initiatives. When you are innovating – which you must in order to capture audience attention – you may often encounter the unexpected and uncharted territory. Building in flexibility from the start is the best path to success.

Your market research toolkit will vary from your neighbor’s – and luckily, we have a whole lot of tools to choose from today. I mentioned just a few of them above. For example, we can use a more traditional survey can help us form a baseline surrounding what people are doing, while qualitative interviews can add depth to these responses. But even these tried-and-true methods have their limitations. We often use agile neuroscience techniques to identify subconscious motivations, and shed light on the things that people can’t – or won’t – tell us outright. We measure creative performance dynamically in context, to identify the best mix of media and message to reach and persuade a target audience. Blending methodologies can give a more multidimensional picture of audiences, and these methodologies can differ based on research goals, brand category, audience makeup and much more.

Market research can help us become experts in understanding brand audiences – what they are doing, what they are going to do, how they consume media, where opportunities lie and so much more. Media measurement as a field is experiencing massive disruption right now plus, from its outset, it really never gave us a holistic audience understanding. While it still holds a critical place in the data landscape, it will never give us the foundational level of consumer and brand insights that we need to make the best business decisions. That’s where market research can truly shine.

About the Author

Heather O’Shea is a passionate insights leader with over 16 years of experience in market research and consumer insights. She has held positions at media agencies, publishers, tech platforms and research companies. She is currently the Chief Research Officer of Alter Agents, where she oversees the research functions within the company.  Prior to this, she was the head of global ad research & insights at Snap.

Got a Question? We’ve Got Answers.