People are People

Three ways to better achieve people-focused market research

Much of the change and discussion in the market research industry has centered around new technologies, including artificial intelligence, automation, and blockchain. As an industry that has typically been slow to adopt new ways of doing things (think about the painfully slow struggle toward mobile-first surveys), we are finally starting to evolve quicker. This evolution, which encompasses the use of agile technology solutions, means we can better meet widespread demands for speed and quality. 

This is good news! However, there is a vital piece that is often missing from the discussion: the human element. We are an industry that seeks to understand the human mind and human behavior, yet technology has been our main focus. Yes, technology can help us uncover the insights we need, but we must be careful not to lose sight that people are more than just consumers or respondents; they are people. This should be a priority for us as a matter of course; in fact, our hand may be forced as people themselves demand to be recognized, respected, and treated as individuals. The ease of access to information and increasing comfort with the digital sphere, means that people have more power than ever before. How can we start to shift our thinking? 

Remember the genesis of the data: Every research project starts with the data. And the data begins with the people. Reducing a “person who consumes” to a resource called a “consumer” conceals what is most important to us about that person – that he or she is a person! We need to shift to a people-centric approach to our research, leaving behind the traditional brand-focused approaches. For example, moving away from “What do you like about my brand?” and moving toward  “What are your needs as an individual?” We need to pivot here, or the insights we provide to make important marketing, advertising, product launches, and business decisions may not have the impact we desire.

People are people: So why should it be...that we treat them like inanimate objects? We must increasingly subscribe to the notion that people are more than the impersonal terminology we have ascribed to them: consumers or respondents. As market researchers, we need to recognize this and have this belief underpin our approach to every project. The age of the “human” is pushing a shift toward creating empathy and emotional connections to garner the best data. By understanding the individual within the target (and potential) audience through direct interaction and innovative qualitative approaches, and understanding the real-world environment in which that person is operating, we will get closer to the outcomes we need.

Shift the conversation: The sentiments surrounding viewing respondents as regular people have been around for a long time. Still, we’ve made surprisingly little progress in changing the vocabulary that we use. As a group, we need to consciously make an effort to use different language when we talk about “consumers.” Peter Smith of IDExperiential in the UK talks about this in a blog post, writing: “As dedicated marketers, so obsessed with brands and advertising that even our parents are just another couple of consumers to us these days, it’s sometimes nice to slip off the ole marketing flat cap and remember what it’s like to be a regular person, I mean consumer, no, person.” 

We’re an industry experiencing a sea change, evolving at an ever-increasing pace. Technology takes up much of our discussions about the future. Let’s not leave the most important element out of the picture: the people.


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