The rising value and role of market research with Heather O'Shea

We were joined on the podcast by Heather O’Shea, Chief Research Officer at Alter Agents, a full-service marketing research consultancy. She shared a bit about her interesting background in the insights space, including work for large household brands and most recently with Snapchat. During our chat, she focused on how market research is growing in importance within today’s data landscape, specifically as the viability and accuracy of some of our existing media and advertising measurement techniques are in decline. She says, “Over the years, I've seen the value of market research techniques rise to the surface again and again, particularly in today's complex landscape.”


Heather says that as we face more regulations and the demise of the third-party cookie, among other things, we need to “go back to our roots as marketers and use market research techniques to boost our audience understanding, create strategies, and make decisions.” Over the past few years, marketers have become heavily reliant on big data and direct response advertising and measurement, sometimes neglecting to seek the context and deeper audience understanding that market research methodologies can provide. She says, “We need to strike a balance and use market research techniques to complement our existing measurement techniques.”

In fact, the decision to lean more heavily on market research is being made for us with the changes in the data ecosystem and a focus on consumer privacy. Heather says that multi-modal approaches can help, giving an example of using layered methodologies to help answer a complex question for Snapchat, including advanced analytics to identify motivations and moods that people were in when using different digital media. The study also included an agile neuroscience element to identify emotional engagement. She recalls that they were asking questions and and using advanced analytics to understand moods and motivations, and then the neuroscience element helped to map both attention and emotional engagement with different media, as well as how advertising performed in specific environments.

Heather cautions that “Every brand is different, every audience is different, so one size doesn't fit all.” The market research methodologies that are employed will depend on the type of research and the end goals, something she calls “adaptive media research” – building in flexibility from the start. She notes that while market research is critical as the media measurement field experiences massive disruption, this approach does still have a place in the data picture and decision making. But to get that true holistic picture, brands need to go back to using market research for in-depth audience understanding.

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