It is true that the digital transformation is also changing our world, our everyday world and our professional world? Whether these changes are more revolutionary or evolutionary depends on the consideration of categories and markets, and sometimes it is simply in the eye of the beholder. What’s certain is that change and transformation are not new. In terms of the professional world, "market research" is reminiscent of the beginning of quantitative (and much later also qualitative) online research and then, a few years later, the first applications in mobile research. New service providers, new business models, new or modified methods, new needs for internal customers and new "buzzwords" have emerged.
Now, changes have a way of often not running continuously, partly in secret, invisible still and not really tangible. Then, at certain points (in time), they manifest, become visible, and a short time later, they become tangible. Transformation manifests itself in new approaches, new processes, new offerings and often in a new language. It is not uncommon for a significant amount of excitement in market research to be felt at one of these points of manifestation. Questions arise, varying according to perspective. Who are these new providers and service providers, who do I have to contact, who can do that? Is there space for cooperation, what could a new or complementary business model look like, what influence do the changes have on my organization, processes etc., do I have to change anything? Some then see already the next paradigm shift in the market research arrive on the horizon, which makes the "old one" appear useless and makes the "new one" the standard.
It appears that we have reached such a point of manifestation again, at least in my observing cosmos. The new apparent paradigm is called "agile". The usual excitement in the industry will not be long in coming; language is changing and is amended. It is spoken and written about "agile research", "agile insights", "agile impact", "agile recruiting", "agile qual", etc. and "agile research" is already today being proclaimed as the top trend for 2018.
Does "agile" in English mean "agile" in German?
In this dynamic, in which transformation also fuels marketing, the risk of language becoming more unclear and terms being used that are not clearly defined but nevertheless, or even therefore, used "buzzword-like", increases. If you look at the German meaning of the English word "agile", you will find not only the translation "agil" but also meanings such as “beweglich” (moveable),”gelenkig” (flexible), “gewandt” (dexterous), “lebhaft” (lively), “flink” (nimble), “behänd” (graceful). It is in this special context that we have typical sentences such as: "For his age, grandfather is still quite agile ..."
The word "agile" has an integral part in IT process management and the development of (mostly digital) products. In addition, a lot of good books have been written and without going too far, the most important principle of the Agile Manifesto is that early and continuous delivery leads to a better product.
And who’s in for "agile" does not necessarily have to be in for "lean". Both terms are sometimes used synonymously because both principles work at high speed. However, there seems to be a consensus that "lean" focuses more on the process itself and "agile" on the development of the (end) product.
What can "agile" mean for market research?
If one follows the principle that agile processes should lead to the development of a better product, how can one imagine this for market research, what can "agile market research" look like?
With this, the emphasis lies on "early". One may be inclined to say that it plays a significant role to perform studies faster and that is correct IMHO, but not only. Fast execution is imperative for agile market research, but if that's the end, you might call it "rapid" or just "quick" (with all the pros and cons). "Agile market research" should allow users of market research (through increased speed) to perform multiple, smaller studies (and parts thereof), combine different sources of existing and new data, continuously guide consumers, and generate knowledge to answer business questions. More and smaller steps would be taken to gradually generate consumer knowledge building upon itself, to combine it, and to smoothly incorporate it into business decisions. This could help to keep a finger on the pulse of the times and develop better solutions for consumers. This would also fulfill the promise of "agile methods" in the sense of "agile development".
Questions upon questions
All of this, however, would affect the adjoining processes and raise a series of questions, such as:
- What additional requirements does "agile market research" place on the skill sets of the agents involved?
- What does "agile market research" mean for the "way of working" between the service provider and customer side?
- What is the risk for "agile market research" to require additional time to manage and communicate several smaller studies (and steps) internally and externally?
- And how is “agile market research” priced, if the final purpose is not yet defined clearly?
Technology increases speed and enables a need to satisfy shorter studies (or parts thereof) in less time. Whether that will be enough to make market research "agile" will be shown next time.
Christian Dössel works as Senior Research Director for PRS IN VIVO (www.prs-invivo.com) in Hamburg. In his 18-year career in market research, he has come into contact with organizations of all sizes, business orientation and culture. He co-organizes the Research Plus event in Hamburg and co-founded mafolution.de (www.mafolution.de), an online service that aims to promote the digital professional exchange of the industry.