Ryan Howard, Director of Advanced Analytics, shares with us his views on the most impactful stories of 2018 as well as what lays ahead for the research industry in 2019.
1. After much apprehension, 2018 was the year that GDPR finally happened. What do you think has been its impact on the market research industry?
Other industries scrambled to make sense of principles, which thanks to self-regulation, were commonplace in market research. Because of this, GDPR does not affect us materially today but has levelled the future playing field and perhaps, one could argue, tipped it in favour of discrete and transparent methodologies like survey research. The Wild West of data has been tamed. Yee haw.
2. Which macro trend do you think has had the biggest effect on research in 2018?
The proliferation of point and click analytics has created a new class of analyst, the ‘citizen data scientist’ whom analyses without coding. Mix in what you have with a bit of machine learning, sprinkle in some natural language processing and layer on data visualisation and one goes very far. For years, the trend was accelerating in the opposite direction; learning to code was everything. This has changed the ‘who does what’ along the value chain. Data science has been democratised, pulled nearer to the coalface, made practical, no longer just for nerds in ivory towers.
3. Do you think there was a standout campaign in 2018?
When a brand wades into one of the most politically charged issues of recent years, then plonks itself down on a cultural knife-edge with folded arms, you would bet that the move was ignorant, foolish or mistimed. The answer is none of the above; Nike delivered a masterclass that reminded us that a brand should stand for something if it wants to be anything.
4. What disappointed you the most in 2018?
I was so excited and intimidated by big data. However, the more I see of it, the more time I spend cobbling together a big data skillset, the more bored and less convinced I have become. Much has to do with the kind of data that can get ‘big’. Once conquered into a dashboard, big data is only tangentially interesting to astute marketers, flawed, noisy and without the wide reaching magic we expected. It is safe to say that, from a customer insights perspective at least, big data will forever be the epitome of hype.
5. And what excites you the most about the industry in 2019?
Deep learning has been gathering momentum to leave academia and Silicon Valley. While perfection is some time off, 2019 will see its first forays into customer insights take hold. I’m particularly interested in its ability to recognise visual and audio cues at scale, with implications for how we will measure and evaluate campaigns in the not too distant future. Voice for real-time data collection is around the corner. The first AI marketing executive has found significant funding; the first AI semiotician must surely be in the pipeline. We are limited only by our imagination.
6. What do you think is the biggest challenge to the market research industry in 2019?
In 2018, self-service market research and machine learning platforms reached a tipping point. We are competing with software, no longer with each other, in the search for competitive advantage. It has forced traditional agencies to undervalue research craft or double down and innovate around their strengths. This edges quantitative researchers toward the more challenging and interesting problems that can only be answered with exploration, creative problem solving and business acumen. The race is on to develop what software cannot.
Ryan was interviewed by Research Live for their series of articles reviewing 2018 and previewing 2019, which can be found here: https://www.research-live.com/