market research trends

Navigating the market with inadequate information is like fumbling around in the pre-dawn hours for your keys. Filling your coffers with consumer, competitive and market intelligence pulls back the curtains and opens the windows breathing new life into the way you do business. And these 10 market research trends in 2021 are bound to do just that.

Unlocking white space opportunities and insight into emerging trends bubbling below the surface of business as usual is empowering. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing while expecting different results. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of the marketplace. It’s equally easy to ride the high of what worked yesterday until you look around and the market has moved on without you.

Data analytics might sound boring, but it’s an open door to new perceptions into the market’s ever-changing mood and the consumers you’re so eager to attract. The only constant in business is that the market is unpredictable. Actionable market intelligence gives you a snapshot in time of the trade winds and shipping lanes available to you at the moment.

Baseline metrics help you plot your course to your destination, while the ebb and flow of global trends can help you best determine when and where to put out to sea. Here, we’ll take a look at the top ten market research trends in 2021 that will get you from point A to point B with the least amount of frustration, and hopefully avoiding any storms.

Before we get going, let’s look at a few market research statistics of interest:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing how market research is done. Globally, the AI market captured over $27B in 2019 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 33% to $266.9B by 2027.
  • According to Statista, revenues from the market research industry grew from $32B in 2008 to $73B in 2019.
  • In a survey of 1,071 people about the traditional quantitative methods they use in market research, the overwhelming majority (89%) regularly use online surveys. 10% said they still regularly use the mail.

First, we’ll share how market research tools have changed, and then we’ll dig into the trends!

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How Market Research Tools Have Evolved

In the 1920s, the first inklings of proper market research began, and qualitative questionnaires were king. It all started with a man named Daniel Starch, a trained psychologist and mathematician, who started approaching people on the streets and asking if they remembered any particular ads from popular publications they had read. He’d take this information and cross-reference it with circulation counts to determine which advertisements were the most effective.

In hindsight, it seems extraordinarily rudimentary, but it was a step in the right direction. The only tools you needed were a pair of shoes and a notepad. And while the results were by no means exhaustive, they were a vast improvement over the methods employed in the past – which were next to none. Journalists simply wrote advertisements and hoped people read them.

Quantitative surveys and focus groups remained the primary market research methods for collecting consumer intelligence into the 1960s. As computers became accessible for research, focus on statistics, and hard data became the aim. It had become apparent in the industry that there was a disconnect between what consumers said they did and what they really did. Market research that captured insight into these discrepancies became attainable through processing power.

The ubiquity of the internet opened new doors to data acquisition for researchers expanding accessibility to consumer’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We are now firmly rooted in the digital era, where advances in cloud computing and artificial intelligence elevate the 24/7 access to consumer data with the means to store and evaluate vast data sets.

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And with a new year and a new normal, times are still a-changing every day. Let’s dig in to those trends to see what’s on tap this year . . .

Trend #1: Holistic Consumer & Market Intelligence Understanding

To be in the best position to strategize and minimize risk, your brand needs an all-encompassing view that aggregates consumer and market intelligence. That means pulling data from every conceivable resource.

The more data sets you can get your hands on, the better informed you’ll be, plain and simple. But like everything in life, balance is crucial. If you lean too heavily into the social conversations surrounding your brand without an understanding of market forces at work, then your knowledge of your brand positioning will be lopsided.

Conversely, a rock-solid understanding of market conditions without firm-footing along social media trend lines could cause you to undershoot your messaging with vast swaths of your target audience.

If your competitors are consistently outmaneuvering you in a particular area, odds are they’re more informed than you. Agility in business isn’t built on bravado; it’s built on a holistic approach to consumer and market intelligence. After the chaos that the pandemic unleashed across many industries, brands are in an arms race for intelligence. It’s a race to the top, and the winner is the one that can pivot first. Without adequate intel, brands make costly mistakes that negatively affect the bottom line.

Last year was sink or swim for many industries, which shone a light on the importance of turning on a dime. Brands have gotten tenacious to guard against unforeseen risk, and with that has come a deep thirst for accessible and actionable intel built on a robust data network.

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For the sake of speed, siloed data is a pent-up resource and a barrier to agile decision-making. Now more than ever, your understanding of brand position should cut across every data silo, including internal data, consumer and social intel and strategic market intelligence.

Your consumer intelligence should be built on social media analytics, employee and product reviews, surveys, etc., in addition to your logistical purchase data to inform a deep and robust viewpoint into your voice of the customer (VoC). Likewise, your competitive intelligence should include the same insights and be just as vigorously informed. Look at the intel to be had from Glassdoor reviews alone. And this is precisely the kind of data that can be uploaded into your market research tool to form a more complete understanding of your organization.

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Your market intelligence should be a top-down approach with a cohesive understanding of global positioning, trends and competitive movement to start. Dialing down into your category, you may need access to data on the M&A and patent landscape surrounding you. Any unstructured data you can get your hands on, such as earnings call transcripts, that informs about the competition is paramount to gaining the edge.

Bountiful access to meaningful data across the consumer and market spectrum will be the difference this year between first movers and those who are not. To come out on top, your market research tools need to handle whatever you throw at them – and that should be a lot.

Trend #2: Increased AI Adoption with Traditional Research Methods Phased Out

Traditional research methods are going the way of the horse and buggy. Markets simply move too fast in our global economy for them to maintain relevancy. For instance, uploading available consumer product reviews into your data analytics tools takes moments and allows you to parse the data down to a granular level.

The ability to achieve insight at speed is a game-changer by integrating artificial intelligence into your market research. The speed and functionality of machine learning is growing by the day, leading to a rush to adopt the technology as the fastest means to overall market intelligence.

Standard methods such as surveys and focus groups, etc., are simply too slow and cumbersome to compete. By the time company A has acquired and processed its survey results, company B has already informed its decision-makers, formed a strategy and made a move. Going forward, those brands and institutions that haven’t implemented artificial intelligence at scale will be forced to play a perpetual game of catchup.

Additionally, artificial intelligence enables you to parse massive data sets, cut away the noise and find deep insights that traditional methods could only dream about. And it doesn’t need to take a lunch break.

AI-powered data analytics breaks down the VoC into its components to reveal trends and insight across a spectrum of indicators within the human language. The cost of human researchers using traditional methods to achieve such rich insights at scale would be so prohibitive that it’d be ludicrous to attempt. And it wouldn’t approach real-time processing rates that are standard for AI.

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Agility is the future of business, and speed to insight is one of the most important aspects of being a front-runner in today’s marketplace. AI is gorging on market share at an estimated 33% CAGR over the next few years, and the market research industry has a big appetite for the tech. Those companies and industries slow to adapt will find themselves starved for information e

Trend #3: Adjacent Market Understanding

You have enough trouble keeping up with your own market, and now you need to understand adjacencies better too? Yes. We’ve mentioned the importance of turning on a dime, and you’re one pivot away from intruding on each other.

When it comes to a crisis, it’s not a matter of if … it’s a matter of when. Suppose you are underinformed on adjacent markets when a crisis hits. In that case, you very well may have an unwelcome guest eating from your table – especially if they were already informed about you.

Should a natural disaster or supply disruption throw off your standard business approach, what do you do then? If the market for your business dried up today, what strengths do you have that could get your foot in the door of an adjacent segment?

Uber didn’t see the pandemic coming any more than the rest of us did. Rideshare was booming, and Uber was king of the market. And then that market went away virtually overnight. Fortunately, they’d already invested into their adjacent market with Uber Eats.

At the beginning of the pandemic, ride-hailing had dried up to a sliver of its usual revenue. What would Uber’s story be here a year later had they not already turned a potential side hustle into a reality? Uber Eats was the vehicle that brought Uber through the most challenging part of the pandemic and is enjoying delicious levels of positive sentiment, as you can see below. Overall, positive sentiment sits at 55% on a scale of -100 to 100.

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Being able to pivot to another area of focus and transition quickly enabled them to avert catastrophe. Do you have a plan B for when things go south? You do now, and it’s to move sideways.

You should know your adjacent markets backward and forwards, and there’s a secondary reason for doing so. What if it’s not you that has a crisis but your adjacent sector? They could potentially turn their eyes to your piece of the pie. Of course, you can’t plan for every scenario under the sun, but if you are already aware of who they are and what they do, you are better prepared to fend them off your territory than if you were starting from scratch.

Nevertheless, take a page from Uber’s playbook. That’s how it’s done.

Trend 4: Aligning Mission Statement with Consumer Values 

Consumers are researching brands like never before, and that’s a trend that has shown no signs of slowing down. During the pandemic, we found that people were beginning to look for brands that aligned with their values in an effort to spend their money with brands that cared about the same things as they did.

Whether it’s the environment, sustainability, black-owned businesses, saving the whales or ethical fashion, consumers are doing their homework on you. Brands that aren’t paying attention to this stand to lose customers to their competitors who’ve taken it to heart.

Silence isn’t a viable option here, and neither is having an archaic mission statement. Forward-thinking brands paying attention to consumer trends have already made adjustments and backed them up with action. If a customer goes on your website and your mission statement reads like a webpage from 1998, those dollars will not end up in your war chest.

Savvy consumers are looking at brands now as an extension of their personality. They’ve done the hard work of researching where their money goes, and it’s extremely important to them. To them, if your mission statement has aged like milk, it’s incredibly off-putting. They want products and services from a brand that pays attention to the social and environmental concerns they’re concerned with, and is acting on them in a meaningful way.

That means you need a fresh mission statement backed up by action. If you really want to go over the top, have your work independently verified by a third-party organization to build trust. Consumers are naturally skeptical of brands, so anything you can do to lessen that tension is a win.

Patagonia is an excellent example of a mission statement done right. They’ve stayed true to who they are as a company and built a legion of loyal customers along the way. They’ve recognized what’s important to their target demographics and put rubber to the road.

Actually, they’re outright aggressive with their environmental activism and great about telling the stories surrounding the brand’s actions. A look in Quid Social shows social media users talking a good deal on environmental issues indicating the brand is resonating with its consumers’ concerns.

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In any case, revisiting your mission statement isn’t a pie-in-the-sky endeavor. It still represents who you are as a brand. But showing that you’re paying attention goes a long way. Putting actions behind your words is the icing on the cake in the mind of the consumer.

Use your market research to inform your efforts here, as it’s foolish – and potentially harmful – to guess. Armed with an understanding of global trends, Patagonia’s mission statement could practically write itself based on the topic clusters alone.

Your brand’s social media conversations will indicate what trends closely resonate with your target audience. Highlight them in your mission statement. Show the customer that you have noticed and aligned with their values, and you will strengthen your brand story and the customer experience.

Trend #5: Smart Surveys Capturing Targeted Insight

Smart surveys are another trend within the broader torrent of the global digital transformation rush that is gaining heavy adoption within the market research industry. And it makes sense as traditional methods of collecting survey data are comparatively slow and cumbersome. Not only that, but a well-implemented digital survey also captures a better response rate and does it faster than traditional methods.

Since speed to insight is the name of the game in modern market research, adding this data collection tool to your arsenal is critical to capturing targeted insight. Surveys are how market research got its start, and they still have a place in today’s methodology to extract insights from crucial moments in the customer journey. The goal is the same, but the tactics are better.

For instance, a traditional survey sent through the mail is a gamble. Getting a response depends on whether the consumer receives the survey, is in the mood to fill it out, and if the response choices align with their opinions. If any of these pieces are missing, then you’ll receive nothing, and it’s throwing money in the trash.

On the digital spectrum, consumers are increasingly on the lookout for scammers and nefarious motives. If surveys are poorly timed or incentivized in a way that makes the consumer feel like it’s a bait and switch, then they’ll feel taken advantage of. It’s an unfortunate reality for consumers that brands should keep at the top of mind when developing their smart surveys.

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However, once you design and implement smart surveys that capture honest feedback at an opportune moment in the customer journey, the rewards will be well worth the effort. And your customers won’t feel imposed upon. If your survey properly incentivizes the consumer, they will be happy to provide feedback since you’ve given them a sense of additional value for their time.

The brand-specific consumer intelligence that smart surveys can unlock adds to your holistic consumer and market intelligence as well. The widening adoption of AI, chatbots and personalization at scale gives you the ability to craft personalized surveys in-app or pre/post checkout to humanize the interaction further when the customer is most heavily invested with your brand.

Examples of forward-thinking smart surveys can also include emotion-based surveys using facial recognition cues in focus groups, or unintrusive feedback gleaned through curated communities attached to your CX strategy. Sentiment around smart surveys is riding a wave of positivity right now, so outmaneuvering your competition here is the intelligent thing to do.

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Whatever way you choose to approach smart surveys, market research will inform you on your target audience’s best approaches, minimizing wasted time and maximizing response rates.

Trend #6: Real-Time Social Listening Adoption

Going forward, a trend that will be the differentiator between brands that outlast their competitors is social media listening in real-time. With the always-on manner of social media echoing social, economic and political trends, doing business is akin to running through a minefield. Some social listening is better than none, but if you’re going to make the long run, real-time monitoring is where it’s at.

Your brand’s longevity depends on avoiding social missteps and capitalizing on consumer intelligence. A study by Innosight found that in 1964 the average age of companies on the S&P 500 was 33 years old. By 2016 the average age had dropped to 24, and by 2027 is forecast to dwindle to just 12 years.

Couple that with the fact that 88% of companies that comprised the Fortune 500 in 1955 no longer exist, and you can see that longevity is not guaranteed. The way to hedge against going the way of the dinosaurs is by keeping tabs on the social climate as it happens with a thorough understanding of emerging trends. Here are the top areas of interest in the social listening conversation.

As you can see, monitoring and managing misinformation are in the top five for a reason. These are the issues your competitors are paying attention to. Since social never sleeps, that means the potential for market influence doesn’t either.

So, if you’re on the golf course on Sunday and your brand mentions go through the roof because one of your social media posts hits on the wrong side of a hot-button social issue, you need to know that – fast. And setting up alerts on your social media analytics tools for when activity moves outside of your baseline metrics ensures you are always on, just in case.

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To safeguard your brand’s longevity, consider real-time social listening like a stop-loss order against a potential crisis. The sooner you’re informed, the better.

Trend #7: Renewed Focus on Quality of Metrics

Speaking of baseline metrics, accuracy is paramount. If you are aggregating your metrics from disparate analytics tools, you have to pay extra careful attention to ensure something isn’t lost between your sources. Even if you are using a dedicated social listening platform, you have to take care that your metrics are uncluttered by noise.

What does that mean exactly? If you are doing a social media audit on your brand to reassess your brand’s sentiment, for example, you have to know that your data is untainted by off-topic mentions, similar hashtags or spam content. A clean dataset gives you clarity on the health of your brand. If it’s muddied by clutter, then you will not have an accurate representation of your brand to start with.

And that means your subsequent brand health analyses will be measuring against faulty metrics. And this will also be the case if the data analytics tools you are using are incapable of slicing your data down to a granular level.

Quality is king when establishing your brand’s metrics. Otherwise, your measurements are an exercise in futility and of little use to your efforts.

For example, there’s been a fire raging this month in Patagonia, Argentina, and it’s gotten a lot of social media traction. If our analysis of Patagonia’s brand left any of those mentions included, then it would skew their brand metrics for March.

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The ability to drill down and cut away all irrelevant posts gives us a clear picture of the brand that we can trust. And that’s what’s driving this trend – a hunger for quality metrics built on unflinching accuracy.

After all, would we remember the fire next year when we do a year-over-year comparison? No, we wouldn’t. And we’d be left wondering why our impressions and “mentions” were vastly different. That’s why top brands are demanding pinpoint accuracy from the start, with results that are transparent and can be fine-tuned. And you should too.

Trend #8: Trend Tracking Over Longer Periods of Time

An understanding of how trends are fluctuating through time provides the context to market movements. Trend tracking is not a ‘set it and forget it’ scenario for your market intelligence. Ongoing trend analysis plays a critical role in informing your brand when to pull back and when to push through.

Yes, some trends gushed last year, and others retracted due to the cataclysmic effects that the coronavirus had on markets worldwide. And while this year presents its own challenges in moving past the virus, there is no guarantee that trends will behave logically.

Since markets are temperamentally unpredictable, trends are directly affected by the moods that influence the whole. Just because sustainability has been a growing trend for many years doesn’t mean you can base your initiatives around it and ride off into the sunset.

That kind of thinking is trouble and also the reason why a great many brands no longer exist. In other words, hitching your brand to a current trend may pay dividends in the short run, but it’s a giant gamble to set anything on autopilot long-term. Trends have a way of swelling, retracting and branching off in new directions, and brands are paying attention to long-term movements to inform their strategy like never before.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology is white-hot right now, and it has grabbed the attention of influential people such as Elon Musk. Many financial institutions and key opinion leaders (KOLs) are still writing it off as a fad. But, is it though? A trillion-dollar market cap might be worth paying attention to.

Nevertheless, its decentralization properties have disruptive potential to governments and institutional banking. Here’s a look at a company dataset in NetBase Quid showing a timeline view of private investment into company’s involved with Bitcoin.

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If this industry could even remotely touch you, then you’d want to know about the considerable spikes in investment recently. A look at the patent activity in the cryptocurrency space over the last five years is also telling. For example, there have been over a thousand patents applied for in that time, but of the 235 that have been granted, the bulk of them happened last year, with one on “computer-implemented method for transferring ownership” filed 23 times. Interesting.

Longitudinal trend tracking keeps surprises to a minimum, leaving your brand in the best position to pivot no matter which way the tides happen to turn.

Trend #9: Uncovering & Redefining Customer Experiences

Due to the rapid adoption of e-commerce on the back of the coronavirus, many brands have been rethinking their CX strategy. Will we go back to the way things were? Maybe, but the hyper-awareness of cleanliness and the ease of e-commerce will probably have long-term residual effects.

So, brands need to find new ways to create unique and memorable customer experiences. Your focus here should continue in the digital transformation vein, and look for opportunities to make stronger connections with your consumers online.

Your market research will be invaluable to this end. And while demographic data has its place, your focus should be on collecting psychographic data. This means you’re going beyond age, race, and gender to inform your strategy into your target audience’s values, interests, attitudes, and personality type. These psychographic traits often transcend demographic markers to ensure your messaging is tailored to fit your ideal customer.

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Additionally, personalization at scale is seeing tremendous interest. While many brands are still struggling to implement it on an enterprise level, those that have are reaping the benefits. Forbes reports that 40% of executives surveyed said that “personalization has had a direct impact on maximizing sales, basket size and profits in direct-to-consumer channels.”

Including the customer’s name in emails and chatbot conversations is a great place to start. Personalized recommendations or pain point suggestions based on consumer data are additional ways to provide a customized consumer experience. It’s that little something extra that adds the touch of humanity to a digital interaction. It simply works.

Trend #10: Fewer Platforms for More Powerful Results

As we’ve mentioned previously, with the global economy’s non-stop activity, speed to (accurate) intel is mission-critical. Unfortunately, many companies still have too many platforms they’re using to cobble together their market research. If your Martech Stack has grown unwieldy, it’s time for a change.

That’s because streamlined efficiency is the name of the game. When your market research analytics tools are under one umbrella, it makes all the difference in the world. Just remember, the spoils almost always go to the first mover. Cumbersome research methods and tools are not the recipe for success in today’s fast-paced climate.

When it comes to auditing your Martech Stack, you’ve got to be honest with what you need and what you don’t. Platforms and resources change over time, leading to unnecessary overlap, incompatibility issues, bloatware, and a general slowing down of your workflow. The more tools you’re working with, the chance of running into issues between tools is heightened.

Your data analytics tools are your eyes and ears into the marketplace and, therefore, one of your best hedges against threats. They inform every single one of the trends that we’ve covered here and more. If a robust suite of data analytics tools under one roof meets your brand’s needs, then that is the direction you need to go.

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Last year underscored the importance of being well informed. Brands across the globe are taking their market research to the next level in response. This year will offer its own set of unique challenges as the world attempts to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror.

What’s left to be seen is how consumers will react to yet another wave of changes. Brands doing their due diligence in their consumer and market intelligence will be a step ahead of the rest. There’s no doubt this list of trends represents a challenging set of objectives for any brand. But much of it builds upon the other. Analyze your goals, approach your low-hanging fruit and then expand your market research horizons from there. Break it down and take a systematic approach.

What matters most is that you build upon accurate insights. Once your foundation is firm, the speed will come. Be sure to reach out for a demo, and we’ll be happy to help you kick your market research into high gear with world-class data analytics tools built on next-generation artificial intelligence.

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