Market research can make the best of uncertain times

While Government cuts and a potential second recession make for continuing uncertain times, IFF Research joint managing director Mark Speed says market research can demonstrate its place in guiding business strategies.

In 1969, a sadly underrated band called King Crimson wrote a song called Confusion will be my epitaph.

At the time this reflected the unsettled atmosphere that was the beginning of the 1970s and the death of the hippie dream. But forty years on, this song can once again be an anthem for our times as we experience a climate of unprecedented caution and fear. As its lyrics state:

Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path.

Uncertainty, especially economic uncertainty, is the biggest challenge for the market research industry and undoubtedly at the centre of most organisations’ concerns. There is no way in September 2010 of accurately predicting whether or not we will experience a double dip recession. The market research sector is disrupted by this level of uncertainty as the threat of a second recession is hindering business planning and development.

In addition, the rapidly approaching Comprehensive Spending Review will also impact on the market research industry – indeed, there are few sectors that will be immune to its impact. No one knows exactly what the spending review will involve, although there has been talk of up to 40% of public sector workers being made redundant (which, for example, equates to 12 of the 30 members of the research team at the COI).

Even after all is revealed there will be knock-on effects for several months with each Government department announcing its own cuts (and remember this is the just the first on ongoing cuts for several years to come). It is likely to be Christmas at the earliest before we can hope for any degree of certainty. As the song goes, If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.

In market research there is also uncertainty surrounding new methodologies. Organisations, in both the public and private sector, are looking for cheaper ways to carry out research, whether through reduced sample sizes, refined briefs or using social media.

There is much debate in the research industry about both the commercial and practical aspects of new research methodologies. Questions about whether social media can be used effectively, while keeping the integrity the industry is known for, remain unanswered.

So will we all be ’crying tomorrow’, as the song goes on to say? Not necessarily. Certainly, organisations will be forced to be more efficient and embrace change. The excess of the Noughties is over and it is now time to detox our economy and become rejuvenated ready to take advantage of new opportunities. We can all show how decent, robust research can help businesses and the public sector meet the efficiency agenda.

It is likely that out of the current uncertainty a new market research industry will be born – ever more respected and playing an integral role in the economic new world order. We cannot know its exact shape yet but one thing is certain – these are some of the most challenging and yet exciting times for market research in my 22 years in the business.

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